“Then the sign of the Son of Humanity will appear in heaven … and they will see ‘the Son of Humanity coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.’ Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” – Matthew 24:30, 34 (NRSV adapted)
Probably it’s not very Christian of me, but I think of verses like these as a litmus test. I remain open to surprise, but I’ve found that people’s take on them is a reliable predictor of whether it’s going to be relatively easy or relatively hard for us to talk theology.
Because, simply: the verses are wrong. Mistaken. Incorrect. Erroneous. That generation has absolutely passed away without Jesus riding in on the clouds in front of all the tribes of the earth. Either Jesus said these things and he was wrong, or Matthew put the words in Jesus’ mouth and he was wrong.
If somebody says something like, “Well no duh. People in the Bible get stuff wrong all the time. Let’s talk about why it’s valuable anyway,” I know we’re probably going to get along fine, theologically speaking. If on the other hand they insist that “generation” means something besides the plain sense, or offer an explanation designed to preserve somebody’s inerrancy, then I know our conversation is likely to be a lot of work for both of us.
Are you willing to be saved by a sometimes-mistaken savior? Can you handle learning from an often-erroneous text? Do you recognize a difference between truth and fact? Are you OK with the daylight between wisdom and minutiae? If so, come talk and be easy. If not, come talk anyway. It might not be easy. But we’re worth it.
Thank you for a world where I can learn even from people who are wrong. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.