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Finding Faith/Losing Faith 1

posted by xscot mcknight

I let the cat out of the bag Saturday in the Weekly Meanderings and the nice conversation that followed from it. I linked to the story of the reporter named Lobdell who, after a conversion to the faith and after covering the religion scene for a good long while, has walked away from his Christian faith. I mentioned then that I was doing some research on conversion theory and apostasy, so here’s the first in a series this month on loss of faith. My question will come up later in this post.
In 2002 “we” — not Tony and I — published a book on conversion theory and how that theory shows up in the Gospel stories of conversion. The book is called Turning to Jesus. The basic thesis is this: all converts go through a similar process. It begins in one’s context, is prompted by a crisis, leads to a quest for a resolution, finds itself in an interaction and encounter with the advocates (Bible, charismatic evangelist, etc), leads to a commitment and to consequences. Conversions, of course, vary — some have an intense crisis while some simply shuffle through a series of “gentle nods of the soul.”
In that book, which is rooted in Lewis Rambo’s monumental Understanding Conversion, I stated that all conversions involve apostasy — and saying so is not so much a moral judgment or a theological position as a social description. To enter one faith system, one leaves another. (Children emerging into faith is a little different, but that is not the point here.)
I am working now on the last chapter in a book for Baylor University Press tentatively called Finding Faith/Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy. “We’ve” done one on why evangelicals become Roman Catholic, one on why Jews become messianic, one on why Catholics become evangelicals and the study I am presently doing is on why people abandon the Christian faith.
Today’s post is a brief one but I’ll do some more this month. I begin with the story of Charles Templeton, told in his Dawkins-like diatribe Farewell to God. Famously, Templeton was a close Canadian associate of Billy Graham and a powerful evangelist with Youth for Christ and church-building pastor in Toronto. Everyone knew of his legendary preaching abilities and the impact he was having in evangelism and preaching. In the 1950s, just before Billy’s famous LA Crusade, Templeton revealed to Billy Graham that he was struggling with his understanding of Scripture, inspiration, and overall biblical commitment. He said he and Billy were on two different paths.
Well, I can’t tell the whole story here. What I see in Templeton’s decision to abandon the faith is the clash of scientific data with the biblical record — in other words, Templeton had an intellectual crisis from the conflict of scientific facts with the biblical worldview. Templeton left his church, went to Princeton Theological Seminary, then was employed as a mainline evangelist but within a few years, because he could not with integrity continue to preach what he was no longer sure of, left preaching altogether.
For Templeton it was all about intellectual freedom. It was a hard difficult decision for Templeton, but here are his words: “The oft-postponed decision irrevocably made, there came a soaring sense of freedom, not least, intellectual freedom…. My mind could freely quest where it would. I could examine any question without a predisposition to harmonize it with the body of Christian belief. I felt loosed. Set free!” (222).
“In the end, one must follow the truth as one perceives it. Not to do so is to live a lie” (224).
While one cannot reduce Templeton’s loss of faith to his problems with Genesis or the Bible, these issues for the heart of his crisis. What do you think the Church can do more to encourage genuine research on these issues and, what is far more important, bring such research into the local church? What does your local church do? What about your own journey?
This book is a record of his response, but it comes off as a lengthy diatribe against the Genesis accounts, the entire presentation of God in the Bible, the improbability of miracles, the moral hypocrisy of the Church in history, the strange stories of some pastors, how the Bible and Church understand women, and the Christian theory of good and evil. It isn’t simply the rant of a disaffected Christian but it does turn into this at times. Most of his argument is by assertion and logic.
Templeton, who died in 2001 after a lengthy, successful career as a newspaper, magazine and TV editor and leader, was an agnostic — not a theist (he doesn’t think one can believe in a personal God), not an atheist (the evidence is the same against God as for God), but an agnostic (one can’t know such things).



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Bill

posted July 31, 2007 at 1:52 am


I feel the fault of apostasy lies equally on the church and on the apostate. The person who loses faith feels that science and reality have evolved beyond their concept of god. They judge that intellectually they cannot reconcile the two, they are too smart for god. What they fail to link in their minds is the parallel evolution of our understanding of god and material reality. They both become more complex as time goes by, our understanding of both should evolve. Apostates insist on keeping their concept of god purposefuly simple so they can rationalize the unbelief. Theists are vested in god at all costs, they must expand theism, its complexities and intricasies. Then they have to distil this information into soundbites, easily undertood in our pop cultured world. You must fight fire with fire. When it comes down to spiritual survival in our stringed multiverse, no one is too good for pragmatic strategy.



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Anonymous

posted July 31, 2007 at 4:10 am


University Update – Baylor University – Finding Faith/Losing Faith 1

[…] University of Texas Contact the Webmaster Link to Article baylor university Finding Faith/Losing Faith 1 » Posted at Jesus Creed on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 I let the cat out of the bag Saturday in the Weekly Meanderings and the nice conversation that followed from it … in a book for Baylor University Press tentatively called Finding Faith/Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion View Original Article » […]



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Michelle Van Loon

posted July 31, 2007 at 7:40 am


Is it possible that at least some of these post-conversion “conversions” are actually a sign of spiritual and emotional growth? Though those who move away from faith as they mature may see themselves in the same category, I’m thinking here of those who experience a post-conversion crisis and move to a different expression of faith.
Part of what makes the crisis a crisis for people is that most churches tend to be proprietary (as in “we’re right”) about their practices. If a struggling person who has been a part of the flock begins to ask hard questions like “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” they’re usually branded as a problem child. This exacerbates the crisis! The person’s growth crisis frequently becomes a faith and relationship crisis at the church of origin.
Questions are a sign of growth. Judgement instead of love/thoughtful answers/dialogue/love/prayer/friendship/more love can turn those questions into division instead of blessing the person to keep growing, even if the growth happens at another kind of church.



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Sarah Chia

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:02 am


I agree with Michelle that sometimes church don’t want to hear questions, and doubtings (or perhaps, more accurately, just wonderings) are considered sinful. So, the church being open to discussion is essential.
I don’t agree with her in that the Church should “bless” people to leave by understanding that the person will be growing which “happens at another kind of church.” If she’s talking about a different denomination of Christian, then okay. Although, to consider that apostasy is a whole other issue. To consider that we are blessing someone by encouraging them to find whatever religion makes them feel like their growing is quite unloving.
Is Christ the Truth or not? Shouldn’t we bless people by letting them ask questions without being judged, but also by keeping faithful to the Truth?
And by the way, when did Christianity become something that’s focused on our personal growth? We do grow, of course, but that is a side effect of knowing God more and serving Him more, which is the duty we have to Him and the blessing that we are granted through Christ.
If people look at Christianity as simply a means for personal growth (and one of many possibilities), then we need to re-think our commitment to it and how we “market” that.
P.S. My church has a creation and evolution class that discusses a young earth and some of the confusion in terms that evolution brings up (e.g. “evolution” happens all the time, if it’s defined as adaptation, which it often is [this is micro-evolution]. But we have never observed it when it’s defined as one species turning into a different one [macro-evolution]. Often evolutionists will use the general term “evolution” and not make a differentiation. Then, people who don’t know the difference will be more easily convinced.)



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Ted Gossard

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:04 am


I think you bring up an excellent point here, Scot, about churches shoring up on Genesis and their teaching concering it related to science.
Churches need to be clear on this. But they also, as people are saying here, need to help their people think through the Biblical Story in terms of letting it speak for itself as it is. And learn to view the world in that context, not in some Biblical textbook kind of context.



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RJS

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:07 am


Scot,
You let the cat out of the bag months ago – I’ve been waiting impatiently for more. So this is to be a book or an article in an anthology book?



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Ted Gossard

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:11 am


Michelle, you bring up a good point about growth.
I think in Templeton’s case his faith was more set or crystallized, not developing in itself. Whereas a younger person who leaves the faith has not gotten that far in their previous experience or set in it. Then the younger person is more open. And they find it for themselves, oftentimes, down the road.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:43 am


RJS,
This will be a chp in a book; but I’m the author of the whole book, along with one other person who will write one of the other chapters under my supervision. I will combine my two chps that have been published as articles and add two chps, then set the whole in a different context, and re-write the whole so that they flow together.
Ted,
The key is to be unafraid to let the Bible say what it says.



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RJS

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:47 am


Now on to the heart of this post and your questions – I have commented in the past on this blog regarding this general topic – science, apostasy, Genesis, and rational Christianity. I find this a deeply personal topic – meaning that it has affected me deeply. I see the influence on those around me – colleagues, scholars, students. I have had to work through it personally, and I am still in the process of working though some of it. One cannot move within academic circles without seeing variations of Templeton’s story worked out over and over and over again. A part of me is, frankly, shocked that I am commenting here from an orthodox point of view – there was a long time when I was sure that the only reasonable path was that followed by Templeton.
To resist the temptation to commit a “blog sin” and write a comment longer than the original post (fortunately this post is moderately long so we have some leeway) – let me simply focus on one of your questions to start.
As a church located near a major University we are planning a regular discussion group, initially oriented as a book discussion, where there will be freedom, of the sort seen on this blog, to air and discuss all sides of issues – not simply the orthodox answer. We must be able to think and question. Your quote from Templeton (p.222) is important here – if everything is approached with a necessity to quash and harmonize rather than think – the mind set free becomes an intoxicating and faith-destroying experience.
Last fall we had a Sunday morning SF class on a more limited level that looked through and discussed many of the science and faith issues of concern. We will probably do something similar again this fall.



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jim

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:48 am


I am approaching my 66th birthday and passed my 35th year in Christ this last March 27th. My entrance into the walk began in a little old-time holiness church that has since grown from a 300 “membership” to a sanctuary that holds about 1000 and is overflowing most any Sunday evening. I left it three years ago, now sitting on the back pew of an AOG assembly that, too, is marked by an induction of what modern television evangelism has brought into almost any and everything out there. I am there because I believe in the integrity and heart of the pastor, but involve myself more in monthly rescue mission and Youth Detention Center efforts that are undertaken with a few friends who attend various churches.
I give a bit of my background only to say that, while my departure from the old group after more than three decades was mostly the result of feeling I could no longer follow that shepherd any longer, it yet remains both my theology and theirs changed along the way. A friend once told me that he didn’t attend that particular location because he agreed with all their doctrinal points, but because they, for the most part, agreed with him. I can relate to that and now speak only because I sit, somewhat, in the middle of your discussion.
I find different definitions to the terms “apostate” and “reprobate”, believe “truth” yet to be a journey balanced by a written Word, a risen Savior connected to me by an actual third member of the Trinity, and a “hook in my belly” that steers me as I stumble down a strait path (Thank God for an area to either side called “grace”). My old pastor told me I as back-slid. Believe me, I have searched my soul on that one, but find Him yet real and at work in my life. I would judge no man in the sense of issuing condemnation. Christ remains the best “thing” that ever happened to me.



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kent

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:52 am


The church, at least the one I ma familiar with and have experiecned, has not had a healthy level of encouragement for questions or ambiguity. They have have had a high desire and need for certainty which excludes question of faith and doubts. That needs to change. We need a healthy acceptance of ambiguity and questioning. We need to provide a safe place to express doubts when life experience and doctrines do not match up. Where can we in the evangelical church as question of Genesis or of how what I have live doesn’t jive with that i have been taught about the faith?
How does my church does this, I am not sure, but I am sure I will find out as the day prgress.



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Michel Broggi

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:55 am


Doubt is a temptation on the same level as lust; once we start giving in to doubt, it starts growing and taking more and more space until it takes over our true life.
In my personal journey, I’ve often walked down the path of doubt (as most believers do), only to discover, over and over again, that there are no definite answers. Even my boldest intellectual exercises could not give me the assurance I was looking for. And in the end I always returned to my faith, because only there was peace to be found. I don’t believe peace can be found in intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom is the path of the proud and self-centered. Faith is the path of the meek and simple of heart, a path of self-abandonment. We have the freedom to choose and give in to the temptation of doubt or not. For my part, I’ve decided a couple of years ago not to give in any more and humbly accept that I’m not God and never will be.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2007 at 8:59 am


RJS and Kent,
A couple of points:
1. There are many today who walked away from the faith because they “know” that science/evolution does not square with how they were taught to read Genesis 1-11 and they were taught it was “all or nothing” on that issue. Give away creation in six days or give away Genesis 1-3 as historical description and it all falls apart.
2. Consequently, there is momentum and gravity to how the Church has interpreted Genesis 1-11. I’m not one to dismiss easily the Church’s teachings, but I’m not afraid either to re-examine what we’ve been taught.
3. There are enough parallel creation/flood stories in the ancient world to give us food for thought — and this leads to the question I think we have to ask:
4. Why are we afraid of letting the Bible be what it is and what it was? What if we learn, over time or in God’s very presence, that after all Noah’s flood story is not what we thought it was? I’m for subjecting the whole story to both scientific and storied contexts … can we do this for the next generation’s sake?



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J

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:07 am


Some of my family read the article in our local newspaper and dismissed most of it, save for the very nice sound-bite at the end about faith being a gift. This was hailed as a profound statement, uttered, no doubt, unwittingly. The rest of the man’s struggles were not discussed.
I can sympathize with Templeton and with Lobdell.
Bill, #1: It’s very easy to set up a dichotomy between “science” and “faith” and then accuse either side of valuing one over the other. I don’t think that’s completely fair. Science is a method, applied to various subjects. The problem arises when scientific standards are applied to the Bible or the Christian faith, and this, I think, is a good and necessary application. If we let the Bible say what it says, as Scot put it, and it does not deliver the nice, neat message we were wooed with, what do we do with it? We can devote ourselves to harmonizing the gospel we heard with the text that we read; we can ignore the seeming discrepancies and declare such questions to be a different gospel altogether; or we can strike out in search of a more comprehensively reasonable option. Some people find a better option in liberal Christianity; some find it outside Christianity altogether.
Many, many people see the 3rd option as being a traitorous route, but I want to ask: why is embracing a contradiction more noble than accepting the results of reason applied to faith?
And must we always paint the apostate as a stubborn sinner bent on refusing “the truth”? In my experience, the apostate’s wrestlings are more thorough, sincere, and honest than most of his spiritual brethren.



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J

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:14 am


Scot, #13 – I certainly hope we can do just such a thing with Genesis in the near future.
As to your question, “Why are we afraid of letting the Bible be what it is…”, there is a good article on JSTOR that semi-addresses that idea. It’s called “Authoritarian or Authority-Minded? The Cognitive Commitments of Fundamentalists and the Christian Right,” by Owen, Wald, and Hill. If you can access it, I’d highly recommend reading it.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:19 am


J — who might you be?,
Tell us more about JSTOR.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:25 am


J,
Which journal and which year? I didn’t see that I could search by title or by authors.



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RJS

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:27 am


J,
I think we need to strike out in search of a more comprehensible and reasonable option – and such is to found within orthodox Christianity (little o). Unfortunately it is difficult to take this path within American evangelicalism – not because it is unchristian, but because it doesn’t fit within the “extra” fences that have been built.
Embracing a contradiction is not more noble that accepting the results of reason – I like the quote from Templeton “In the end, one must follow the truth as one perceives it. Not to do so is to live a lie.”



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RJS

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:32 am


Authoritarian or Authority-Minded? The Cognitive Commitments of Fundamentalists and the Christian Right
Dennis E. Owen; Kenneth D. Wald; Samuel S. Hill
Religion and American Culture, Vol. 1, No. 1. (Winter, 1991), pp. 73-100.



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J

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:40 am


RJS – in talking about which option is more noble, I don’t mean to imply that I see embracing contradiction as better than accepting the results of reason, but rather, that that seems to be the majority mindset. I also liked that quote from Templeton. Very much.
And yes, that’s the article.
Scot – There is a search option on JSTOR; it’s not specifically by title or author that I know of, but if you type the title into the search bar, it knows precisely what to look for.
Work summons; sorry. ^^



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Jason Powell

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:43 am


I think to answer one of Scot’s questions…”what can the church do”…has been answered pretty clearly: we can encourage dialgogue. Let’s face it, there’s plenty of things to discuss in the Genesis narrative. Let’s have some charity in our differing approaches to it. It’s sad for me, I come from a “denomination” that really discourages thinking for oneself. They even poopoo seminary education for their pastors. It definately wasn’t a church where too many good coversations took place. Are we really so afraid that some questions will rock God off of his throne?
In Christ our Victorious Redeemer



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Dan Brennan

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:55 am


Scot,
I don’t want to presume that you’ve read this, but have you looked at Ruth Tucker’s book *Walking Away from Faith* that looks at this perspective from the aspect of doubt?



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T

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:56 am


These stories of losing faith are so important to think about. They do, so many times, bring up issues of how we treat tradition and Scripture–how we try to make it say more or less than it does. Which things are literal, which not? Which practices are normative for today, and which not? Practicing wrong answers to these questions seems to be at the heart of so many of these stories.
But it’s not just about seeking the actual truth; it’s also about staying humble in our ‘knowledge.’ Too many hear these stories of lost faith and then try to make everyone in the Church certain of everything, which only makes things worse. One of the things that is so valuable in the emerging movement is the permission to say “I’m not sure” on some of these things, even as the search continues. It’s the opposite of the harsh “all or nothing (at all times)” dogma driving some of these stories of collapse. We ought to be able to be sure of some things without being sure of everything. We’re disciples, after all. We ought to be able to say that we find certain traditions, theologies, ideas etc. unconvincing–for right now anyway–without having to think the whole of God’s work or existence rises or falls on (for example) whether the ‘days’ of the creation story were 24-hour periods, or whether the earth is the center of the universe, or whether wine becomes literal blood at communion, or what ‘the thousand-year reign of Christ’ actually refers to, etc.
If our job is to be ‘witnessess’ then we’re getting very poor prepping for doing our job from the Church. We need to know what we’ve actually seen for ourselves, what we haven’t, and be willing to admit the difference to ourselves first of all and everyone else too. Good witnesses don’t know everything there is to know, nor do they profess to. They just stick to what they’ve seen and heard themselves. That’s all. Yes, they have knowledge from sources beyond their own senses, but they know which is which. Poor witnesses over-reach, go beyond what they’ve personally observed, and lose credibility even for the things they have witnessed. By and large, the conservative evangelical world I grew up in was training all witnesses to act like advocates for every point of faith (apologists?), regardless of what they had themselves seen of God in Christ. I think we misunderstand our role.



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B-W

posted July 31, 2007 at 10:38 am


Incidentally, since JSTOR is not accessible by the vast majority of us (including me), I looked up the article by other means, so as to locate proper bibliographic information. Here it is:
“Authoritarian or Authority-Minded? The Cognitive Commitments of Fundamentalists and the Christian Right,” by Owen, Wald, and Hill. Religion and American Culture, 1 Wint 1991, p 73-100.
Hope it helps.



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B-W

posted July 31, 2007 at 10:38 am


Oops. Missed that RJS did this already. Sorry. Delete these if you can.



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MartyS

posted July 31, 2007 at 10:47 am


Look forward to reading the new book!!



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Julie

posted July 31, 2007 at 10:56 am


J, thanks for your eloquence. I identify with just about everything you’ve written.
I like Scot’s plea to let the Bible be what it is. I suppose where it gets dicey is that usual sticky place of what it means to let it be… How far does deconstruction go?
The best way for the church to address people like me (whatever church we talk about) is to accept their self-reporting as accurate for them (that they are not hiding a secret sin, were never converted to begin with, are wanting an excuse to return to an immoral lifestyle or are unwilling to trust God with their questions). If they say they were Christians, there’s no need to doubt them.
For myself, theological questions brought down the house, not science, not disappointment in people or Christians. I spent four years in graduate school studying theology because I took my questions that seriously.
Julie



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Julie

posted July 31, 2007 at 10:58 am


The writing above is not clear (I left the keyboard midway through my posting and forgot to hit preview – sorry).
Here is the revised part of the post:
The best way for the church to address people like me (whatever church we talk about) is to accept their self-reporting as accurate for them. Christians ought not to assume that those who lose faith are hiding secret sin, were never converted to begin with, are wanting an excuse to return to an immoral lifestyle or are unwilling to trust God with their questions. If they say they were Christians, there’s no need to doubt them.



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Glen Davis

posted July 31, 2007 at 11:04 am


Bradley Wright, a Christian sociologist at U Conn, is doing research in deconversion as well. You might find his perspectives interesting since he’s coming out of a different discipline. http://brewright.blogspot.com/2007/07/journalists-deconversion-from.html



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john page

posted July 31, 2007 at 11:34 am


Scot,
You ask if we can let the Bible be what it is. Isn’t that where the struggle is…what exactly IS the Bible, for some people? To some it’s a history book, others it’s a life answer book, to still others it’s the very word of God. Can you clarify what you were meaning?



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kent

posted July 31, 2007 at 11:45 am


Scot,
My thoughts were more directed towards when live and beliefs are at odds with one another. I was remembering those who were brought up to believe one way and life harshly taught them something else. Crisis of faith seems to occur when what we have been instructed as true does not play out in life.
I was also thining of Rob Bells images of bricks and springs, that perhaps we need treat Genesis 1 – 11 as springs and not as bricks.



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derek

posted July 31, 2007 at 12:11 pm


Scot,
I think you nail the crux of the problem when you said
“Why are we afraid of letting the Bible be what it is and what it was?”
Two issues as I see it. The first is hermeneutical. What are we reading in Genesis 1-11? Poetic myth, history, scientific description, various amounts of each. Complex issues to be sure.
The second is epistemological. How do we understand the claims that we make and how do we use it. I was taught and trained in a foundationalist model of understanding which can be simplistically described as the house of cards model of understanding. If the base levels are not strong then the whole thing is going to come down.
For many Christians the base level is the inerrency of scripture and if that goes then everything else including what we know about salvation is going down with it. If Genesis 1-3 is not understood as 6 day creationism then everything else is faulty as well because it is all built on that base level: a certain foundation based on the perfect word of God.
The foundational model is not the only epistemological model out there. I am partial to the “web of knowledge” as formulated by W.V.O. Quine.
If you are interested in a theological application of these ideas check out Nancey Murphy’s “Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda”
Enough for now!
Derek



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RJS

posted July 31, 2007 at 2:19 pm


Kent – I think you are right; crises of faith arise when what we were taught as absolute truth doesn’t hold water. This can lead to a domino effect – and many question everything and lose faith. J and Julie are so right – this isn’t a moral failing, a lack of faith, or an excuse to lead an immoral lifestyle. It is the inability to live a lie and a search for intellectual integrity.
So what can the/a church do? With respect to foundational beliefs and creeds we must be careful to draw the line encompassing essentials only. We can have and preach other beliefs, doctrines, opinions, and practices – but don’t confuse these with the true essentials. Oft times the church – or a local manifestation of the church – draws a convenient line in the sand and makes it a test of faith. When we do so, and people fall away as a result – who is at fault? For the last many years Scriptural Inerrancy, the Fairy Tale Gospel, a Theology of Women and some other “inessentials” have driven many far away – their fault or ours?
Scot (#13) I think we have to let the Bible be what it is and what it was. We have to let the Bible guide us in interpretation, and not impose our framework on it. And we have to do this for the next generation’s sake.



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Brian

posted July 31, 2007 at 2:28 pm


Part of the problem is that the Bible does not view people as being on an open minded quest for the truth. It views them as either blinded by sin and the devil, or as having their eyes opened by God to see the truth.
If we take the Bible as true then we have to deal with its presentation of this paradigm.



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John W Frye

posted July 31, 2007 at 2:30 pm


A new and good friend of mine, Jeremy Bouma, and I have discussed the energy of fear that drives much of the theological agenda for conservatives. Because there is an unwitting assumption of many fundamentalists is that their theological understandings carry the same stamp of inerrancy as their view of the Bible. Open-ended conversations regarding reshaping theology, hopeful explorations of new ways of expressing the faith, minor to major modifications of long-held beliefs, and jettisoning some things that just don’t make sense anymore scares the living daylights out of those who view “faithfulness” as continually spouting what Luther and Calvin said and wrote, along with Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon, Hal Lindsey, Josh McDowell and C.C. Ryrie. The obvious historical fluidity of theological pursuit has petrified into a fixed set of sacrosanct evangelical views that no one dare question. To do so is to “go liberal” or “emergent.” Fear. Pure and simple.



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Peggy

posted July 31, 2007 at 2:30 pm


Well said, RJS…the bar for essentials is way too often way too high. And I am weary of debating the non-essentials when we have a lost world in need of their Savior all around us.
Personally, I think that too many people are just uncomfortable with the mystery, the not-knowing that is part and parcel with being finite humans. So they build walls for stability and protection–but on shaky foundations (as Derek said in #32) rather than trust that Jesus is The Truth and that we have nothing to fear from the search for truth. The problem comes when we take someone’s idea for truth without working through the issues personally. It is work to be a disciple….



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Peggy

posted July 31, 2007 at 2:33 pm


Yes, John…it is fear…and perfect love casts out fear…it is always good to ponder just what that means.



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Russ

posted July 31, 2007 at 2:59 pm


Three cheers for #27 and 28. Though I haven’t “left” the faith, any bit of faith (or wish of faith?) that I still have is far, far different from anything I once had. Reevaluating theological issues in graduate school and after were also for me part of that.
I find I’ve moved in terms of my thinking so very far away from most evangelical Christians (even in the Emergent movement), that it seems there’s little ground for communication. But this does not mean moving into a liberal theology, or a demythologized christianity. Scott’s comments about letting the Bible speak for itself are spot on. As one who respects texts, we always need to let them tell their own story to us, and on their terms. But learning to do that has not necessarily moved me closer to believing that the stories are the true telling of the way the universe works. My fascination with the texts remains.



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Mariam

posted July 31, 2007 at 3:14 pm


Our local religion columnist Douglas Todd (http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/columnists/douglastodd.html) recently had an article on this very topic (which I wish I could find) and he gave the example of two men – one who was a Biblical scholar who lost his faith and one who was a scientist who found his. I can’t remember their names but essentially what happened is that as the scientist delved deeper into trying to discover the “truth” in science, he became more and more convinced of the possibilities of miracles and of creative design. He had been an atheist but ended up returning to the faith of his fathers (which was orthodox Judaism). Science led him to God. The Biblical scholar, who was also a fairly literal “biblical” Christian, found, as he studied ancient texts, more and more ambiguity, and what he considered error and bias in translations. He prayed fervently for understanding but became more mired in confusion and doubt. He came to believe that “the Bible”, if often apparently mistranslated and in error, was not really the word of God. He wondered why, if God was speaking through the Bible, why he did not make it more clear and unambiguous, why he did not inspire translators so that there were no errors. This led him to stop believing in God. (I am simplifying and paraphrasing the story as I remember it here – Todd did not make the biblical scholar out to be such a ninny as I have). My thought when reading the story was the man’s logical stumble – why did his loss of faith in the Bible as the word of God lead him to believe there was no God. This didn’t make sense to me. To me it is not science that leads people away from God – in Douglas Todd’s example and in many other cases it can, in fact, lead people to God because the more you study the more your mind is opened to the wonders of the unvierse and the limits of what we really know. What leads to a loss of faith for many is, as Derek describes above, the belief that you must believe certain things in order to be a Christian, even in order to believe in God. If you believe you must take the stories in the BIble literally and gradually they begin to look more and more like the story of the tooth fairy, no matter how hard you pray for guidance and for your faith to be strengthened, then the house of cards collapses. Also if you believe in God as a sort of limited superhero housekeeper who sits above us checking up on our various errors, including what we believe, and seeing to rewarding the prayers of the faithful and protecting them from harm, if something tragic happens to you or someone you love in spite of all your prayers your idea of God may not be sufficient to sustain your faith in the face of trauma. I know, as a liberal Christian, you probably think I am just shaking my head in a pitying way at biblical Christans, but I’m not. I sometimes wish I could have that certitude. I also understand the fear of gradually sliding from very open-ended belief to virtual non-belief. I understand the worry that if we are to give up on the idea of the inerrancy of the Bible, what shifting sands will our faith be based on? I don’t agree with that point of view but I understand it. I understand the desire for certainty, to have things laid out with easy-to-follow instructions. I just don’t think the universe or God works that way. My item of faith that is essential (for me) is that Jesus was a real person – not just a lovely fable borrowed and cobbled together from various mythologies and tacked onto a sect of Judaism. To me Jesus, not the Bible, is the Word of God. If it could be proven to me that Jesus was a myth (like if they found some ancient early text written by Paul in which he outlined how he was going to start this new religion and create a Messianic fictional character) then my faith structure would collapse.
A work of fiction which explores this topic in a very thoughtful and touching way is “The Gospel of Judas” by Simon Mawer. I would recommend it as an exploration of the nature of faith.



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Jeremy

posted July 31, 2007 at 3:33 pm


In response to one of the first comment from Bill about how christians have tended to keep their theology and understanding of God simple and tried to integrate an increasingly complex world into that simple understanding I would recommend the four post from Dr. Richard Beck’s blog “Experimental Theology” titled Sticky Theology. I don’t know that it will help to answer the question, rather it might illuminate the problem.



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Russ

posted July 31, 2007 at 3:39 pm


Mariam,
Thanks for your comment. I wish you could find that article too!
In the final lines of the next to last paragraph, you write that if someone could somehow disprove Jesus, then your faith structure would collapse. I think this touches something which the article probably refers to – the Bible as a reliable source of history. An old question, with a thousand answers. To me, looking again at the history of early Christianity raises in my mind the question whether Jesus and his followers weren’t -fully convinced that they were in the right, and forging something beautiful along the way- still wrong in some of their beliefs. Not wrong in the sense of “culturally bound”, but wrong in the sense of “what they expected just never happened”. I would love to have a trust that Jesus really is the Messiah, the kyrios of the world, with all the historcial and biblical echoes that that brings up. There seems to me nothing more beautiful. Only my look at the history of early Christianity, including the texts of Scripture, cast that into doubt.
Apologies for going on here.



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Diane

posted July 31, 2007 at 4:01 pm


Hi. I’m on vacation in Chincoteague with my family and hence missing all these good discussions. My brain is somewhat on vacation … but here I am with my husband in an ice cream place that has wifi so I am trying to catch up. I did have to mak ea sacrifice and have some ice cream … well, anything for the cause … still trying to process Augustine … he is SO wrong … and planning my own fantasy Emergent event called MarkDriscollNO, run by women … well, never mind. Off topic … now to this interesting thread.
I agree with many of the comments above. There’s a huge dualism in the faith culture: either it’s rigid literalism or my goodness!, all a historical, metaphorical construct with a hidden agenda … this stifles thought on both sides. But moi having thought deeply about this, thought brought about my all sorts of things I have observed with wonder in the popular culture, I’ve come to the conclusion the big problem is that people don’t read the Bible. Too many people rely on secondary sources as their ultimate authority. OK, it drives me crazy. Elaine Pagels is hardly the ultimate authority on the Bible nor is Billy Graham. That’s problem 1. And problem 2: People might scan the words on the page of a Bible frequently but I have become convinced they don’t actually READ it in any engaged way. Why I think this could easily be a book, so too long for this blog, but if more people would read the Bible using all their mind and heart and soul and some generosity and common sense I think we’d at least be having a different conversation. Secondary sources have their place, but as secondary sources. Why people are so afraid: well, the stakes are high. Unf, as noted, the fear backfires terribly.



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JACK

posted July 31, 2007 at 4:02 pm


I will try not to repeat what I often say, because I’m sure that people tire of it. But I do think there are several challenges that the Church can help with (albiet much is ultimately left to the individual and his examination of his own experience):
(1) accept that what is reasonable is something that accounts for all the factors. I realize that this is not a problem for some, but I am amazed by the dogmatic way in which some Christians work to deny the reality of the world before them. If the faith is about the truth, then it can’t ask me to deny what other sources of knowledge have revealed. It should in fact embrace the truth wherever it finds it and bring it into the fuller picture (and not letting a fragment remain a fragment). When we teach people to a priori deny certain methods as being capable of discerning truth, you know what happens when they leave the faith? They retain that principle, but just start to deny that religion is a method capable of revealing truth.
(2) embrace the Incarnation. We all have a tendency to slip into treating Christianity as a collection of dogmas and not an encounter with a Person, with Christ. But the damage is significant, if subtle, when we do this. Because this reduces Christianity to a man-made system. However noble it may be, nonetheless an ideology. And an ideology simply doesn’t sustain, doesn’t give life. Might heart yearns for the Infinite, not theories about the Infinite. If we remind ourselves of this, I think we will be less trapped or tempted by the need to develop (note the emphasis on me doing versus on me recognizing my nature) a coherent system. Similarly, moralism isn’t the same as the faith and we should stop pretending it is.
(3) Teach people what they can learn from experience. Many of us here the word “experience” and think fluffy, subjectivism, wishy-washy emotionalism. I think this is a horrific blow to the lived experience of Christianity. Because experience looked at seriously teaches. Some have mentioned the apostles and what they may have known about Christ. Look at the story in the Gospels, starting with the encounter of Andrew and John with Christ and through all of the miracles (followed by the repetition “and they believed”). It is one grand story of how we have been given in our nature the means by which to make judgments about experience with deepening certainty. I have long seen the faith as “I believe, help me with my unbelief”. That certainty is not a 1 or a 0, but something that matures and deepens. But it isn’t going to if I am not shown or have let the cultural attitude prevent me from recognizing that moral certainty is possible. This is why I think it is so important that the embracing of doubt be an embracing of the fact that I desire an answer and yet haven’t come across it versus a denial that an answer is even possible. What I am describing is a discipleship that isn’t about just moralism. And unfortunately, it’s not as common as it should be.



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Diane

posted July 31, 2007 at 4:04 pm


Jack,
I agree with you, especially on the faith having to be experiential.



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RJS

posted July 31, 2007 at 4:52 pm


J,
It is an interesting article (#15,19)- and authority-minded is good concept to describe much of what I’ve been thinking about. There is a desire for a guarantor of order, a solid rock on which to build, a necessity for absolute and objective certainty, clarity, and direction. Everything is black or white. This mind-set tends to lead to only two possibilities, total acceptance or apostasy.
Reality is messy – and much messier than many would like. Even the Bible is much messier than many claim it to be.
Scary – especially with the popularity of some “neofundamentalism.”
I came to the conclusion (long ago – but also in a long and continuing process) that the problem was not with Christianity, not even orthodox Christianity (little o), but with the false dichotomies imposed by this mind-set.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2007 at 4:58 pm


J and RJS,
I just read the piece too, and I’ll be thinking about the distinction of authority-minded and authoritarian. There is an ideology of order, though, and that makes lots of sense to me.



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Julie

posted July 31, 2007 at 6:33 pm


RJS, I just wanted to say that I’ve enjoyed your fuller expression of your thoughts and feelings related to faith. Thanks for sharing more.
I agree about neofundamentalism. One of the difficulties for some ex-fundamentalists is that they can’t get out of that mindset even when they move away from Christianity. They take it with them into science of atheism or free thinking or… fill in the blank. That temptation to find an anchor point in a postmodern world leads many to cling to whatever is the most sophisticated, right-seeming expression of certainty that matches who and what they are at the given moment in time.
I’ve specifically tried to discover how I think, how I process information because I have often been unable to modulate out of that dichotomistic way of understanding god or science or any given point of view. Grad school helped tremendously.
I also remembered that I wanted to add yet another wrinkle to this discussion. Globalization and the increased awareness of world religions, cultures has put a significant challenge in front of Christianity as well – on what grounds can westerners (growing up in a Christianized culture) claim that their belief system (so intertwined with western history, politics, literature, morality, science and myth) is the superior one? And must they?
These are other troubling questions for those who venture beyond the absolutist demands of fundamentalist faith.



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bulldog

posted July 31, 2007 at 7:42 pm


Julie,
I suppose the answer to your questions depends on what you think man’s problem is.
Ever since I was a teenager I have lived in the evangelical church and I have seen it all and I harbor no illusions about the superiority of church folk (or myself) to other people. I have not lived my life cloistered away from the real world and have seen first hand the kind of pure evil that on a larger scale would lead to attrocities in a different setting.
Man is a sinner by nature. He is not as bad as he can be and is actually capable of some good but he certainly is not basically good.
If God is good and hates evil then His solution must fit the problem and orthodox Christianity is the only game in town that correctly diagnoses the problem and proposes a solution that fits the problem. I confess the orthodox faith because only God can save us from our selves. If we could pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and save ourselves goodness and mercy would be breaking out all over the place. The last time I looked at the newspaper that wasn’t the case. Globalization and awareness of world religions are pseudo problems, people are the same wherever you go. There may be elements in orthodox Christianity that I wish were different, but if it’s the truth it must be taken as it is irrespective of my (or anybody else’s) personal taste.
PS I’m no fundamentalist. Barth, Lonergan, and Thomas Torrance are some of my guiding lights.



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Keith

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:06 pm


It seems to me that this is becoming a problem of the past. i think we need to be honest with our congregations. We believe because we choose to believe. This is faith. Not because we are convinced of the evidence, but because we are convinced by the story.
i think trying to solve intellectual problems only occurs when your faith is just another form of science and every question has an answer. Let us dance within the gray (mystery) and hold firm to our profession. Let all arguing cease.
He is right…that forcing everything into a presupposition that goes against your own convictions is to live a lie. It is to be bound, and it is for freedom that Christ set us free. i’m glad he lived according to his convictions, though i think he did it for the wrong reasons, if that makes sense.



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RJS

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:32 pm


Thanks Julie,
I am finding (and have found) it very useful to be able to articulate my thoughts on this blog. And it is also important to read different views and experiences.
On the globalization issue – I can see the problem when comparing with Christendom (post 500 or 700 or so). But is our current situation really that much different in this sense than the situation of the 1st century and the very early church?



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Brian

posted July 31, 2007 at 9:45 pm


Keith (#49),
Plenty of Mormons are also convinced by their story, but I think significant parts of their story are a complete fabrication. Would you agree that we need to distinguish our story from theirs?



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Anonymous

posted July 31, 2007 at 10:00 pm


aldenswan.com » Blog Archive » Faith, conversion & apostasy

[…] Scot McKnight, author, teacher and blogger, is just starting an interesting blog series called Finding Faith / Losing Faith, which should prove both interesting and enlightening. While I have, as I said, pondered the past and present spiritual status of those who have left Christianity, I have not done any serious study on the issue. I look forward to hearing what McKnight will have to say on the issue. […]



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JACK

posted July 31, 2007 at 10:52 pm


Keith,
I’m curious as to what you quite mean when you speak of us believing because we choose to believe, not because of the evidence, but the story.
The worry I have is that I meet many who say that and mean to suggest by it that belief is something disconnected from reason. And quite often, in my view, it seems motivated by a rejection of the possibility that what was given to the apostles is available to us.
But I think our experience isn’t all that different from them if we look at the right things. How did they come to know Christ? The method was encounter. The apostles followed Jesus because of their experience of Him and their attraction for Him. Not an emotional attraction only, but one that seems generated from a growing recognition from their experience of Him that He answers their needs. That He is extraordinary. Did they know everything? No, to the contrary, they constantly demonstrate how little they know.
Despite the differences of our time, and all the benefits we have of theology and history of development of the Church given the point in time that we live, nonetheless I think our position is quite similar to theirs. The same method (the encounter) is their for us.
I just don’t understand why people seem to throw up their hands and force it all to be a the Mystery is unknowable-don’t-even-try-just-embrace-it approach or a I-can’t-know-everything-so-I-deny-that-what-the-church-claims-could be-true.
Bulldog got a certain part absolutely right. We need the Mystery to come to us. We can’t save ourselves. We can’t grasp the Infinite on our own powers. The beauty of Christianity is that it happened: the Word became flesh.
This is the irony I see in many who will speak of the search for the early church experience; they don’t really believe it is possible for us of our time.
Again, I think we shouldn’t think of certainty as an on-off switch. Think about your own experience of life. I am not married, so I can’t speak of a spousal relationship. But I can think of my love for my brother. I am certain of it, have been for a long time. But that recognition, of the fact that I love him, doesn’t mean I understand everything there is to know about him or the ways in which that certainty will unfold.



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Ian

posted July 31, 2007 at 11:30 pm


I think that apostasy happens when questions overwhelm the questioner. This is largely a problem caused by the church itself, and I should explain why I think that.
The church has satisfied itself with baby food for far too long. It has given pat answers to many questions, refusing to delve into the mysteries other than to “explain them away.”
But faith itself is a mystery – why do we have it at all? Why did God choose to give it to us?
The struggle for personal answers to hard and challenging and mysterious questions is treated by the church very often as moral failure – “you should just believe what we say.” Yet isn’t that the very stance to which Luther, Calvin, Huss, Simons, and others objected? The idea that “you should just believe what we say” is taking solid root in the Christian community, essentially recreating the problems of the Catholic Church of the 1400s and 1500s.
Do we really need to relearn the lessons of 500 years ago?
The church should be encouraging the struggle for personal answers; it should be endeavoring to provide a ground where that makes sense; it should NOT be providing platitudes and broadcasting pat answers to questions about meaning and purpose and value – that way lies madness and reactionary cultism (many, many cults have risen in reaction to religious dogma).
What if Christ intends for us to struggle with our faith? What if he intends for us to discover the middle that was excluded from the extremist points of view, and see how what he said works out in practice?
There is plenty to question, after all, and many experiences to bring questioning into one’s faith. Surely Christ knew this. And, he never condemned anyone for asking questions. He often questioned their maturity for asking silly questions (“… and you are a teacher in Israel?” comes to mind), but I find few (if any) references to him condemning questioners. So why does the church condemn those who question? Perhaps the church is not as assured of its positions as it thinks? Perhaps the “leaders” of the church aren’t comfortable with the answers found by those who question?
I think we should all question our faith. If it doesn’t stand up to our own questioning, then it likely won’t stand before God’s, either.



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Mykl Krause

posted July 31, 2007 at 11:31 pm


Advanced warning and apologies for the rambling rant that follows. but
when I first read William Lobdell’s excellent and insightful article on losing his faith and his disappointment with the church, I wondered who or what he thought the “Church” really was. Who or what was he hoping to hold accountable? It reflected the cultural understanding of church as an object or institution.
William Lobdell: You are the church! Charles Templeton: You are the church! To all of us I say: We are the church. The church is not some building or organization or some set of beliefs. There really is no one who can say (with any integrity or authority) you are “in” or “out.” We so often objectify the church as if it is really some tangible thing that we can hold accountable – a royal “they” – they need to be doing things differently. “The church” needs to be more understanding, or accepting or develop more programs, or …
I (we) need to change our thinking about how we refer to church as if it really is something that we can kick or criticize or blame (or praise). The church is a concept of the heart that we try to make sense of. The church is people trying to express a common idea about their relationship with God. The church is a mystical union created by the Holy Spirit. Jesus will build His church.
We can challenge inept leaders. We can expose corrupt behaviour. We can feel that people have not treated us well or are hypocrites and inconsistent in their behaviour. But I’m not sure we can blame the church for our lack of faith or for the way “it” treated me.
Maybe it’s just semantics and all this is just a rant that really misses the point. But I feel that the William Lobdells and Charles Templetons of the world are not a threat to the church or Christianity but need to be embraced as fellow journeyers on this earth. They are part of what it is to understand God and the church.



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Mykl Krause

posted July 31, 2007 at 11:43 pm


I just read the comments section on the original Meanderings post on William Lobdell’s article. The conversation there much more reflects my thought process – especially Diane’s comment (which I quote below because it was so good).
“I found the presence of Lobdell himself the redemptive note in his piece. He was the face of Christ, the broken heart of Christ and the anguish of Christ. He took people who were nothing to him–not family, not friends — and felt their pain and spoke truth for them against power, pride and selfishness. It was almost as if he were saying, if I sacrifice myself my faith and write about it, maybe that will change people’s hearts. The piece haunted me.”



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Mike Haubrich, FCD

posted August 1, 2007 at 12:15 am


I came here from the trackback on aldenswan.com. I am an atheist who did convert from Christianity as part of a gradual process that finally culminated in my late twenties/early thirties. I will be glad to contribute a tiny bit of the reason why. Some of the posters have hit directly on the roots of my doubt, but missed the main one that was my first stumbling block wrt faith.
In my late teens, I had realized that after three years of being a “saved Christian” (having first grown disillusioned with Catholicism) I still was not connecting with God as a supernatural being that had entered my heart, in a matter of speaking. I still felt isolated when I was alone and praying, and I prayed earnestly, I tell you. Not asking for things or blessings, but asking for a connection. I thought that there was something wrong with me, that I was doing something to block this “truth” that all of the Christians in the groups I belonged to. So, I decided to fake it a bit, and then eventually I would feel it.
Here is the kicker, and the thing that convinced me that God is a delusion; as soon as I started pretending to be walking in the spirit, the people around me told me that they could finally “see God in me” and that they had been praying for me to finally have this. They could tell that I had Jesus in me. And I knew that I didn’t, so I examined this through my “looking-glass” self and started wondering if those around me weren’t envious of me in the same way that I had been envious of them. And I realized that I didn’t have anyone that I could trust in those groups enough that I could reveal my deception.
This started a long process of self-examination that was less intellectual than it was emotional, and sincere. And I will be honest, when I searched the Bible for answers, it provided little insight for my doubts. Not even Job nor Ecclesiastes satisfied my longing.
I have come to the conclusion that no earthly authority can illuminate my quest, because no one, despite their protestations, has had experiences of God that can’t also be explained by other means. And it really matters little which particular religion one chooses.
I am not attacking the authors’ faith at all, nor any of the commenters here. I merely think that this is as good of a blog as any I have found in which Christians are genuinely interested in what an atheist would have to say about leaving faith.
Thanks!



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Mariam

posted August 1, 2007 at 2:47 am


#41 Russ – an apology. The article wasn’t by Douglas Todd – I emailed him and he said it wasn’t his piece. I am trying to track it down and I think I know who else may have written it but I don’t want to attribute anything else incorrectly.



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Julie

posted August 1, 2007 at 6:43 am


#57 Mike, I enjoyed your post very much. One of the recurring themes I see in those who walk away is the admission (finally) that the “experience” of God is elusive for them. Whenever Christians move away from theological reasons or scientific evidence for faith, experiencing God or Jesus is brought up as the key to being a Christian. Yet there is a large percentage of people who do not have experiences – they don’t ever feel the love of God, though praying for it earnestly, they don’t experience the “presence” of God, though wanting it and believing it is possible to have it.
These kinds of reports are usually disconcerting to active Christians who often give those who are struggling to gain those experiences more advice on how to establish the connection with God through prayer or waiting or fasting or trusting or who sometimes give up and suggest that this lack of experience is a dark night of the soul.
I find myself wanting to include in my theology (such as it is) the genuine reports of sincere people who have committed themselves to the faith and have not found what they were promised or told would follow as much as I want to consider those who believe.



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Brian

posted August 1, 2007 at 7:29 am


Connecting Mike’s post with mine in #34, the big question is which offers the best explanation of the world, Christianity or atheism. A smaller question is whether Christianity explains atheism better than atheism explains Christianity.



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RJS

posted August 1, 2007 at 8:28 am


Julie,
I am very much a thinking person – not so much a “feeling” person. This language of presence, connection, etc. has always been something of a mystery – and a stumbling block. Maybe this provides another answer to the question “What can the church do?” Lets not make out that everyone is the same and will have the same kind of experience – it simply isn’t true. And don’t fake it – that is counterproductive.



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Julie

posted August 1, 2007 at 8:41 am


#61: RJS, thank you for a great summary. I like the complexity and ambiguity of your answer. John Wimber used to say that it’s not the “truth that sets you free.” The verse says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
“It’s the truth that you know,” that sets you free. We have to start from a place of honesty, which implies risk and trust… and stuff that reminds me of faith. :)
Julie



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JACK

posted August 1, 2007 at 12:55 pm


Mike, Julie and RJS raise great points. Experience is often reduced to emotionalism. I remember a conversation I had with a very devout Catholic woman whose faith I wouldn’t question. We were both in a setting where we were being asked to share our “testimony” by protestants. Now, I happen to have had experiences along my journey that lend themselves to a narrative that is along the lines of the types of things some would expect in response to that request. She had not had such experiences and so the evening made her uncomfortable because it seemed to frame her journey in a questionable light, as if something was lacking. I reassured her that was not the case.
But for all the reasons mentioned above, I think we have to be careful when we speak about experience and it’s role in the faith. First, Mike aptly points out that it is not moralism (but how many of us reduce it to that?). Similarly, it isn’t just emotions or feelings. I often suggest that people begin with just taking a serious look at what is before them in reality. At their nature. Leave the God questions to the side. (It’s why I often speak of the Other, Mystery, Infinite. It’s a long journey to knowing that all of that is a Unity of three Persons and has revealed His face to us. I think that first step of recognizing that there is a “not me” is huge and as important as the later ones in some respects.) The recognition that I do not give myself life (if taken as a serious provocation) can be quite a profound experience, but it may not have much in the way of emotional trappings.
Mike’s comments are precisely why I think a Christian cannot afford to truncate reason or to abandon any facet of reality. We have to realize that for many (including many Christians) there is a pre-kergyma evangelization needed. A rediscovery of what it is to be human and how to examine our lives. It is our common humanity that I think ultimately will open a non-believer up to the possibility of faith (or as one of my teachers would say “the hypothesis of revelation”). Too bad we often live as though that’s not true and skip all that in our evangelization efforts in exchange for pushing some sort of schema of the faith.



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Mariam

posted August 1, 2007 at 1:45 pm


#57 Mike
I also was a Christian in my teens who became not exactly an atheist, but certainly agnostic by my early 20’s. There were a lot of reasons for this. I had not been raised in the church, and few of my friends were Christians so I didn’t have a foundation of belief. I found as I got older that the literal acceptance as historical fact of the myths in the Bible didn’t make sense to me. I was an intellectual questioning sort of kid and there was no one I could really discuss my doubts with, except non-Christians, as doubts were considered wrong, like lustful thoughts. Speaking of which, I was groped by a couple of church elders (who seemed extremely “elder” to me as a young teenager) and this freaked me out and had me going from church to church to find non-groping congregations – which actually wasn’t that easy to find (but that’s another story). But I could have probably have weathered all this except for the problem you describe. I didn’t “feel” anything – I didn’t feel any different when I prayed, I didn’t feel or sense any presence, I felt like I was just talking to myself. Meanwhile everyone around me was talking about being filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, etc., etc. which made me feel as if I was somehow either ignored or unwanted by God, or that He couldn’t actually see me – like when you’re waiting at the deli counter and everyone else around you is getting served even though you were there first. So I observed people believing in stuff that seemed highly improbably to me and for which I could find no evidence, we had behaviors of at least some people who claimed to be filled with the Holy Spirit which was completely unspiritual and wrong (even to non-Christians) and I had no experience of “presence” at all. My eventual conclusion was that belief in God was all people deluding themselves and simply wishful thinking on my part.
As a humanist I had believed that it was possible to live as a “good” person without the benefit of any belief in the supernatural. I believed that people were mostly good at heart, and that, in general, bad things did not happen to good people. I considered myself a compassionate good person, who forgave easily and had rarely met a person I couldnt’ empathize with. All that was ripped away me and I found myself in existential freefall.
I think often about Leonard Cohen’s line that “(Jesus) knew for certain only drowing men could see Him”. In my most recent incarnation as a Christian (just over 2 years now) I believe I have felt that elusive presence several times but each time it was when I was in very desperate straits, exhausted and traumatized and on the verge of completely losing it. The intellectual, skeptical part of me says that that presence was something I needed to feel to keep from going crazy and my own mind manufactured it. I’ve certainly seen hallucinations as the result of trauma in others. However, I choose to believe it was the presence of God. My “God” is very broadly defined so that makes it a bit easier. For me, faith is to continue to talk to God, to continue to try and find ways to follow in Christ’s footsteps, even though there is for me no real evidence, either internally or externally that God exists. The intellectual part of me, that is still a long ways from accepting a personal God, looks the other way and reasons that it isn’t really doing any harm and appears to be doing me some good – both for me and my family. My heart longs to believe.



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Julie

posted August 1, 2007 at 3:01 pm


Mariam, I really enjoyed reading your journey! I’ve perhaps had the disadvantage of being a person who can think deeply and academically, yet was inducted into a form of faith that was decidedly superficial in how it treated serious questions. Experience became the key way for me to validate faith… until I confronted and encountered such a diversity of experiences (and lack of them) combined with a diversity of theologies that I could no longer justify claiming I had found “the way.”
Today, I find that Christianity continues to be the primary counter point against which I evaluate everything. I find much to be embraced within the framework of Christian faith but don’t resonate with almost any of the expressions of it! How odd is that?
Still, I keep hanging around anyway. To me, the entire journey is faith. The danger is believing that you lose faith by losing confidence in propositions. I have enormous faith in the process of honest inquiry… not that it leads somewhere specific, but rather that it prevents pretension and coercion (twin evils in my book).
And I still love the Jesus I find in the Gospels.



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Mariam

posted August 1, 2007 at 3:49 pm


Julie,
IN some ways I think it is an advantage to come to faith without any theological baggage. I am not weighed down and I can slowly accumulate a belief system that makes sense for me. And, I’ve been fortunate to find a church that lets me do that. Matters of doctrine that become matters of angst or a line in the sand separating the sheep from the goats for more orthodox Christians aren’t even on my radar. the Virgin birth? the loaves and fishes? The Trinity? original sin and atonement? baptism or not? gay sex? Huh? People really worry about that stuff? Here are the questions that I’m still working on: “Is there a God and do I have to believe in one to be a Christian?” “If there is a God, what is his/her nature?” As I explore the intricacies of Christian doctrine on sites like this, those are the questions that still matter to me.
In another post I explained how humanism stopped working for me. At that point I needed another faith system and I picked Christianity because I had a headstart on it and, like you, I’ve always had a thing for Jesus.



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Julie

posted August 1, 2007 at 4:18 pm


Ha – we’re in the same place via different paths:
These are my questions too: Is there a God and do I have to believe in one to be a Christian?” “If there is a God, what is his/her nature?”
I think it’s a great place to begin and end, actually.



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Mike Haubrich, FCD

posted August 2, 2007 at 7:44 am


Hey, I have read all of the comments here, and appreciate the responses to my post, and have also enjoyed reading the responses to Mariam’s (who seems to have had similar experiences to what I have had; including a painful example of betrayal on which I don’t wish to elaborate here.)
Brian #60. I am not sure what you are referring to in your question as to whether atheism better explains Christianity or if Christianity better explains atheism. Would you care to expand?
As to whether Christianity or atheism better explains the world, that is an open question as well and I would say a subjective one. Which part of the world do you want explained? I certainly trust the objective nature of philosophical naturalism; but while philosophical naturalism is by definition necessary for atheism it doesn’t automatically lead to atheism (as I am sure that many of you have learned.)
The question of meaning is a personal one, and the answers are going to be subjective, based on personal experience and human authority. I find great meaning without God, and again the teachings of theologians, philosophers and prophet (for lack of a better word) can be either enlightening or infuriating; can be based on logic or based on “irrational” if heartfelt conclusions. I see them, though, as coming from human inquiry and have seen no convincing evidence that they come from a supernatural source.
And I understand where Julie is coming from (#67) in needing a spiritual connection, and choosing Christianity because she had a basis and background in that religion whether she accepts the “pillars of faith.” Atheism in America and most of the Christian world is depicted as an anti-Christian stance, and many atheists are anti-Christian because of the fact that it is such a dominant religion in our society. But remember that atheists are also non-believers of the other religions as well. So the apostasy of the atheist here, is the same as the apostasy of the atheist in the Muslim or Jewish worlds. None of the religions have provided the satisfaction we seek.
I recommend a series of posts by a Christian friend of mine, Alden Swan. He and I have clashed over whether Intelligent Design is a form of Creationism of the Genesis 1:1-11 type, while remaining friendly (and neither one of us is likely to convert the other to a new “apostasy.”) He is conscious of the image that some Christians project which prevent people from listening to evangelization, and some of the things that they do to maintain a level of discivility between Christians and atheists. Check out his version of a “Letter to a Christian Nation.” (4 posts so far.)
Part one.



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Gary Amirault

posted August 2, 2007 at 10:38 am


Speaking of conversions and apostasies:
Speaking of conversions and apostasies, I had a very dramatic and powerful conversion from atheism to Jesus Christ 22 years ago that has taken me to the highest mountains and the lowest of valleys. I say conversion to Jesus Christ because that is exactly what it was. However, I find most Christians very quickly are converted to some denomination of Christianity. Because I was extremely verbal as a result of the power of the Holy Spirit upon me, people wanted me to join their church. I was a natural magnet drawing all sorts of converts.
But through a long story I won’t relate, I found myself in hundreds of different churches from different denominations within a very short period of time which forced me to look into every doctrine, creed, and dogma Christians have anesthetized each other over for the last 2,000 years. This forced me into deep studies which brought me into deep church history. Of course any honest soul who looks into Church history will wonder why the church became one of the most corrupt murderous institutions on this planet! How could God have allowed this?
Then the digs into textual criticism, documentary hypothesis, contradictions, contradictory accounts by various translations. Oh the nightmares trying to sort all this out. I recall one day after expressing my pessimism about “church,” he gave me an audio tape by a Dallas Theological Seminary professor. Oh, how he could use those $20 dollar theological terms but when it was all said and settled, he didn’t say a damned thing to me. It was all theological rubbish, dog food! My soul was untouched by his rhetoric. I then proceeded to scream at the top of my lungs to God while driving down I70 in a tiny Ford Festiva, “That’s it, I quit, I’m not serving you anymore. Beam me up Scottie. I know I’m going to heaven if I die. Send a lightning bolt down right now, hit me on the forehead and take me home. This Christian life stinks. I was better off as an atheist than I am now. Kill me now, I’m tired of being a Christian.”
Before I went home, I visited an old man with a prophetic bend to me to let off a little more steam. He was the kind of man who let you be what and where you are. No condemnation. I spilled my guts to him and he chuckled. He thought my tirade quite funny although it wasn’t funny to me. “Gary, I haven’t read these booklets I got in the mail recently, but I think they are for you.” When I got home I instantly began to read all fourteen of them. They were a series entitled “Just what do you mean?” Some of the subtitles were “Just What Do You Mean ‘Eternity.” “Just what do you mean Hell.” “Just What Do You Mean, God is Love.” “Just What Do You Mean, Lake of Fire.” Etc.
http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/savior-of-the-world/index.htm
After reading those booklets and searching seminary libraries to see if what was in these booklets might be true, a huge weight lifted off of me. So many things that were weighing me down with doubt lifted off of me. I found that through my many years in “Church,” institutions pulled me off of the Vine, which is Christ’s true body. I was being grafted into theological nonsense, not into the Living Word. Most Christians have long been ungrafted from the Life in Christ and been grafted into various forms of religious bondage. Fortunately for me, God did send a lightning bolt to me that day I asked to die. I did die that day. I died to religion that I might live for Christ alone.
Oh, yes, I still have many questions and problems. God usually does not supply answers to my questions fast enough especially the big ones. But as someone on this blog mentioned earlier, there is a hook inside of me that won’t let me go. It’s not wishful thinking, it’s not human brainwashing, it’s not hypnosis, it is the Holy Spirit who Jesus promised He would send. He can be quenched, He can be grieved, He can be forsaken, He can be denied. When that spark goes out in one’s conscience (not the He ever leaves) then fear, doubt and unbelief begins to take root. Then one becomes a department head of the religious department of a university planting seeds of doubt about God into the next generation of lost kids.
http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/awesomelymade.htm



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Gary Amirault

posted August 2, 2007 at 10:44 am


I noted the term “emergent” here. It’s a term I come across frequently lately. I always connect Brian McLaren with the term. Could you send me a brief definition of what the term emcompasses? Thanks, Gary Amirault



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Scot McKnight

posted August 2, 2007 at 11:06 am


Gary,
Check here: http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=1691
It is my Bloglossary in the Categories of my sidebar.



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