Drinking alcohol and cursing like sailors were surface level activities that many of us at UBC were testing the waters of. And certainly not everyone at UBC participated in or even condoned the exercising of these freedoms. But there were deeper theological and ecclesiological questions many of us were beginning to ask, and assumptions we were beginning to overturn. Many of these conversations began to spring up within our congregation as the amount of students attending Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary increased and found their way to our church. Three of these subjects of conversation from those times stand out, though there were certainly more.
Much debate has been waged in the history of Christianity over whether God has a master plan for all of existence, determining the outcomes of everything that ever happens, ever, or whether humans have total agency, or complete ability to effect outcomes of their lives. Many have concluded one or the other, but most people fall somewhere between these two extremes. Both sides, as well as the mediating positions, have ample support in the Bible and in Christian tradition. But the latter, the one that says humans can determine outcomes, seems to have a glitch in the system. Most people who hold to the “free will” tenet ALSO believe that God knows everything about the future AND that God has complete power to change outcomes. But if this is the case, if God knows what can happen and is capable of changing what will happen, then isn’t God, by virtue of his activity and inactivity, the ultimate decider?
Some theologians who believed that humans have free will have sought to answer this problem by asking the question, “What if, since the future has yet to occur, meaning it doesn’t exist yet, then God doesn’t actually ‘know’ the future because there is no future in existence yet for God to ‘know?’” This question, and resulting belief, has been referred to as Open Theism, (though many who hold to it would prefer another name.) Its main proponent in popular Christian literature is Greg Boyd, a pastor in Minnesota, and someone who Kyle and others at UBC held in high regard.
New Perspective on Gospel
Most of us who grew up in Protestant, evangelical churches, had a very clear and simple view of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. In fact, we were trained to be able to communicate what the gospel is with an economy of words. “We are sinners, which makes it impossible to get to heaven. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, who paid the price for our sins. If we confess that we are sinners, and ask Jesus into our hearts, then we can go to heaven when we die.” Belief in this statement was an untouchable bedrock of being a Christian.
But what if there is more to the gospel than this? And, an even more revolutionary question, what if this isn’t even the gospel at all, or such a small part of it that it is barely worth mentioning? Over the past few decades theologians have begun to re-ask these questions and speculate that we have misunderstood the gospel in such a profound way that we need to reevaluate EVERYTHING about what we believe.
The Role of Women in Church Life
For much of Christian history, preaching and church leadership positions were men’s clubs, prohibited to women. Scripture was used to justify this and it was just a fact of life, as real as the air we breathed. But what if the way we read Scripture with regards to gender roles was meant to progress alongside culture, in the same way that our ideas about dress and stoning adulterers has also progressed? Though the leadership of UBC was all male, there were a growing number of female seminary students passing through our doors who seemed (and were) just as capable and called toward the preaching ministry, (undiluted by the term “teaching,”) as their male counterparts.
It is unusual for a church to have large segments of its congregants be conversant in these theological issues, but such is the case in a Christian college town. What is even more unusual is for a church that has such a multiplicity of voices on such bedrock issues of faith, actually stay together. Begin asking these difficult questions and eventually someone is going to label you a heretic and leave– unless there is a glue, a binding agent that transcends all these issues, something to hold everyone together underneath a big tent of sorts, regardless of significant differences of belief.
Our binding agent was the band that shared the name of one of UBC’s founding pastors.