Fighting Over Theology: “My Way Is Right, Your Way Can Go To Hell”

Photo by Dave Tada

erelah-tabbris asked a question:

What do you do when you have a bunch of different people telling you their interpretation of the bible a bunch of different ways, and if you dont believe in their way you go to hell? There are so many. If you sin you lose salvation, if you aren’t perfect, if you don’t do works, if you like un-godly things, if you mess up at all, all these ways saying its that way or hell. How do we know who’s is the right way? And what if we are all wrong?

Hey dear friend, to be truthful: I think having multiple interpretations is okay. What’s not okay is when these interpretations turn me into a jerk.

When a church says, “My way is the only way,” I think the main intent is that everyone likes to be in the Insider’s Club. It feels cool to have the keys to supernatural secret-sauce. We like a tiny little narrow doorway of doctrine.

Here’s the thing. We need to have grace for the people who don’t have grace. Whenever someone says, “Look at those bigoted fake Christians” — I have to remember that Jesus died for the bigots too. He died for racists and fundamentalists. He even died for people like me. If we begin to lump each other into categories of “fake” and “false” and “fascist,” then we’re doing the opposite of what Jesus did on the cross. And I would rather be where he is.

Jesus came to demolish every human category on the cross by bridging the gap between us-and-God and us-and-each-other.

If we must stand for justice, we must stand under the shadow of the cross, where we see sacrificial love. That means understanding why someone would hate or divide or exclude. It means working from the inside instead of beating up the outside.

You see: I knew a church where all they talked about was grace. “We welcome everyone!” They were part of the hyper-grace movement, and I totally loved it. But soon I noticed that they excluded people who weren’t gracious. They hardly talked about sin or salvation or rebuke. And it eventually blew up in my face when their lead pastor, a well-known celebrity, totally cussed me out when I tried to bring this up to him.

They had the right theology. They were doing amazing things in their community. But even right theology can be wrongly applied. Even wrong theology can be rightly applied. Everyone’s theology is going to be messed up somewhere anyway. So I don’t think this is a contest of who knows more or if we’re more right than someone else. It’s really a matter of who remains like Jesus and who includes the other guy — especially because the “other guy” is always me.

— J.S.

Also check out:

– Wrestling Through Our Religious Differences and Our Wildly Varying Christian Convictions

– Doctrinal Deathmatch: Catholics Vs. Charismatics Vs. Protestants – When Doctrine Divides Us (And Why It Doesn’t Have To)

15 thoughts on “Fighting Over Theology: “My Way Is Right, Your Way Can Go To Hell”

  1. In my religion, Jewish, it is interpretation is a major concept. Put ten people in a room with a Torah and read one section and you will get ten different meanings of a single word. Maybe that is meant to be. Who will go to heaven and who will go to hell is in the mind of the beholder.


    1. I’m reminded of the supposed legend behind the Septuagint — seventy scholars went to seventy different rooms to translate the Old Testament into Greek, and all emerged with the same exact translation!


      1. In the Torah many words have different meanings, therefore no one agrees on anything. It is all set for interpretation. For example, and God said “let there be light”. Okay who is he talking to. Man does not exist. Is he talking to himself and therefore why?


  2. I agree, but I think it’s important to differentiate between different interpretations, and straight up wrong. Some of the issues raised in the above question seem to go directly against the Gospel (good works save you, for example). We need to graciously and gently confront these issues, or else deception will lodge itself there.


    1. Definitely. I tried to (but didn’t do the best job of) dismissing the view in the original question. I should’ve been more forthright, it’s indeed a false “good works save,” as you said.


  3. Reblogged this on compulsivewriters and commented:
    I’m not so religious anymore but when I stumbled across this, I had to re-blog.

    My reading of the question bothered me initially. I thought, “There are certainly different interpretations, but the Bible is also pretty clear on some things as well and people are really great at attempting to re-write it in their own image and call that a viable “interpretation”.

    Fact is, most people don’t read their Bibles so they wouldn’t know the difference between a valid interpretation and a total distortion — but I digress.

    I thought the answer the author provided for this question was fantastic. Here’s why:

    The question asked, “What do you think of people who use the Bible to condone legalism?”

    The answer: “The same that I think of people who use the doctrine of Grace to minimize the seriousness of unrepented sin.”

    The knife really does cut both ways.

    Again though, I think if more people became more intimately familiar with their Bibles, there would be a lot less confusion as to not only what is wrong with the Church (local or at large) but also how to react to it in a way that doesn’t make you just as wrong in the end.


    1. Hey dear friend, I think you hit upon the bigger picture here. 🙂
      Church-culture, like any other public social sphere, is going to swing like a pendulum in reactionary cycles. History proves it’s inevitable. The seeker-sensitive movement of the 90s was pushed back by the resurgence of hyper-Calvinism in the early 2000s, which gave way to loose “emergent” churches (aka hipster Christianity). No doubt we’re in for another backlash.
      I think the self-aware thing to do is to recognize when we become binary, and to not fall towards one edge or other. One of my favorite quotes to address this is by Kurt Willems: “Some days I feel liberal. Other days — conservative. Most days I simply try to follow the Jesus who upsets both ideologies.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just a thought to consider as I am thinking of this at the moment:
    Are there really many interpretations of the Bible or is there only God’s interpretation since it is his word?
    Is there only one interpretation and many ways of application and we tend to confuse the two?
    If there is only one interpretation, isn’t that what the Holy Spirit is for…to help us come into an understanding of God’s will for his word and then uniquely apply it to our own individual life and circumstances without changing it’s truth to fit our fancy?
    Should we not say that God’s word means what it means regardless of how shocking or difficult it may be for us to wrap our minds around?

    The more I pray for help from the Spirit, the more I seem to come into a better understanding of God’s interpretation or purpose for his word. Then it is my job to put it into action.


    1. Hey Joe, some good thoughts. I’m not entirely sure I can answer the questions you raise, but I do know that people are different, times change, and no two situations are the same, no matter how much they appear so. Perhaps the paradox is that Scripture can apply to vastly different times, cultures, and individuals regardless of our incomplete understanding of every verse. I suppose, as you said, the Spirit gives the wisdom we need as we seek with a willing heart.


  5. “We need to have grace for the people who don’t have grace.” This is so true. I definitely struggle with this, especially when I see the damage that has been done to those who have deviated from some pet theology of their church’s. I have to remind myself that ALL of us need Jesus.


    1. I’ve seen good friends get hurt by wayward churches, only to use that hurt as a springboard for an “anti-ground” to harp on their wounds. A hurtful platform only begets more hurt — but we can all choose to break that cycle.

      It’s awful to hear about entire ministries that were built from the hurt they received at other ministries; I’ve visited too many of these to count. I can hear it in their passive-aggressive swipes and the detached irony. I don’t mean to diminish their very real pain, but I think they’re also diminishing it by perpetuating the cycle.


      1. Yes, that is rather counterproductive..I’ve been part of a couple churches like that as well, and the results are often devastating. There is such bitterness that breeds beneath the ministries and sermons that the church starts turning on itself, leading to more splits, more hurts..


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