Learning to Fight Like Grown-Ups


Claire Colvin -Fight Like Adults3

Recently an interview with Eugene Peterson made waves when it appeared that he had changed his views on same sex marriage. Even as I read the words in the interview I knew what was coming next: the yelling and the fights, the crowds ready to throw out the man’s entire life work because they were so sure he was so wrong. The following day a second article was published stating that his intentions in the original interview had not come across clearly and his theology had not changed. I did not see many people retracting their vitriol.

The whole issue of sexuality and the church is long and complicated and that’s not what this article is about. What I want to talk about is how we approach people when their theology shifts.

I was appalled by some of the comments I saw hurled at Mr. Peterson. One person questioned whether he had “even read the Bible at all.” What a ridiculous thing to say about a man who was a pastor for 29 years and who wrote the most popular paraphrase of the Bible in existence. It’s one thing to disagree with him; it’s another thing altogether to call his life’s work into question.

I often see versions of this argument surface when someone changes their thinking on a theological issue. There’s an assumption that the person who changed their mind did so flippantly as if someone who has spent their life devoted to the scriptures would wake up one morning and adjust their theology on a whim. In my experience, changes to theology happen slowly, and often painfully, and drenched in prayer.

“Evangelical” is a word I stripped from my skin years ago and for me, it was a long and painful process. I’ve had seasons where I held on to my faith by my fingertips, and years when I’m able to wrap my arms around it. I am a Christian. I still consider myself a church person, and I’m a regular attender and participant at a church here in town. But I am no longer an evangelical. I cannot bear the bitter taste of that word on my tongue.

I remember what it felt like to be so sure of my faith, to know down to the marrow of my bones that these things were right and these were wrong. All of it was, literally, carved in stone. There is a lot of comfort in that kind of surety, but as an adult I find I can’t hold onto it; it runs through my fingers like water.

I still have convictions; they’re just not the same ones I had before.

I believe that God is for us, and for justice, and for redemption. I believe that God is a parent standing at the end of a long road, searching the horizon for missing children. I believe that the Gospel speaks of wild, untamable, radically inclusive love. And I believe that when God speaks about judgment it’s not a metaphor. I think I have a firm grasp of the foundations. But there are many other areas of faith where my theology has shifted. It was terrifying at first, but with time I’m learning that a growing theology is nothing to be afraid of.  

In all other areas of life from parenting to medicine to human rights we expect attitudes and practices to change over time. But when it comes to theology, there is sometimes this idea that it is immovable and must never change. I don’t think that’s true.

God is unchanging but our understanding of God, and how that understanding is worked out in daily living does change. It must change. Think about the way you solved arguments with your siblings as a child, or the way you handled money. Chances are good that you do not behave the same way now. With maturity and experience comes deeper understanding and out of deeper understanding, some things shift.

I think we forget that Jesus was considered politically progressive in his time. He treated women as equals. He claimed that non-Jews were just as important as Jews. He proclaimed a Gospel that did away with the old rules. He saw the way things were and where there was injustice and cruelty and oppression he spoke up and moved for change.

This doesn’t mean that everything is up for debate, or that we should blindly follow the latest, greatest theological ideas of our time. But I think that we need to stop being afraid of the possibility of changing our theology. As mature, thinking women we need to be willing to wrestle with the parts of faith that don’t fit so well. It may be that we simply need to better understand what the scripture says to be able to accept a hard teaching. Or it may be that something we believed as children doesn’t jive with what we know to be true about God. Either way, having questions is not a bad thing, especially when those questions drive us into deeper study and a closer walk with God.

As women who love, I hope that we can be gentle, with ourselves, and with others, as we seek to better understand the great mystery of God and faith. There’s so much more to learn by having conversations, rather than fights, about the places where we disagree.

Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

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