Sunday, May 22, 2011

Can one be a Christian and still think?

The more I analyze my personal beliefs and in what ways I still identify with the Christian religion, the more lost I tend to feel. It seems the more I learn and the more I critically examine the ideas I once held as facts, I honestly just don't know what to believe sometimes? Two years ago I would have said that I agree with mainstream Christianity on most things besides concepts like everlasting punishment for unbelievers, but now its hard to say I agree with it on much of anything at all. And I think this dilemma has only come to amplify itself over the past year and a half since I felt a call to ministry. After all, if I cant concretely make up my mind about what I actually believe and what direction I should go, how on Earth can I teach others what to believe and what direction they themselves should go?

This is to be expected though, since within the last few months its finally dawned on me just how much you're never taught in church. I mean, if going to church is any way supposed to be a Christian education for the average believer, I think its safe to say it has failed miserably. You're never taught, for example, what the actual differences between the gospels are or that many scholars are unsure if any of the apostles even wrote them (in other words, every saying and deed attributed to Jesus should be taken with a grain of salt). You're never taught much, if anything, about alternative views on Hell and salvation such as Christian universalism. You're never taught that the Bible is in fact not without error and has quite a bit of internal disharmony theologically speaking. You're never taught about alternative eschatologies such as pantelism and preterism which date Christ's symbolic return within the lifetimes of the apostles as opposed to 1,978 years into the future and counting. You're never taught that there is little to no historical mention of Jesus outside the New Testament. And you're rarely even taught that one can be a Christian without completely disregarding the scientific consensus of the Earth being billions of years old, rather than a few thousand years old. So if Christianity were compared to an iceberg, I think its fair to say you're only shown the very tip of it in church, while the rest is kept submerged beneath like some deep dark secret that its ashamed of. Or perhaps a crazy old uncle that has a room in the basement that no one really talks to or about.

Honestly, why is that?

My guess is that these types of things aren't taught because if they were it would undermine the faith of a good many people. More specifically it would undermine people's faith in several popular church doctrines. But if the truth really does set us free, as Jesus supposedly said, what could really be the harm in at least giving such things some mention? Should we not be seekers of truth first, and Christians second? What importance is any religion if it is either at odds with or turns a blind eye to the facts? I'm aware of the inherent uncertainty that comes about when some of this lesser known information is brought to light, but regardless of what we make of it the facts still remain. People deserve to know of these things even if it doesn't change their faith or their approach to it in any way. And this is one of the reasons I'm thankful for individuals like Rob Bell who are bold enough to put some of the lesser known viewpoints like universalism and post-mortem salvation out on the Christian table for all to see. We need more leaders in Christianity who are willing to do those sorts of things no matter how controversial they may be.

Anyway, to the point of all this rambling: I often wonder if one can (or at least if I can) be a Christian and still think with honesty and sincerity? Most Christians I'm sure would respond positively to that and of course there have obviously been many Christians who have also been very deep thinkers such as C.S. Lewis. But what I've come to find is that it's often times hard for me to be true to my faith while also being true to my conscience. Faith can be a great tool to fill in what we humans cannot yet fully grasp about our purpose and our existence, but it can also act as a pair of blinders when it comes to things outside of what we've been taught to believe. For instance, it doesn't matter how heartfelt and sincere a Muslim or someone of another faith may come across, they're still in conscious rebellion to God because they do not see Jesus like we do. God has revealed the "truth" to them as obviously as He has to us Christians but they just choose to do all this other stuff that they don't really believe in. Or it doesn't matter how many conflicting passages and ideas seem to be in the Bible, or that it was written in an ancient time and culture far removed from our own. It is still the perfect Word of God and to say anything else is to call God a liar. Or so mainstream Christianity often teaches.

I guess to my mind, there is just little to no reason to believe some of the things that many Christians do. Some beliefs (like eternal torment) I honestly don't want to believe anyway, but then there are other things (like the accuracy of the gospels) that I really wish I could believe but just cant for the most part. I believe in God as the creator of our universe, I believe in Jesus as a savior from sin and from more primitive views of God. And I believe the Bible contains some wise insights and musings about God and His relationship to us. Yet beyond that I just have mountains of questions and doubts, most of which I have really no idea how to process. Even on the more liberal side of Christianity, I find people super confident in things I can only find to be a bit entertaining to think about (like with basically all eschatology), yet beyond that I just have to kind of shrug my shoulders. And most of which I'm coming to conclude doesn't matter too much in the grand scheme of things, since I don't believe in a God who's future acceptance of us depends on which religious avenue we died on. But they are important questions none the less and I will need to figure out some way to approach them if I am to take this pastor thing seriously.

So can one be a Christian and still think? Well, I sure hope so.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Lord will provide?

One of the most famous Christianese phrases from the Bible is the line "The Lord will provide", which comes from the story where Abraham is told to sacrifice Issac, but God instead provides a ram in a thicket (Gen 22:1-18). This is used as an attitude within the faith that states that whatever we go through in life, God will ultimately provide what is needed. And this has always brought much hope to me as Im sure it has to others throughout the centuries, but recently I've noticed a negative aspect to this attitude.

Ever since graduating college two years ago, I've been waiting for something to hit. Waiting for my life to blossom in full-bloom and live a life of purpose and direction. Sadly, it never seems to happen. And many times I've wondered why, since this basic principle of the Lord providing should be at work in my life...shouldn't it? Shouldn't God lavish me with blessings and opportunity for firmly placing my hope in His wise guidance and great plan as I always have? Shouldn't my prayerful requests grant me a fulfilling career, money and a successful love life to boot? Dont I deserve these things? Why then has the Lord not been providing for me?

Then I one day I wondered whether this idea of waiting on God to provide can actually give us the opposite of peace? Maybe in its extremes, it could actually cause us to be depressed simply because God hasnt given us the life we need, or the life we want? It certainly seemed to be the case for me, anyways. Rather than take some responsibility for my own situations, I wanted to blame God for not blessing me as well as others (or at least blame the Devil for being all-up-in-my-grill, as they say). This, I now see, was a big mistake because I've come to realize that its probably not Gods job to do everything for me, or everything for any of us.

Regardless of how you see the free will vs determinism issue, I think its safe to say that on some level God is inviting us all into creativity, He's inviting us to do something positive. "Waiting on the lord" doesnt have to be simply praying for something and then sitting around until that something happens (if it ever does); it can instead be envisioning what you feel is necessarily, asking for guidance, and then stepping onto the water in faith much like Peter is said to have done in Matthew 14:29. And if you read that whole story, I think it actually reveals one of the most important aspects to living the Christ-life: if you ask God to do something, and you step out in belief, what would normally seem impossible actually begins to happen. It was only when Peter focused on the wind and his scary surroundings that he began to sink. He took his eyes off Jesus and let the negative forces purge the faith from his heart and mind.

This principle is echoed again in Luke 11:9-10,
"And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened"

All this to say, if you feel a desire in your heart that God has placed, yes, the Lord will provide but even before that, you have to step out and walk into what you're envisioning. I'm not sure that it guarantees anything to happen, but Id say its got a much better shot. Not only that, but I think that is the way in which God works through the human soul to manifest the kingdom and its good things all around us.