Do You Have to “Believe Right” to be a Christian?

Progressive 39

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17

[Jesus] answered … For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. … and now something greater than Jonah is here. Matthew 12:39-41

How old is the earth? How many animals fit in an ark? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Did Adam have a belly button? Can a fish swallow a man?

Hermeneutics. Substitutionary atonement. Dispensationalism. Supersessionism. Orthogenesis.

Does God love gay people? What about homeless people? Single moms? Does God love me if I love gay people, homeless people, and single moms?


These are the things my friends discuss, and they talk as if it’s very important to their salvation.

If I know the right answers, will I get into heaven? If I don’t, will I be turned away at the gates?

I’ve heard of Biblical inerrancy, infallibility, integrity, and literalism. Sometimes it leaves me scratching my head. Which do I believe? A little of each, maybe? According to Wikipedia, “‘inerrant’ means there are no errors and ‘infallible’ means there can be no errors.” *sigh*

I lean toward allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament stories, as opposed to literal. (In the story of Jonah, there was no fish: the story is an allegory, the fish is a literary device; maybe the story was a vision or a dream. Maybe Jonah was a real man, and his story was embellished (in much the same way Santa Claus—who may have been a real person—gained a supernatural ability to circle the earth in a flying sleigh), or… for all I know, there was no Jonah at all.

Here’s my confession: I’m just not sure.

Thankfully, my faith is not in Jonah, or Noah, or Adam. It’s in Jesus. For the time being, I choose to believe that Jesus really did die on the cross for my sins, but I don’t know whether to call it “substitutionary atonement” or not. I just believe. Yes, I “believe” science. And yes, I know coming alive after three days is not explained by science. Call it “willing suspension of disbelief,” if you like. Science explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain everything, and I still leave room for miracles.

What science doesn’t explain is the inner working of the soul. That, to me, is where God fills in the gaps. Sometimes I have a flash of understanding. I usually can’t put it into words: it’s (sort of) a feeling that everything is alright and God is in control (but that is far from adequate). This, I believe, is the Holy Spirit (God) speaking directly to my soul. Words would only muddle it up.

There is one thing about God that can move me to tears. Sometimes, when I strip away all the theology, when I think of Jesus allowing Himself to be executed by His own people; His choice to go through that kind of pain—for me—knowing that I don’t deserve anything like that at all…

Then I just believe.


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