If we are ever to find meaningful answers, we must stop asking meaningless questions.
Before attending Harvard, I completed my undergraduate studies at Samford University. After graduating, I decided to attend a local school in pursuit of a divinity degree. After a few months of study in this setting, I decided to drop out. It was not because I couldn't answer the questions in the classroom. I had actually received good marks from most of my professors. But, in the classroom and in conversations with my classmates, I felt like something was missing. Ultimately, I guess I left because we were not asking the questions that really mattered.
Oh, we asked plenty of questions about a variety of different theological topics. We debated predestination. We discussed if God elected, selected, or simply detected saints and sinners in our world. We talked about baptism. Do we sprinkle or soak? Is the baptismal only big enough for babies or is it a pool restricted to adults only?
In coffee conversation, we would discuss whether Christians can drink and/or dance. We wondered aloud if God preferred grape juice or red wine at communion services. After Southern Baptists issued their decree about Disney, we debated if God really wanted us all to boycott Mickey Mouse.
The Presbyterians argued with the Methodists. The Methodists argued with the Lutherans. Then, the Lutherans argued with the Presbyterians. Oh, and the Baptists? Well, the Baptists mostly just argued with each other. On some of the issues, I had an opinion. But, most of the questions just didn't seem to matter much to me.
When I got to Harvard, the questions changed in both a good and bad way. Instead of debating fine points of theological doctrine, we were asking questions that about the essence of faith itself. Does God even exist? Is religion just a language people use to explain our world? Is the biblical Jesus largely a fictional or factual character?
These were very different and difficult questions for me. These questions threatened the very foundation of my own faith. Asking these questions led to some doubts. And, to be honest, as a student, I was not always comfortable asking these questions and wrestling with the answers. However, even when I was uncomfortable, even in the midst of all my struggles, I remember thinking to myself that these are questions that really matter. And, if we are ever to find meaningful answers, we must stop asking meaningless questions.
I noticed something very different about the classroom and coffee shop conversations among the Christians at Harvard. When our faith was being challenged and God's very existence was called into question, we stopped fighting among ourselves and began to unite around our faith. Presbyterians agreed with Methodists that God did exist and God's nature was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Methodists agreed with the Lutherans that religion was more than just theological language.
And, the Baptists? Well, to be honest, we only had seven or eight Baptists at the divinity school. So, instead of arguing among ourselves, we decided to embrace and fellowship with each other and everyone else.
So, in my experience, asking the hard questions, the questions that really matter, brings people of faith together. On the other hand, secondary questions like juice or wine, sprinkling or soaking, inerrant or inspired, will often tear people of faith apart. The challenge may be for us to distinguish the difference between the essentials of our faith and the important, but not indispensable, issues of our faith. My sermon this morning is a call for us to become even more ecumenical in our perspective by uniting with those who share our answer to those hard questions. And this morning, I am calling for us as individuals and as a congregation to find the courage to ask the questions that really matter.
Before we can get any real answers, we have to start asking the right questions …
Chris George is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. He holds a bachelor's degree from Samford University and a master's degree in theological studies from Harvard University. He and his wife, Jennifer, have one son, David.