Internet Monk today ran one of Michael Spencer’s old columns. It was about his faith journey and why people were so upset with him about it. Wow. So much of it rang true to me!
I, too, am rethinking a lot of what I knew about God. And I think it freaks some people out a bit. It freaks me out a lot! But, the freedom to ask questions and to be OK with not knowing the answers is just crazy! My journey isn’t Michael Spencer’s journey and it’s not nearly so public (I have like 30 blog readers - he had thousands). But, I understand what he was writing.
As we grow in the faith, we’re supposed to know more of the answers, but I know fewer of the answers. Yes, I know more about the Bible and I know Jesus more, but that doesn’t mean that I know more about the problem of suffering, evil, or predestination. In fact, I understand them less, the older I get.
An important book for me was The Critical Journey. The authors map out six stages of spiritual growth and point out that sometimes moving from one stage to a “higher” stage can look to outsiders like backsliding. I think Michael Spencer experienced that. I know I have. Some stages are more active and others are more contemplative and that can make our faith expressions different.
So, what are the things that I’ve asked questions about and started to look at differently?
The Bible isn’t inerrant. It doesn’t say that it is. It doesn’t have to be. It’s inspired and it’s true on a spiritual level. But, the historical narratives have been shown in many places to be factually incorrect. The story of the early Israelites is clearly partly myth, although it probably has some basis in fact. But, that’s OK. The Bible is a book of wisdom and when we read each section on it’s own terms, reading the prophecy as prophecy, wisdom literature as wisdom literature, epistles as epistles, etc.we can be transformed by it as the word of God.
Patriarchy is heresy. The Bible was written against a backdrop of patriarchy, but it is subtly undermining the patriarchy throughout. The New Testament, especially, is slowly, but surely showing women in important roles throughout the early church. Jesus means for us to be egalitarian, we just need to be obedient.
God loves gay people. I’ve always believed that God loves gay people, but more in a God loves gay people but wants to change them. But, now, after a lot of study, I believe that God loves gay people in all their gayness. The only thing he wants to change is their sinful hearts, just like in all of us. And the gay is not the sin. The seven “clobber passages” are pretty weak fodder for “God hates gays”. Now, I treasure my LGBTQ friends even more and don’t think they need to change their sexuality to be part of the church.
I’m not quite sure what I believe about hell. And that’s OK. It’s an iffy concept in the Bible. The Old Testament only knows about Sheol, the land of the dead, where everybody goes. Jesus talked about Gehenna, a garbage site right outside of Jerusalem. Paul tended to talk about Hades, a Greek term. It’s all very confusing. And, who goes there? And if eternity is all light and love, how can there be a little corner where souls are being tormented? I have doubts.
Who can be saved? This is another big question mark for me? Somewhere along the way, I lost the idea that you have to walk down the aisle in an Evangelical church for salvation. I definitely believe that Catholics and other Christians in other denominations can make it in! My big issue is with the people who never hear anything of the Gospel. The pat answer on that is “well, that’s why we need to share the Gospel!” So, it’s my fault that all of North Korea is going to hell?! Really, I’m concerned about North Korea. The people become apoplectic at the sight of Kim Jong Un. What are they going to do when they get to the pearly gates and Kim Il Sung isn’t waiting for them? I tend to lean to some form of inclusivism, although I’d love to be a universalist, but I don’t think the Bible supports it.
So, you can see that I’ve clearly gone off-script for being an Evangelical. But, I also tend to hold my beliefs lightly, but hold on to Jesus tightly. I figure that’s a good way to keep the faith.