I've written plenty of times about my frustration with so-called "Christian dialogue" that is nothing but name-calling and sarcasm. On one level, these debates discourage me simply because of demeanor. I think that you can disagree and argue and even fight respectfully, and perhaps even beneficially - resulting in mutual edification.
But on a deeper and more distressing level, these debates trouble me because they reveal so wide a spectrum of Christian thought and dogma that I wonder if we all can even claim to be of the same faith/religion. That sounds harsh, I know, but let's look at the ends of the spectrum on some of the more prevalent disagreements I've witnessed:
The purpose of salvation:
For the sake of the individual soul
For the sake of the world
The means to salvation:
Accepting Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior
Christ's sacrifice on the cross itself (regardless of individual acceptance)
A real place, full of fire, etc.
A state of being separated from God (or the assertion that it doesn't exist at all)
A sin as defined in the Biblical text
Not a sin, given new and different interpretations of the Biblical text and its context
Women in the church:
Cannot hold leadership roles/preach/etc.
Can be in positions of leadership and even ordained
Inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God; prescriptive
Collection of texts serving as a "narrative of faith" or as witness to God's faithfulness; descriptive
Character of Jesus:
Strong lordship, king of the universe, demands obedience
Moral teacher, model of compassion and care for the outcast and oppressed
Leads to certainty about God and God's will; faith as human choice
Doubt as inherent to faith; faith as gift of God
The End Times:
Rapture, judgment, other-worldly heaven and hell
Restoration of the cosmos (new heavens and new earth) through God coming down
Sacraments in the Church:
Real and efficacious
Model for Christian living:
Care of the earth:
Unnecessary because God gave it to us for our use and because God will destroy it at the end of time
Necessary because God gave us the responsibility of caring for it (stewardship)
For the sake of winning souls
For the sake of sharing God's story
I look at this (incomplete) list and have to say a few things about it. First, I want to remind you that these ends of the spectrum are the extremes, and that most people fall somewhere in the middle of them. Second, I have to admit that while I am fairly certain of where I fall on some of these issues, there are other issues where I am wildly uncertain as to what I think. Third, I don't want this list to come off as judging one side or the other. In my church background, I have experienced a wide range of thought on these issues, and have strong sympathies for either end of the spectrum.
What troubles me is that, on one hand, these dichotomies are but different flavors of the same faith. On the other hand, at the extremes, you really have two brands of Christianity that appear to be so conflicted - so different in scope and purpose - that they hardly resemble each other, except in terminology.
So I wonder, what's the bridge?
Looking at the diversity of Christian thought makes me wonder what it means, at the end of the day, to claim the title "Christian." Not so much as an individual but as a community of faith and thought. Perhaps Christianity is destined for continued infighting about who is really Christian. (That would make me so sad. So very sad.) Perhaps different factions are destined to continue to define themselves by what they are not - by how they are different than their "opposition." (I'm guilty of this one. I tend to define my Christianity by getting defensive about how it's not like other particular Christian groups.)
Or perhaps I again enter in a plea to our commonalities. If the Christian community never agrees 100% on the nature of scripture, if it never agrees on one atonement theology, if it never comes to a unified conclusion on the nature of heaven and hell, we can hope that it will forever remember the one thing that keeps us bound:
God loves the world so much that he sent Christ to die for the sake of its (and our!) salvation.
I would hope that, no matter what, we could all come together around that statement, regardless of how we disagree in its manifestation or implementation or implication.