Christianity consists of thousands of tribes, cliques, and communities — each with different theologies, traditions, and doctrinal beliefs. Within a Westernized society obsessed with celebrity, entertainment, popularity, conflict, and money, it can be easy for Christian groups and communities to clash with each other.
For the modern church, much of its recent legacy has involved conflict, division, and controversy. Christians have developed a love-hate relationship with theologians, pastors, and church leaders — and it’s dividing the church.
Many Christians see their faith journeys as series of either/or situations and decisions — this is bad. Because as much as we want things to be clear, concise, and black-and-white, reality is complex and messy.
Pride, greed, hatred, bitterness, fear, and ignorance often cause Christians to promote distrust instead of unity — but what if Christians were more patient, graceful, and forgiving of each other?
I may disagree with Rob Bell about hell, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to reject one of the most gifted Christian communicators of our time. Bell’s in-depth research and exegetical approach adds insightful historical context and background information that often goes previously unnoticed — revealing profound scriptural truths.
His inspiring project ‘What is the Bible?’ is a must-read for both lay believers and serious scholars alike. Additionally, his creative genius has added a much-needed element of art to a Christian culture starving for quality content. Unfortunately, many will ignore anything Rob does simply because they’ve stubbornly — and sinfully — judged him as a heretic.
I may disagree with Mark Driscoll regarding complementarianism, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore his pastoral and ministerial contributions, his admirable love for his children and wife, and his ability to inspire through thought-provoking sermons.
I may disagree with Rachel Held Evan’s egalitarian beliefs, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to discount her work related to gender equality, social justice issues, reconciliation, church accountability, inter-theology dialogue, and other important works. As a leading and influential voice both online and throughout Christian culture, Rachel’s humility and honesty is refreshing and noteworthy.
I may disagree with John Piper’s Calvinism, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to boycott his sermons and stop reading his books. Desiring God powerfully helped my faith mature when I desperately needed it, and Piper’s passion for ministry and evangelism are extremely admirable. Additionally, I’ll always respect the fact that he was one of the first Christian leaders to generously provide open source content to the public.
I may not agree with Open Theism, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore Greg Boyd’s powerful teachings on depending solely in Christ — not in governments or cultural idols. His work pertaining to Christian nonviolence and creation care is revolutionary, and believers would be foolish to ignore such a gifted teacher.
I may not agree with Donald Miller’s opinions about attending church, but who can deny the significant contributions he’s made towards helping people live a God-inspired and purposeful life? A profound and gifted storyteller, Donald has helped save an entire generation from becoming cynical about Christianity, and he’s motivated thousands to rediscover their faith and not give up on Christianity.
I may find Shane Claiborne’s lifestyle too extreme and radical, but how can I ignore the amazing work he’s doing fighting injustice and helping the poor? He’s taking Christ’s commands to love others seriously — who can fault him for that?
I might be offended by Tony Campolo’s use of profanity, but his dedication to defending those in need and selflessly serving the underprivileged has inspired thousands to live a more Christ-centered life. Many have dedicated themselves to sacrificially helping others through Tony’s years of faithful service.
I might not agree with Jim Wallis’ political views, but his love for the poor, concern for those being alienated by unjust laws, and tireless work advocating for people without a voice has changed countless lives.
I may not be a Catholic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire Pope Francis for the humble, joyful, and Christ-like way in which he lives his life and treats other people.
I may find Franklin Graham’s association with conservative politicians concerning, and his harsh opinion of homosexuality disturbing, but that doesn’t mean I’m equally appalled by his work with feeding the poor through ‘Samaritan’s Purse’ and ‘Operation Christmas Child’ — ministries that have blessed and benefitted millions of individuals worldwide.
All of these people claim to love God and say they’re motivated by their love for Jesus. But we often unfairly ignore them — and the amazing things they’re doing — simply because we disagree with a portion of their beliefs.
As Christians, we’re all part of a particular tribe and community. It’s easy to alienate, distrust, and attack those who are beyond our inner circle, but we need to start loving as Christ loved.
This doesn’t mean we blindly accept everything or aren’t allowed to disagree or debate, but it does require us to do these things within the perspective of love.
Are we motivated by love or hate?
Being loving doesn’t mean Christians must succumb to moral relevancy, accommodation, or blind tolerance, but rather that we do our best to follow Jesus’s example of serving others — even to the point of death.
So regardless of if you align yourself with Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, or John Piper — or agree or disagree with any particular Christian person or institution — and in spite of whether you’re Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, or Pentecostal, and no matter what translation of the Bible you read, we should ultimately identify with Christ above all else. God help us.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com. He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org , and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.