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Over the last few years, I’ve undergone radical transformation. Some would say it is for the best, while others would vehemently disagree. This transformation came through changing long-held convictions about God, the Bible, and the world around me. I need to say, though, that this transformation came through changing my convictions, not my opinions.
James William McClendon, Jr. writes,
We readily distinguish our convictions from our opinions. Opinions are the stuff we debate and discuss… We acquire opinions quickly and shed them just as quickly… Convictions, on the other hand, are less readily expressed but more tenaciously held… My convictions are the gutsy beliefs that I live out—or in failing to live them out, I betray myself. “We are,” said Dutch philosopher Willem F. Zuurdeeg, “our convictions”. Yes, as Zuurdeeg showed, convictions for thinking creatures are not mere blind persuasions, the beliefs we embody with some reason, guiding all our thought, shaping our lives. Consider this definition: “A conviction is a persistent belief such that if X (a person or community) has a conviction, it will not be easily abandoned, and it cannot be abandoned without making X a significantly different person or community than before.”McClendon, Ethics: Systematic Theology, p.22
When I changed my eschatology, there wasn’t much apparent change in who I was. As McClendon said, we acquire and shed opinions quickly. It took me around seven months to change my mind about eschatology, but while that change was taking place and the effects being realized, a larger change was brewing just beneath the surface.
My doubts about the size of the body of Christ, which were really doubts about the nature of God, were being tested as I experienced more of the world. Would God really punish people in Hell for a literal eternity because they worshipped slightly different from me? Or, later, would God just annihilate people who didn’t use the same language I did for God?
Changing my opinion on eschatology helped to change my convictions about who God is. As Rob Bell said in Love Wins, eschatology shapes ethics. That was definitely true for me!
Why, then, are there many people who change their mind on eschatology, but they try to make it fit within their existing world?
Well, that goes back to the difference between opinions and convictions.
Opinions may not be easy to change. It might take months or even years of testing, study, and contemplation. But changing one’s opinion is nothing compared to changing convictions.
Changing one’s conviction doesn’t come through study alone, but through radical experiences of love, grief, or exposure.
Changing my opinion on eschatology led me to being excommunicated from my community. This radical experience of grief gave me permission to explore my doubts that were below the surface concerning my convictions. Some, however, didn’t have those doubts before changing their mind on eschatology, and they may not have those doubts now.
The reason I stood up for my opinions is that one conviction I have is to stand by what I believe no matter what, and that is not a conviction of mine that has changed, just my beliefs changed. Others, too, have that fire in their belly which drives them to speak their mind, stand up for what they believe in, and die for their beliefs. For them, and for me, ignoring that call is fatal. To use the language of McClendon, staying silent is to betray oneself.
That’s why I write. That’s why when a friend pointed to a guy cutting grass and told me he cared nothing about eschatology, so why would I worry so much about it and feel the need to talk about it, I still couldn’t shut up, though I understood his point. Now, I still have a hard time shutting up because it goes against who I am, but the things I have a tough time shutting up about have changed.
When a person changes their convictions, they no longer fit into their community. Changing beliefs may not make the person who changed their mind uncomfortable in their old community, so they may feel confused why their old community rejects them. But when someone changes their convictions, they couldn’t see themselves going back into that community because to do so would be to betray who they are. Of course, the community definitely wouldn’t welcome them back then!
Now we understand the difference between what some call fellowship/ salvation issues and non-issues.
Instrumental music is a fellowship issue because it, for many, defines what communities are walking the narrow way. It’s an issue because it challenges their convictions about the nature of God.
When a community changes their convictions, not just their opinions, transformation of community identity is inevitable. Sometimes, who the community includes or excludes changes, while in other cases, the community may become disinterested in including or excluding others which leads to people changing communities who haven’t experienced the same transformation their original community has.
Those who flock together because of similar opinions aren’t really together just because of those opinions, they are together because their convictions have changed. Sometimes those of similar opinion cannot seem to bond because unity is deeper than beliefs, it is in convictions.
My biggest conviction that has changed is regarding the size of the family of God, which, again, is more about the nature of God.
I am fully convinced that God is not interested in the same games of who is in and who is out to the extent we are. It is my conviction that the children of God are those who love their neighbor, and, in doing so, love God. The children of God are those whose faith works through love (Galatians 5:6).
Changing my opinions so drastically, and facing the consequences of that, allowed to me to change my convictions. And these changing convictions in others, who don’t share my opinions on eschatology, are bringing about a new faith community (which is not new, to echo John) that is rooted in faith working through love. I hope you are as excited for this change as I am and that we will welcome and encourage others who are on this journey of changing convictions.