A few years back a franchise of movies (5) as well as a TV series entitled “Highlander” came out. These weren’t great movies, though the first did have Sean Connery in it. The lead was played by Christopher Lambert, whom I’ve liked since his “Greystoke” days, despite the fact that he is an actor in the Richard Gere class (limited emotional range) rather than the Robert Deniro class (endless emotional palette).
The basic premise is that these immortals must battle it out until only one remains. Why? Because “there can be only one.” I know, it makes no sense, but those are the rules. There can be only one. Who made the rules? I don’t know, but there can be only one. Thus, they must sever the heads of fellow immortals from their bodies–with any other form of killing, their immortality kicks in and they revive–till only one remains with his head firmly affixed to his neck. I forget what happens then. The one remaining has supreme power? Or maybe he becomes human and therefore mortal? I don’t remember. But, I know there can be only one, that’s for sure.
I thought of this movie because I’ve been contemplating how, in our pursuit of truth, we church-people have seemingly adopted a very similar code. There can be only one. And we must fight until the one true truth prevails. In fact, it appears that we are convinced that the degree to which we are willing to “behead” those who hold differing views is a measure of how firm our own convictions are. In other words, you might say you believe something… but we’ll know if you really believe it if you are willing to denounce and repudiate all other viewpoints as well as those who hold them. If you’re not willing to be that certain… then you must not really believe what you say you do.
And I find myself as mystified by that logic as I was with the basic plot of the “Highlander” movies. Who makes these rules, anyway? And who says we have to buy into them? I know a socio-philosophical type could tell me that it’s “Modernity” who’s responsible for that zero sum 1 approach to truth seeking. But is that really an essential, or even sine qua non, aspect of genuine conviction? I, for one, don’t think so.
Let me give you an example. Recently I was listening to a message (you can find here) by Deb Hirsch on Dan Kimball’s Vintage Faith Church website on the topic of homosexuality. This is a woman who had a lesbian background and came out of that lifestyle, out of conviction, after she became a Christian. She is now married and shares a ministry with her husband. Her testimony is interesting and inspiring. But one thing struck me. She was able to articulate that she personally was quite convinced that the Bible did not make allowances for homosexual relationships and that, instead, God’s plan was for either chastity or heterosexual marriage as the only appropriate Christian lifestyles.
And yet… all the while holding this conviction, she was able to explain that there are other Christians who hold a different view and believe that the Biblical passages on same-sex relations do not really condemn homosexual monogamous relationships as we understand them today. Yes, she said other “Christians”. In other words, she is able to accept the difference and still consider those who differ to be Christians. A knee jerk response might be to say, “then she doesn’t really have convictions about what is right and wrong”. But, there it is; her life’s testimony. She left her lesbian relationship, changed her entire life, and committed herself to an entirely different (heterosexual) path because of her Christian beliefs! If that is not conviction, then I don’t know what is! In other words, one can believe firmly to the point of radical action and still accept those who think differently. What an encouraging and inspirational example of Christian charity and unity!
In stark contrast, there has been a lot of controversy regarding Rob Bell’s book about heaven and hell. Some have been quick to denounce him as unorthodox. The whole controversy illustrates that as believers, all too often, we think that in order to make clear our convictions we must “crush” the other guy. That is particularly interesting when it comes to this topic, because an honest study of the Bible certainly does not yield an air-tight, 100% certain, understanding of the afterlife…. hence the disparate views.
On a number of biblical issues, I’ve found myself in a position of having firm convictions, yet not feeling “there can be only one” perspective (mine!). For instance, I wholeheartedly believe in water baptism of adults as the point when believers bury their old self and are raised to live a new life (Rom 6:3-4ff). That is what I teach and practice 2. And at the same time, I don’t feel compelled to denounce all who hold a differing view (whether infant baptizers or pray-Jesus-into-your-heart practitioners) as infidels and subjects of the anti-Christ! In fact, so many of those I’ve met are sincere, devoted, Spirit-filled Christ-followers whom I could hardly ever reject as brothers (didn’t Jesus say that “a tree is known by its fruit”?).
My point is that I believe unity among Christians might make great strides if we were able to accept the fact that one can (and should) have deep convictions on any given topic (baptism, homosexuality, women’s roles, etc…), and at the same time embrace as brothers followers of Jesus who hold different views. We can reject the zero-sum approach to truth, in favor of a hermeneutic of humility and a non-dogmatic stance. It seems to me that is precisely what the apostle Paul was talking about in Romans, when he wrote:
What do you think?
1 According to wikipedia,” in game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.” In other words, for one party to “win”, another must “lose”. There can be only one. Both parties cannot win; neither can both lose. One must win.