(The following is the beginning of an essay, or maybe even a book, that I began working on several years ago. I’m far more comfortable now than I was then, but I keep the language here to illuminate what it felt like. The exhaustion, the fear, the despair of not belonging in my spiritual community. My desires for validation and any understanding from my peers. I have many more pages of this but for now, I’d like to hear from you!
What should I do with this?
Are you at all interested in hearing more?
How do you relate to it?
What feedback might you have? (Besides grammar, I already know that’s bunk).
Would you want to read twenty more pages or 100 more pages? hahaha I’ve held onto this for years. Only letting a few people read it. But now, after nearly a year of not posting my writings, I feel as though it is time. Thanks in advance for any input.)
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
Before we begin, I want to make a disclaimer. In large, I keep this content pretty close to home. My sharing of this should come with an understanding. I don’t feel any need to teach this towards people who are new to the faith, or who are young and new to the world. Rather for those who have been walking this journey a while and still feel as though they must play the same tune they began with and find that to be too challenging or dishonest to all going on within them. I write this to show others that they are not alone. That they aren’t insane. What they are wrestling with, others throughout the entire history of the church have struggled with the same things. There are also those who discovered many of these things on their own, or even before they were ever given an invitation to follow Jesus as the Christ. The revelation of much of this leads many to abandon and reject the faith or rather to hold it with extreme skepticism. This is for them as well. This is also for those who continue to beat the drum of certain certitudes and scorn those who are willing to ask the necessary questions of our age. We often bend the Bible into our expectations, rather than let it be what it is. In so doing, we actually deter people from the vibrant journey that this book calls us into. My hope is that we can learn to revere the text for what it is. Not what we want it to be.
For nearly every pastor and minister out there, there is a statement of faith that comes along with their employment. In the three that I have signed, usually the first line is some variation of believing in the authority of the scriptures over the lives of Christians. And the verse from 2 Timothy 3:16 is cited as justification.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit afraid to write this. I’m afraid to share it. I’m afraid I’ll be crucified for it.
It’s hard to be honest about what you wrestle with when there can be such a great cost. When you know that anger awaits. When you know that people will cut you loose. When no mercy is shown to genuine pursuit of truth. When you know that people will assume you’ve lost all sense and forsaken God. Or that you will receive the ever so gentle “I’ll pray for you.” Which has become a sort of Christian mantra for subtly saying “I’m right, you’re wrong. So, I’ll pray that you see what I see.” A prayer void of the concerned party submitting themselves to see what you see.
The church should be the most honest place in the world, yet certain honesty is often unwelcome; the honesty of doubt. The honesty of theological difference. This is especially true if you are in a position of leadership.
Just the other day I was talking with a megachurch pastor about how people with doubts often feel marginalized by the church. I was explaining that there are people who cannot fall in line with the Biblical claims that they have been educated to uphold, and that such people wish that their logic based reasons for questioning were not so easily dismissed and ignored. I shared in a comment online about where I was at with some of these claims about certain rules we think the Biblical authors were operating by. For example, C.S. Lewis is perhaps one of the wisest theologians in recent history. But he struggled to accept Biblical inerrancy (the claim that “the Bible is without error or fault in all its teaching”) and had conditions for accepting Biblical authority (the claim that the Bible get’s the final say on all matters of life and faith). Often the response to this type of claim goes something like: “Well, C.S. Lewis was a mortal man. Even though he was wise he was fallible.” But for me, I stated my agreement with this point but also an understanding that the authors of Scripture were also wise…but mortal men. Should we assume they were any different than a man like Lewis?
The pastor’s response….blocking my voice from the page.
Don’t question certainty. Certainty bites back without mercy.
Whether it be seminary grads, crushes, family members, I’ve drawn a lot of concern and criticism from people I admire for being too honest about my faith. For not agreeing with their understandings. It’s one thing to have a healthy debate about certain scriptures but this isn’t even that. This is “your pursuit of truth is dangerous and unwelcome.”
This isn’t just a common thing that has happened to me a few times. It has happened to generation after generation. It’s time we have a good conversation about it.
Years ago, I had the personal impression that I was a Christian to be admired. I was often asked to lead Bible Studies, to pray for meals, to give sermons, to meet with a skeptic. To lead teams in ministry. Work for churches. I fell into the right lines.
My faith was bold. It was passionate. And it argued people into the ways of Orthodox. I was still learning of course. We never stop learning. I had just begun my religious studies at a secular college, where the professors were delighted to challenge and expose the flaws of any religious certainties. And I pushed through it. Thinking they just didn’t understand the Bible. (HA.) That they were somehow wrong and that somewhere a better explanation would prove me right. I assumed that God had not given them eyes to see it, or that the evil forces were fighting against them withholding their hearts from a pure and certain faith.
This is the assumption after all. We hear the defenses from our pastors to questions of skeptics and think, “alright!” Or “He says what I agree with!” Or “We won!” Or “Wow, my pastor probably spent years studying these answers! If he’s done that, then he must be right! He went to seminary, so I trust him.” “He’s able to give the right explanations for those things I don’t understand.” We almost always trust the teacher’s explanation over the skeptic’s question. Often without even thinking about it.
This is in essence the theory of cognitive dissonance. In 1957, Leon Festinger released his study claiming that human beings strive for internal consistency. A person who experiences inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and so is motivated to try to reduce the cognitive dissonance occurring, and actively avoids situations and information likely to increase the psychological discomfort. (Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press.)
I would sit with skeptics at coffee shops and they would tell me of their concerns about the Bible. Thinking there were more intellectual sources for truth. That the Bible was too barbaric to be relevant to this day’s hours and needs. That the God of the Bible actually didn’t seem loving at all. That God killed babies. They would ask me to try and rationalize that seemingly contradictory deity found in Scripture.
I would recite, “well that was before the cross. It was before grace. It was before Jesus. We have a new covenant now.” Not realizing these ideas imply that God changes. (If “on that cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” then God changed. Not that this point is necessarily Biblical. Rather, it is an idea that is still widely accepted in church worship services.) I would do the complex juggle of rationalizing that warrior God with the peace and love of Christ. Even then it didn’t feel right in my stomach. But I was doing the good deed of protecting the Gospel. Of fighting for what I was encouraged to fight for. Of fighting people into my corners instead of actually listening to their criticisms. They would talk, and I would mentally prepare over their words. And of course you’d pull out the big guns: “Well this is what Augustine said. Here’s how Tim Keller put it. Have you read the Case for Christ? Check out this C.S. Lewis book.” Sometimes I would be brave enough to share the words: “I don’t know, but why don’t we look for the answers together.” (In retrospect, I rarely found the answer. But I had my ideas.)
I love the Bible. I cherish it more than any other collection in my life. Spending countless hours eating away at its words. Empowered by how it connects me to the divine, and humbles me of my own ego. But this sacred meal has also led me to many questions that have rattled my journey. It’s one of the few conversations that eat at me whenever some phrases are used. Phrases like inerrancy, infallibility, and authority.
In 2013, I was excitedly watching the Florida State Seminoles blow out every team they played working their way towards our first National Championship since the nineties. Somewhere along the way a news story broke that our star quarterback (the key to our success) was being accused of sexual assault. I immediately, without thinking, thought the whole story was a sham. Some girl just trying to get her twenty minutes of fame (because being a famous assault victim is a thing I guess). As the details came out students and alumni found various ways to exonerate a situation they knew nothing about. “She’s a cleat-chaser” “Her story was faulty” and indeed not every detail was clear enough to understand. But ask a majority of Florida State fans and they would have plain as day told you our quarterback was innocent.
I think about the denial and justification we often give towards celebrities and their misconduct. We internalize the beliefs like “that person couldn’t have done those things! They’ve said things for the last decade that I really agree with! They seem so nice!” We are given these false ideas about who people are that often, when the reality comes, it just doesn’t work within our frame of understanding. We defend the false idea rather than expose the reality. This is actually the core of much of my deconstruction of my evangelical upbringing.
This is why my University blindly paraded our star quarterback. I did it too. How could our hero be anything other than amazing! But the truth will set you free. Protecting images is called idolatry. An image isn’t called to be defended. It’s called to be seen.
Over the years, through my studies, things kept coming up that I struggled to reconcile. Things from my Religion degree haunted over my reading of the Bible. But I would ignore them. In my heart there were scary things I believed to be so true, but I knew I needed to hide them. Because the Bible is the authority. And instead of questioning the Bible, I just assumed I didn’t understand it the right way. I questioned myself instead. “God’s ways are not our ways.” Somehow there was a way for God to be both loving, and a killer of all of those infants. My human mind was simply too small to understand it.
It all boiled down to this: If we let go of this authority, what then is our truth? I would repeat lines from my pastors like, “it’s dangerous to trust your experiences or feelings” to my friends, and then feel incredibly convicted to think how else could the authors of the scriptures have encountered God? Before scripture, just exactly how did the authors of the Bible know they were right? What made their words any more right or authoritative than a wise man like C.S. Lewis?
(Continued in Part 1: Beware the fires of Hell)