An informed reader of the blog has sent this letter into me and I want to post it and offer a response — a brief one — at the end.
Scot, these are my thoughts on Chrysalis: The Hidden Transformation in the Journey of Faith, which I’ve wrapped up with some thoughts on Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy. Feel free to use or not — regardless, I’m curious for your thoughts on this question of how these journeys tie into “orthodoxy.”
I read through most of your Finding Faith, Losing Faith book. I was quite interested in the “apostasy” section because some of those issues bubbled up strong for me this past year — the natural sciences and Biblical criticism, which are not so easily dismissed as I once thought, and hell (in my case, in relation to my own disabled child) in particular.
I was a little distracted, though, by the continued use in Finding Faith, Losing Faith of the qualifier “orthodox” for “Christianity.” In my own case, I find that I’m moving towards a Christian “orthodoxy” that is more “generous” to borrow a perhaps worn-out phrase. So I can’t really use the word “inerrancy” easily anymore, I’m not sure what parts of the Bible’s protohistory are simply “historical,” and I’m not willing to opine with any certainty about exactly how or exactly whom God will save in Christ (though “in Christ” remains central). Yet I’ll happily confess the Apostles’ Creed. I think there are many, many folks like me, many of whom stay in evangelical churches and try to adopt an “emerging” or “missional” attitude, others who end up in ELCA, PCUSA, Episcopal, and other “mainline” churches — and many I gather who teach at “moderate” evangelical seminaries like Fuller and Regent College. Well, I guess some folks in my old fundamentalist church would consider me apostate — but then, the folks in my mom’s old Plymouth Bretheren church considered her apostate when she started going to a fundamentialst-evangelical church with my dad without wearing a head covering. I got a little sense of this “softening” that many people go through in your reference to Pete Enns’ book, but it just seemed odd that this term “apostasy” seemed to be defined against an “orthodoxy” that means “fundamentalism.”
This is where the Chrysalis book was both helpful and not helpful to me. The Chrysalis idea offers hope that someone facing difficult questions can emerge into a Christian faith that is more open, generous, and intellectually coherent. It’s encouraging to know that this time of being wrapped up in the cocoon of questioning isn’t an inevitable path towards conversion into Agnosticism. It can be a path into a richer Christian faith.
But the term “orthodox” is curiously absent in Chrysalis even as it’s undefined in Finding Faith, Losing Faith. This is the really hard question: can the Chrysalis journey lead into a renewed, sustainable Christian faith that is “orthodox?” I think so, if “orthodox” means the most basic confession that “Jesus is Lord”; and I think so, if “orthodox” also means the broad outline of the faith historically confessed by the Church, even if contingently and imperfectly, in ecumenical documents such as the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds. This is where it’s crucial, I think, that the Chrysalis journey be one that is undertaken in conversation with the great thinkers of the Church (the Fathers, the Reformers, and others, who wrestled with these questions in their own way) and in community with others who are sensitive to the demands of the journey.
Yet this, for me, is the rub: the person taking this journey must at some point gain confidence that he or she is moving towards an authentically Christian faith and not just a kind of Agnosticism or New Age spirituality that retains some Christian words. Communities of scholars and thinkers who take this seriously do exist, and many of them still call themselves “evangelical!” In fact, even at “conservative” evangelical seminaries and colleges, most of the faculty are far, far more nuanced in their thinking about these hard issues than ever seems to filter down to the popular level — I know, I’ve corresponded with many of them in my own questioning, and I’ve read many (too many!) of their books. There is a kind of “conversion” at work here as well: a conversion from an often rigid, received, pre-critical Christian faith into a post-critical, owned Christian faith that is more flexible, less sure of some things, and yet solidly within the trajectory of “orthdoxy” set by the Tradition — a faith grounded in relationship with Jesus that moves out continually, boldly, and patiently to seek understanding.
Thanks much for your note. I sense there’s some serious pondering here and I also sense that we can learn from one another on the issues.
Let me begin with an observation about Finding Faith, Losing Faith: I chanced upon a discovery of some stories of losing faith and a simple reading of a couple of them led me to the view that they could be seen as the mirror image of conversion. So, the hunch turned into an experiment. The hunch was that conversion theory can help us understand why some walk away from the faith. The theory might not illuminate everything, but I hope what we were able to discover will help pastors and youth leaders and college professors.
When doing that work I had to figure what these “apostates” were leaving. Should I call it “Christianity” or the “Christian faith”? I landed upon the term “orthodoxy” because the focus of nearly all of those who walked away from the faith was on what Christians believed instead of a “personal engagement with God.” In fact, I was quite surprised how rarely anything like the personal relationship these folks had with God was something they missed or struggled to abandon. Whey they abandoned was the coherent set of beliefs Christians have. What I mean by “orthodoxy” then is the basic beliefs that Christians — all Christians — hold in common. So, yes, one could say the Apostles’ Creed is enough to measure what I mean by this.
On the chrysalis and orthodoxy … this is an interesting connection you make here. I do think many who go through a chrysalis experience move into a deeper embrace of orthodoxy, in its big general sense. In fact, many who encounter the chrysalis experience struggle but end up with a second naivete, that is, a second commitment to Christ but this time in a deeper more penetrating way, a deeper level of personal commitment, and a strong embrace of the whole history of the church.
You’ve got some good wisdom when you mention the need for the chrysalis people to have good friends — the great thinkers of the church. I just have this sense that too many want to find only those who will tell them what they want to hear instead of struggling, as some of the great spiritual masters did, with the great sources of our faith. I think of some of the stories Richard Foster has told over the years, and I know the dark night of the soul was faced by many with Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and others in hand. For the chrysalis experience to yield genuine spirituality, it must keep in view that depths of the Psalms and the Prophets and the great masters of our faith.
Well, those are some thoughts.