Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Adaptation (I)

The next chapter in Rachel Held Evans' book Faith Unraveled is titled 'Adaptation'. There were several of things that stood out to me. For now, I'm just going to write about these. I hope to return to the chapter next time.

Let's start with a long quote from the beginning of her chapter.

It’s always a little embarrassing when you come out swinging and there’s nobody there to fight with you. I think that’s how a lot of us felt when we realized that the world wasn’t asking the questions we had learned to answer. Many of us who grew up in the church or received Christian educations were under the impression that the world was full of atheists and agnostics and that the greatest threat against Christianity was the rise of secular humanism. But what we found upon entering the real world was that most of our peers were receptive to spiritual things. Most believed in God, were open to the supernatural, and respected religious ideas so long as they were not forced upon them. Most were like Sam. They weren’t searching for historical evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They were searching for some signs of life among his followers.

 Not once after graduating from Bryan was I asked to make a case for the scientific feasibility of miracles, but often I was asked why Christians aren’t more like Jesus. I may have met one or two people who rejected Christianity because they had difficulties with the deity of Christ, but most rejected Christianity because they thought it means becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant, and unkind. People didn’t argue with me about the problem of evil; they argued about why Christians aren’t doing more to alleviate human suffering, support the poor, and oppose violence and war. Most weren’t looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions.

The first thing that jumped out at me was her description of the training by her church. It sounds like she and her peers were being prepared to be full-time apologists, ready to fight with all of those 'atheists and agnostics'. This interests me because, based on other things that Rachel wrote in this book, it seems that one thing that was missing in her training was how to love people in the way that Jesus did. I don't know anything about her former church beyond what she has written, but it seems that they may have gotten things mixed up. The first thing about being a Christian is being taught how to love; first to love God and then other people. Once that's in place there may be some who will want to engage the culture around them. Fine. But if first things are first, then any engagement with the culture will be an expression of love. So, there never is any time to 'come out swinging'. If Rachel and those like here had been taught in this way there would have been 'signs of life among [Jesus] followers', the signs that her peers were looking for. Instead, what Rachel tells us is that her peers equated being a Christian with being 'judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant and unkind'. That says something about at least some of the Christians that these folk knew. And what it says isn't good.

Then this caught my attention.

Most weren’t looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions.

This is a theme that has popped up more than once or twice in my readings of progressive Christians. 'We don't want to know all the answers. We just want to be able to ask our questions.' I think that a person should feel free to ask questions, any question. And that young Christians were discouraged to ask (I think that this is how Rachel and others would describe their past) says something about those who were teaching them. Could it be that they weren't quite sure of the answers themselves? Or was it just that they figured that God is impatient with honest questions? To be able to ask questions is so important. God isn't threatened by them and neither should we be.

However, when someone asks a question he or she needs to take seriously the answer offered in response. I wonder if not 'looking for a faith that provided all the answers' is a way of saying that there aren't any answers, or pitiful few. And what's wrong with a faith that does, in fact, provide all the answers? Isn't that a claim that Jesus would make, that He really does have all the answers? Oh, I realize that that doesn't mean that any of us have all the answers. But could it be that we have some of the answers based on what things He said? After all, there are answers to the questions. Jesus knows them. To be sure, we might get some of the answers wrong, but it's at least a place to start. Maybe with some discussion we could take wrong answers and turn them into right answers.

I also sometimes wonder if there's something less than complimentary, shall we say, behind this desire to just ask questions. You see, if there is, in fact, an answer to some question of mine, a bit of truth, that means that I have to yield to the answer to my question. I have to accept it. It's the truth. But yielding to that answer, accepting it as God's truth, may well mean that my life will have to change in some way. What if I don't want to have my life changed? Always asking but never answering would be a way to avoid change. Paul warned that there would be those who are 'always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth'. They ask and ask, but they don't come to conclusions that would define how they are to live. That would require change. Am I saying that all who desire to be able to ask questions are like this? Absolutely not! But I am saying that there are some who are.

Let me be clear as to where I'm coming from. I think that Jesus has all the answers. And I think that many of those answers are in the Bible. That's why He had it written. It's a book with answers to life's serious questions, Jesus' answers to life's serious questions. What we need is people who are familiar enough with that book, with the nitty-gritty of that book (where, oftentimes, the answers lurk) and who love and care enough for the people around them that they will listen attentively to any question and then will offer, humbly offer, their best understanding of the Bible's answer - and then stick around for an open back and forth of ideas about that answer in the hope of refining it until it is clear that it's really pretty close to what Jesus would say if He were standing there. In this there would be a real love for people, many of whom have heartfelt questions about how to live, along with a stand for the truth of God. And the best example of this combination is Jesus.