Monthly Archives: July 2013

“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”

If only…oh, if only we as a Church could take this quote seriously. Imagine what kind of Church we would be? Gays and lesbians would be taking communion right alongside staunch conservatives. People of other faiths would be welcomed, respected, and perhaps even admired by Christians. Political lines just might disappear. When someone says something controversial, we’d affirm their bravery in speaking up before we voice our own opinions. Different denominations, different expressions of worship, different ways of living out faith, different points of view, different everything would celebrated as the gift of diversity God has given us instead of being treated with skepticism and a hand reaching to wield the Bible against “different”.

Sigh. Probably never going to happen, huh? We humans are a bit too caught up in our sin nature to ever get to that place corporately. But thinking about all the divisiveness in the Church makes me wonder how close we really are to God’s idea of what it looks like to be wholly devoted to him. Maybe we’re a whole lot farther away than we thought! Maybe I’m a whole lot farther away than I think! Now there’s a scary thought.

Of course, Ropertus Meldenius’ quote also begs the question: what are the essentials? In my mind, the essentials can be boiled down to three things:

  1. Jesus lived, was crucified, buried, and resurrected as God incarnate.
  2. We as Christians are called to obey the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.
  3. God the Trinity is sovereign, the only source of Love and Truth.

Of course, I’m no theologian. I haven’t studied the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation multiple times or anything like that. These three essentials aren’t coming from a place of knowing it all. They’re just coming from a place that says, “If any of these three things isn’t essential to my faith, then I have no faith to stand on.” And it’s the truth. If the Gospels are just a fictional story, or if Jesus was just a prophet and not the Messiah, then there never was a demonstration of the kind of Love I believe my God is capable of. Salvation was never tangible for humankind, and I have no reason to believe in Love. And if I don’t believe I’m called to obey what Jesus commanded me, then there is no framework for my Christain faith, no guidelines to keep me on the “straight and narrow” and no conviction for my sin. And if God is not sovereign, if He is not the only Maker ever to exist, if He is not the source of everything that is beautiful and good and pleasing in this world, then what kind of god or gods would I be worshipping anyway?!

This isn’t all that thought through, in case you didn’t notice. I’m more just trying to establish what  I think may be the “essentials”, what doctrines I should be firm about and defend fiercely. As for all the other things I think are true about my religion and this world, I should be—and am trying to be—willing to hold with an open hand, willing to let it fly away if I come to understand I was wrong, and it’s not actually from God. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I truly think I’m learning it, and seeing a refined form start to take place out this muddled, screwed up mess that I call my religion.

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“Answers in Genesis” Is Not Very Good at Answering Questions about Genesis

Today I’m gonna rant, because I’m very frustrated. In church for the last six months, we’ve been dipping our toes in a three-year study of Genesis, a curriculum provided by the organization Answers in Genesis, which exists to “equip” believers with “clear”, “non-negotiable” answers about the historical accuracy of the Creation and Flood stories and show us how belief in a literal creation account is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth. Or something like that. I haven’t been paying too much attention, honestly, because I feel like I’m getting a ton of knowledge in the course, but none of my burning questions have been satisfactorily answered.

But that isn’t why I want to rant, although AIG’s stubborn, bold determination to defend young-earth creationism is certainly rant-worthy. I’m upset at their approach because they make it out to be an either-or scenario. If you believe in evolution, you’re scoffing at God and His Holy Word. If you believe in evolution, you can’t live out your faith with your intellectual integrity intact. If you believe in evolution, it’s not really possible for you to draw closer to God, because you believe in a pack of lies.

They make this thing out to be a colossal battle between evolutionists and creationists, with absolutely NO room for someone like me to stand in the middle and try to figure things out.

For example, here is a random smattering of article headings I grabbed from the AIG website. Notice their tone. Notice how militant they are! My rather snarky opinion about each title is in parentheses:

  • Doesn’t Carbon-14 Dating Disprove the Bible? (No, it is just a method, reliable or not, of dating the age of the earth. It doesn’t prove or disprove anything.)
  • Peter Enns Wants Children to Reject Genesis (No, he wants children to keep an open mind, study science and study the Bible for themselves instead of being told what to believe by their parents’ interpretation of Genesis.)
  • Peter Enns-Mutilating God’s Word (No, he is offering a very reasonable explanation for the scattered, broken, inconsistent nature of the Creation and Flood narratives.)
  • Evolution: The Anti-science (Really? It maybe wrong science for all I know, but ANTI-science?! As far as I know evolutionists come to their conclusions based on the study of the world around them, I’d say that counts as science!)
  • Feedback: Evolutionary Call to Arms (Oh yeah. Cuz all evolutionists are trying to wage a war on the Christian faith here. Even theistic evolutionsists.)
  • The Creation/Evolution Battle Resumes (time to strap on the armor of God! We’ve gotta strike down those evolutionists with our Swords of Truth!)
  • Creation or Evolution: Yes, We Have to Choose (Ah, no. Choosing evolution doesn’t mean we’re rejecting creation—it just means we’re saying God created 4.2 billion years ago instead of 6,000)

Maybe everything I said in parentheses was a little rude or disrespectful to AIG. But I’m just tired of the way they paint young-earth creationism as the ONLY possible “side” a faithful, honest Christian can choose. I’m a hair’s breadth away from accepting evolution. But I will never, never accept that my belief in it means I can’t be a devoted follower of Christ who loves God with all my heart. Science and faith should work in harmony. And so far, everything that theistic evolutionists are saying about the age of the earth and human origins is making a lot more sense to me than what Ken Ham’s website has to say. Plus they say it patiently and wisely, without the antagonism that absolutely saturates the AIG website (and this blog post, hah).

Fence-Sitting

So, I was thinking today about the fact that I’ve been sitting on the fence about a lot of different hot-button issues for a good while. I hate that I can’t choose a position and take a stand one way or the other; it makes me feel like I’m a cop-out, or I’m wishy-washy, or I’m indecisive.

But there’s nothing that should make me feel like a cop-out about the fact that I’ve read and reread passages in the Bible that explicitly mention homosexuality so many times that I have most of them memorized. Or that I’ve thoroughly read the best arguments from both camps.

There’s nothing wishy-washy about having devoured books and articles explaining the science of evolution and the science of creationism. Or that I’ve read the Creation story and the Flood story over and over and over again, willing myself (unsuccessfully) to believe that they don’t read like fiction instead of fact.

There’s nothing indecisive about me picking apart scripture, word by word and phrase by phrase, and becoming astounded at the sheer number of paradoxes and things that don’t add up to be found within these pages. It’s mind-boggling!

I think I’m being too hard on myself. I’m not fence-sitting. I’m searching. I’d been sitting at the starting line of my faith for so long, and now I’m starting this journey, taking my first few hesitant steps. That’s all. I’m in a process of discovery. I’m sure that, with diligence, and prayer, and thought, and more studying (and probably a whole lot of tears too), I will come to take on position on homosexuality, Biblical inerrancy, and human origins. I’m just not there yet; it takes patience.

Empathy: A Follow-Up

So yesterday I talked about how I’m discovering Romans 12:14-18 in my real, personal, day-to-day interactions with people. I also concluded that post by saying that this growing sense of a broken heart for the hurting people around me has been, I believe, a direct result of my casting away certainty about the doctrines I’ve grown up with.

I think I know why that correlation exists now. I think it’s because I, with my logical, rational, extremely compartmentalized mind, equated God with doctrine about him. Without even realizing I was doing it, I had placed him in a box filled with labels like “sexual purity”, “firm foundation”, “almsgiving”, “exclusivism”, etc. I did all this without realizing that all these doctrines, and many, many more besides, come from man’s interpretation of Scripture. Maybe God is in some of them, maybe He’s not. But I couldn’t truly discover the magnitude and powerful majesty of my Father in heaven until I rent that box to pieces, and saw God not as the sum of a handful of doctrines, but as the sovereign, incomprehensible, holy Father that He is.

I Just Discovered Empathy

Let me start this post by stating that I do not, under any circumstances, believe that one must give up fundamentalism to be an empathetic person and live out Romans 12:14-18. There are many people in my life who are staunch fundamentalists, and who have also demonstrated true agape love to me.

But in my personal faith journey, I have found that I did not truly discover empathy—the ability to genuinely mourn with those who mourn, and take true joy in others’ good fortune—until I finally let fundamentalism slip from my fingers.

Let me say that again. I had to give up fundamentalism to discover empathy. What the heck?!

Just for clarification, this is what I mean when I use the word “fundamentalism”:

A form of Protestantism that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming.

It’s not that I didn’t feel empathy for people before I started my plunge into the deep waters of the unknown. It’s just that before it was a vague desire to make a difference. It manifested itself in the occasional kind word or affirmation that what someone was going through was difficult.

But I didn’t, figuratively speaking, kneel down on the ground beside these people. I didn’t feel anguish when I saw their tears, or joy when I saw their happiness. I was, in a general sense, indifferent.

Now, though, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, I can honestly say that God has opened the floodgates of my heart. It breaks when I read stories of LGBT folk being horribly mistreated by the Church. It breaks when I read on Facebook that someone I know is having marital troubles. It breaks when my mother tells me that she fears my youngest brother has, in all likelihood, given up God.

And it rejoices. It rejoices when I hear about the spiritual revival of someone in my young adult group. It rejoices when gentle words are exchanged on the Internet, instead of abrasive ones. It rejoices when my sister shares that God has shown her something new.

All this to say…I don’t really know why this sense of empathy (or dare I say, true agape love?!) has welled up in me at the same time that I’ve rejected most of the doctrines of my church as Absolute Truth.

Sorry for the underwhelming ending, but it was the only honest way I could end this post. Maybe I’ll figure out why this correlation is happening sometime in the near future. If I do, I’ll let you know my thoughts.

This Is My Prayer

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

My belief in young earth Creationism is hanging by a thread. I don’t know how to interpret the Bible and its teachings, what parts I can honestly acknowledge belong within their cultural and historical context and not within this modern world I occupy. This article is haunting me.

All I know is that this world doesn’t make a lick of sense without Calvary, without the life and death of Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing I’m certain of.

I must humbly say that I am in desperate need of guidance right now. Guidance from those who are older and wiser than me, and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

This is my prayer.

The Chain-Reaction Transformation of My Faith

Today, I’d just like to share the personal transformation my faith has undergone in the last several months. It started with something little. Tiny even. Back about mid-December 2012, a friend of mine, who at the time was a waitress at Outback Steakhouse, shared a link to a blog post about the bad reputation churchgoers have among servers at restaurants. I clicked the link out of random curiosity, just because it had piqued my interest.

That click changed my life.

The blog I had stumbled across was Crumbs from the Communion Table, a blog authored by a man named Justin Lee who had dedicated his life to building bridges between the LGBT and Christian communities. As I began reading through his blog, I was extremely wary at first. After all, I was a fundamentalist, and this man was saying that it was okay with God if you were gay. But I was receptive to him, I think because I’ve always had a heart for the marginalized, and there is no doubt that gay people are extremely marginalized in today’s society. Anyway, as I read, my wariness morphed into discomfort, and my discomfort morphed into…a broken heart. I was horrified that I had carried around all these misconceptions about gays for so many years—that they’re all promiscuous,  confused, screwed up, and/or socially awkward. I had stereotyped them, and I didn’t even know it!

So I became determined to break the stereotype, at least for myself. I knew the best way to do that would be to talk to and become friends with a gay person, but that seemed rather presumptuous (“Hey, can I be your friend because I used to believe all these rotten things about you and I want to see who you are as a person so all my stereotypes can be proved wrong?!”), and I haven’t really kept in touch with any gay people I’ve known in my life, not because they came out, but because I moved, or they moved, or we grew apart, or we were never close to begin with, or whatever. So instead, I threw myself into research. I read Justin’s interpretation of scripture, and how he came to believe it supports Christ-centered same-sex relationships. And I read the opposite argument. Basically, I read a lot.

Here’s where I get to the chain-reaction part. In studying these various ways that people reconcile Christianity and homosexuality, I found that I had begun, subtly and without really noticing it, to question the inerrancy of Scripture. I began wondering if these people were onto something, that the Bible does not exist in a vacuum, but instead should be read with its historical, cultural, and religious context in mind. I began to realize that humans wrote it, and that humans’ perceptions of the world around them can be wrong, and can be recorded incorrectly, translated incorrectly, and interpreted incorrectly.

So all of that, of course, led me down another rabbit trail that for me, was far, far more terrifying than asking questions about homosexuality. Instead, I found that the ground was shaking under me, my stability was crumbling, everything I’d known with an ignorant certainty was evaporating into dust, leaving me grasping at air, lost, alone, and afraid in a vast, empty wilderness that used to be full of terms like fundamentalism, and systematic theology, and Biblical inerrancy.

Then, something happened.

I realized I was free.

Not free of the Bible, which I could never learn not to love. Not free of my religion, which I am and will be faithful to until the day that I die. But…I was free of the responsibility to have every single answer laid out for me. I was free to embrace “wiggle room” in my faith. I was free to dare…free to wonder: maybe, just maybe, my religious tradition has made a few errors along the walk of history.

Maybe same-sex relations can be wholesome, fruitful, and selfless expressions of love.

Maybe men, women, and children of different religions can experience Yahweh, even if they give him a different name.

Maybe the unevangelized can be welcomed into the open arms of the Father when they reach Judgment Day.

Maybe the errors in scripture are a gift, because they make the stories in the Bible relatable and understandable, human, in a sense.

Maybe all those scientists out there who have studied this world diligently and suggested theories like evolution can offer a small picture of the enormity of my Lord’s power.

That’s a lot of maybes. But I want to cry out as I think of all the long years that I’ve spent ignoring these “maybes”, thrusting them to the back of my mind, dismissing them because they didn’t have a “Biblical foundation”, because they didn’t adhere to the religious tradition I grew up in.

But here’s the thing. God is bigger than the maybes. Bigger than the questions, bigger than all the theological convictions I’ve always carried that weren’t really mine to begin with. God is enormous. He can’t be limited to a theological system, or a set of books, or a certain tradition. God is God. He is, and always will be, incomprehensible.

So I think, at this point, I’ve come to realize that God can handle my questions and my fears and this giant wilderness I’m wandering in. And as I wander, I find that from time to time I’m kneeling down, planting seeds, cultivating these tender little shoots that, for the first time in my life, are growing from ME and not from what I’ve been taught.

I just pray that God is the one guiding my hands, choosing my little seeds, and watering the plants as they begin to develop roots and start to fuse with the ground.

I Feel Ashamed of Demonstrating Love?!

For the last year or so, I’ve been following the comments section on a particular post in a blog I follow regularly. For the most part, I’d just been absorbing what people were saying about this issue, and thinking about how I would respond to them. The title of the blog post is catchy; I’m sure you’ll want to click the link:

I’m Christian Unless You’re Gay

A couple months ago, I replied to someone’s comment for the first time. Before I knew it I found myself wrapped up in an intense debate, not about the sinfulness of homosexuality, but about the Church. Many of the comment forum’s participants—many of whom were gay—seemed to think that the very belief that homosexuality is a sin is not just harmful, but homophobic, and that anyone holding those beliefs is capable of nothing more than pity for LGBT folk, let alone love!

So I advocated for my fellow evangelicals, and tried to tell them they were wrong about us—some of us, that is. It didn’t really work.

Then, something happened. I shared my own doubts about the Bible’s inerrancy and the correctness of its statements about homosexuality. And the tone suddenly changed. Knowing what I believed (or in this case, that I was doubting my beliefs) flipped everything around, and suddenly the other commenters were so much more courteous, and we made baby steps of progress here and there.

In the process of this, though, I said some things. Some examples:

“mending the hurts I and my fellow Christians have caused starts with first, acknowledging that we fundamentalists have got a WHOLE lot wrong about our approach to LGBTs,”

“I don’t blame you for throwing in the towel on the Church. It’s horrible to say, but I’m tempted to do the same sometimes, even though I’ve been accepted by the churches I’ve attended my whole life!!”

“I wholly believe that gay Christians are in a very unique and special position, especially those who grew up in a church. They can offer a perspective no one else can. Celibate gays ought to be commended and admired for choosing the hard life that they have…The same goes for those gay Christians who believe God supports same-sex relationships. They have the ability to model romantic love that is Christ-centered even though it is not straight, and open the Church’s eyes to the assumptions they have that may be wrong.”

Stuff like that. Stuff that I felt was true, and created a bridge between me and the person I was conversing with. He appreciated me for the first time, because I identified with his struggles and affirmed how flippin’ HARD it must be to be a gay Christian.

Now to my point. When I go through and reread some of the things I said on that comment forum, I feel ashamed. What would the church think of me?! I’m not propagating a constructive image of them here! I should be speaking the truth to these people more, telling them more often how wrong they are to assume all the evangelical churches across the United States are chock-full of homophobes! I should be pointing them to the Bible—not the clobber passages, but the passages about loving your enemies and withholding judgment and so forth. But instead I’m agreeing with them!!

Then it hit me. Not to toot my own horn (but I guess that’s sort of allowed in my own space), but perhaps, just perhaps, the ways I was communicating in that forum showed love to these people. It helped them to know that some evangelicals out there get it, and aren’t ignorant of their suffering. Maybe…just maybe…I was doing what Jesus would have done: abandoning what my church would think, what my religious upbringing says, and creating healthy, positive dialogue with people who are oppressed for being who they are.

I should not be ashamed of the things I said, because I truly believe they were my best attempt at agape love. I should stand by those words, and do everything in my power to fight the wrong thinking and wrong words of the church. But dang, that’s a scary prospect!

“Did Jesus Live?” An Unnamed Sonnet by Sheldon Vanauken

Beautiful. I breathe these words in, embrace them, and feel no shame.

Did Jesus live? And did he really say
The burning words that banish mortal fear?
And are they true? Just this is central, here
The Church must stand or fall. It’s Christ we weigh.

All else is off the point: the Flood, the Day
Of Eden, or the Virgin Birth – Have done!
The Question is, did God send us the Son
Incarnate crying Love! Love is the Way!

Between the probable and proved there yawns
A gap. Afraid to jump, we stand absurd,
Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse,
Our very standpoint crumbling. Desperate dawns
Our only hope: to leap into the Word
That opens up the shuttered universe.

Why Questions Are Better than Answers

I had an absolutely fabulous revelation to day when talking with my sister about all the issues I’ve been thinking through lately. We were talking about the Bible, and how it’s so darn full of seeming contradictions and paradoxes, and how frustrating that is when all you want from God’s Word is a straight answer.

Then we got to musing…maybe God did that on purpose. Why? Because maybe, the more I study the Bible, the more questions I have, and the more desperate I am for answers. So I dig more, I study more, I pray more. And eventually, so subtly I don’t even realize it, I find that the questions themselves—the very pursuit of answers—is what fuels my faith.

Why is there suffering? Did Adam and Eve exist, or is the bulk of Genesis myth? What are the right beliefs? Why is loving so hard? What happens in the afterlife to people who have never heard the name of Jesus? Does God truly condemn homosexuality? Is the Bible inerrant? If it’s not, why should I still trust it? Is it possible for me to live out the love of Christ when I am so immersed in this dreadfully materialistic life that I have?

I could go on and on. I didn’t even have to pause to think of the next question as I wrote out that list—these questions are the mere tip of the iceberg.

Slowly, I’m learning to treasure my questions as an earnest expression to know God more deeply. Having—and subequently, providing to others—a straightforward answer to every question about Christianity, theology, doctrine, the nature of God, etc., even if these answers seem to be provided clearly in the Bible (chances are the answer isn’t as clear as it seems!), puts God in a box. It limits God, and snuffs out His mystery.

And so, I will no longer presume to know the answers to all the hard questions Christians have asked throughout the ages. Instead, I will try to learn to rest in them, accept them—even as I wrestle with them—as part of my faith journey.