Rachel Held Evans—Christian blogger, turned author, turned unofficial spokesperson for disillusioned, millennial evangelicals—recently wrote a special opinion piece for CNN, in which she challenged the concept that religious convictions are set in stone. As I point out in my book, Bearing the Standard,
… tradition, though presenting the face of certainty and stability, is actually wildly erratic. In contrast with Scripture, tradition is self-determining and self-governing. It can choose to indulge in its slow reconstruction over time, potentially setting itself at odds with its own past and predecessors. (p. 30)
So, I agree with the statement that “not all religious convictions are set in stone.” The problem with Ms. Evans’ challenge, however, is in her definition of “religious convictions”—she is confusing religious or cultural tradition with the immutable Word of God. She does not accept the supreme authority of Scripture.
Citing the transformational experiences of people such as Peter, Paul, Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis as precedence, Evans says,
I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things—the age of the Earth, the reality of climate change, the value of women in church leadership, the equal failings of both the Republican and Democratic platforms to embody the teachings of Jesus. Like a lot of evangelicals, I grew up in a religious environment that vilified LGBT people.
So, in Evans’ experience, all “convictions” are equal, whether they are theological, social, or political. But, of course, our feelings and thoughts are subject to change if our feelings and thoughts are not subject to the Word of God! If we have merely adopted the traditional stances of our parents or culture without being established on what the Scriptures say, then there is no reason to hold to any set of convictions. Ms. Evans is unable to discern the truth on certain issues not because she has broken with tradition, but, ironically, because she remains under its influence! The very nature of tradition is that it provides the mechanism to break with itself. This leaves Ms. Evans and the many like her with a set of convictions subject to yet more change.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Evans looks to Rob Bell for guidance.
In his book “Velvet Elvis,” Rob Bell writes:
“Times change. God doesn’t, but times do. We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”
A person of conviction is not one who is unyielding to change, but one whose beliefs evolve based on new information, new movements of the Spirit, new biblical insights and, yes, new friends.
Bell and Evans are right: we need to be “letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus,” but what utter foolishness to replace those obstacles with “whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.” Unless that “whatever” is the Scriptures—the solely authoritative Word of God—then there is no objective standard by which we can truly find, fix upon, and follow the Master Yeshua.
Evans concludes the article with her version of the events of Acts 10, stating that upon encountering Cornelius, “[Peter] is moved to declare, ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right!’ He tells the skeptical people who have gathered outside, ‘God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.'” Evans then makes her own declaration,
Like Peter, God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.
Yet, tragically, in her zeal to be more inclusive of people whom the church has marginalized, alienated and vilified, she takes a shortcut of expediency right past her own citation, “[God] accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right!” Evans wants us to change our “religious convictions,” and be accepting of peoples’ sinful lifestyles, no longer calling them “impure” or “unclean.” But by what standard does Evans determine “what is right”? By evolving beliefs “based on new information, new movements of the Spirit, new biblical insights, and, yes, new friends”? The truth is, no so-called information, move of the Spirit, or biblical insight that stands opposed to the Scriptures is right, and God calls no such thing pure or clean!
For Peter and Paul (at the very least), their change of heart came not as the result of their ideas being challenged by the thinkers, trends and (both real and perceived) injustices of their day. Their hearts and minds were changed through submission to the Word of God, and by subjecting everything they ever thought or believed to its fixed, unchangeable, rock-solid standard.