843 Acres: Christopher Hitchens and Christian Unity

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Is 15 (txt | aud, 1:35 min) 1 Pet 3 (txt | aud, 3:18 min) Highlighted: 1 Pet 3:8

Unity: Have you ever noticed that Jesus prayed specifically for us—you and me? In one of his last prayers, he said, “I do not ask for [the apostles] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” [1] We are—“those who will believe in me through their word.” What did he pray for us? Unity: “that they be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” [2] Peter, too, wrote, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” [3] What is at stake in our unity?

Observation: While Christopher Hitchens was undergoing various cancer treatments, he journaled his thoughts about dying. These thoughts were published posthumously in a short book of essays called Mortality. In one essay, Hitchens—a renowned atheist—offers an insightful observation on Christian unity: “If I were to announce that I had suddenly converted to Catholicism, I know that [two particular fundamentalist evangelicals] would feel I had fallen into grievous error. On the other hand, if I were to join either of their Protestant evangelical groups, the followers of Rome would not think my soul was much safer than it is now …” [4]

Disunity: The debate he observes is not merely Catholic vs. Protestant; it’s also Presbyterian (PCA, PCUSA, etc.) vs. Baptist (SBC, CBF, etc.) vs. Methodist (EMC, UMC, etc.) and more. To be sure, there are important doctrinal differences between these groups that should be taken seriously—sometimes very seriously. Yet how we talk—our tone, sympathy, and love—about those with whom we disagree, though, can tell us about our own views on unity. Do we have hearts that long to pray with Jesus, saying, “Make us one, just as the Son and the Father are one, that we together may be in the Christ”?

Prayer: Lord, Freud coined the phrase—“the narcissism of minor differences”—and we confess that our sinful human nature seeks to make major differences out of minor ones because we are prideful. There are, of course, some differences that cannot be overcome. Where we can, however, give us “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind”. For when Jesus prayed for us, he told us what is at stake in our unity: “that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [5] Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] John 17:20 ESV | [2] John 17:21 | [3] 1 Peter 3:8 | [4] Hitchens also writes about how Christians engaged with him as he was dying. Although he wasn’t always accurate in his assessment of Christian theology, his voice about how he was treated during this time is important (and painful) to hear. (One notable exception was his friend Frances Collins, who was lovely, he said.) | [5] John 17:21

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