O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

On Being a Stumbling Block

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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posted June 3, 2010 at 8:31 am

I agree. In the early church, many things were hashed out over vigorous debate (reference to the various councils). An oak tree is strengthened by strong winds, like bones in our body are made stronger/kept stronger by weight-bearing exercise. The key, then, is that the roots must go deep enough, or there is enough surrounding support, to assist said tree/bone/believer when those strong winds come initially. Good article and perspective. If you don’t know why you believe what you believe…

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T Shaw

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:47 am

My reaction to her list of things Christians should doubt: Yes! Exactly! These are healthy, thinking questions that believers need to ask. Belief doesn’t just involve our hearts and emotions, for me it must also involve my mind, my thoughts. I believe what I think, not just what I feel. Love might be blind, but I don’t want my faith to be.

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posted June 3, 2010 at 11:25 am

What’s the worst thing that can happen if you actually are a stumbling block to someone’s faith and they turn irreligious because of your Campaign of Doubt?
I suppose you could say that the worst that could happen is that your actions cause them to miss out on salvation. This would make some assumptions about the nature of god that I’ve always found weird, even blasphemous.
It puzzles me how Christians so often insist that their god is largely made out of a pile of human weaknesses we often despise in each other. The “average” Christian god is petty, egoistic, vengeful, crippled by low self-esteem, a homicidal maniac with next to no compassion and love. It’s like the bible’s authors were digging in a garbage dump of human emotions and created their god out of the stinking waste they found.
It would be more logical to assume that salvation happens to people based on how well they lived their lives, regardless of what they believed and whether they “accepted Jesus into their hearts” and other silliness like that. Or, salvation happens for everyone no matter what. This would better fit into a profile of truly Good and Forgiving deity.
It’s not difficult to see why churches insist on claiming that you need faith to be saved (and it’s especially THEIR flavour of faith you need). They want people in their rows. Threatening with missing out on salvation is a fairly efficient way to achieve that.
Does it make it logical? No.
I believe that if there is a god, he’s good and forgiving enough not to give a rat’s arse about me not believing in him, and judges me by my actions alone, if anything. This kind of god wouldn’t hold it against the jasonboyetts and rachelheldevanses of the world even if they caused someone to stumble and take a godless path.

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Headless Unicorn Guy

posted June 3, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Also beware of the flip side of Stumbling Blocks — Professional Weaker Brethren, the Christian version of the Tyranny of the Most Easily Offended.
The “average” Christian god is petty, egoistic, vengeful, crippled by low self-esteem, a homicidal maniac with next to no compassion and love. It’s like the bible’s authors were digging in a garbage dump of human emotions and created their god out of the stinking waste they found. — Kristian
Reading too much LaHaye & Jenkins (or Jack Chick), are we?

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posted June 3, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Jack T. Chick is funny. Stuff like “There go the dinosaurs” make me almost certain that his work is just an elaborate parody and a hoax.
LaHaye & Jenkins I’ve never heard of. Neither is notable in my parts of the world.

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posted June 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm

“LaHaye & Jenkins I’ve never heard of. Neither is notable in my parts of the world.”
The series of books “Left Behind” is hugely popular in evangelical circles authored by these two men.

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posted June 3, 2010 at 9:09 pm

I have frequently bit my tongue in a Bible Study – when i attended one – because i so disagreed with thie speaker but didn’t want to be a problem with the newer Christians. Would i do it again – it depends on the venue. Also on the type of group. But i can say that if i found myself biting my tongue too ofte & not feeling free to discuss whatever they are saying that bothers me, i would quit the group.
Maybe start my own. ;P

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posted June 4, 2010 at 12:11 am

The blocks we place before them are the ones that will give them cause to search their hearts and know the truth of their beliefs. If you are in a Bible Study and you disagree with the leader of the group, speak up.
I don’t think the problem is with the new believers but with the long term believers. For some reason the longer they have “believed” the louder they protest other peoples beliefs. In my mind, they are afraid of loosing their testimonies because they never had one in the first place. New seekers are gaining theirs and therefore can find the answers within their faith.
Our Father/Mother Creator is gentle,kind and loving. He is not the angry one that all of us hear about causing the disasters and so called punishing people by natural disasters of today. God doesn’t do that.
Keep seeking and you shall find that for which you look.
Always look to the sky. Clouds in the day and stars at night. They are beautiful and ever changing just like we are.

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posted June 4, 2010 at 2:39 am

I seem to be my own stumbling block. I’ve always said I wanted glass ceilings so I could always look up and see all the amazing things we never could have dreamed, but are. And I’ve came to find out that instead of glass ceiling in reality, I do have one in my spiritual life, and that’s really not how I wanted it. It’s stopping my progress because I was told I have to let people love me. I love to love, but when it’s my turn to be loved I think I let them love me from arms length. I’ve been truely seeking God for the last three years. I’ve always loved God and thought I would go to heaven just because I was a good person, yet I harmed myself, and that’s just as bad if not worst. I never opened the bible, but loved to go to sunday schools when I was young. (all kinds, just didn’t like listening to the preachers) I guess I didn’t want to know the truth until I had done made major decissions without God. Now I’m soo hungry for Him and His Word, but it just seems like He doesn’t hear me, although I know He does and always has. I just need to wait and be still and all will take it’s course.

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Headless Unicorn Guy

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:43 pm

“LaHaye & Jenkins I’ve never heard of. Neither is notable in my parts of the world.”
The series of books “Left Behind” is hugely popular in evangelical circles authored by these two men.

Ever heard of it? The Eragon of Christian Apocalyptic? 22 volumes of bad Book of Revelation fanfic, Author Self-Inserts, Unintentional Canonical Slashfic Setups and all? Runaway best-seller to an audience of Born-Again Bored Housewives? The 67th to 88th Books of the Bible, History Written In Advance, This Is How IT WILL HAPPEN?

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Gerberer Daisy

posted January 7, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Our American culture is a stumbling block. It’s becoming more narcissistic by the minute. Our God is worthy of honor, praise, and glory. What do most people give God in our society? Nothing, they just want a ‘pocket god.’ One they can carry around and pull it out to show to others and talk about their Jesus. Then put him back in their pockets and go on seeking their desires in the world. It’s not about us, it’s about Him. Putting God in Christ first, not ourselves. Stumbling blocks, I know too many of them with their pocket Jesus.

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