Tag Archives: Faith

My Guest Post for Preston Yancey – “Towards Faith, Hope, and Love”

Today I’m guest posting for a blogger named Preston Yancey! Check it out, and follow the link for the whole piece:

Like so many others whose faith suffered in their twenties, mine was birthed during my time at college – specifically at a Bible university. I graduated with a degree in theology, and in the meantime almost lost my faith entirely. Most of my ‘education,’ if you can call it that, consisted of attempted indoctrination. I was taught the tenets of my school’s particular denomination. In the majority of my classes, legitimate questions about the weakness of our denomination’s theological positions were squashed in favor of ‘keeping the faith.’ We wouldn’t want those with weaker faith to stumble, would we?

http://prestonyancey.com/blog/2013/11/anonymous

Overgrown (or Life after Deconstruction)

We are all in a state of becoming. All changing, all growing, all dying, all decaying. Bending, breaking, repairing, rotting.

There is no other reality but change. Stagnation, though perhaps perceived, does not exist.

front-cover-of-love-wins

Over the last couple of years, my faith has been in various states of crisis. It started with something small (namely, reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins). Up to that point, I had done very little questioning of my understanding of Christianity. I believed Jesus was the only way to heaven, hell was eternal conscious torment, and the Bible was inerrant (among other things).

Rob Bell, however, changed many of my assumptions. Poor exegesis of some biblical passages aside, I began to think, to question, to doubt.

What if hell isn’t real? What if I’ve misunderstood all along? What if God isn’t who I think God is? Have I simply accepted the story I’ve been given without hesitation?

Love Wins was the gentle push I needed to look over the edge of the cliff of my own certainty, my own satisfaction that my story was the ‘right’ one, that I had the answers. (Let me just say, I recognize my story is hardly novel. This type of encounter seems to be a common occurrence among young conservative evangelicals right now.)

how-not-to-speak-of-god

It was sometime after this point that I encountered the philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins. If Rob Bell forced me to look over the edge of the cliff, Peter Rollins pushed me off. In fact, Peter Rollins’s theology – up through Insurrectionwas the focus of my senior thesis. I spent hours and hours of  my life consumed by his work. His first book, How (not) to Speak of God, helped move me past simply questioning some ‘secondary’ doctrines (at this point in my journey, I could still consider myself an evangelical) towards questioning my acceptance of orthodox Christianity completely. I became (in Rollins’s terms) an a/theist. In other words, the binary between atheism and theism broke for me. I gained a desire to lose any conception of ‘God’ which, according to Pete, functions as an idol – for ‘God’ is unable to be contained within any conception or idea (including that of the biblical writers).

The Fidelity of Betrayal and Insurrection were the next two books that deeply impacted my faith and understanding of ‘God.’ Fidelity helped me view the Word not as contained within the biblical text, but as an Event that the Bible (among other things) pointed to. While the text itself was cracked, its broken nature does not make it incapable of conveying the divine Word. This is not the only thing Fidelity speaks to, but was the theme that most affected me.

Finally, Insurrection helped me walk through utter darkness. By using the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as models for our own lives. Following Jesus’ cry – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – I underwent the experience of God-forsakenness. This kind of atheism (not an intellectual one, per se, but certainly one felt at the core of one’s being) was, and will always be an integral part of my faith journey. The way of the cross, in my own life, involved the loss of religious foundation. Just as Jesus loses all identity on the cross (e.g., social, economic, political, religious), so I gave up all of my assurance in ‘God’ and Christianity. ‘God’ was no longer the deus ex machina, the object that exists to make sense of the things that don’t. Though I don’t feel as though I’m in that place anymore, I agree with Pete that this is a fundamental part of the Christian experience. Resurrection then became for me a method of living post-Crucifixion. It was an acceptance of the inherent meaninglessness found in the Crucifixion. This Resurrection-life is not a rejection of the meaninglessness found in the Crucifixion experience, but its purpose is to allow humans to love in the midst of non-meaning.

What was I to do after this? After having existential crisis after existential crisis, I felt lost in a sea of non-meaning. Though Rollins’s call to create meaning via love in the midst of the utterly mundane is meant to help rob those things of their sting, something still felt missing. I tore down every bit of belief that I had – up to, and including, the belief in ‘God.’ Some days I felt like I could maybe affirm ‘God’s’ existence (What kind of existence, I wasn’t sure. Is God a person? An actual object? Love itself?), but other days, the notion of ‘God’ was ludicrous – like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

The problem, for me, was that this wasn’t enough. Not that love itself wasn’t enough, but that there was more. Something deep, something divine, that is a part of the very fabric of reality itself. No matter how hard I tried, I could never really shake the feeling, deep within me, that there is something beyond the physical. My doubts about their existence haven’t gone away (and probably won’t). But the fact is I cannot deny that ‘hum’ I feel deep within the core of my very existence. That feeling was not that everything is meaningless but that everything was full of meaning, and not simply because it has some kind of ‘personal meaning’ to me.

This is also not to mention that I don’t have any real desire to leave Christianity. In it, I find beauty, life, love, hope, justice, and mercy. And there seem to be deep truths within Christianity that resonate with my experience of Reality.

So, this is where I start. I have torn everything down. It is now time to rebuild. My desire is to rebuild a sustainable, hopeful, honest, broken, loving faith. One that is not based on guilt; one that is not simply a false creation-of-meaning in the midst of anti-supernaturalism. There is something to be said for the loss of the divine (Jesus did it!). But there is also something to be said for the existence of sacredness, the source of life as divine. In light of this, here are the five things that I affirm, on faith, about Christianity:

  1. The Crucifixion and the physical Resurrection of Jesus
  2. The Incarnation – that Jesus was and is the peasant-God
  3. The Trinity – that God exists as three separate, yet united, entities
  4. The Inspiration (but not inerrancy!) of Scripture
  5. The Atonement of humanity, by God, is at least our salvation from what would otherwise be a destructive system of violent sacrificial scapegoating

As far as the rest is concerned, I’m wide open or skeptical (or both). Some days, I will be plagued by doubt. Other days, I will be confident in the things I believe. In spite of this ebb and flow of doubt and ‘belief,’ my desire is to remain faithful to the teachings, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

Losing a Spring (Thoughts on Evolution)

If you’re at all familiar with Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, you’ll know that one of the metaphors he uses for our understanding and faith is a trampoline (as compared to a brick wall). He says that some people’s faith is formed like a brick wall, where each brick is a specific belief within one’s faith. However, he says the problem with this kind of faith is that, when a few bricks are lost, the wall comes crumbling down. This can be compared to a person who is a Christian and perhaps discovers that some doctrine within his or her faith is proven, beyond doubt, to be wrong. Let’s say, for example, that Mary wasn’t actually a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, and that he was actually conceived the way everyone else was. For many people, this would cause the collapse of their faith in the Truth of Christianity.

Bell argues that we need a different way of looking at faith. The trampoline metaphor – though it does have its flaws – may provide something useful. He says that if our faith is viewed more like a trampoline, where each spring is a doctrine, this changes things. If you lose a spring on a trampoline, for example, you hardly lose anything at all. Not only that, but you can still keep jumping. If your faith works like this, you become less likely to be shaken in your faith if something like the above situation happens. I’m not saying (and neither is Bell) that the virgin birth isn’t real. Actually, I believe in it. I’m just saying that if it was somehow proven not to have happened, I wouldn’t give up on Christianity, because I believe in its Truth as a whole.

One of those “doctrines” I’ve been thinking about lately is the concept of creationism versus evolution. I understand that Genesis records God creating the heavens and the earth, all the animals, people, and so forth. However, it is striking that the creation account is extremely similar to other ancient cultures’ creation myths. While it is not a replica, it is certainly similar. This begs the question of whether or not we should see the Genesis creation account as a literal retelling of events or as a way of understanding Israel’s origins.

I am by no means an expert on this. However, I have been doing quite a bit of reading lately online. If you’re interested and have time, check out some of these blog posts by other writers. They have some interesting things to say:

Tad Delay

Kurt Willems

Peter Enns

It should be noted that most biblical scholars and theologians in academia have already gotten past this question. Evolution isn’t just a “theory,” as many of us were taught in Sunday school and youth group. It’s so widely accepted as to be considered fact. If Evangelicalism at large is unable to accept something like this, it will continue to lose its viability in the present world.

I also want you to know I’m not saying that I think evolution and whatever other things we know about the origin of the universe or world happened on its own. I believe in a creator God that does things we don’t understand. Evolution, for me, is completely compatible with a truly biblical Christianity.

Would You Embrace Unknowing?

How often do we actually question our beliefs?

It seems to me that the general problem with most people is that they (including myself) can easily say, “I believe this but I could be wrong,” while still acting as if they know that they are absolutely correct in their assumptions. Honestly, if that were actually true, we wouldn’t be so sure of our beliefs.

I am not saying that skepticism about everything is the answer. I do not wish for people to simply reject all the systems with which they believe and decide to not believe in anything. That is impossible. We are all given a story when we are born.

For example, I am white, male, and from the south. The chances of me growing up in a Christian (read: Evangelical) family or community were pretty high. It may not be solely for this reason that I am a Christian – I understand that there are those born outside of traditions that willingly take part in them. What makes me think I can be arrogant enough to simply assume that those stories are “correct,” simply because I was born into Evangelicalism?

There are a multitude of ways to express Christianity. Think of Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, Methodism; the list could go on and on. Simply because I operate with a certain hermeneutic of Scripture and interpretation of the Christian tradition, it doesn’t mean that I have Christianity “right.” For that matter, I’m coming to think maybe there isn’t a “right” way (in the sense that we think of labels like “right” and “wrong”) of being a Christian. And perhaps this even works outside of Christianity. Simply because I am a part of a tradition that has perpetuated a certain understanding about life, death, the afterlife, unbelief, heaven, hell, and so on, does not mean I can automatically assume my “rightness.”

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying this so that Christians will question their beliefs to the point of unbelief. I am simply asking for Christians to be willing to honestly question our beliefs. To put them on the chopping block, so to speak, with the willingness to give them up if they are shown to be unTruth (yes, Truth with a capital T). This is the only way we will be true believers. Otherwise, our faith is misguided. We are arrogant if we assume anything else.