Communities make things believable.
They are the “plausibility structures” that provide us with the scaffolding we need to integrate what we experience with what we believe.
Given the right plausibility structure, the belief that the earth is under 10,000 years old becomes largely self-evident, the clear grid for assessing every piece of scientific data. Given the right plausibility structure, and the belief that the earth is 4.5 billion years old plays this same role.
Once we become aware of this, we are confronted by the question: what do the communities I am a part of make believable?
I return regularly here to the Story of Jesus as the defining marker of Christian faith and Christian community. The story of Christ crucified and raised is what makes Christians Christian. It is the unbelievable claim that God so loved the world that He gave His Son; that the Son so loved the world that he gave himself; that the self-giving Son was the self-raising son; that the son-giving Father is the Son-Raising God.
My concern is this: it is all too rare that we as Christian communities sustain this narrative as credible by our lives together.
We create communities that grow under the guidance of dynamic leadership and sharp speakers. I did not need the death of Jesus to make plausible that good leadership will grow an organization.
We create communities that thrive under the rubric of a common theological system. I did not need the resurrection of Jesus to make plausible that shared belief, differentiating one political party… er… system of doctrine from another creates cohesion and attracts adherents.
Christian community is supposed to create a plausibility structure, one that makes credible the self-giving love of Christ: “By this all people will know you are my disciples–if you love one another.”
This love is the storied love of our gospel narrative: “Love one another as I have loved you–greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
We are called to renarrate the story in our life together, so that our story will be believable.
And, of course, the converse side of this call is that we are just as capable of making our story unbelievable when our communities thrive on something other than our story or become playgrounds for dissension and arguments, self-serving protection and consumption of our neighbor.