I’m reading Stephen Reese’s new book, Hope for the Thinking Christian (Smith & Helwys: 2010). Reese is a professor at the University of Texas in the School of Journalism and a Methodist layman. He says:

I use the term “thinking Christian” to refer to those who view the faith with a more open outlook, carefully and tactfully considering and respecting the faith paths of others…That doesn’t mean making [Christian faith] an intellectual exercise or creating a cafeteria-style religion; it does mean holding to a spirit of tolerance with a sincere willingness to let God find us in God’s own way, to surrender to God even before we figure it all out (xii).

I’ve found few places that encourage and nourish this kind of open faith journey. More often, congregations and national religious organizations have a “circle the wagons” survival mentality that expects everyone to swear allegiance to a certain articulation of beliefs, in order to prove that we are loyal fellow pilgrims on this dangerous trail of life. While that may be emotionally reassuring, it is the way of spiritual death. To quote Breese again:

How can we care for each other if we disagree? Do we need consensus of belief to have a community of faith? How can I honor the claims of Jesus to his own divinity while allowing room for those who don’t? These days, such questions take on greater urgency because we are more likely to encounter people whose perspectives differ from those of our own religious tradition. Perhaps we’re reluctant to bring up the subject for fear of offending them. Or maybe we feel obliged to defend a traditon which we ourselves only loosely subscribe (3).

Such a way is more difficult than the traditional “huddling pioneer” way of life. But I believe this is the environment in which I’m called to live as a 21st century Christian.