Here’s a snippet of a conversation I had earlier today.
C: You’re a christian, so of course you believe in a disembodied consciousness.
Me: That’s a non sequitur.
C: You’ve got me beat then. I’ve never heard of God having a body before.
Me: Heard of Jesus? (John 1:14)
C: Well yes, but God was around before Jesus.
Me: Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)
C: And that’s supposed to tell me what? That God had legs? God was the creator of the Universe, apparently, so he was around before there was any need for legs, before there even was legs.
I find it hard to get my head around the idea of a disembodied consciousness. I’m pretty sure that my consciousness can’t be disembodied and remain … conscious. As for the mind of God … I have absolutely no idea.
But I reprise this snippet of a conversation to make the point that the label ‘Christian’ makes people assume all sorts of unwarranted things. It gets annoying after a while. I’m not given to angry outbursts and acts of homicidal violence, but please don’t push your luck with, “You’re a Christian, so you must be a socialist!”
Anyway, in an apparent synchronicity, blogger Glenn Peoples posted an excellent post today on something he calls minimalist Christianity. Here are a couple of paragraphs (but do make sure to read the whole thing).
A number of times the Apostle Paul warned first century Christians about getting into foolish controversies over doctrine. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t believe what they find most convincing about a whole range of things, but they were taking it further, making those things points of contention that threatened to divide the church. When writing to Timothy, a young church leader, Paul urged him no fewer than five times to stay away from – and to urge others to stay away from – unproductive quarrels over such things. But this is what really grabbed my attention recently, prompting this blog post: When Paul was in Athens preaching the Gospel, a number of philosophers asked him to come and speak to them because, here it comes, they wanted to know what the Christian faith was. They were accustomed to examining different worldviews but they had not yet heard of Christianity, so they said to Paul, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean” (Acts 17:19-20). Every evangelist and apologist reading this passage should be on the edge of their seat: They are about to get a bona fide New Testament example of what it actually looks like to sum up the Christian faith. And what does Paul say? I assume that Luke’s record is not intended to be verbatim, and only sums up what he thought was important (which in a way helps me to make the point even clearer). Here’s the whole talk as recorded in Acts 17
Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
Every time I have made this observation, I have been met with almost immediate misunderstanding, so let me labour the point: Nothing that I have said here implies that Christians should believe as few things as possible – or even that it’s a good thing to only believe the bare essentials. I think holding a lot of bad theology is bad for you. It has “knock on” effects into other things you believe and do. When I talk about theology at the blog and podcast, hopefully I make it obvious that I do care about what I believe – and what others believe too – beyond the bare essentials (just as a dietician cares about what you eat beyond the bare necessities needed to keep you alive). There is much growth, intellectually, spiritually and practically, in moving beyond the bare essentials of Christian thought and into the riches of biblical theology. But I have become convinced of this: The acceptance of the Christian faith does not require that anyone shares your convictions (however important they might be to you) on everything you believe that you have found among those riches.
The post in its entirety is well worth reading. Thanks, Glenn.
Here’s some further reading.
P.S. Don’t expect Paul’s advice not to get into “foolish controversies over doctrine” to be taken much notice of around here!