Landon Whitsitt is a pastor, radio producer, musician, and blogger. One day he wants to publish a book and come speak at your church. He is allergic to watermelon, and can cook you the best scrambled eggs you’ve ever had in your life. He likes to garden and torment his wife and four boys. Landon is probably not someone you’d like. Unless you like people like that – then you’d love him.
Within the first 18 months of my time at the church I serve 12 different people decided to leave.
Some gently and respectfully slipped out the door, and others made a big damn deal of their departure, but every single person made it clear that the major (if not only) reason they were leaving was because I believed “that everyone was going to go to heaven.” And they said it like it was a bad thing.
To a person, they could not get it through their heads why I would preach about God’s grace the way I did – a way that (to their minds) absolved individuals of making a decision to be and behave in a way that was different from how they had previously lived. As one gentleman told me, “Let’s face facts – God loves us all, but some people are sinners and are going to Hell.”
Obviously, when someone’s on their way out, that isn’t the time to make clear that I don’t subscribe to “Christian universalism” (that Christ’s death and resurrection is salvific for all, regardless of adherence to the Gospel). Rather, I consider myself a “Christian pluralist” (I believe that God’s relationship with humanity can and does take many religious forms). Regardless, their point remains: in the classic sense, I have no need to convince people to “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” and avoid the fiery pits of Hell.
GOOD THEOLOGY AND BAD THEOLOGY
From where I sit, I believe that it is of utmost importance to take into account what a theological system calls us to do as we are constructing these systems. Some systems are more tightly constructed than others. Some make use of narrative as their primary thread, while others make use of propositional statements. But no matter what they look like, there is good theology and there is bad theology. The difference between them is their ethics.
In other words, you can tell whether your theology is Christlike or not by how well it equips you to love your neighbor. What does your understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit contribute to your ability to serve the least of these? How does your experience of the Creator help you to serve Creation? Are humans sinful? How does that affect your understanding of the Church?
What always amazed me in my interactions with the “church leavers” was that while I was being accused of having poor theology (“You think its just fine for a child molester to go on molesting children because they’re gonna be saved anyway.”) I was also witnessing these folks passing harsh and swift judgment upon someone they considered to be “sinful” at best, and “unredeemable” at worst.
Their diatribes usually ended (and so did our conversations) when I cut them off. “I’m sorry, but I will not allow you to speak of So-and-So that way. You may have problems with my theology, but my theology does not allow for us to speak of one another that way. Does yours?”
It’s not that my theology doesn’t allow it because there is a rule against it. Its that it doesn’t allow it because it would be counter to the entire notion of who I understand God to be. Because that’s how good theology is built – an understanding of God should dictate good ethics, and good ethics should point us towards an understanding of God.
WHY I’M A CHRISTIAN PLURALIST
Pluralism is not just an acknowledgment of difference. Pluralism is the answer to the question “How do we live with difference?”
I am a Christian because I know God revealed through the work and person of Jesus the Christ. I am a pluralist because the God I know would not – does not – demand that difference be ignored. I am a Christian pluralist because my understanding of God and creation dictates that my theology acknowledges difference and forces me to act appropriately.
“Do unto others…” I think I heard that somewhere once…