We just started a new series of adult Bible classes entitled “Seeing God Through Romantic Relationships”. In the first lesson (listen here), one statement got me to thinking about whether or not our (apparent) reticence to ‘debate’ (or discuss) our theological imperatives actually does a disservice, both to us and to those who don’t know the gospel. In the past, debates about various distinctive elements of a particular ‘brand’ of spirituality served to (to some degree anyway!) provide a way for people to learn about why we believe what we believe. With our desire to avoid confrontation (and, perhaps even, to avoid controversy), these discussions have waned in the past 30 years or so.
My impression (certainly not necessarily supported by any research) is that, especially among kids and recent converts, many don’t have a firm understanding of core principles of their faith. In particular, many would have a hard time trying to defend what they believe in a logically sound manner (whether what they believe is right or not).
Moreover, God is not afraid of doubt. In some ways, it seems that we try to avoid some of these ‘controversial’ subjects out of fear that perhaps we might provide a ‘stumbling block’ (cf. Romans 14:13) for those whose faith isn’t as firm. This seems like a cop out, because those who honestly look at the evidence will find that their faith is increased (improved?) by merely looking more closely. In these situations, God, through the Holy Spirit, draws us closer to him and reveals more about himself.
I’m not advocating a return to the “bad old days” of debating others to simply prove a point of very little theological value (those that aren’t core to our relationship with God through Jesus Christ), but rather an examination of what we believe and why we believe it, including the evidence that supports it. For example, baptism is often touted as the ‘pinnacle’ of a believer’s conversion experience. But, in fact, it is merely the starting point (or one of the starting points!) toward growth into a mature faith. In comparing baptism to a wedding celebration (the concept suggested by F. LaGard Smith in Baptism: The Believer’s Wedding Ceremony (out of print)), no one would claim that the ‘hard part’ is over when we enter the day-to-day living with our spouse after the wedding ceremony and the same is true for our relationship with God after baptism.