Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is There One Christian Story?

I received some significant responses to my blog entry for August 11, and one "thinking friend" raised questions about two issues so important I feel I must respond to them--to one in this post and to the other later.

The first issue is concerning the great diversity within Christianity. Is, as my respondent wrote, Christianity so diverse with so many different interpretations that, "just like other traditions," Christianity has many stories rather than being a story? Thus, "rather than our strength being in a common, singular story, our strength may be in the multiple 'stories' understood by the various Christian traditions, denominations, sects, etc."

Certainly, there is no question that there is great diversity within Christianity. There are multiple differences between various forms of the faith now and there are great differences between the bulk of Christians now and Christians of one hundred, five hundred, one thousand, or fifteen hundred years ago--to say nothing of the differences between Christians now and those of the early Church.

But, are there multiple stories? Or is there only a great variety in the way one central story is understood, explained, and followed? In spite of all the diversity, I am firmly convinced that there is, in fact, a central Christian story. Moreover, it is belief in and commitment to that story that makes one a Christian, in the sense of being a Christian believer. (There is and has been for a very long time "cultural Christians," people who are Christians because of their birth and cultural connections; the multitude of people like that are to be distinguished from those who are Christian believers, that is, people who have committed their lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ and are seeking to live accordingly.)

The Bible, for all its diversity, is primarily one overarching story much more than a book of teachings, of "eternal truths." The classic Christian creeds have been used and are used today by millions of Christians. Interpretations of the creeds vary greatly, but there is allegiance to the centrality of the creeds as summaries of the Christian faith--of the one, central Christian story.

For the past three years I have taught one of the required theology courses at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. The textbook I have used is Hans Küng's massive "Christianity: Essence, History, Future" (1995). He writes about the six different Christian paradigms and the great differences between those six basic expressions of Christianity. But he continually emphasizes the commonality that is found in all types of Christianity in all eras.

I think Küng is entirely correct in his assertion about the essential commonality of Christianity. In spite of all the variance in the way it is interpreted and explained, there is, indeed, one overarching Christian story.


  1. I think that the concept of forgivness is one of the key precepts within the Christian story that makes it unique from other faiths.

  2. With so many splits throughout Church history, and with accusations of heresy from early Church to present, challenging authority, traditon, and interpretation, what is the "story" on which we are all agreed? Even the Creeds are challenged.
    We truly do need a singular story to be the Church.

  3. I will address the heresy issue in an upcoming post.