Thinking Out Loud

December 4, 2021

Rachel Held Evans’ Wholehearted Faith

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:55 pm

There might have been moments as you’ve read this pages when you’ve felt frustration and even despair, because it has seemed as if I am asking you to do more, try something different, think in a way you’ve never thought before… (pp 173-4)

Fifty years from now, all things being equal, I can envision a world where the words of Rachel Held Evans are being studied, long after the works of many of today’s popular authors are no longer considered. In the face of criticism for her approach to Christian belief, she was always gracious, and to those for whom her writing fully resonated, it was as though she sparked an entire movement.

Wholehearted Faith (HarperOne, 2021, no subtitle) is in part the next book Rachel Held Evans was working on before her untimely death in 2019, and excerpts from her blog posts. That being said, I was expecting a rather disjointed collection of chapters, but honestly I have to confess I didn’t know where the book manuscript ended and the other material began. Her writing is just … so her.

Some of that continuity is owing to longtime friend Jeff Chu, also pictured, who assembled the final manuscript.

Sometimes in reviewing a book, unless you make notes, your final impressions are tied to later chapters, not unlike the situation where your most vivid memories of a loved one are those final days of old age and not the vitality of their youth. That’s how I was impacted when, toward the end of the book (pp 163-6) there is a detailed description of Rachel taking the hate mail she received electronically, printing out the worst of it, and then folding those printed pages into origami “swans and then sailboats, flowers and then foxes.”

You have to either laugh or cry as you read that.

Earlier in the chapter (p 159) she remembers her own words posted to Twitter on hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden; “Trying to keep in mind that how I respond to the death of my enemies says as much about me as it does about my enemies.” Forget the adage about lemons and lemonade; when the world seems full of hate, you make paper “birds and ships, flowers and kites.”

But why would anyone send Rachel hate mail?

I suppose there is simply something unsettling about someone who challenges our conventional lenses for looking at spiritual life; who states truths without falling back on the familiar words and phrases that have become clichés.

Or if they openly wrestle with doubts and misgivings.

…Most people live with some uncertainty in life, even with — especially with — complex religious and moral questions. Indeed, as I began writing about my experiences on my blog and in my books, a whole community of kindred spirits emerged. Many of them felt as lonely in their questioning as I at times have. They expressed through their letters, emails, and social media posts the affirmation that every spiritual wanderer and religious misfit deeply craves — that I was not alone in this. (p 37)

Later she writes that

…certainty isn’t faith. And faith is marked by the humility to let yourself question — which is not a shortcoming but an acknowledgement of one’s humanity. (p 56)

And that simply, is where some of the hate mail possibly originated. Many people in our churches simply crave a doctrinal system of belief that dots every ‘i’ and crosses every ‘t’ and ties a bow together on top. A faith that leaves no room for mystery; that doesn’t allow that, as Paul said in his famous ‘love chapter,’ presently “we see in part.”

But Rachel knew that need for theological tidiness all too well from personal experience.

This system was comforting in the way that math can be comforting, or the perfect creases, or a row of books neatly arranged. The quintessence of Enlightenment rationalism, the system had its own tidy, self-reinforcing, seemingly airtight and therefore undoubtedly divinely inspired logic. (p 70)

This up-ending of the theological apple cart will definitely produce some unfriendly mail, but the consideration of other possibilities is also what drew a greater number of people to Rachel’s writing and later conferences she helped organize.

She then modeled for her readers a more grace-filled approach to responding to the people who are theologically different.

After Christ’s departure, the first apostles allowed themselves to be changed by the goodness they encountered in the world. When law-abiding, kosher-eating, Roman -hating Peter encountered a centurion who feared God and gave to the poor, Peter, to his own astonishment, said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Then Peter even went so far as to share a meal, as Jesus might have, with his new friend. “You are well aware that it is against are law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile,” he said to Cornelius. “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (p 115)

As Jesus might have. Indeed.

If Peter had been closed to such God-shaped possibilities, we wouldn’t have Acts chapter 10. Early on in the book she allows for the possibility of cultivating a faith which occasionally, like the GPS on your car when you’ve turned two blocks too soon simply says, “Recalculating.” Those are my words, but I think Rachel would concur. Her description is,

…But like so many things, faith is best held with an open hand, nurtured by both boundaries and improvisation, tradition and innovation. What a gift my parents gave my sister and me in their blessing of holy exploration. (p 38)

concluding that

…as she [Anne Lamott] had chronicled the meanderings of the heart as well as anyone, and as she famously puts it, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

When I read that I found it reassuring. If uncertainty is a marker of faith, then I must be pretty darn faithful… (p 40)

She adds,

I believe not in spite of all my questions but because of them. I believe not in spite of all the theological points that I undoubtedly have gotten wrong — and the ones I’ve gotten right — but because of them. I believe not in spite of my sins but because of them, just as I am — and just as all those saints and sinners who came before me. (p 47)

This is a long review, and I’ve excerpted far more quotations than reviewers are usually permitted, but I wanted you to get of taste of why Rachel’s words are so enduring and so transformational for so many. She’s all-in. Wholeheartedly.


Thanks again to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publications Canada (HCCP) for the opportunity to read and own a copy of Wholehearted Faith.

 

October 11, 2021

Review: Searching for Enough by Tyler Staton

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Thomas didn’t really show up until page 149.

Despite being tipped off on page 10 as to the overall direction of the book Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith, I was expecting him earlier because the apostle Thomas is the centerpiece of Tyler Staton’s signature sermon.

I’ve heard him preach it all the way through twice, and almost three times to different audiences, and I’ve continued to be captivated by his teaching style. I was introduced to him though Bridgetown, on a Sunday that John Mark Comer was away, and tracked down some sermons to Oaks Church Brooklyn in the heart of New York.

If you preach at Bridgetown it means you’ve done your homework. The teaching part of the service runs the better part of an hour, and during that time you’d better have something to say, including the necessary research and an equal balance of references to things academic and scholarly, and the stuff of everyday life.

In the past few weeks, Tyler Staton formally took the teaching reins at Bridgetown, moving his family from one side of the country to another, as John Mark Comer moves on to some new projects.

At the time the book was completed New York City was very much in his blood. That city is a mix of all types of people, each carrying all manner of stories and so is Tyler. He has no problem finding connection points with his audience through references to the basic challenges of life; the challenges we face in our search for enough.

John Mark wrote the foreword to Searching for Enough, including the advice to read slowly. At this point I’m thankful to have finished the book — and the review — in the same year the book was written. There’s a lot of rich content here, and as I considered some brief words here, I found myself back at the beginning and drawn into the story all over again.

This is very much a look at the life of Jesus, and especially the final week — what we call the passion week — when “all four accounts slow way down;” and merge, falling into “perfect harmony with one another, suddenly documenting each precise detail when they had been a sweeping survey up to that point.”

And then, post-resurrection, Thomas, aka Didymus (the twin) comes into view. The book dares us to see Thomas as our twin, and recognize that his doubts are not that far from removed from where we often find ourselves; along with anecdotes from the lives of people similar to us, and those who walk a very different road.

Searching for Enough passes my personal litmus test for what a book on the Christian life should be. It’s one I would recommend reading, but is especially good when paired with some background familiarity with Tyler’s teaching style as found on video at YouTube, Oaks Church and Bridgetown.

Available in paperback from Zondervan wherever you buy quality books. Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Products.


Read an excerpt from Searching for Enough at this link.

February 1, 2021

Dan Kimball Tackles The Bible-Reading Elephants in the Room

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:20 am

Review: How (Not) to Read the Bible by Dan Kimball

I hope you’ve had the opportunity to take a friend to your church and had that moment where, seeing everything through your friend’s eyes, you suddenly see everything that is happening in that space through an entirely different lens.

It’s the same with reading the Bible. We pick it up every day and are often quick to skip over potentially troublesome passages because we know the bigger story, we know the outcome, and we know the divine author. But your friends get tripped up in the first few chapters and then, human nature being what it is, are quick to write off the book completely.

Dan Kimball’s newest book How (Not) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery and other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture (Zondervan, 2020; and winner of the ‘World’s Longest Subtitle’ award) is an attempt to confront the elephant in the room; many elephants actually of which he focuses on six:

  • unusual and antiquated laws given to Israel
  • the relationship in both Old and New Testaments with the practice of slavery
  • the role of women in society; in Jewish religious life; in the modern church
  • the relationship between the Bible and science; particularly in Genesis
  • Christianity’s claim of exclusivity over all other religious viewpoints
  • the so-called “texts of terror” and seemingly gratuitous use of violence

One of the striking things about the tone of the book is the degree to which Dan Kimball is at ease discussing such things. He understands the mindset of those not yet part of the family, so to speak, and both addresses them directly, but gives the rest of us greater insight into their way of thinking. This is actually the third book by Kimball I have in my library. The title of one says it all: They Like Jesus but Not the Church, which again reflects how conversant he is with reactions to Christianity in the broader marketplace.

So two potential audiences emerge here: Those needing a seeker-friendly addressing of the problematic passages in scripture, and those wishing to better understand how to engage those discussions. Because of his relaxed writing style, I can also see this being a useful tool for homeschool families, though some might not appreciate his treatment of the seven different models for examining creation.

His treatment of the serpent tempting Eve reveals this as a wordplay, with the original having three possible meanings and the text incorporating all three in different ways. His nod to Christianity at the time of Galileo reminds us that the church hasn’t always been at the forefront of scientific understanding.

There isn’t a bibliography as such, but in the footnotes, we see material was drawn from writers such as Michael Heiser, John Walton, Paul Copan, The Bible Project, and a book I’m now anxious to look at, In the Beginning We Misunderstood.

All this said, the book is rather repetitive at times. While I love Kimball’s ideas and presentation, the editing here seems somewhat lacking. Its 300 pages might easily be cut back to 250, and there are times the book almost plagiarizes itself, such as the sentence on page 142 which is repeated three sentences later on page 143: “Unless Paul is contradicting himself in the same letter, he doesn’t intend for women to never speak a word;” and “Unless Paul is contradicting himself, the verse cannot mean for women to be totally silent.” There is also very frequent mention of Greg Koukl’s “Never read a Bible verse” principle (you should read the whole context) though I recognize that perhaps for Kimball, you can’t state this too many times.

My greatest question reading this was wondering if the arguments presented would be sufficient to allay the objections of non-Christians. Perhaps. Hardcore skeptics? I’m not sure. Perhaps to that end, the book would need to be longer, not shorter. Where Kimball gets full marks is his willingness to confront these issues, and the aforementioned ease with which he navigates each potential stumbling block; a few of which were part of his own personal faith journey.

Better yet, the reader is assured that, ‘I’m not the only one wondering about these passages;’ and offers springboards for further investigation and conversation. A number of additional resources were due to be ready in January to promote additional study by groups or individuals. Learn more at DanKimball.com.

 

 

 

May 16, 2020

How Exactly Do You Wish the Death of Your Enemies?

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:19 pm

The last eight weeks have brought many to the point of discouragement, frustration, anger and bitterness. It’s so easy to see why. I can’t imagine too many people not wishing that this plague had never happened; wishing we could reset the clock and have things exactly as they were before.

During this time there has been an increased increase in the Psalms. David wrote at least half; though we have contributions from the Sons of Korah, from Asaph, from Solomon and from unknown sources. And David poured out his heart to God. We have to marvel at the transparency of his emotions.

But David also wished his enemies dead. He asked God to bring about their swift destruction. More than once.

Is that a model for prayer in the 21st Century?

Pouring out my own heart, I wrote a piece here a few days ago about unanswered prayer. At least that what it was intended to be about. I think we need to be especially carefully dangling that carrot in front of prospective believers or new believers. Offering answered prayer as a sure thing, when it’s really something that God isn’t necessarily going to deliver.

Some of that article was personal, describing a handful of situations, one of which would fall into that general category of enemy or enemies.

However…

Despite my frustration and anger, I can’t see myself wishing the death of someone else. I just can’t bring myself to pray that prayer, ‘Lord, kill him.’

Perhaps it’s the difference of a New Testament; New Covenant perspective; a post-incarnation era unknown to the Psalmist. Perhaps it’s living at time in history when the grace of God is the only thing we have to offer the world. Perhaps I have a hint of “God is not willing that any should perish” coursing through my bones.

Please recognize that I’m thinking of this in terms of a domestic situation; this isn’t about the larger just war versus pacifism issue. This isn’t about an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I just think that the God of the impossible is able to exceedingly beyond anything we could request or imagine. He’s capable of writing the scene so that it plays out with a creative twist we couldn’t have conceived.

I really believe that. It’s a testimony to the faith I still have.

In the middle of the doubt I increasingly wrestle with.

May 14, 2020

Root Causes of Cynicism and Doubt

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

Any commitment to follow to Christ is going have its basis in the truth of the resurrection. We know anecdotally that other foundations, valid as they might be, can crumble when tested. Some objections to faith recur more frequently to others and can be (a) barriers to entry, in terms of making a first time decision to be a Christ follower, or (b) the roots of doubt or cynicism which can cause even a long time faith to collapse.

A quick online search reveals some of these:

  • The Genesis / Creation / Evolution question
  • The problem of evil and suffering in the world
  • Things done, both presently and historically by Christians, often in Christ’s name
  • Things done to them personally by Christians, aka the Church at large
  • The authority and reliability of the Bible
  • Philosophical issues concerning the very existence of God

But there’s one thing I never see listed, and I can name that song in two notes:

  • Unanswered prayer

I would say this is more the case with situation (b) above, but it could also apply to the person who in coming to Christ brings with them specific petitions or to use the theological term, supplications.

It’s also something I find myself struggling with more and more.

There. I said it.

I’m not alone in this. I think of people with whom I’ve interacted over the last few years, and the long-time, ongoing prayers of their hearts have been for a son, or daughter or spouse to come (or come back) to faith, and those prayers have not been answered.

I think of two people I know who have dealt for years with intense chronic pain who in one case can’t sleep at night because of it, and in the other case can’t think clearly when it strikes with intensity.

I think of people who ache to be chosen for some type of higher activity in their workplace, or in their church, but are always ignored or passed over in favor of someone else.

I think of two couples who have special needs adult sons, who believe in a God of the impossible when it comes to healing (or even improvement) but are also resigned to the unanswered nature of their requests.

Finally, I think of people for whom outsiders would say, ‘Their lives seem okay;’ who aren’t facing world-shattering challenges but just wish some of their circumstances could be different. They ask God to simply give them something to put in the ‘win’ column…

…Apologists can spend energy coming up with answers to the first six objections, but also need to have an answer to the seventh one, ‘Why aren’t my prayers answered?’

I think of one such apologist, now reaching the end of his ministry, who never neglected to see the pastoral question when facing doubters and skeptics; to see the question behind the question.

Those are often at the roots of a faith-shaking that the theoretical, intellectual, or philosophical questions can mask.

A mature faith will recognize that not every request is granted in the affirmative. But when prayer has been offered as a means of touching the heart of God concerning our life situations, we do sometimes long for a response.


For those of you reading this on a tablet or desktop or laptop, here’s a challenge. I usually try to illustrate blog posts with an image, but when I did an image search using the phrase “unanswered prayer” it turned up an interesting collection of quotations. I decided against using any of them, but they bear checking out if you have the time. Feel free to share one in the comments if it strikes you as significant.

July 12, 2019

Blessed are the Doubters

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

Recently Brant Hansen made an entire chapter of his book Blessed are the Misfits available to readers for free. It’s longer that what I’d run here, but I thought I’d steal a small part of it, but then atone for my crime by encouraging you not to read it here at all but instead to click to the link in the header below and get the full context…

Blessed are the Skeptics

…You should know something about this particular God, the God of the Bible, and it’s immediately apparent in the first words of Genesis, even if we don’t notice it.

Now, in other ancient creation stories, the universe is the result of revenge, or incest, or wars, or murderous plots. The sun, the mountains, the trees… everything is the result of some violent clash. For example, in the Enuma Elish, which is a Babylonian account of creation believed to have been written in the 12th to 18th centuries B.C., the world is made out of a lot of conflict, to put it mildly.

Briefly: There’s the freshwater god, Apsu, and Tiamat, the saltwater god. There are additional gods, and they live inside Tiamat. They make a lot of noise, which ticks off both Tiamat and Apsu. So Apsu wants to kill them.

But the most powerful god, named Ea, kills Apsu. Ea then has a son named Marduk, who’s the new greatest god. He likes to make tornadoes. This causes problems for Tiamat, who still can’t get any sleep because the gods living inside her are bothered by all the loud stuff Marduk is doing.

So Tiamat makes 11 monsters to help her do get revenge for Apsu’s death. Other gods aren’t happy about this, so they make Marduk their champion. He kills Tiamat.

…and then he forms the world out of her corpse.

(And this explains why you haven’t seen The Marduk and Tiamat Puppet Show.)

Anyway, in Genesis, God makes the world because He wants to, and He loves each part of it. He makes this, and it’s “good”. He makes that, and it’s “good”.  The way it’s written is clearly in overt contrast with the Enuma Elish. This God is different, and He loves what He made. All of it.

The world was full of gods, but this one identifies Himself this stunning way, in Exodus 15:26: “I am the Lord who heals you.”

This God is the Healing God.

As repulsed as I might be by Christian hypocrisy, including my own, I am very attracted to a God who heals. Healing isn’t a side issue. When Jesus walked among us, it’s how he demonstrated his very identity: A lame man walks. A girl is raised from the dead.

When John the Baptist’s own faith wavered, Jesus sent people to remind him of the healings. The blind see. The deaf hear. That means the Kingdom of the Healing God is here.

I could look elsewhere, but to whom else would I go? Jesus, after all, is the God who heals little girls.

No, I do not want to walk away from this. On the contrary, I want to be part of it, doubts and questions and all.

Thankfully, scripture also reveals a God who is patient with people like me. In the book of Jude, we’re even told to be merciful to people who doubt.

So I memorized that verse. “Be merciful to those who doubt.”  (Jude 1:22 NIV)

I like to memorize really short verses…

May 21, 2018

Missionals Sanctioned Doubt, Today Reaping the Consequences

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:10 am

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind – Hosea 8:7 KJV
The people of Israel plant the wind, but they harvest a storm – Hosea 8:7 NOG*

Between 2003 and 2007 the movement in the church that would sometime be termed emergent, emerging, or missional was gaining traction. While the first two terms sound outdated — and the critics still abound, convinced they’re still fighting an identifiable force — the third is more about evangelism and hasn’t taken on a pejorative meaning.

Part of the character of these movements was to embrace the value of doubt. We sanctioned it. My wife says “We glorified it and played around with it.” You were authorized to wear your misgivings on your sleeve, while at the same time still adhering to Christianity’s over-arching message.

Reading the titles of books on the subject shows three options:
(a) Doubt is something to be overcome (the classical Protestant view)
(b) It’s okay to linger in doubt, or try to reconcile (hold in tension) doubt and belief
(c) Doubt can have positive effects; like the martial arts practitioners who use their enemy’s force to their own good, doubt can propel us toward faith.

Certainly doubt is to be preferred over apathy. A person who can articulate their uncertainties is in a better place than one who is simply dismissive and chooses to walk away from the faith discussion. Doubt is often the starting point of many a positive apologetic presentation.

And we are all works in process.

But recently, my wife and I have noticed a common thread. We journeyed with many people on the road to missional and find that so often it’s the case that their doubts overcame them. They are far removed from the place where we all began.

Their views on Jesus and the resurrection have morphed away from orthodoxy. Like the attendee at the convention or trade show, they have walked out to the lobby and removed their name badge. They no longer identify with Jesus.

This morning my wife said, “I’m starting to feel like the last man standing.”

This is not to say that there isn’t an overall drifting away taking place in Western culture. (Ironic, since Christianity seems to be growing everywhere else.) Belief in Christ is under attack on all fronts.

However, if our anecdotal evidence is in any way relevant, whatever that was which took place in the first decade of this century, it was insufficient to stick long-term with some of those in that movement…

…These different movements can be a tremendous blessing. I call myself post-Charismatic. I still believe in the limitless work of the Holy Spirit and am grateful for my exposure to and participation in that movement. I would call myself post-Missional. I’m grateful for what it showed me about Christ and culture, and the importance of identifying the people-groups in our own backyards, and reaching out to them. I’ll even (perhaps with some reluctance) take post-Emergent. I’m thankful for the lessons in Ancient-Future worship patterns and the opportunities to try to introduce those in various places where I led worship.

The danger is always throwing out the proverbial baby with the proverbial bath water. That’s what’s gone wrong here. Instead of Missional being a movement to funnel in a broader community, it seems also equally capable of being able to funnel out confirmed believers into the secular culture.

That’s unfortunate.

*NOG=Names of God Bible (Baker)

January 16, 2015

Re-Reading: Classic Philip Yancey

Some time ago, I wrote something to the effect that Christian readers should alternate between currently published works, and what are considered Christian classics. Of course, by classics, I meant something a little older than Philip Yancey, but that raises another issue: So many great Christian books — ones still in print, author still living — predate the internet, which means reviews are fewer than for more recent titles publishes are promoting through social media.

Reaching for the Invisible GodPhilip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God is perhaps more significant now than when it was published in 2002. It belongs in the conversation among those wrestling with issues of faith and doubt, and addresses the question of skepticism directly that is so prevalent in 2015.

Reaching is subjective. Most of Philip Yancey’s book are more autobiographical than other authors you encouter. They are about his journey, but sufficiently researched and footnoted so as to represent our universal quest to know and experience God in a world where he is physically invisible.

If you’re new to the name, Yancey started out as a journalist writing for Campus Life magazine, which led to co-authoring The NIV Student Bible notes with Tim Stafford and co-authoring three books with Dr. Paul Brand. Though his earlier writing includes books such as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappointment With God, for this reader the journey began with The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace.

He is very philosophical in his writing. I copied this passage from Reaching… a few days ago to send to a friend which deals with the contrast between the God of the First Testament and the Jesus of the Second Testament. I love this analogy:

Love tends to decrease as power increases, and vice versa.  The same power that repeatedly overwhelmed the Israelites made it difficult for them to perceive God’s love.  A parent stands tall to instill respect in his child and stoops low for hugs and affection.  In the Old Testament, God stood tall. (p. 131)

The original subtitle of the book — which appears on my copy — is “What Can We Expect to Find?” It reminds me of Jesus’ words to his earliest disciples in John 1:38,

When Jesus turned and noticed them following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?” (HCSB and others use looking, others use seeking)

In a world where people are seeking and looking for God, people often search for a book, but booksellers and their staff are so oriented to frontlist (recently released items) that they forget that Christian publishing is so rich in backlist titles. Publishers revive older books with new covers and even new titles, but sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find a gem you may have missed. 

If you already own a copy; join me in a re-read. If not, get yourself a copy. I think you’ll find it is perhaps even more relevant more than a decade later.


Related: A few years back I wrote about rich text, which is of course now an HTML computer term, but I appropriated it to mean books that are rich in substance.  You can read that article by clicking here.

Philip Yancey Books

 

November 14, 2014

Skepticism of Another Kind

So yesterday there were four of us, all male, in a room; two of whom I had never met before and one I had only met the week prior. He was the one who was holding the letter.

The letter was posted (that’s mailed for Americans) in the UK and urgently requested his aid in helping someone in Nigeria claim a $4,000,000 US inheritance. You know the pitch. The type of letter you get as an email perhaps as much as once a day.

Only this guy doesn’t have email. So they tracked down a mailing address for him. It was reminiscent of chain letters. He had never seen anything like this. Imagine never owning a computer and being unaware of the barrage of appeals that are sent out using this same scam.

“They should teach skepticism as a school subject;” I said; but then immediately regretted my choice of words. I thought of the various skeptic clubs and societies which scratch at the door of Christian faith; the people for whom doubting is a default response. Did I want to encourage more of that?

trust1We speak of healthy skepticism, but that implies an unhealthy counterpart. There is after all, a place for trust. I’m glad I never was required to do that team-building exercise where you lean backwards off a chair or table and trust your friends or coworkers to catch you. I don’t think I could commit fully.

“Don’t you trust us?” they would ask; and I would reply, “No, I don’t.”

There is also a place for faith.

If a constant stream of email solicitations leave you simply unwilling to trust, commit, or put faith in anything — let’s say anything other than yourself — you are to be pitied because it implies you can’t find anything good or trustworthy in the larger world.

The next action we take with our scam mail is to press the delete button, and at the urging of a 5th person who waded into the conversation, the letter’s recipient was told to shred it — the physical equivalent — and minutes later the sound of an office shredder was exactly what was heard.

I guess my proposed skepticism class would ultimate teach that it’s all about what you put your faith in. Knowing how to discern truth from lies. And knowing that sometimes it is indeed difficult to tell the difference.

 

February 3, 2011

Deconversion: Because Crossing the Line of Faith Works Both Ways

I’ve been reading the blog, Losing my Religion by Jeff McQuilkin since long before I started one of my own.  Maybe he had me at the title.  Jeff’s blog has always been at the leading edge of discussions on the issue of faith and doubt.

This one is a longer post, it might take you a good five minutes at least, and then I hope you’ll also track with the comments people have left there.  It’s about two people he knows of which one (to use language we use in this blog) is moving away from the cross while the other is moving toward the cross.

It’s also about faith that it is intellectual versus faith that goes beyond the mind.  It’s about objective absolute truth versus the subjectivity of belief based on empirical evidence.

It’s about you.  It’s about me.


Not long ago, I was browsing through my Google Reader, kind of sorting through and unsubscribing from blogs that had become inactive, and I came across a “good-bye” post from a fellow blogger. He had been struggling with his faith for some time, and I’d tracked with him for awhile because he had expressed such honesty and candor about his doubts and his feelings. This post was several months old (I was admittedly behind in my reading), but he’d written a good-bye post to close out this particular blog because he had finally decided there was no God, and he was now an atheist. Since the blog was about struggling with faith, and for him there was no more faith to struggle with, he’d moved on to write a new blog about atheism.

When I read his words, my heart sank in grief, and I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. I only know this person from his writing–I don’t think we’d ever even commented on one another’s blogs–but I felt this profound sense of loss, and I grieved for my brother who had struggled so long and had come to such a sad conclusion. I say “sad,” because when I look at my own life and struggles, I cannot imagine the amount of sorrow I would feel if I ever came to the conclusion that there had been no divine purpose in it all, that all this time I’d been muddling through on my own, that there was really no One watching out for me. Never mind the implications of the afterlife–even the idea of living in the here-and-now with no belief in God (especially if belief was once there) is a completely devastating thought to me. This is why I grieved so for my brother who had lost his faith.

I am acquainted with another atheist for whom I don’t feel the same sense of grief and loss; in fact, I feel a bit of hope. In hearing him talk about his own struggles with faith, it’s actually apparent that he wants to believe. He’s not a militant atheist, and is friendly to Christians, even admires them; he says that the only thing that really keeps him from crossing the line into faith is that he is so analytical that he can’t get his mind around the idea of the supernatural. In short, his logical mind gets in the way.

From my perspective, the biggest difference between these two atheists is the direction the struggle for faith is taking them. For the latter, I think his path is ultimately toward Christ; he would totally be a Christ-follower if he could just overcome the mental block, and I have hope that one day this will happen for him. For the former, he’s coming from the opposite direction–he once had faith (or at least belief), but got disillusioned, and for one reason or another his doubts were never satisfied. So he walked away from Christ.

But despite this difference…

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