I realized that in my last couple of columns I have been thinking about the divide between two kinds of Christian friends that I have. And I've been thinking about how these two groups have come to need each other in an unhealthy way, and how perhaps they really do need each other, though not in ways they want to hear.
One friend is all about love and acceptance. Ordain women, marry couples of the same sex, appreciate the beauty in Islam and Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, don't come down on people co-habitating outside marriage, that sort of thing. If a conservative Christian has denounced something, my friend is probably for it, and he does so in the name of Christ, and seems to believe that anyone who disagrees isn't being, well, Christian.
He is utterly tolerant, except when it comes to people he believes are intolerant. With them he will have no truck.
My other friend believes God can save anyone, but when he talks about people he considers reprobates (and there are a lot of them: gays, agnostics, people who believe in a right to abortion, pre-marital fornicators, even Catholics, whom in his language he doesn't even consider Christian), he doesn't seem to believe that God will save any of these people, and what's more, I think he's kind of hoping God won't.
Each is represented by more than one popular theologian, men who write books proclaiming a worldview that they believe is crystal clear in the Scriptures, yet which is at odds with other theologians who also claim crystal clarity. It's a me-and-my-Bible kind of arrogance to which I have certainly been prone, a notion that since the truth in these verses is so obvious to me, anyone who disagrees must be willfully ignorant.
And the thing is, these guys need each other. My reprobate-hating friend needs reprobates. They make him feel good about getting the true faith right, about being among the chosen. He talks a good game, if you press him, about how he's a worm in the eyes of God, about how none are worthy, and so on, but it all comes out like cant, like stuff he knows righteous Christians are supposed to say. He doesn't really believe he's as filthy, in the eyes of God, as the two gay agnostics who sleep in the same bed.
Meanwhile, my reprobate-loving friend needs people to hate the reprobates. Otherwise, how can he prove his superior lovingkindness, his greater devotion to the true heart of Christ?
There is something self-congratulatory about both friends, and I've come to realize that what they're congratulating themselves about is that they aren't the other. Each needs the other to exist; otherwise his own righteousness diminishes.
And yet I think they do need each other, if only they could really listen. One carries a piece of Christ that is love, and the other carries a piece of Christ that is holy fire, and if only each could have his heart tempered by the other, he might draw closer to the fullness of Christ. Instead of pieces of Christ, they might draw closer to the peace of Christ, and be wounded, rather than puffed up, when they encounter those who seem immersed in the kinds of sins they most dislike.