Determining the right beliefs has been the supreme quest and contest for Christians wanting to spend eternity in heaven. Which is correct: infant baptism or baptism as a sign of personal belief? Or this one: If I do a lot of good deeds, am I subconsciously trying to earn my way into heaven?—which I know is incorrect, because it is God’s grace, and not my good works, that lead to heaven. How about saying the Apostles’ Creed? If I don’t believe all that it says, should I pretend that I do? But God knows I’m pretending, right?—so if I must adhere to those specific beliefs, and I don’t, then I’m doomed anyway! How much time has been spent through the past centuries searching for and proclaiming the correct things to believe!
Two perspectives are changing recently among progressive Christians that dilute the concentration on “getting to heaven,” the most common definition of “salvation.” First, fewer people still believe in hell, that is, that an all-loving God would condemn anyone to eternal suffering and separation from God. (It is curious that the belief in heaven persists even among many who don’t really believe in hell.) A more important change in thought is that God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ is all-inclusive, meant for everyone, whether or not heaven or an afterlife of any sort exists. Diminishing is the view that there will be a sorting-out process depending upon each person’s “right beliefs.”
The term “adiaphora” comes to my mind when “right beliefs” are brought up. Adiaphora are bits of thought and doctrine that don’t really matter. They have no effect for good or ill. I think God views our lists of beliefs as “adiaphora.” They don’t matter, in the end. God is indifferent to our lists of human beliefs. Our beliefs matter to us but not to God, not when it comes to salvation.
Our beliefs do shape our values and actions on this side of heaven. For instance, our choices with regard to the environment may be different if we believe we are masters of the earth instead of caretakers of the earth. Believing that Jesus meant to exclude non-Christians when he said, “I am the Way” will lead one on a different path than believing that Jesus’ perspective was radical inclusivity. Believing that one’s witness will save someone’s soul drives that one to a mission of evangelism, whereas believing that salvation refers to this present life, the here and now, might drive a person to behave as Jesus did, following the “Way of Jesus.”
I believe that the Shalom Vision of God matters. All else is adiaphorous, not essential. How do I live in the Shalom Vision of God (also called the kingdom of God)? How do I live out the vision here and now? When I pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” I am hoping that the Shalom Vision will become clearer and more visible everyday.
Our beliefs do shape our lives. Examining our beliefs and confronting our prejudices is important to do. But to use lists of “right beliefs” to exert our superiority, the superiority of one denomination or religion over another, or to the exclusion of anyone who does not share our beliefs—that’s exactly contrary to the Shalom Vision of God.