Babies are born with 350 soft bones, which explains not only their arrivals from such tight beginnings, but also their talent for eating their own toes. Through the natural—though no less miraculous—process of ossification, these bones fuse and harden into the 206 bones of the human skeleton. Babies could not begin life with the sturdy, rigid structures we know as bones; likewise, humans would not survive if their bones remained pliable beyond those early days. It turns out that God knows what he’s doing.
Our God is a brilliant biologist and an incredible artist, and as such, he often allows for beautiful parallels between the physical and spiritual realms. Bone ossification is no exception.
Paul Brand, the famous missionary doctor who spent his life working with leprosy patients, draws a fascinating parallel between bone ossification and the process by which his theological views were slowly firmed into skeletal bones over time:
As I watch bone ossifying, or becoming hard, in x-rays, I am reminded of my own skeleton of faith. As a newborn Christian my faith was soft and pliable, consisting of vaguely understood beliefs about God and my need for Him. Over time God has used the Bible and other Christians to help ossify the framework of my faith. In the same way that osteoblasts lay down firm new minerals in a bone, the substance of my faith has become harder and more dependable. The Lord has become my Lord; doctrines that were cold and formal have become an integral part of me.
Growth Is a Process
One of the most important things to note about ossification, whether biological or theological, is that it’s a process. Processes don’t happen overnight; they cannot and must not be rushed. Additionally, organic processes are usually imperceptible and subtle. Those undergoing bone ossification—either initially as infants or later as those whose bones are healing—are not aware of what’s happening below their skin; however, the process is doing its intended work all the while.
When I was drawn into the faith as an unchurched teenager, I was a disjointed mixture of heresies and half-truths. Not only did I not know what I thought about the Bible, baptism, the sacraments, and the like, I didn’t even know that I was supposed to be thinking about them. All I knew was that I was desperately needy and that the gospel had awoken a part of me that I never knew existed.
My exhaustive knowledge of Christianity consisted of two things: I knew God loved me, and I knew that I wanted to follow him.
Rather than shaming me for being flimsy and cartilaginous, the church and community of faith surrounding me made space for the process of ossification. They welcomed a new believer with little to no sound theological framework into their family of faith. They modeled for me a hunger for the things of God. Long before I could define the sovereignty of God, I caught the concept from those who lived their lives under it. People had me praying for lost loved ones long before I had a theological framework for evangelism or prayer.
While they longed for me to have a firm theological framework that could stand up under suffering and opposition, they didn’t try to force a whole skeleton of bones into me in an unnatural or hurried way. Conversation by conversation, church service by church service, Bible study by Bible study, God, through his word and his body, strengthened my theological skeleton.
Are we making space in our lives, both individually and communally, for those with flimsy theological skeletons, or are we merely pointing out the flaws in their thinking? Do we expect new believers—especially the unchurched—to simply be born with healthy skeletons intact? Are we willing to be the instruments by which God relationally and patiently strengthens their theological bones, bit by bit? As churches, are we doing our part to strengthen the theological skeletons of the covenant children in our midst?
I’m truly indebted to those who loved me enough to allow me to be theologically flimsy for a season but would not let me remain as such.
May God continue to strengthen the theological bones of his bride so that she might be able to stand firm beside him.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.
 Dr. Paul Brand & Philip Yancey. Fearfully & Wonderfully Made. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books, 1980, 94.