Even though I didn't grow up in the church, I grew up with Christian parents. My mother was a homemaker and my father was a Marine Corp officer, both of whom held traditional Christian values, and neither of them grew up in the church. That isn't a bad or good statement, just a statement of what is so for me.
So, it's not surprising that the kind of Christianity that I was taught was pretty much your standard fare.
Being Christian followed a certain story line that went like this: Once there was Paradise called Eden, from which Adam and Eve were expelled for committing sin, causing us all to live in a world of condemnation and in need of salvation, which is made available through Jesus who paid the penalty of our sin on the cross, so that now we have access to Paradise again, a perfect state of being in heaven, thus avoiding eternal conscious torment in hell, where unfortunately the vast majority of the world will end up (Brian McLaren called this the "six-line narrative.")
Many years ago I began to question this kind of Christianity. For a lot of reasons, actually.
I find it interesting that the story line that begins with one category of Good and Blessed, ends with two, Good/Blessed and Bad/Evil. We rarely acknowledge that fact and fully consider the implications. I also don't think this story line is the better part of us. I've begun asking the question, "Does it motivate us to love God, neighbor, stranger and enemy more wholeheatedly?" While early on in my journey with Christ, I would have answered 'Yes'; today I answer with an emphatic 'No.'
As I think about it, that story line sounds an awfully lot like Plato and Aristotle. Plato said, for example, that the idea of a chair is what is real, not the chair itself; the non-material is perfect and unchanging. Aristotle, his student, looked at the world differently, and said, "Plato, my friend, I love ya, but you're flat out wrong. It's the chair, not the idea of a chair, that is real, dude." Plato is all about paradise, heaven, a perfect state. Aristotle is all about earthly, material world, a changing state of things.
I have also come to think that this story line has become so dominant over the centuries that we are unable to see any other story line, and that we are prone to see things that support the story line that aren't really there.
Did Adam, Moses, or Jeremiah hold this view? Did Jesus, Paul, or James?
People can read the Bible either backwards or frontwards. Reading it backwards means that we are standing in a 21st century world, reading Jesus through everyone who has preceded us. So, we aren't reading Jesus, as much as we are reading Billy Graham's version of Wesley's version of Luther's version of Aquinas' version of Augustine's version of Paul's version of Jesus. Choosing to read the Bible from the other direction, frontwards, means we are reading Jesus through Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.
Jesus in the first will look quite different than Jesus in the second, wouldn't you agree?
If this heaven or hell dominant overarching story line has made us blind to other and better story lines in the Bible, then the question is, What other better story lines are there?
I'll start on that in the next part.