other voices

Why are we so often afraid of other voices? Do they shake our own fallible security in certain beliefs? Do they threaten an errant assurance of our own subjective truth and relative experience? Why are we so afraid of different views and opinions and interpretations? Why do we feel the need to fight tooth and nail to assert the universalism of our own narrow way, being so anti-universalism of the kind that accepts variation and diversity (of course with the caveat that not all beliefs are good, right, and true).

Fear of other voices sometimes makes us defensive, running to apologetics to uphold our truth. Or it may put us on the offensive, loud in our rightness and its exclusivity. The voices of those like Rob Bell (remember how Love Wins made him a heretic?), Peter Enns, Peter Rollins, Richard Rohr, Rachel Held Evans, Barbara Brown Taylor, and so on, have helped sustain and even save my faith. Would I have anything left to hold on to if what I’m leaving was all there was of God, the only way to be a Christian? Ironically, these same voices seem to threaten the (apparently secure and immovable) faith of others (especially conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists). Of course, some believers new or insecure in their faith might not find these more unorthodox voices helpful. Not all perspectives are suited to all people of faith in all seasons. But instead of making sweeping generalizations of “danger” we should allow that some believers (especially doubting or questioning or even former) might find some solace as well as fresh hunger for faith in new ways of thinking about and experiencing God. And perhaps sorting through different voices requires work (thinking, reasoning, wisdom, discernment) when many of us want simplicity (answers, outlines, scripts). Since when does life—and faith—ever work this way?

If the only correct voices were the ones I’m leaving behind then I don’t know what would be left of my faith, if anything. I’m sure there are some legitimate dangers in overly (so called) “progressive Christianity” that leaves Christ entirely out of Christianity. But to assume such a caricature of every more liberally bent Christian is unfair. It’s like saying a segment or even fringe is a majority, a fallacy akin to saying all conservative Evangelicals are raging right-wingers. It’s clearly not that simple. Or true.

Our preference for either more conservative or more liberal theology and practice can be at least somewhat reactionary (if not always). I, coming from a conservative background, react to what I dislike within that context by being more open-minded towards liberal voices (which are much easier to hear since they’re not triggering). Someone coming from a liberal context may eventually gravitate towards more conservative voices, desiring more structure and predictability. Neither are right or wrong. Both are an aspect of our human context and experience and our ever-changing seasons of faith.

If certain voices within (and outside) our faith—whether conservative or liberal or moderate—are triggering and cause fear, anxiety, confusion and unbelief, they might not be the best voices for our season (if ever). If, however, they are life-giving, fresh, resonant, and increase hunger for God and truth, they may be just the voices we need for our season (if not for all time). 

We change. And the beauty of the diversity within our faith tradition is that there is most likely a voice within that diversity that speaks to our season and our change.

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