Inclusive Christianity: Dialogue With a Christian Fundamentalist

It has been some time since I have felt motivated to do any writing. On the other hand, I have for some time in recent years had a desire to address what I have called “inclusive Christianity,” and to help those of other faiths know that I consider them to be spiritual brothers and sisters.

A friend had posted a video clip of an atheistic scientist who became a Christian. She and I traded some emails concerning that clip. Ultimately, I responded as follows:

I will try to answer your question. [Bignon] cited Genesis 1:2 and the creation story in the Bible referring to specific days of creation. That is the first story of creation in the Bible. The second immediately follows at Genesis 2:4. In it, there is a different order of creation: Adam, a garden, animals, and then creation of Eve from the rib of Adam. Mainstream Christianity has generally focused only on the latter portion in which, when man eats of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, he cannot live in Eden any longer. That is a description of the human condition.

I am probably more simpleminded than some people view me. For me, the root of Christianity is to be found not in Paul, but in the synoptic Gospels. I do not doubt the existence of the historical Jesus. My first question has to do with the actions of a Jesus follower, and, secondly, what about those who do good works but are not a Jesus follower? Matthew tells us that the disciples told Jesus that there were some who were not followers that were doing good works. Jesus said in essence, “Don’t worry about it. Good fruit does not fall from a bad tree. By their fruits you will know them.” And then, Matthew reports in the 25th chapter, “Inasmuch as you did it for the least of these, you did it for me.” But there is more, seldom acknowledged: “Inasmuch as you did not do it for the least of these, you did not do it for me:” the former are rewarded, and the latter, whatever their professions of faith, are punished. That, to my mind, is the gospel in a nutshell.

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he said there were two: love God and like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself. Pretty simple.

My friend replied with the following, which is typical of mainstream, more conservative, Christianity in the United States:

The central idea of the gospel, and the reason Jesus died is that all human beings are sinful and we need someone to “pay” for our sin. If God is absolutely holy and demands righteousness who measures up? That is the point of Jesus, God, who became man, condescending to rescue us all. We cannot (nor do we really want to) be good enough. Christians believe they are sinful, they can do nothing to deserve God’s favor and believe that Christ, God in the flesh) died to pay that penalty. In thanksgiving they do the best they can to show God’s love. Hence, “by their fruits they shall know them.” Our actions are a natural outcome of the love we have for Jesus who loved us, died for us and loves all people. We want to love those He also loves. If we do not believe we need a savior we are damned already, and do not know ourselves. It seems to me that the outstanding characteristic of Christians is that they know intensely that they need to be forgiven and that they trust Jesus to keep his word that he has covered their sinfulness with His righteousness. Don’t forget Jesus also said “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved..” John 10:9. To understand someone we love we need to pay attention to all they say and do.

I replied:

[Friend], unlike St. Paul and Mr. Wood, I can’t claim a sudden, stunning brilliant light or revelation. In retrospect, I would have to say that my faith has developed [gradually] over the years to what it is today. Theological argument, even that of St. Paul, has little meaning to me. Nonetheless, some of St. Paul’s writing has resonated with me, particularly the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians: of all the spiritual gifts, all would be hollow without love.