Crystal Downing’s How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith is our book club selection for the month of March. It’s Monday, so let’s continue our discussion.
I don’t know about you, but I think Downing does an excellent job of bringing to light historical examples of the tendency of Christians to use the Bible to support views that, in hindsight, seem pretty irresponsible. This reinforces her point that interpretive communities do in fact play a significant role in helping us define truth. Our own history shows us that Christians are not immune to “situatedness.” Downing’s examples include: the Church’s stubborn marriage to geocentricism, the brutal persecution of the Anabaptists by Protestants for believing that confession should precede baptism, the use of Scripture to support owning slaves and marginalizing women.
We would all like to believe that, had we lived in the days of the early church or the Protestant Reformation or the Civil War, we would have chosen the right side of things, but I think that’s a bit presumptuous. We must be careful not to imitate the Pharisees, who bragged that had they lived during the time of the prophets they would not have shed the blood of innocent men, but who then proceeded to crucify Jesus and persecute his disciples (Matthew 23:30-34).
I can’t help but wonder what convictions I might have held had I lived in my hometown of Dayton, Tennessee just five, ten, or fifteen decades ago. Would I have used Scripture to defend my right to own slaves? Would I have opposed racial integration? Would I have remained silent as the Cherokees stumbled by my house on the Trail of Tears? With this in mind, I often wonder if evangelicals will someday look back on our treatment of the homosexual community and wish we had done things a bit differently.
Perhaps for this reason, Downing is refreshingly non-condemning of our historical counterparts. Instead of issuing a sweeping indictment on past believers, she uses these historical examples to warn Christians of the tendency to “presume that their construction of language is the true one: the tower that reaches into the heavens, the tower that encompasses the mind of God.”
I think an appropriate response to this analysis is an attitude of humility, a willingness to release the death grip I personally have on certain theologies and interpretations of Scripture. All my life I was told that the most mature Christians were the convicted ones, the ones who believed without a doubt that they were right. Now I’m beginning to wonder if true spiritual maturity is marked by a healthy dose of trepidation, a willingness to be wrong and an openness to new ideas.