It’s not often that I have those moments of inspiration, a moment so clear that it’s not really a light bulb flicking on above my head but rather a floodlight on a sports pitch. Not to blow my own horn here, but I really think a conversation I had whilst visiting Tirana recently is on to something.
This moment of genius? The death of “Certainty Christianity”. If I had the time, or rather the patience, I’d rather a book on this but this blog will have to do instead, for now at least.
For centuries, if not close to millennia, Christians and their institutions have pedalled an understanding of Christianity that beats to the drum of certainty. That certainty has remained routed in the Good News and salvation message of Christ but has increasingly become prescriptive and legalistic. We became certain of our questions, certain of answers and certain of our God and the way in which He (because we’re certain He’s male) should behave.
However, it is in recent years (perhaps decades) that we are seeing a breaking free from that certainty; a liberation from the prescriptive legalism. Through queer, black, feminist and liberation theologies and their fruits, we are now witnessing a realisation that the answer is not as certain as we once thought. We may have chosen the Way (or perhaps the Way chose us) but we are no longer certain that we’re reading the map correctly.
Scripture is slowly and widely being acknowledged for what it is: a collection of writings for those who are exploring the concept of the Divine and not a how-to guide for the life, the universe and everything. Want to know why your IKEA shelves have an extra screw? Surely the Bible must have an answer! Curious as to whether you should be buying clothes of mixed fibres (aren’t we all) – Scripture most definitely can help here! Should women lead, economic slaves receive freedom and our ethnic and sexual minorities receive equality? Ah… Dare we say our holy book falls short here?
And the truth is, we are saying exactly that. The Bible is a wonderful collection of literature; poetry, historical, fact and metaphor. It is a tapestry of beautiful writing to soothe the soul and stoke the fires of social justice. It is both awe-inspiring and magnificently terrifying. Consistent in theme but inconsistent in delivery. Yet, our global Church behaves as if the questions have been answered, the concerns put to rest and the challenges resolved.
But as I walked the streets of Tirana with it’s focus on aesthetic development to the detriment of the impoverished, it’s clear to me that all concerns have not been put to rest and all challenges have not been resolved. For the children trapped in Calais, despite their legal right to join family in the UK, all concerns have not been put to rest and all challenges have not been resolved. For those of us in Britain and the USA, where we face political uncertainty and governments who do not truly represent those they have been elected by, all concerns have not been put to rest and all challenges have not been resolved.
In our arrogance we remain certain; certain of ourselves, certain of our political systems, certain of what is right and wrong, certain of God. But there is room, I believe, for doubt, for challenge, for uncertainty. If we remain fixed, stubbornly assertive of what is the only path forward then we don’t make room for God, the other, the woman at the well or the leper. We become the religious leaders, certain of their law and their God who gave it to them. Christ came to subvert certainty, to challenge the norm and see the Kingdom break through by allowing reason, inclusion and the power of doubt in his followers to guide his and their actions.
What would it look like if we allowed uncertainty to guide our actions? Would we be less hasty to vote for a government who seeks to build up the rich and demonise the poor? Would we take a chance on the homeless person who seeks to serve in our local Church or community but we distrust them based on years of indoctrination? Would we challenge corruption, stand for justice, welcome all if we just allowed ourselves to doubt for a moment that we’ve had it right for the last 2,000 years of Christian history?
Certainty is certainly dying but it’s not dead yet.