Man, I was fired up on my drive home and I was going to write this long rant about someone’s bad theology and dangerous hermeneutic.
But God is changing me.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m not all the way there, yet. It was still bad theology and a dangerous hermeneutic, but I’m not going to rant about it. Because, like we have talked about many times, drawing more lines between us and them just pushes Jesus further away.
Instead, I am going to share some history with you… about myself. Glad you asked!
I was born into a very conservative family. Theologically, politically, economically, the whole deal. We went to a non-denominational church, which might as well have come out of the closet as a line-toeing Southern Baptist congregation, but even that smacked of too much credalism. I was handed a faith that was not to be questioned, only learned. Heavy-handed sermons and discussions left little room for inquiry, and you can forget an opposing viewpoint.
My critical mind was both my blessing and my Sunday school teachers’ curse. But I soon learned that those questions constituted doubt, which was billed to me as the antithesis of faith. So, in an exercise of stubbornness, I left my questions about all that stuff in a vault in the back of my head.
Then I started reading philosophy. Not very good philosophy, but nonetheless, I started encountering different ideas. Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Atlas Shrugged were perhaps the most influential books of my childhood (I told you it wasn’t very good philosophy.)
I started asking questions again.
During the transition into college, I was dating a girl and looking to go to a private, Christian, liberal arts school in Northwest Georgia. My girlfriend prayed for me, and got some of her friends to pray for me. Looking back on it, I can’t really blame them. They were as unable to answer my questions as I was. We had all been handed a faith that was not our own.
She broke up with me, and all of those friends did too. And I broke up with Christianity.
It was probably just a melodramatic, metaphorical middle-finger at the universe for putting me in this situation (through no fault of my own!). I did have a flare for the dramatic. But I really did walk away from my childhood faith. However, I was still enrolled at this Christian school… so yeah, it was awkward.
I get randomly assigned a room with a mop-headed, ex football player and band geek, science nerd from south Georgia. Yippee.
Oh, and of course, he was a Christian.
We went through that awkward period that people who don’t know each other go through where you kinda sit there and say things to each other, and then get up and go get some Krystal hamburgers at 4 a.m. And then you’re friends the next day and its not weird anymore. Yeah, like that.
But the first thing that really shocked me was that this guy didn’t try to shut me down when I asked questions. Late night conversations in the bunks, (separate, of course) (not that there is anything wrong with that,) consisted of back-and-forth questions and what-if scenarios. It was like everything was up for discussion. We both knew our Bible verses, we were both smart, and we both knew that this faith deal came with a whole lot of crazy stuff in the back of the closet.
Being honest with this college freshman, who, in retrospect, was only marginally smarter than I was at the time, was my first encounter with an authentic, living faith. A faith that was strong enough to handle questions; it even welcomed them! And then, listening to professors challenge us to use not only our hearts but also our minds to engage the biblical texts was like I was in heaven with a bunch of like-minds, all eagerly reasoning together.
My broken heart might have driven me briefly from the faith of my fathers, but my mind, freed to do what it was made to do, guided my heart back to an exciting, thriving relationship with God and with my community.
Thanks for asking about how I came to be where I am today! So glad you took initiative and showed interest!
But seriously. If I could go back in time and tell my young punk self two things that I have learned through this, I would say these things:
First, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Instead, certainty is. When we are “certain” about God, we can no longer be surprised by, taught by, or changed by God. Certainty allows God to only move in the ways we know God can, which ultimately makes us out to be our own gods in our own image. Not good.
The second thing is similar to the first, but of more practical use. God’s relationship with Israel was founded on wrestling with each other. In wrestling with God, we truly discover who we are, and who God is. We gain our identity, like Jacob gains his, by striving with God towards understanding what God is doing in us and in our world. God has always honored and enjoyed honest and genuine relationships, even when it includes pushing back just a little bit. Blind obedience is not relationship. And God wants nothing more than relationship with us!
So my hope is that in reading these thoughts, other folks might avoid some of the heartache I have experienced at being asked to check my brain at the door. And some folks might even find new ways of thinking that allow us to draw nearer to God.