Justin Taylor asked a rather provocative (though loaded) question on his blog the other day, which prompted a rather intriguing discussion that I was privileged to be a part of. He asked this: “How much doctrine can one distort or deny and still be saved?”
I’ve seen similar discussions crop up recently on the Christianity thread on Reddit, and there generally seem to be two camps. There are those who work diligently to vouchsafe doctrinal integrity, viewing historically orthodox theology as the boundaries within which Christianity is defined and, as such, serving as the intellectual boundaries on saving belief. There is also another camp, who still views doctrine as important, but as a secondary issue to saving faith. It is to this latter group that I belong.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way diminishing the power or importance of good, solid theology. I am, however, questioning our ability to corral God within our own limits of comprehension. This view looks to our own intellectual capacity with humility, recognizing that despite God’s self-revelation, we still struggle to make sense of a God who is so far beyond our limited human understanding it is laughable. It recognizes that, as theologically brilliant as some of our scholars undoubtedly are, they are still fallible and, I am certain, will come face to face with Jesus on the other side of the veil and discover that much of our precious doctrine was quite simply wrong.
I have to recognize that what I understand now and what I understood a decade ago are light years apart, and this is a good thing. Does that growth somehow mean, however, that there is a threshold over which my comprehension must first pass before it is worthy of being considered a “saving faith?” This seems to be the dividing question and, I would contend, it is the wrong question.
Salvation Is Not About Intellect, It Is About Faith
The central call Jesus challenges us with in the Gospels is not the call to “come and understand” but rather the call to “come and follow.” Our doctrine and theology, our ability to wrestle with difficult questions, our knowledge of scripture and love of scholarship… these are all incredibly important, but they are secondary. Good theology comes with time. The call to follow is in no way a call to intellectual abandonment, but our salvation is predicated on our response to Christ, not on accurate understanding of who He is.
I’m reminded of the disciples, who spent an inordinate amount of time getting their theology wrong, even getting Jesus wrong. I am reminded of a delightful little conversation where Peter finally (FINALLY!) recognizes Jesus as the son of God, only to turn around and rebuke Him and, in turn, be identified with Satan.
I’m reminded of disciples who turned away children and women, only to be corrected by Jesus and taught about what the Kingdom of Heaven really is. I am reminded of these same disciples who spent their time arguing, vying for positions of power within this same kingdom, only to have Jesus reframe their understanding of servanthood.
I am reminded how often the disciples witnessed the miraculous, the things that only God could do, only to wonder among themselves, “Who is this man, that even the wind and the waves obey Him?” I am further reminded that in the Gospel of Mark, the first person to really recognize Jesus’ divinity (without the accompanying “get behind me Satan!”) was not a disciple, was not even a Jew, but was a Roman Centurion gazing upon his crucified Lord.
Yet, despite this, I am further reminded that Jesus never expelled these disciples, never cast them out, never took their ignorance as a barrier which eternally separated them from the Kingdom. Instead, He taught them, grew them, shaped them, and sent them out.
It was never about their theology; good theology came with time. It was always, and will always, be about a heart that is willing to follow.
And a heart that is willing to follow what it does not yet understand… isn’t that what faith is all about?
What do you think? How wrong can one’s theology be and still be saved?
Image Credit: Boetter