According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Friday, September 13, 2013

Is Doubt a Sign of Spiritual Weakness or Not?

Is Doubt a Sign of Spiritual Weakness or What?
(Two New Books about the Role of Doubt in Christian Living)
 
by Roger Olson
September 12, 2013
 
When I was a kid growing up in church (how’s that for a stereotypical opening of a paragraph?) a favorite saying of pastors and evangelists was “Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs!” As if doubt (and here “doubt” will always be about God and the truth of revelation) is something you overcome by sheer will power. And as if doubt is necessarily something negative to be shunned rather than embraced or at least lived with.
 
In that form of Christian life that encouraged a kind of super-spirituality (I found Francis Schaeffer’s little book on that subject liberating as an early twenty-something Christian in that spiritual environment) “doubt” was an enemy and having doubts meant a lack of faith which meant sin in life. So the solution to doubt was twofold: will power to overcome sin and waiting on the Holy Spirit for a new “infilling.” So, indirectly, at least, shame was heaped on anyone who struggled with doubt.
 
One of the reasons I couldn’t remain in that form of Christian life was that I couldn’t help having doubts; there was simply no “cure” for doubt—at least not that I could find. And I felt that doubt, not chronic, disabling doubt but simple human lack of absolute certainty, was not necessarily a sign of spiritual weakness but a normal part of being finite rather than infinite (or deified).
 
Now let me be clear, for those who easily misunderstand, that by doubt here I do not mean chronic skepticism let alone cynicism about the truth of revelation and about God. I mean simply that lack of absolute certainty, that awareness that one could be wrong, that nagging little feeling that what you believe falls short of absolute certainty and therefore could, at least theoretically, be false.
 
Because of the way I was raised, with even the slightest hint of doubt being interpreted as a sign of spiritual weakness if not at attack of Satan (!), I was afraid to admit it to any of my spiritual mentors or peers. I covered it up, hid it and pretended that I had absolute certainty about everything I was supposed to believe.
 
Eventually I was delivered from that bondage partly through a book by a wise colleague named Daniel Taylor. The book is entitled The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment. I found it liberating, not because it made me comfortable with doubt but because it gave me permission to be human and put the emphasis where it belongs—not on arrival at absolute certainty but on commitment in spite of doubts. (Taylor relied heavily on Kierkegaard.)
 
Around the same time I discovered an older book by British Methodist pastor Leslie Weatherhead—a prolific Christian writer of the mid-20th century. It is entitled The Christian Agnostic. But, again, the theme is not chronic skepticism but learning to live with fallibility and therefore with doubt.
 
Around the same time (my mid-twenties) I read Paul Tillich’s The Dynamics of Faith. There Tillich describes doubt as a necessary element of faith. In other words, the two are not in tension but depend on each other. Without doubt, Tillich argues, faith would not be faith but sight.
 
All of these authors taught me that absolute certainty is eschatological. They taught me to be real about life here and now, “between the times”—not to embrace doubt as something to be proud of but to live with it as a real sign of finitude and even as something that, if accepted in the right way, can help faith, as commitment, become stronger.
 
I have to admit, however, that all of this remained somewhat abstract and intellectual. I read more books that bolstered this different view of faith and doubt. Books by Fredrick Buechner (“Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith; it keeps it moving”) and Lesslie Newbigin (Proper Confidence). I settled into it somewhat uncomfortably with the nagging feeling that, even though I felt it to be true intellectually, I still might be unspiritual for accepting doubt as normal and not striving harder to overcome it once and for all. I still worried that my spiritual mentors, the people who “brought me up in the faith,” would shame me for having doubts and learning to live with them.
 
Part of that uneasiness came from attending a church that reminded me of my superspiritual childhood and youth. It was a Baptist church, but the pastor’s sermons and Bible studies and much of the ethos of the church communicated to me (maybe not to others) that true faith, once really acquired, banishes all doubt. There, as in my later adolescent years, I suffered the cognitive dissonance of two conflicting feelings. On the one hand, Sunday after Sunday I was being told, indirectly if not directly, that faith overcomes doubt, so anyone who struggles with doubt must not yet have acquired true faith—which in that church was a matter of sheer will power. On the other hand, I sensed that many of the people of the church were pretending, living lives of unreality, putting on a mask when they came to church. It did not feel like a safe place to admit doubts and spiritual struggles.
 
Eventually we left that church and prayed that God would lead us to one where we could be real people. Where we would not have to put on masks and pretend to “have it all together” without flaws. That’s exactly what happened. The very first church we visited, after leaving the one we had been attending for eight years (and that I had been wanting to leave for four of those years!), was what we were looking for. That very first Sunday the pastor preached on doubt and gave the congregation permission to be human, including admitting that their Christian lives were not - and never would be - free of risk and commitment in spite of very real doubts. I believe finding that church at that time, so easily and quickly, was a “God thing.”
 
Also around that time I began watching and listening to gospel music videos (now DVDs) produced by Bill Gaither. (No, this is not an advertisement!) I will never forget the impact one of them made in me. It brought into my “inner man” (to borrow a concept from Pietist founder Philipp Jakob Spener) what I had appropriated from books and sermons into my theology. I don’t remember the title of the video, but it was filmed with a group of “old time gospel singers”—most of them not great musicians professionally but sincere and singing the music of my childhood—uplifting and inspiring music of my generation. Right in the middle of that session several of them began to share “testimonies” of their struggles with doubt—not before they became Christians or before they “received the Holy Spirit”—but recently, then and there, as “mature Christian believers” and “full time gospel evangelists.” It was shocking to me to hear their stories—not because they dismayed me but because they spoke powerfully into my life about what I had learned intellectually from books.
 
Then Gaither, who many consider a giant of Christian faith (author of numerous Christian songs sung in churches and recorded by Christian recording artists) sat at the piano and, unrehearsed, and in a very unpolished way, sang a song he wrote that never “caught on,” so to speak. “I believe; help Thou my unbelief. I take the finite risk of trusting like a child. I believe; help Thou my unbelief.  I walk into the unknown trusting like a child.” (Google it for all the lyrics. The specific performance that so touched me inwardly isn’t on youtube so far as I can find, but later performances of the song by Gaither and his “Vocal Band” are.)
 
It’s strange how something you’ve learned from books and accepted intellectually can still need to penetrate into your heart. That is what my new church and that song, sung in that particular way at that time, did for me. (Yes, I’m an unapologetic pietist! Partly, at least, because of experiences such as these.)
 
Recently two friends have published books about doubt and Christian faith and I recommend both highly. Both are filled with personal stories of life experiences by these Christian leaders, men looked up to by thousands because of their teaching and writing. These are not your typical conservative Christian “testimony books” like so many that crowd the shelves of Christian “bookstores.” (I put that in scare quotes because most of them sell very few books and the ones they do sell tend to be fluff.)
 
If you are someone who struggles with struggling with doubt, I recommend these two wonderful new books - and that you find a home church where you can be real, and not a Sunday “mask wearer” - someone who has to pretend to  have no spiritual struggles or doubts.
 
The books are: Gregory A. Boyd, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker, 2013) and Daniel Taylor, The Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner Atheist (Bog Walk Press, 2013). Neither one encourages skepticism or wallowing in doubt that avoids risk and commitment; both reveal how the authors and others came to real faith in spite of and perhaps even partly through uncertainty.
 
Unfortunately, so much American Christianity, perhaps especially conservative evangelical Christianity, is mired in inauthenticity. Authenticity is what Boyd and Taylor are talking about. Being authentic means being real; embracing the real and not pretending to be something we’re not and aren’t meant to be. Absolute certainty that banishes all doubt is unreal, inauthentic, a chimera, an illusion. And yet, so much conservative Christianity not only promotes it - but expects it - and shames people who dare to admit they haven’t arrived at that time and place when we will see face to face and know as we are known. There remains, for now, only faith, hope and love and these are enough.
 
 
 

Discussions in Science and Religion - Week 1: "Faith and Trust"

 
 
Week One's introduction didn't do much for me mostly because I'm pro-science and pro-Christianity and have written quite a bit about how science and the Christian faith have bisected my life and brought a fullness to it that without either would make each the poorer. However, within Philip Clayton's own context, he has encountered a lot of vitriol from Christians and their church denominations to his scientific paradigms for a Christian interpretation of the Scriptures... which means that he has received a lot of sarcasm from Christians, and gotten a lot of professional disregard by the atheistic elements of his science profession (what he calls the new atheism). This is regrettable because as week one's discussion has shown, Philip has taken pains to professionally bridge the gap between the two antithetical cultures, as his books and lectures have repeatedly shown these past many years by attestation.
 
For myself, I determined immediately from the onset of writing Relevancy22 that my philosophic direction would be one of integrating the science that I was trained in (through university) with the religion that I had learned and was also trained in. Most admittedly I had allowed the two to live in separate rooms (if not separate houses) of my mind and heart, disavowing any restriction by the one to the other. As such, I lived with a dualism of scholastic cultures that neither upset me nor conflicted me. I pretended there was no conflicted and lived happily within each purview giving to each one their fullest due.
 
But when I began blogging it became immediately apparent that I had to admit that my Christian faith was the more naïve for this outlook, and that my scientific outlook was built upon the beggarly foundations of an agnostic or a-theistic system. Each had much to recommend to the other but if left to separate dwellings it would be to my greatest folly and ignorance. Hence, as of this date, there are approximately 150 articles written, edited, or published in the area of science and the Christian faith. And it is left up to you, the reader, to discover each one as they might provide help or assist in this Area 51 between the Christian faith and today's scientific system.
 
 
Thus, it is from within this effort that I have tried to bridge the gap between the two areas of life that should never have been left so completely separate. My first admission was to the factual findings of biology, genetics, geology, and cosmology, and to finally agree that my understanding of it with the records of Genesis 1-3 were in great need of revisal. That if I were to admit to evolution than I must also admit that my hermeneutic (interpretation) of Genesis was not allowing me to see God's authorship in its design. Nor was my view of God's immediacy of creation realistically allowing me to see the paradoxical naivete of my limitation of God's greatness and wisdom by disallowing another kind of mediated (evolving) creation by this God that I professed. That He was bigger than the religious box I held Him within, and greater than the boundaries that I had philosophically restricted Him to. That at the last, it was myself that needed changing, and not my Bible, nor my faith, nor some purported fabrication of science.
 
As such, I have not only written about an evolutionary understanding of creation (sic, Evolutionary Creationism) but have also found that to make this effort likewise required of me to write of an expanded hermeneutic and theistic understanding of the God I once thought I knew, but in actuality knew very little of.... The strident voices of my fundamentalist (and lately, evangelic) upbringing required attention to the matters of the heresies it claimed... and when I did, it didn't do much for my personal or religious life amongst friends and family. For many, they lost trust in my Christian witness - which was unfortunate for I had endured much in life because of it. And they lost trust in my leadership to teach God's truth - which was equally unfortunate because I have become the richer for my belated explorations. Finding an amazing God beyond what I could have ever imagined!

But, like the prophets of the Old Testament, we each bear our burdens, and mine has been one of updating Christianity's secular modernism and anti-intellectualism into the 21st century's requisite embracement of post-structuralism, post-foundationalism, and post-modernism. Fancy words that basically say that by entering into this kind of Christian faith you must expect all your faith structures and foundations to be torn down and replaced with a surer foundation. One built on rocks instead of sand. And a foundation that both I, and Philip Clayton, will each aver is worth the cost, the mental pain, and the faith challenges. Thus Relevancy 22. And thus this journal of my experiences in lending a way out of the unenlightening wilderness which today's present Christianity has become lost within for too long.
 
Consequently, though I appreciated Philip's introductory session, my postmodernist, existentialist, Christian faith has moved beyond the dualistic kind of oppositional A-versus-B type of thinking found within my previously secularized, modernistic faith. Not that I don't utilize these pedantic structures, because for people like myself who are being led of God beyond the God of their imagination, I must provide some conceptual linkages to the past that might be helpful to those on similar journeys as mine own.
 
But I must also write to this generation's present Millennials who are not as conflicted as mine own generation of the 60s and 70s by science's more profound discoveries (Richard Leakey for one, in his discoveries of million(s)-year-old humanoid skeletal parts). Mostly, science now reigns supreme, and has become the philosophic anvil upon which all other religious faiths must fall, becoming either broken or sharpened. But to remain neutral to science is impossible. And lest the ancient faith of Yahweh become yet another religious shard upon the pile of mythological ruins it must be updated into the cultural times that we live.
 
And so, "Yes," science has become as disruptive, as dangerous, as anti-Christian (seemingly so) in our day-and-age as it was back in Copernicus and Galileo's day when the Catholic Church fought against it. But for the followers of Christ we must not run headlong into the age-old arguments of a Richard Dawkins who so easily dismisses Christianity, its God, and its Bible. We listen to these professing agnostics and atheists to try to understand how we have so admittedly failed in our understanding of God's Word, and to learn how we might re-work our paradigms, Christian culture, and attitudes, so that we might re-discover the God-of love behind the God-of-the Bible whom we thought we knew, and don't.
 
Sure, its fun to bash the "unbelievers" amongst our religious groups... those of us with Facebook accounts see this behavior daily, accusing one-another of a questionable faith, of a faith that is divisive, or even a faith that too easily gives in to the world around itself. But this does not drive the discussion forward. It simply uproots the "old man" within us to gleefully rejoice in another's perceived faults and imperfections without realizing the "plank" in our own eye, and the "needle-like" entrance we have laid for ourselves as we bow before the foreshortened walls of our own Mecca-like Jerusalem.
 
 
Pulpits have become strident instead of informative. Christian media lobs pejorative labels upon everything outside of its own fundamentalist, non-progressive structures. The newspapers, friends and family, stir up old ills by causing Christian believers to fight between one another. Our faith is judged primitive. Our spirituality judged religious. Our churches a vacillation between medieval barbarism and insignificance. Christianity has lost its epistemic humility, its sense of discernment, and its broader insight into the ways-and-workings of God our Savior. Rather than becoming spiritual creatives we have become spiritual viruses living off of 4th century creedal debates, a labyrinth of quixotic Christian traditions, and sincerely misled faith cultures. We make false assumptions about a scientific discipline we don't understand, or put our heads in the sand that would ignore the claims of vast discoveries that changes everything we thought we knew as good Bible students of God's Word.
 
Has the Christian faith become so absurd or, can we find within it a reasonableness to today's scientific certainties, without losing the God-of-our-faith behind those verities? Can we let go of the epistemological structures of certainty that we grew up with to allow in some paradox and mystery that has long fled our knowledge of God? Can we as the church of the 21st century find a place to reconstruct theology and to carry it forward beyond the mockery that it has become to the world at large? To understand that since the days of Paul, the church's best thinkers have  joined in the highest of this world's debates and philosophic discussions in attempts to rediscover a God endlessly challenged to His viability and interior claims of truth within our lives? That each Christian era has entertained its own challenges: from Judaism to Greek  Hellenism and sectarian gnosticism in Paul's day; from Aristotle and Plato to Medieval scholasticism; from the Enlightenment to today's era of Secularism; and so on and so on.

And so where does this leave Science and Religion today? Christian scientists are discounted, their views resisted by both sides of the discussion, and our faith made a mockery from Hollywood to the Halls of Academia. Trust has been lost by today's non-Christian cultures, and with it we have witnessed Christianity's rapid devolution into the world's claims to its religious mythology. Rightfully so have philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Tillich, Bultmann, Barth, and Caputo, leapt in to recover this most ancient faith refusing that "all the facts belong to science, and all the emotions, beauty, and poetry belong to religion." Nay, they wished to speak a more constructive theology in their day even as we do today. Refusing antithetically opposed statements that "Science has disproved God even as Faith distrusts Science." To not rest within oppositional elements but to show a synergy of admission to each that would allow both viewpoints a marriage out of agreement and not by necessity.
 
How? To begin with, by stating that "my faith isn't absurd, but neither can it prove all things." To rest in the knowledge that we don't know. That we don't have the answers. To not demand of our faith that it must prove all things for it to be believed and followed. For myself, it began by admitting that the ancient author(s) of Genesis utilized the science of their day - that of the predominant Babylonian belief in their cosmological constructs of heaven-and-earth as a refractory beginning to describing their own Creator God of the Hebrews. Or, by jettisoning the arguments of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) for perhaps Wolfhart Pannenberg's creatio continua (creation from something that always was). To think through what it means for humanity to have a soul as distinguished from the animal kingdom that seemingly did not inherit its own consciousness in evolutionary development. Or, how homo sapien man might be unique from the evolutionary hominids before him. Or, how one might describe a biblical miracle in today's scientific understanding (cf. synchronicity, miracles, virgin birth herein). Or, the ethics of our ecology and environment. Or even, the implications of how our faith might be practiced differently with this knowledge.

It is at this point that we must admit that this is a journey of reconciliation that must be made, even as it is one that cannot not be made. To know that all must change within us if we are to begin such a journey. That like Abraham of old, living amongst the Chaldean's of Ur, we must trust God to leave our faith's homelands for the more challenging homelands of faith beyond. That we will stumble, fail, and even run into our own disbelief, but throughout this journey of separation God is our God and will be with us guiding, protecting, blessing. It can be so. We must only allow it to be so.
 
R.E. Slater
September 13, 2013
 
 

Discussions in Science and Religion - Week 1: Recap - "Unequal Playing Fields"

 

by Jonnie Russell
September 11, 2013
Comments

Our six-week live online has begun and the week one lecture/discussion video is up for free on HBC as well as mission soulutions.  If you haven’t watched and are in the high gravity group (or the in-the-flesh Claremont group), do it! If you haven’t signed up and want a free taster with this first week, by all means give it a try, see the goods and where we’re going and join in here.
 
As I said in my prep post last week, this is intended to be your time: a forum for you to get my brief recap of the week's happenings and give the beginnings of what might be some conversation starters. What has perked my interest may very well be completely different from what interested or puzzled you, so by all means, feel completely unbound to responding to me and my thoughts. Your reactions (this will be up both here and the high gravity group site) will be studiously followed by Tripp and myself, so as to cull the reactions into a list and throw them back at Philip to make him answer, assuage, unravel, or puzzle along with us. We might not get to all of them each week, but we will definitely be able to cover a good smattering of the issues that arise. So…weigh in! My format will be simple: Recap and React.
 
Recap:
 
This week kicked off with Philip giving us a broad picture of the past and present situation between religion and science. He began by asking “what’s at stake?”  In the context of the New Atheists, the best-selling militant posse of public (pseudo?) intellectuals who claim that God is beyond passé (and more a vicious poison), is there a conversation to be had that does not collapse into a snarling fundamentalism? It is precisely this road that Philip wants to walk. Accordingly, what is at stake in this conversation in our age is the very intellectual credibility of  Christianity (a good question for yourself: is it for you? do you feel that way?)
 
Past and present entries into the religion and science discussion have varied widely. Some looked for a spot to slide God into the science, a continued attempt to save a seat by offering various “God filling the gaps” answers. Others have argued that they inhabit different spaces or different orders (Gould’s magisteriums), a way to insulate each with their own purview, a tactic that often leaves the religious with the heart and heaven. Still others, reject the conversation or validity of the other wholesale, a polarized fundamentalism. None of these will work. We must face the conversation more frontally, oppose the binary with a more gracious and open-handed approach.
 
Why? Because important concerns arise. Culturally, science fear (perhaps a deep envy of its cultural authority) pervades many of the religious. Strident defensiveness of one’s purview is just ugly. Demographically, huge shifts in recent generations to spiritually indie (…but not religious, etc.) show the end/death of Christian ownership of western culture. No longer is it the default outlet for the religious impulse.  No longer is it the default merchant we run to. Constantinianism and its mercantilism are waning, if not dead.  Existentially, it’s good to grapple [as Christians with scientific discoveries and understanding]. [A] constructive theological project (our project in these weeks) necessitates that we [then] grapple well.  As Philip showed, this has always been happening with people of faith. A[n] [ancient] scientific model informed the [ancient] biblical authors. Hubble’s findings in the 1920′s effected a change in thinking about the universe’s beginning and cosmology, etc. “Not to grapple [with science] is to make a mockery of our heritage.” Well said Dr. Clayton!
 
In the last bit before the discussion time, Philip ended by detailing nine themes to be covered in coming weeks.  The attentive will notice that about four of those correlated almost exactly with some of my own outline of key themes that I’ve found in my own work. [Questions] of the soul, human uniqueness, divine action, and environmental/ethical issues will be discussed, plus more!
 
React:
 
-This is going to be really fun!
 
-Perhaps it’s my upbringing rearing its formative head, but even after years of interest in science and religion discussions, and a decided willingness to let scientific finding and research effect my theological and philosophical reflection, I still struggle, or worry, that the playing field is unequal–that to ‘let the best knowledge of our day’ have its way with my thinking will inevitably end up one-sidedly submitting theology to (i.e. under) the scientific.  Is this merely because I’ve only seen poor examples or is it something more fundamental–something related to science being more rigorously norming, more fundamental?
 
-Philip, you mentioned how entering into this exciting journey of open-handedly exploring science and religion has been a wild ride, one that (so far) has “cost” you a form of divine action among other things. I take you to mean some form of interventionist divine action. Are there examples of things your religious experience, beliefs, knowledge, commitments have caused you to give up (or,costed you) scientifically?  In other words, is the dynamic of costing asymmetric or reciprocal? Does it go both ways? Are there any examples from your own [professional, or personal,] development?
 
*What are you (fellow participants and general readers) feeling or thinking after the first week? Any questions, excitements, worries, or housekeeping questions?
 
*[Does] the broad brushed history - and current context of the engagement between Religion and Science - make sense?
 
*Did Tripp or Philip say anything exceedingly heady that we should pester them to flesh out more or clarify?
 
Next week we dive into the quantum and the cosmic!
 
 

Index to past discussions -