The Importance of an Existential Paradox

I’ll be honest, the title is really just to catch people’s attention. But now that I have it, there is still a point to the title.

I’ve been reading about the problem of evil lately and as one might suspect, it’s quite easy to lose faith in humanity during such an endeavor. After all, we see evil on a daily basis and commit evil as well. In fact, some people can begin to grow a hatred for this world and this life because of evil.

This is especially predominant among evangelical Christians. In their zealousness for God’s truth they see heresy under every rock, Hell around every corner, and await the end of it all when the earth will be burned up in a fiery blaze. Some people think these types of evangelicals simply thrive off controversy, but the truth is many of them hate controversy. I know many of these people (at times I am one of these people), and such lives are full of depression and angst. It’s full of never being happy and in moments of happiness feeling guilt because you know there’s so much out there you need to do.

But on the other side of things are people who see love on a daily basis. In their zealousness for God’s love, they never see heresy, they see Heaven behind every person, and await an end that may or may not come, but it doesn’t matter because there’s work to be done now. Some people think these types of evangelicals thrive of feeling good and avoiding controversy, but the truth is many of them genuinely love people and want to do everything they can to help them and find the good in them. I know many of these people (at times I am one of these people), and such lives are full of happiness, but lots and lots of doubt. It’s easy to be happy when you see someone doing a good thing, that’s when it’s easy to believe humans are basically good; but when you hear about a child being abducted and murdered or a husband cheating on his wife, what then? Where’s the good in those actions?

Within the evangelical community these two groups fight and fight and move towards polar opposites. The emergent evangelicals, in their quest for love, ironically begin to hate the more reformed evangelicals. Now, the emergent evangelicals may not recognize it, but it’s true; they hate these reformed individuals. They will use the reformed as a negative example in Christianity every single time, they’ll mock John Piper, they won’t even mention Mark Driscoll, and then they’ll create sites mocking and satirizing their reformed brethren. The irony is that for emergent evangelicals who teach that we’ll all eventually make it to Heaven, that we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of our creeds, their actions speak differently.

Now I know all the excuses that will be put forth on this one. “Jesus was harsh with the Pharisees.” So you’re automatically assuming that you’re not a Pharisee, but they are? You don’t see the arrogance in this? “Well they do it too!” Did not Christ tell us to turn the other cheek? “Well I still love them, I’m just harsh with them because they do more harm than good.” Aren’t we told to love our enemies and isn’t love an action as well as a state of being? At the end of the day if we’re following the Christian message, we’re left with no good reason to treat reformed believers the way we do.

Alternatively, the reformed are not without their share of guilt. In their quest for theological purity they have committed a heresy in their actions. Now, the reformed evangelicals may not recognize it, but it’s true; they hate emergent evangelicals. They will always view the emergent movement as pure, 100%, imported from Hell heresy. They’ll never see the good in it, or the good is always mentioned as an aside. They’ll blast Rob Bell (who says he’s not emergent, but, c’mon), they’ve already erased Brian McLaren’s name out of the Book of Life, and the only reason they won’t outright declare Peter Rollins the Antichrist is that he’s too short and too Irish to command the attention of the masses.

Now I know all the excuses that will be put forth on this one. “Paul was harsh with the false teachers.” So you’re saying you know they’re false teachers and you’re not? Obviously I’m going to agree that false teachers exist (I’ll get to that), but shouldn’t we also examine ourselves? “They’ll lead thousands away from Christ!” To paraphrase a line from The Big Lebowski, “Who’s the flippin’ Calvinist here?!” Don’t you believe that God has chosen His elect and that among those elect none shall perish?

To out myself on this issue, I certainly don’t fall in with the emergent crowd, but I also don’t fall in with the reformed crowd either. I’m one of those dinosaurs who’s dying out (at least in America) that doesn’t fit into either category, yet fits into both categories. Being that way, I will say that I do see many emergent teachings as false and I do think some of the teachings by some individuals are heretical (but I won’t apply this to block their salvation, because there’s no way I can know). But this doesn’t mean I’m ready to get a fire going or sharpen my axe. Likewise, I disagree quite a bit with reformed theology, particularly Calvinism. But this doesn’t mean I’m ready to become a modern-day Jesuit and hunt them down eradicating their teachings.

This is where I get to the importance of paradox in how we live. Could it be that we can look upon this world and recognize that it is evil and that people are evil, but at the same time it’s good and people are good? These are not necessarily contradictory, because we’re not saying that everything is pure evil or wholly evil, nor are we saying it’s pure good or wholly good. We’re simply saying it has both and that people have both. Some people are more evil (which means they lack goodness) and others are good, all by choice. Could it be that we do need to pay attention to what we believe and avoid heresy, but because this also helps us avoid heresy in how we live?

Most importantly, can we love someone and be with him while also disagreeing? Certainly this does have its limits, for how can I attend a church where the pastor denies the historical resurrection of Christ or denies His divinity? Or how can I attend a church where a rich member refuses to give to the poor and instead exploits them, but the pastor never says a thing to this member who is living in unrepentant sin? So there are standards (much to the chagrin of emergent believers), but we don’t use these standards to strangle those who disagree with us (much to the chagrin of reformed believers).

So yes, false teachers do exist and we should do our best to counteract it – but can’t we be civil in the meantime? While some may want to argue that I’m being soft, I would contend that I’m simply looking at how Jesus lived. He was harsh, yes, but He was loving as well. He was willing to call Peter the Satan, but He was also willing to wash his feet. He washed the feet of all His disciples knowing they would reject Him in His moment of need, and what greater heresy is there than that? Yet Jesus served them, died for them, and then appeared to them after they had rejected Him. While we must sometimes be stern in our words, we should never be stern in our actions.

I am not perfect at this at all. I sometimes cross beyond the paradox of life and choose to be purely stern or purely loving, most of the time stern. Too often I become a heresy hunter, pointing out why everyone is wrong rather than taking the time to explain my own beliefs and why I think those are right. So I fully understand that everything I’m saying makes me a hypocrite, but that doesn’t invalidate anything I’m saying (it simply invalidates me as an individual).

In the end, we must point out where we think someone is wrong, we must point out heresy, and this will impact how we attend church and our church leadership. But we must love in all that we do. While we must be willing to say, “John is wrong in what he believes,” we must also be willing to serve John in our full capacity should the need arise. We must recognize that while John is committing an act of evil (whether in his teaching or his living), he is still in the image of God and therefore still good. Such a paradox.