My Journey

I decided to create a section entitled “My Journey” because I believe in the power of story.  Not that I am a great story-teller by any means, but I think it is incredibly valuable to just listen to someone else’s experience and try to find yourself in it.  It can let you know that you’re not alone, affirm some of your own thoughts, and expand your perspective on an issue or your own situation in a unique way.  For someone who has tended to love reading dense and extended theological/philosophical arguments, I think autobiography is my new favorite genre:)  In regards to “journey of faith” type biographies, books like Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans (which details the faith struggle of a young woman from a conservative Chirstian background) have been helpful for understanding my own life and thoughts.  I hope that my story can inform yours in some way.  So here goes…

In The Beginning

I grew up in what many would call a “nominal” Christian home.  Our family went to a UCC church most Sundays and, if asked, we would have certainly said we were Christian.  But faith wasn’t, at least explicitly, core to our lives.  We didn’t study the Bible at home, didn’t pray together, and we didn’t really talk about God or faith in the house.  Church was a Sunday thing and seemed to be somewhat separate from the rest of our lives.  The church we attended consisted primarily of older couples and was, to be honest, a fairly dull and dry place to be, at least for a young adolescent. Services consisted of pre-written corporate prayers, singing old hymns out of old hymnals (the language in those things still makes me think that most people don’t have a clue what they are singing), and listening to a short sermon.  I remember complaining that there seemed to be sleeping gas pumped into the room:)  This is what church was for me and my family.  I hesitate to use the word “nominal” because it is used as a derogatory term by some.  My parents are good, moral, and, I believe, God-fearing people.  Although we didn’t explicitly talk about God in the house, that is also part of our family dynamic – we are private about a lot of things.  But regardless, God, the Bible, Jesus, Salvation, etc. were not things that seemed to be a part of our lives on a day to day basis.

Enter Pentecostalism.  While I was bored on Sundays and itching to get home to watch the 12:00 football games, my friend seemed to have a totally different experience.  He loved going to church, was active in his youth group, talked about his faith, read his Bible publicly, and only listened to Christian music.  He was on fire.  When he brought up his faith, I would tend to get somewhat uneasy and self-conscious about my own lack of knowledge in the area.  He invited me to his church and Bible study regularly, but I always shot him down.  Until one summer weekend when my life would be changed.

I had finally caved in to my friend’s proddings and agreed to attend a weekend church retreat at a cabin up north.  Candy, late nights, games, and the lake; I was a pretty regular 14 year old kid, so it seemed like a good deal to me.  I packed my bags and hopped in the church van for a weekend of fun.  And it was fun…but also incredibly shocking – I had never experienced anything like this.  Before we even got to the retreat center, we stopped at an outdoor “revival service” put on by a Pentecostal group.  It’s hard to recall exactly what happened, but I remember people falling over slayed in the Spirit, loud and passionate worship, many on their knees in prayer and adoration in the pouring rain (the service was held during a thunderstorm), a fiery preacher pleading with us to accept salvation, and several people standing up out of wheelchairs or throwing canes aside due to miraculous healings.  Wow.  And all this before we even got to our cabin!  I stood in the back of a large tent by myself and in shock for most of the event; I had no idea how to respond.  From my background, this wasn’t even in the same category as “church.”  A new world has just been opened.

When we got to the cabin, we went straight to bed for the night because we had a busy day in front of us.  Each morning began with Bible study and each night ended with Bible study, giving us a chance to discuss and reflect on what we learned throughout the day.  When we got together to read and reflect on Scripture, I was completely out of my element.  I doubt I said two words the whole weekend during those times.  But even if it may not have showed, I was intrigued by how passionate these people were about God.  They read the Bible like God had written it specifically for them and had inspired a new personal message each day – Scripture was a gold mine containing treasure more valuable than anything money could buy.  They talked about God like He was their best friend, like they could hear His voice leading or could share their thoughts with a Listening Ear anytime they needed.  God was an experienced reality for these people.  He was Lord and He was Savior.  He was Love and He animated their being.  Although I was uncomfortable much of the time, I truly did see something different in this community – something wonderful.

Born Again

At the end of the retreat, after fun and games and Bible study after Bible study, a leader took me aside and asked if I “knew the Lord.”  I’m sure I mumbled something about going to church or told him what denomination I was a part of.  She explained to me that the Christian faith wasn’t about going to church or being a part of a denomination – neither of these things could get you saved; true faith was about accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior and letting Him lead your life.  She explained to me that I was a sinner in need of forgiveness and that the good news was that this forgiveness was offered to us freely through the Cross.  All I needed to do was accept….and so I did.  I was led through a Sinner’s Prayer, repented of my sin, and committed my life to Christ.  I was born again.

I came back from the weekend a changed young man.  My life was, in an instant, full of the love of the Lord.  Although I tippie-toed into joining my friend’s Bible study because of some uneasiness about being a novice Christian, I eventually became a full participant.  I began studying and praying on my own and was focused on my walk with God.  It was an exciting time in my life.

Within a year or two, I had become increasingly aware of differences between my Bible study group and my church community.  Because I was still fairly young and couldn’t drive, I continued to attend my family’s UCC congregation.  But where was the passion?  I would go to Bible study on Wednesdays where we shared our lives with each other, studied God’s Word, and prayed together; then I would go to church on Sunday and fall asleep.  As soon as I could drive, I began to church shop.

It wasn’t long before I found a better fit for my Sunday mornings – an Evangelical Free church in my hometown.  They had modern worship (I’ll still take a guitar over an organ), cute girls that went to my high school, and engaging youth programming.  Like the Pentecostal group I had spent some time with, this community seemed to have something that my family’s church lacked.  We were passionate about Jesus and grounded in God’s Word; I couldn’t ask for a better place to grow in my faith.

Throughout high school I became more involved in my church and more separated from the UCC.  I spent most of my money at a Christian bookstore, devouring any spiritual wisdom I could get my hands on.  I became very interested in Christian music and wore explicitly religious clothing at times.  At school, I was known for my strong faith and had no problems sharing it with others.  Rooted in Romans and the Gospel of John, the gospel message was simple; we are all sinners who have fallen short and are in need of redemption – without which we can only expect just punishment.  But because of the work of the Cross, there is no need to experience this punishment.  Simply accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, and you can be assured of heaven when you die.  Meanwhile, it’s time to live your life for Jesus and tell others about the salvation He offers.  A few of my Christian friends and I started an FCA group that met once a week and attended other student led Bible studies in the mornings.  There were certainly ups and downs in high school, but my faith was strong.  I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, feeling as if the love of God was rushing through my veins.  “God loves me!”, I thought.  “What else could matter?”  As I started to look towards college, I realized that I wanted to be in a spiritual atmosphere where I was fully accepted – where I didn’t feel like an outsider because of my faith.  Although I had some opportunities that made more financial sense, I decided to go to a small, private Christian college.  The choice wasn’t difficult (and I still don’t regret it to this day).  My walk with the Lord and developing into the person He wanted me to be was what I was interested in.  I entered college excited to be surrounded by like-minded friends.

Complexities

My college experience was amazing.  Going from a public high school to an explicitly Christian college was like a foretaste of heaven for me.  I felt very at home.  Instead of being part of a small minority and being consciously different than my peers, I came to a place where we all shared the same set of assumptions and outlook on life and faith.  We were Christ followers and we were here to see where He would lead.

In my first two years of college, I was never more sure of my faith.  With everyone around me believing the same things, and incredibly intelligent professors who were also professing Christians, how could there be any doubt?  I think it is around everyone’s Sophomore year of college when they are the most confident that their viewpoint is correct.  Like if someone were only look at the evidence objectively, there is no way anyone could disagree with you.  Whether it be religious, political, moral, or any other type of belief, it’s at this time when we seem to know just enough to be sure.  The complex debates behind “accepted theories”, about, say, Republican economic policy, the system of Capitalism, the morality (or immorality) of abortion, or the nature of your own Scriptures, are unseen.  There may be some grey, but it is only on the fringes of a mostly black and white picture.  This is where I was at.  I entered into debates with old high school friends through email, trying to show them the logical conclusion of all the lines of evidence.  The historical evidence pointed to Jesus, the philosophical evidence pointed to God, and, if you prayed about it and looked at it objectively, God would show you the truth.  I began putting Christian tracts in mailboxes at night and would leave them around stores I shopped in.  Spreading the Gospel was the only thing that really mattered and I had no doubt that it was what God wanted me to do.  It was at this time that I decided to switch my major to Biblical and Theological Studies.  I felt I had a good mind and a passion for defending the faith intellectually.  Authors and apologists like C.S. Lewis and Greg Boyd were my heroes and I wanted to get on a road that would make me like them – a logical defender of the faith.

Most of my Junior and Senior years were spent in the classroom or the library.  I ended up a double major (Education was my other discipline), and was passionate about both.  I took classes in Systematic Theology, Apologetics, the History of Israel, the Gospels, Paul and any other elective I could sneak in to my schedule.  I couldn’t get enough.  I loved the arguments, I loved the new knowledge, I loved learning about Scripture.  If I was walking down the hall, I was probably reviewing a Teleological argument for the existence of God.  My morning showers might be spent trying to understand what Paul meant by “justification.”  My head was swimming in the ocean of Theology and I went where the tide took me.  Although I was conscious that I tended to live in my head more than others and even that it was affecting some relationships, it was a world that I loved and it didn’t bother me that my thoughts were sometimes elsewhere.  It came with the territory of being a (“wanna-be”) Theologian or Philosopher, and it was territory that I was willing to live in.

But although I enjoyed the arguments, the historical reasoning, and the systematizing of a Divine Text, there were times when my certainty turned to confusion, and the grey would creep into my black and white.  There were times when my mind wouldn’t stop running and when doubts would enter in.  Over the course of my final two years of college, I would enter periods of doubt and inner turmoil every six months or so – periods during which it was hard to think of much else.

I remember one particular mini-crisis about the apparent difference in perspective regarding “faith and works” between Paul and James.  Because Paul was so central to my faith, especially the idea that we are saved by grace and by no effort of our own (as it is to almost every Protestant…this concept in a very real sense is the Gospel), this was a big deal.  Of course we could all agree that “faith without works is dead,” but some parts of James seemed to flat out contradict Paul – particularly when James stated that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).  Wait, Paul says were are justified by faith alone right?  After reading several perspectives on this issue, I couldn’t come to a conclusion on the matter.  It still bugged me.  But I was still young.  Clearly the professional Theologians knew better than I did.  I believed that the fog would clear with more study and could push the issue to the back of my head for a later date.

Another mini-crisis for me was the composite nature of Scripture.  As just one example, in one class I was introduced to the evidence that there were two separate introductions of David in 1 Samuel.  One seems to have been spliced into another story and is an awkward fit (in the inserted story, Saul doesn’t know who David is even though he had already been introduced to him in the larger narrative).  And the manuscript evidence seems to support this as well because we have versions that do not contain the added introduction.  I remember this contrasting wildly with my view of the inspiration of Scripture.  If God was the ultimate author, why would something like this be in the Bible?  Or even if there were just one human author for a given book.  But again, there were smarter people out there (my professor being one of them) that I trusted had the answers.  I could safely table the issue and be confident in my faith.

During this time, I kept on accumulating Biblical knowledge.  I was at an Evangelical school, but I was not sheltered from “liberal ideas” (in fact many of my professors seemed to accept theories that I thought were incompatible with Evangelical faith).  I learned about the varying theories for authorship of the Pentateuch, about the composite nature of Scripture, the haziness surrounding the formation of the Canon, the questions of authorship, the archeological evidence which suggested some Biblical events did not happen as depicted, the competing Scriptural views of the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land, the differences in the accounts of the life of Christ (especially the Gospel of John), and other tensions in the New Testament (i.e. Paul’s account of his conversion vs. the account of Acts, different attitudes towards Mosaic Law, etc.).  All of these ideas were fresh and I was okay that I hadn’t integrated them into my theological views.  Again, my profs knew about them and they were Christians, so I felt the answers were out there.  I was generally more concerned with if I was a Calvinist or not.  Inter-Christian debates were more pressing to me as everyone around me accepted the basic tenets of Christianity anyways.  The overall framework of my faith generally seemed solid although there were moving pieces within.  It was a luxury that being immersed in a Christian community afforded me, but it was a luxury that would not last.

The Real World

After graduating college, I took a position running an after-school program that was geared towards helping students from low-income backgrounds go to college.  I loved my work and I loved my kids.  I was part of a team of 40 or so Americorps volunteers, most of us fresh out of college.  I felt that I was doing good work, and changing the world for the better.  And I felt that God was calling me towards this kind of work; what could be more God-glorifying than serving under advantaged youth?  Overall this year was a very positive experience for me and seemed to confirm my calling to work with youth.  But it was also here where a few more cracks began to show in my certainty in the faith.

Looking back on it, I think the major issue throwing me into some confusion was just meeting and getting to know different types of people – people that weren’t like me and who weren’t Christian.  My students were an incredibly diverse group both ethnically and religiously.  Particularly hard for me to deal with were my Muslim students, some of whom were particularly devout.  I loved all of my kids, and my group of Muslim students turned out to be some of my favorites.  They were great kids and were committed to their faith, much like I was to mine.  In many ways, they reminded me of myself in high school.  One girl in particular was just about the kindest and sweetest human being I had ever met.  This reality just didn’t fit into my paradigm.  If you haven’t accepted Jesus and do not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, how could you be this good of a person?  If Muslims are going to be judged for not believing in Jesus, where does this put these kids?  Suddenly the problem of other religions ceased to be abstract, these were real human beings!  I was torn, but had the hope that they would eventually come to Jesus and that God would guide them that way as they progressed in their own faith.

But my students were not the only ones presenting this theological problem, my co-workers were the same way.  I met people from all kinds of backgrounds as we came together for a common mission.  My co-workers were passionate people, doing their best to serve their kids on basically a volunteer’s salary.  Some were Christians, but others were not.  My partner in my school came from a very liberal college and she was an open lesbian.  Maybe to even our own surprise, we got along great.  She knew that I was an Evangelical Christian and that I probably believed that practicing homosexuality was sinful, and I knew she was about the polar opposite, but it didn’t affect our relationship.  We never talked about matters of faith and that was probably for the best.  But she, and many of my other co-workers, presented much the same problem – there were “good people” doing good things who weren’t Christians.  In fact, their dedication to service seemed to put many of my Christian friends (and sometimes myself) to shame.  I found myself trying to look for their sins and cast them in a bad light, while trying to find the good in my friends and co-workers who were Christian.  But the whole saved/unsaved, Christian/non-Christian, righteous/unrighteous dichotomy was called into question.  The quality of our lives and how loving we were suddenly seemed to be unrelated to our Creed.

After ending my Americorps stint, I taught at a small high school for two years, while taking night classes towards a Master’s degree in Theology.  I was back studying what I loved and hoped to teach Theology at a private high school in the future.  I had a great background from my undergrad work and entered grad school ahead of the game.  It was time for me to come to terms with some of these questions and develop my theology more fully and concretely.  I was excited and began to spend more of my time with my head in the clouds again.  Having a better Biblical background, my theories and personal theology became more coherent, but also more complex.  Meanwhile, I was continuing to work with passionate teachers, some of whom were not Christian, and it was continuing to stretch my way of seeing the world.

Seminary

Although I wasn’t planning on going to Seminary full time, the next year I was offered a scholarship to attend a Lutheran Seminary in my area.  It was a great opportunity, and although I had to stop working, it became financially possible to be in school full time.  And there was probably nothing I would rather do.

But my experience as a full time student was to be short lived.  I took Greek in the summer and loaded up a full schedule for the Fall semester – Pentateuch, The Gospel of John, The Gospel of Mark, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and a Church Government course.  I was actually overloaded on credits and also auditing a Philosophy class at my old college.  I had plenty to think about and plenty to digest.

Coming in to my classes that Fall was kind of a weird experience.  One thing that struck me right away was that most of my classmates had very little background in academic study of the Bible or Theology.  Many of them seemed to be coming in fresh and had never asked the questions I had asked in college, which was now 4 years past.  By the time they were graduated and preaching, they would have still been in the discipline for less time than I already had been.  Many of them were very intelligent, but just seemed to be getting their feet wet (“What?  There’s violence in the Old Testament?”).  I almost felt out of place and my questions seemed irrelevant to most of my classmates.  It was at this time that I realized how much I now understood.  Books written by professional theologians were no longer confusing to me and I found all kinds of flaws in their arguments (as did the scholars they were arguing against…What’s the only thing two scholars can agree on?  The poor work of a third scholar).  When I pressed my professors on certain issues, it became clear that they had no answers that I was comfortable with.  I was suddenly stripped of the luxury of being a novice.  I could no longer say “this guy is smarter than me and he has the answer.”  It scared me as I started to believe there were no answers I would ever be comfortable with.

Another thing that struck me was the lack of concern at this Lutheran Seminary for what I would call “Evangelical Questions” (esp. defending the authority and coherency of Scripture)  One of the most respected professors at this school put out a book answering some basic questions about the faith.  Under a heading discussing the authority of Scripture, he seemed unconcerned with a detailed line of reasoning for why Scripture was authoritative and content with saying that people will find the Bible authoritative when they find it “works” for them.  He also seemed unconcerned with the fact that the Bible seems to display many competing points of view on some subjects and admitted that ultimately you have to “pick and choose” between texts.  Although I eventually came to agree with him, to Evangelical ears this was tough to take!  To admit that Scripture contradicts itself and to not even seem like you care made me angry.  What was the point of systematizing Scripture and what could authority possibly mean if, in the end, we just have to “pick and choose”?

As I progressed in my classes, the questions multiplied.  Taking so many classes at once, I had my thoughts in just about every part of my sacred text.  I simultaneously had questions about the Pentateuch – who wrote it?  what do I do with Genesis 1-11?  is there any actual history in there or is it pure myth?  if it is myth, what can we take from it?  why do we have to “work around” the creation texts and try to squeeze evolution in?  wouldn’t God want to make it obvious that this was His Word?  why wouldn’t he tell us about evolution?  why do the two creation stories contradict each other?  why do the genealogies in Gen 4-5 contradict each other?  why is the flood story not one coherent narrative, but two different narratives with contrasting details spliced together?  why isn’t there evidence for a worldwide flood? why does the Law contradict itself, or at least develop?  how can I deal with the incredible violence?  why do these laws seem so barbaric? why the anachronisms?  The Gospel of John – is anything in here historical?  did Jesus really talk like this?  if so, why are his most popular quotes not found in earlier sources?  who wrote it?  why is it so different than the other gospels?  how did the Christology get so advanced?  why don’t we take the “judgment” passages seriously (i.e. if you don’t believe in Jesus, you are condemned), The Gospel of Mark – how do we get around the fact that Jesus, or at least the writer of Mark, seems to predict the end of the world in the near future?  for that matter, why does Matthew even seem to make it more explicit that Jesus predicted the end of the world soon?  and why does Paul seem to expect the same thing?  how can mistaken expectations be in an inspired text or come from Jesus himself?  1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans – what the heck is Paul even trying to say?  is he a coherent human being?  does his theology develop?  who wrote the disputed letters?  is there really a vast difference in the theology of Paul vs. deutero-Paul?  if so, what does that make of our theology?  should we follow Mosaic Law or not?  are we saved by faith, or judged by works?  what does he mean by “justification”?  why does his view of government seem to differ so wildly from the perspective of Revelation?  how should I interpret “works of the law”?  New Perspective or Old, or a mix of both?  and how do all these questions relate to an inerrant or infallible Bible, or a God who is trying to reveal Himself through His Word?  could I imagine myself, if I weren’t already a Christian, reading the Bible with my current understandings and concluding that it was inspired by God?  Eventually these questions and many many others (I’ve found that it is very hard to give a feel for the hundreds of issues in the mind of a seminarian on paper – you kind of need to experience it for yourself.) piled up to a point where I could no longer take it.  My mind became a fog and I felt my faith slipping away.  If I was sitting in a class, my mind was going a mile a minute, but I didn’t hear one word the prof was saying.  I started to have thoughts about “how I used to think.”  Was I no longer an Evangelical?  Was I no longer a Christian?  Nothing made sense anymore and I was totally out of control of my own mind.  I spent three days writing down all of my questions and doubts, skipping class because nothing else mattered.  Due to the length of that document, I’ll list it separately as “the breaking point”.  It essentially documents the ramblings of a man whose life is falling apart.  I couldn’t consciously get myself to believe the same things I used to believe.  My mind just went where it went, and it led me away from the beliefs that made me who I was.  I had the feeling that I had spent years and years in the trees and I finally saw the forest for what it was.  Eventually, I felt forced to abandon both my commitment to Jesus as God Incarnate and Scripture as the Word of God.  I gave up my scholarship and dropped out of Seminary.  Within the course of a month I went from being a committed Christian planning on teaching Theology, to a lost and wandering human being.

Disorientation

Dropping out of Seminary was about the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life.  Maybe the next hardest was telling the people I loved.  I felt like a complete failure and was afraid of what my family and friends would think of me.  Would I now be the non-Christian that I had felt forced to see the bad in?  Was I now Paul’s “unrighteous” that the “righteous” have nothing in common with?

The first person I told was my brother who I am very close with, especially because of our mutual faith.  It was about as emotional as I had ever been; I was a mess.  I then wrote an email to my closest friends and told my parents in person.  I had varying discussions with different people, and only about 10 people in my life know about my change in belief.

The period immediately following my dropout was one of profound confusion and depression.  Who was I if I wasn’t a follower of Jesus?  What gave me life meaning or purpose or love?  Suddenly I didn’t care about working with kids.  What’s the point?  We die; that’s it.  Meaningless.  I describe this period as “living in Ecclesiastes” and it was an awful state of mind – it made me think some scary thoughts and consider serious self-harm.  It’s a place I never want to go back to.  It was very similar to breaking up with a girlfriend, except multiplied by a hundred.  You don’t want to eat or sleep and nothing seems to matter.  It’s hard to get yourself to care about anything.  Your whole world feels like it is coming apart and you can’t (or at least I couldn’t) seem to find what makes life worth living.  During this time I read a few stories of people who had left conservative Christianity and it seemed like everyone kind of fell in a different place.  Some became adherents of other religions, generally Eastern.  Some became angry atheists and set out to destroy the faith of their youth.  Some became unconcerned agnostics.  Some became curious and still “devout” agnostics.  And some landed in the Liberal Church.  These people, although they had to give up many of their cherished beliefs, were still committed to living a life of faith, a life for God, within the Church.  After months of fog, this is where I landed as well…

Re-Orientation

So is seems that I am, and will forever be, in the process of getting my bearings – of finding a new way to think about faith and what a life lived for God looks like.  That is part of what making this blog is about for me; I need to think out loud and I’d like others to think with me.  I still have a passion for the study of Scripture, for Theology, and for Religion, but it looks different.  There are no firm answers now.  There is no certainty.

Briefly, I think there are three things that I have come to pretty solid conclusions about regarding what my new faith is to look like, and what I think the Liberal Church needs to draw on.  The first concerns methodology for thinking about God.  In the Conservative or Evangelical wing of Christianity many have adopted the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a way of “doing theology.”  The four corners of the quadrilateral are Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience.  These are the sources that are seen as leading us to theological truth.  Generally Protestants would put Scripture on top (“sola scriptura”), and the other 3 corners beneath.  So theological truth, on this model, comes from Scripture as interpreted by Reason, Tradition, and Experience.  All theology is derived from the authoritative text.  So if the Bible says we are justified by faith, we are made in the image of God, or we are condemned without faith in Jesus, it is taken as God’s Truth, as long as we are interpreting it correctly.  But if you give up Scripture as an “infallible” or “inerrant” source (this is what I have felt forced to do and where the Liberal Church is at), this way of thinking doesn’t work; the paradigm needs to be changed.  What I would like to propose is the idea of keeping the structure of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral but changing the order.  If you give up an authoritative text or tradition, you are left with Reason and Experience on top with Scripture and Tradition as subsets of Experience.  Clearly Theology becomes more hazy.  Humanity’s “experience of the Divine” and the “use of Reason” are far from unambiguous.  But it is what we are left with.  Reading the Christian Scriptures and the works of the great theologians and saints now take on a new role.  We are not reading a direct revelation of God’s mind; we are reading the religious experiences of our ancestors.  They are the ideas we interact with and reading their thoughts inform our own.  Scripture becomes a sacrament, a means of experiencing and relating to God, but not a source for guaranteed theological truth.  Marcus Borg’s thought in this area is especially enlightening and convincing to me (see Reading the Bible Again for the First Time in my Books List).

Second, if this paradigm for “doing theology” or thinking about God is adopted, the Liberal Church needs to draw heavily on the mystics – those who have given their lives to experiencing and following God.  We need to draw on them as guides for leading our lives and for understanding our walk with God.  I truly believe that inter-religious understanding can be aided by the study of the mystics of all backgrounds.  If it is true that “all mystics speak the same language and come from the same country”, maybe that is a way forward to understanding our neighbor.  Could it also be that the devout from all backgrounds have come in touch with the same Spiritual Reality?  That there is Something or Someone real “in whom we live and move and have our being”?  I have found a home in the writings and wisdom of St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, Meister Eckhart, and The Cloud of Unknowing from the Christian tradition, but also from mystical works from other faiths such as The Bhagvad Gita.  An awesome introduction to the thought of the mystics from East and West can be found in Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy (see Books List).

Finally, if the Liberal Church is to be explicitly Christian, it is going to have to, in some form or another, understand their mission and thought in relation to Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus is many things to many people and this, along with the jettison of authoritative Scriptures, makes it hard for the Liberal end to be unified.  Emphasizing being a disciple of Jesus or following at least a portion of his teachings, however that plays out among varying pastors and congregations, needs to be central if the Liberal Church wants to be called Christian in any meaningful way.  Framing our lives as being about experiencing and spreading “the Kingdom of God”, or “God’s Rule” (which most believe to be the heart of Jesus’ message) would be a start.

Whew…but that is where I am at and those are some of my initial thoughts about what it means to be a Liberal Christian – not being sure of a whole lot, but trying to walk towards the Light.  It’s been a ride and I am still on it, but I am excited for what lies ahead.  I hope you can find yourself somewhere in my journey, even if not at all points.

J. Marcott

  • Matthew Parrott

    I have been listening to a few guys lately that take the Bible in a new direction that I have never heard people preach before.  I graduated with a Bible degree from a Evangelical school, and I think the problems with so many of the contradictions is that we form theologies that just aren’t in scripture.  When we do that and try to force scripture to match our theology, all of a sudden we have issues.

    There is a guy named Jim Staley with PassionforTruthMinistries.com that teaches the Bible in a way that creates a seamlessness to the Word.  It answers the questions that we have and best of all, doesn’t create a whole new set of questions, and finally answers the questions before we think of them.  He is a part of a growing group of Christians called Hebrew Roots, and I think it’s easy to judge them, and then toss their teaching before listening to it, but Evangelical Christianity isn’t the answer, Jesus – the Word is the answer.

    I would highly recommend the video Identity Crises and then go from there.  If you watch it let me know what you think, I would love to talk to someone else about the strengths/weaknesses of what they teach!

    • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

       Hmmm…I’ll check it out:)

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