The plane conversation began as most do.
“You headed home or out on a trip?”
The questions then became more directed.
“What do you do for a living?”
The responses are often diverse but mine is always the same.
“I’m a theologian.”
The facial expressions or tones of voice depend on my seatmate’s persuasion.
“What kind of theology do you teach?”
The answer I give to this question either stifles discussion or starts debate.
“I am a Christian theologian.”
The chat lasted two full hours. I know that because my fellow passenger exclaimed about it afterward.
“So I have a question,” he began. “There are many religions in the world. Do you think the Christian belief is the right one?”
I asked, “Do you think Jesus was right when he said, “Love your neighbor?”
“Yes. It seems that is a universal belief among many,” he said.
I continued, “Jesus also said, ‘No one can see God except through me.’ Does that mean Jesus was being unloving to His neighbor with such an exclusive comment?”
He deferred. “So are you saying that people who don’t believe in Jesus aren’t going to Heaven?”
“We either take Jesus at His word or we don’t. Jesus said it, not me. I’m not in the eternal judgment business.”
“Good answer,” he replied. “But I’m an engineer, I work with evidence. Religion is an issue of faith.”
“Christianity rises or falls on historical evidence: a literal-historical sin, a real, space-time person named Jesus who physically died on a cross for the world’s sin, rising from the dead to offer eternal salvation, and who will return to judge the world in righteousness,” I replied.
“OK. Since you mention Genesis, isn’t the book a myth, one story among many that proposes how the world began? Aren’t all these stories the same? There was a guy in the 1980’s who offered this idea,” he said.
“Right. His name was Joseph Campbell,” I said. “He wrote The Power of Myth. During the 1990’s I began teaching my students about Campbell by having them do a compare-contrast assignment. They read the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian creation story) and “The Raven” (from Eskimo culture). They then had to place these side-by-side next to Genesis 1-3. I did not tell them anything more than compare and contrast. Every single time the assignment was given the results were always the same. After discovery-learning, students concluded
Similarities are not sameness.
Differences matter more than similarities.
“So,” I continued, “I believe one should take the Bible at face value–God’s interpretation of His world.”
“But your evidence is still a matter of belief. That’s where you put your faith, your hope.” His question was in the form of a comment.
“I believe what Bob Dylan sang, You Gotta’ Serve Somebody. We all serve what we believe,” I said.
“I can’t believe you just quoted Bob Dylan. He is my all time favorite! You can’t be a theologian and quote Dylan!” his comment was more a surprise than accusation.
I smiled, “I think quoting Dylan makes me a theologian!”
“So let me ask you the same question,” I began again. “You asked me about my belief, faith, and hope. What do you hope for?”
After a moment of thoughtful reflection my companion said, “I hope there is something beyond this life.”
“And what evidence do you have for your hope?” I concluded.
“There has to be more to this life than the physical realm, more than our five senses,” I began. “That’s why I quote Dylan. We all worship something.”
“I see what you mean,” he said. “For as long as I can remember I have believed in chemical proofs. But those proofs cannot give evidence for a hope I cannot see.”
Along with one of his pastors, Keith Doane, Mark loves Bob Dylan. Dr. Mark Eckel worships with his church family at Crossroads Community Church.