Crossing Boulevard

with Rev. Rachel


It’s funny what we humans are willing to believe and what we deem utterly untenable.

It brings to mind a story involving Will Willimon.* A student once asked him if she had to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian. With a twinkle in his eye, he said something that assured her that Jesus did not spend his years in ministry telling folk all about his birth—that she need not disqualify herself just yet.

“Come back next week,” he continued, “and we’ll try to persuade you that the meek will inherit the earth, that it is better to give than to receive, that your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions, and that it’s not nations, empires, or the United States, but God who rules the world. We start you out with something fairly small, like the virgin birth, then work you up to even more outrageous assertions. ”

Let me tell you why I love that story: It exposes the lingering effect of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment moved people to treat the Bible like it was something that had to be weighed, measured, experimented upon, tested, and proven. Though this period in the history of western thought brought about much good, it wreaked havoc on the people of God’s ability to read the Bible the way that Jesus interacted with the Scriptures. This student may well have begun to see that fact and Truth are not always synonymous; in which case, she received insight that is crucial if one cares to grow in wisdom or to be of use to the Holy Spirit.

I also appreciate the “outrageous assertions” piece. It was outrageous for Paul (1st century) to say that there is a new creation. It was outrageous for the Eastern Fathers (largely 4th & 5th century) to maintain the link between salvation and cosmic renewal. It was outrageous for John Wesley (18th century) to come along and situate the new creation at the heart of his revival. It is outrageous for me to add my voice to those who have said, no, it most certainly is not all going to hell in a hand basket.

If you need an excuse to not show up to Judeo-Christian community, well, consider yourself armed with a new one. They believe that the earth and all that is in it is cared for by God and is being transformed into something good and joyful in God’s sight. We sure do.


* An American theologian and bishop in the United Methodist Church, who served the North Alabama Conference and is now Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity.