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O Me of Little Faith

My friend and fellow writer Rachel Held Evans — her upcoming book Evolving in Monkey Town is excellent, btw — wrote an intriguing blog post Tuesday about being a stumbling block to other believers.

Like Rachel, I grew up in a church youth-group culture where we feared being a stumbling block to others almost as much as we feared Frank Peretti’s demons or the corrupting influence of Madonna. There are a lot of these kinds of warnings in the New Testament. Paul describes the crucifixion of Christ as “a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Cor. 1:23). Later in that letter he cautions believers to be careful “that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9). And there’s Romans 14:13, “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your
brother’s way.”

There are a lot of things in today’s culture that aren’t expressly forbidden in the Bible — like seeing R-rated movies or smoking or drinking alcohol — but which my Christian subculture believed we should not do. Why? Because it could be a “stumbling block” to weak believers. They might see you doing something they thought was wrong — buying a bottle of wine at the grocery store, for instance — and that would cause them to falter in their faith.

I thought it was wrong to drink wine, but Jason, a Christian, has a bottle in his basket along with his Fritos and Chips Ahoy! Alas, my faith has been thrown into chaos!

(Or something like that.)

Looking back, most of the “stumbling block” stuff had to do with alcohol and entertainment. It never had to do with, for instance, serving fried chicken at the church potluck to people who struggled with obesity.

Anyway, in her blog post, Rachel turns the concept on its head. She writes about her new book:

I knew that writing openly about my doubts about Christianity would invite questions about whether I had any business doing so in light of believers whose faith might be upset by them. I’ve been asked about the potential of becoming a stumbling block several times, and at first found myself responding rather apologetically–warning those who are comfortable in their beliefs and wary of new ones to keep their distance.

But the more I thought about my own experience with doubt, the more I realized how grateful I am for certain “stumbling blocks” that dramatically changed the trajectory of my faith, in a good way.

The truth is, there are some beliefs that I think Christians should doubt.

(Emphasis hers.) She then lists those beliefs she thinks ought to be challenged, a few of which have proven to be controversial. You can read them here, if you want. Without getting into the details of her list, I love the idea of stumbling blocks being a good thing, because they might push you off an easy path and onto a harder, but more fulfilling one.

Stumbling blocks can be good.

For those of you outside the Christian subculture, all this talk about how asking questions and revealing doubts can be harmful may seem entirely stupid — it’s a matter of truth and reality, right? — but it’s a real issue. People are afraid of introducing questions to new (or weak) believers who may not have thought of asking those questions.

Personally, I’d rather be aware of the questions and have come to terms with them (or have acknowledged that the answers may be elusive) than to live in ignorance of the questions altogether.

If I cause another believer to question some aspect of his or her faith, you might think I’m being a stumbling block. But along with Rachel, I would argue it from a different perspective. What if, to use another familiar biblical phrase, it’s more a case of “iron sharpening iron“?

Bodybuilders get big muscles by exposing those muscles to resistance, in the form of strength training. When you lift heavy weights, the muscle fibers tear and break down a little. Then they re-knit themselves together, and in that process of healing and repair, the muscle gets bigger and stronger.

Could faith be the same way?

A little resistance leads to a stronger faith. Over-protection against stumbling blocks makes for a flabby faith.

Enough of what I think. What about you?

What have been your stumbling blocks — questions you’ve encountered that have ultimately strengthened (rather than harmed) your faith?

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