Since the beginning of the church there have been many individuals with many conflicting beliefs who have called themselves Christian. The Gnostics believed that you could ascend the levels of being and become gods. They claimed to be Christians. A very large group today who also call themselves Christians believe that you can become a god with your own world to rule. There have been those who claimed that God has chosen some to salvation and some to damnation, those who claimed that God has chosen only the ones that will be saved, and those who have claimed that God has not chosen at all. All claimed to be Christian. There are even those who have attempted to merge various aspects of other religious beliefs with Christianity, and they call themselves Christians too; Buddhism and Christianity are just the same, especially Buddhism.
Of course, anyone who wants to can claim to be a Christian. A person can take what he wants from the Bible and leave the rest and can call himself a Christian (and there will be those who will condemn me [to hell?] for using a masculine personal pronoun). There is no law against deciding what you want to believe. Yet, it is always curious that those who pick-and-choose are quick to justify their choices. I guess everyone is quick to do that, however. People have gotten angry at me; “You just think you are always right!!” Well, OF COURSE!! I don’t believe things that I think are wrong, duh! Everyone thinks that what they believe is right. I always try to research everything I believe to see whether it is right. I may not always succeed. But don’t I have the same right as you to believe what I think is right?
This is a more serious problem. Those who want to pick-and-choose from the bible and Christianity want all others to keep their mouths shut. If you don’t pick-and-choose what you want from the Bible, if you want to believe the whole Bible, if you want to believe in inerrancy, well all of a sudden the freedom does not apply to you. If you want to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, well then you are one of the dreaded “literalists”; you’re not a “more comparative, historiographical biblical scholar.” Isn’t this kind of attitude interesting; telling others that they are stupid, or unscholarly, or anti-intellectual, or even that they don’t understand real Christianity because they don’t believe the way you do? Doesn’t that sound familiar? That’s the very kind of attitude that everyone hated about the fundamentalists. “Fundamentalists are closed-minded, telling everyone else that they are wrong. Those fundamentalists are just a bunch of unscholarly anti-intellectuals. They think that just because you don’t believe the way they do, then you can’t be a Christian!” The tide has certainly turned. Now the pick-and-choosers have the same attitude that they used to hate in the fundamentalists! Conservative evangelicals, and yes, fundamentalists, are being told that if you don’t accept the modern scholarly view, if you can’t accept the kind of Christianity that I think is right, you can’t be a real Christian; or you don’t understand Christianity; or you don’t understand the Bible!
It is a particularly convenient kind of Christianity that chooses to believe some things and rejects others, and builds a certain blend that suits. Someone can say, “Jesus was just wrong about some things,” but then in the same sentence say, “orthodox Christianity affirms, and has always affirmed, Jesus is both fully divine, and fully human.” [Brandon Ambrosino, “The Best Christian Argument for Marriage Equality Is That the Bible Got It Wrong,” http://www.psmag.com/books -and-culture/jesus-was-wrong-about-homosexuality. Pacific Standard: Books & Culture (Available, July 23, 2015).] It is the same to say “the Bible just got it wrong,” and then claim “the resurrection is a non-negotiable.” If the Bible got it wrong, how can the resurrection be a non-negotiable? Well, you can do this only if you are picking-and-choosing what to believe and what to reject. How can one know if perhaps the Bible did not get it wrong when it presented the resurrection of Jesus?
It is also a characteristic of the pickers-and-choosers to dismiss complex theological and philosophical issues with a few flippant remarks: “But what about the story where God creates the entire universe in six 24-hour periods? What about all of the laws described in the Torah, like the one that forbids wearing different fabrics together, or planting different kinds of seeds in the same field? What about the law that demands rebellious children be stoned to death? Or Jesus’ admonition to sell all you own and donate the money to the poor?” [Ibid.] If someone wants to discuss these issues in a calm, non-combative engagement, then I’m all for that. But simply to attempt to brush these complex issues aside as if they can be dealt with in a couple of sentences is characteristic of the pickers-and-choosers. Of course, the standard response from the pickers-and-choosers is, “No one can talk to those closed-minded, conservative fundamentalists.” An easy way to avoid actually discussing an issue.
It is certainly true that Jesus did not specifically refer to the reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Of course, if Jesus could have gotten other things wrong, why could He not have gotten this wrong, and if He did, then what does it matter if Christ’s own interpretation of the story had nothing to do with homosexuality (notice, however, that Jesus did not attempt to clarify why Sodom was destroyed; He rather assumed that the description in Genesis was sufficiently well known that there was not need to disabuse anyone of the nothing that it was because of sexual immorality, including homosexuality.) If Jesus got it wrong, then an anti-gay use of the Sodom and Gomorrah story is not in the least impacted; we can just say, “Well, Jesus got it wrong.”
It’s safe to say that Jesus was opposed to homosexuality when he walked this Earth. But by thinking along with, or inside of, the memory of Jesus, which is dynamic and always contemporary, and constantly on the move, we can hazard a guess that this same Jesus — who is always coming to the aid of those cast out of polite society, who is always challenging religious ideologues, who is constantly wrestling with the scriptures and re-imagining their applications — might some day find himself being asked to create wine at a gay wedding. [Ibid.]
Of course, if Jesus was fully human and fully divine, then we have a problem with the above characterization. Was Jesus’ human thinking dynamic and always on the move, or was it His divine thinking? Did Jesus have two minds? Two different memories that were compartmentalized so that they did not interact at all? Did the Divine part of Jesus not keep the human part of Jesus from making mistakes? And if the human part of Jesus made an error, and since Jesus is supposed to be fully human and fully divine, doesn’t it follow that God made an error too? And if God made an error, how can we trust Him? He could have made any number of errors for all we know. That means, we are just going to have to pick-and-choose what we want to believe, and then just call ourselves Christians, like everyone else. But, if I choose to hold to inerrancy of the Bible, and if I choose to believe all of it, don’t treat me like I’m a leper. Don’t tell me that it’s stupid, or unscholarly, or anti-intellectual to believe the way I do. If I want to believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, and if I want to believe that the Bible teaches that, don’t I have the right to believe this? Then don’t bomb my house, or threaten my family; all actions that have befallen those who have come out against homosexuality. If you want to believe that the Bible does not teach against homosexuality, that is your right. And if you want to discuss the issue in a calm, non-combative engagement, then I would be glad to do so. I won’t condemn you for your beliefs. Don’t condemn me for mine. You believe I am wrong. You have that right. But I have the right to believe that you are wrong. I don’t hate you for this.
I am always searching for truth and for testing my beliefs to be sure that I am believing the truth. But don’t try to curtail my freedom to believe and to talk. Don’t practice censorship with my freedom of speech by implying that I am unscholarly, backward, or closed-minded just because I don’t choose to believe the way you do.
Dr. Thomas Howe is professor of Bible and Biblical Languages at Southern Evangelical Seminary. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion with concentration in the Philosophy of Hermeneutics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Howe has published several articles including the inaugural articles,