I have spent most my life wrestling with what it means to be a Christian, to think as a Christian, to live as a Christian. In fact, when I committed myself to Christ as a teenager I began asking difficult questions right away. I told myself that if Christianity truthfully describes the world around me then I better take it serious. As you may know this has made me a perpetual student, visiting and revisiting various subjects, often blogging about them!
I asked myself, “What are the ten most difficult doctrinal/theological subjects that contemporary Christians must address?” This is the list I’ve compiled:
(1) The “ontology” of Scripture:
It seems that many of the subsequent controversies are influenced by how one addresses this one. There has been intensified debate in evangelical circles over the meaning of Scripture. I think it has impacted even broader circles though. Words like “inerrancy,” “infallibility,” and “authority” are enough to divide churches and academic institutions.
(2) The historical Jesus in relation to creedal Christology:
While historical Jesus research seems to be waning in some circles there remains a tension between talking about Jesus of Nazareth who walked this earth in the first century and Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity who is worshiped every Sunday and exalted in the language of the creeds. One area that will continue to be hotly debated is whether or not Jesus talked about himself in ways that indicated he thought of himself as one with God in a meaningful way.
(3) Christian/Muslim relations:
Since both Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions there has been intensified discussion over whether or not the Allah of Islam is the same the God of Christianity. Of course, there are important differences, especially Christianity’s language regarding God as Trinity and Jesus’ relation to the one God. As the two largest religions in the world the relationship between Christians and Muslims has serious geopolitical implications.
(4) The “historical” Adam and Eve:
Modern science does not seem to leave much room for a historical “first couple” in Adam and Eve. Much of Scripture and Christian theology is built on the assumption that humanity shares a single origin. At this stage it is a difficult bridge to build between these two descriptions of human origins. Maybe this will change in the future, but at this point there seems to be quite a disconnect.
(5) Political allegiance and ecclesiastical unity:
I don’t know how this goes elsewhere, but our election season can be a nasty time for Christian unity. Often pastors preach overt sermons supporting particular political ideologies or sometimes their views leak into their sermons. People may begin campaigning for a particular party in such a way that it causes friction with Christians who support other parties or candidates. Even more discouraging is the way politicians adopt the rhetoric of Christianity in order to win votes.
(6) Race/ethnicity and ecclesiastical unity:
Sadly, there is an old truism that says that Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week in the United States. This seems to remain true. While the church should lead in racial reconciliation we are often on the other side. Other contemporary issues like immigration law have compounded the problem. There remains to be seen an effort by most white Christians to listed to minority Christians on a host of issues. Often “diversity” has been used as a byword for assimilating others into the majority culture. We have a lot of work to do here.
(7) Gender roles and equality:
While I am concerned about women having the freedom to serve in their church according to their calling this is just the tip of the iceberg. As we’ve seen in recent debates over contraceptives there is a great divide between many forms of conservative Christianity and women’s rights movements. While we could argue that abortion rights are a distinct matter I think it is fair to say that you can’t separate that subject from this one.
(8) Homosexuality and Christian ethics:
Homosexuals have been abused and mistreated in our society for a long time, even by Christians. At the juncture the treatment of homosexuals has become a civil rights debate. Matters related to unions and state approved marriage weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of people on both sides of the debate, many being Christians. The sociological matters are one thing, but the exegesis of various biblical texts and their theological application is being rethought and debated again as well. We’ve seen the matter split the Episcopalian Church, the ELCA, the PC USA, and it appears to be a contentious issue that no one will be able to escape, even if there is little consensus on how to move forward in addressing it.
(9) Creation, eschatology, and Christian ethics:
Global climate change seems to be a subject upon which many scientists agree and many Christians are confused, kind of like evolution. This likely has a lot to do with the wishy-washy status of Christian eschatology. The “Left Behind” series ruined Christian eschatology at the popular level for many evangelicals and this has impacted how they engage “creation care.” If the human contribution to climate change is what many scientist say it is, then this is an ethical concern, even if you believe the planet will eventually be destroyed people still live on it now.
(10) Education and the future of the seminary:
This one may be surprising to some, but I think it influences all of the above. We have seen seminaries and Christian liberal arts universities suffer as the cost of education continues to inflate at an astronomical rate in this country. What is not rising is the salaries of pastors, professors, and others who enter vocations for which the seminary trains. Many churches have responded with their own training programs (e.g. Re:Train), but in my opinion these programs are like extended conferences with a homework added. In other words, they are not where near as valuable as seminary training. Yet the fear of indebtedness is a real concern and something to take seriously. How will seminaries respond? How do Christian education institutions continue to train people for service to the church without creating too much debt for their graduates?
Do you agree with this list? Would you add/remove an item? Do you have any thoughts on any of these topics listed?