Posts filed under ‘belief’

critiquing evangelicalism

These are some of my favorite books critiquing evangelical Christianity:

These books share a common thread; they all critique conservative evangelical Christianity from within the framework of evangelical Christianity itself. Meaning the authors remain evangelicals themselves, which I think uniquely positions them to be heard better by Christian readers. Probably less threatening than someone on the outside with the message, “Your biblical framework is lacking!” (maybe Bart Ehrman?). And because they have held onto the parts of Christianity they feel are important or essential, they have something more to offer than only negative observations (as I tend to have).

I especially appreciate the intellectual honestly displayed by the authors in the way they ask difficult questions, rather than offering up soft balls they already have the answers too (Lee Strobel, et al?). They all describe a Christianity which depends less on a literal interpretation of the bible and allows for a higher degree of mystery in their faith. They also tend to hold to a less exclusivist form of Christianity; that is, they do not necessarily consider everyone who believes differently than them to be bound for Hell.

For me personally, the books also share a common thread where they all fall short; they fail to describe a Christianity which I find believable as ultimately true. My overall question when studying the bible became, “Is the bible true?” I certainly did not find it to be true in the conservative evangelical sense. And while the books offer alternatives to that conservative, literal reading of the bible, my general doubt about the factuality of the bible still seems to be an insurmountable problem for having Christian faith.

I do not think Christians have to consider discarding their faith before they can honestly examine and discuss it. And correspondingly, others should not have to earnestly attempt to believe the bible before they can honestly examine and discuss it. Too many books about Christianity (both for and against it) seem to be based on those premises. These authors provide great examples of showing sincere respect for those who believe differently than they do. By doing this, they promote dialog and intellectual discourse over diatribe and rhetoric, and find common ground rather than defined divisions.

September 1, 2010 at 11:25 am 12 comments

evolving in monkey town

I just finished reading Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town, which does a remarkable job of delving into issues of doubt and faith with intellectual honestly. Evans grew up thoroughly immersed in the evangelical culture, but was compelled to honestly examine it with open eyes. I think that is extremely difficult to do for someone who grows up within evangelicalism’s  “biblical worldview.” Evans seems to be representative of a number of younger evangelicals who are not comfortable accepting the culture wars and dogmatic beliefs and doctrines of early generations.

Evans writes pointedly about the problems that arise from a literalistic, inerrant reading of the bible, and tells candidly how her faith changed through this process of examination. The book uses the motif of evolution to describe what both Christianity has done over the years, and what has happened to the author’s own faith as well. Her home town was the location of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, thus the analogy to evolution. It describes how skeptics and Christians alike can experience these problems, and indeed Evans has the same questions herself.

This vision of Christian faith offers something of an acceptance of the tension between belief and unbelief, believer and unbeliever, rather than assuming a rigid and vast divide separates the two. Which in turn seems to offer the opportunity for greater dialog and understanding in discussing issues, rather than hostile debates and attempts to convince others to change their beliefs. Reading the book very refreshing in this way.

I think the book can help encourage Christians who are compelled to ask hard questions of their faith, as Evans describes what it was like to face the disapproval of other Christians. It is a tough path to walk alone. Even without sharing the same experience of faith as the author, an unbeliever could walk away from the book with a better understanding of who evangelicals are, and how their religion has come to the point it is at today.

Reading this post over, it sounds a lot like the technical paper I wrote the same day. I’ll try to revisit the subject soon to give a more personal take, time and emotional energy allowing.

For those interested, Evan’s blog provides a good taste of her writing. She recently responded to an Answer’s in Genesis review of her own work. She also has a couple of good posts on doubt -here- and -here-. Mark of christiandoubt.com reviews it here.

And I included some more thoughts on the book in a follow up post here.

August 13, 2010 at 10:30 pm 9 comments

apologies for apologists

I read a post this week by someone blogging through Tim Keller’s book, Reason for God, and was freshly reminded why I don’t like apologetics. I read this book when I first started questioning Christianity. It was billed as a great defense of the Christian faith, and was endorsed by leaders who were trusted in my church. I felt a need to have given Christianity a fair shake, even though I thought I was through with it. I had been immersed in conservative Christianity for over a decade, had read many books about doctrine, but had not read any serious apologetics.

The book does stand out from some others in the way it engages with skeptics. Keller clearly has real life experience interacting with skeptics, and is gracious, intelligent and educated. But I am still left with the impression that it is the same old apologetics wrapped in a contemporary veneer. I didn’t like the book then, and still don’t.

These sentences were quoted in the blog post, in support of the author’s (the author of the book, not the blog post) belief that if you believe people share a common sense of what is right and wrong, than you should admit it demonstrates God’s existence. Keller writes:

“If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmonhy between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists.”

I wrote in the margin, “Bible not exactly a champion of human rights.” :^)

I have no doubt these issues are worth thinking about and discussing, and that there are not easy answers to the questions. But is the author trying to honestly inquire into why something is or is not true, or is he trying to convince you to believe what he believes based on philosophical slight-of-hand?

If you insist on a secular view of the world.” This sounds disingenuous. I do not insist on a secular view of the world! Can I still disagree with the premise? “…then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists.” In other words, “You are living in a fantasy world if you disagree with me!”

From my experiences with car salespeople, I don’t trust them. Unfortunately too many of them have proven themselves worthy of the negative stereotype they receive (sorry if you are an honest car sales-person out there, no offense). One has to assume the salesperson will say whatever gives them the most advantage to close the deal. At the end of the day, I don’t trust apologists much more than that, I think they are just trying to sell me something.

August 4, 2010 at 12:56 pm 17 comments

doubting the unicorn

I try to avoid the Answers in Genesis web site. But I recently saw a link to an article there, and confess, gave in to the temptation. I apologize in advance for any pain it may cause, should you choose to click through. The article is about unicorns.

As background, the King James Version of the bible uses the word “unicorn” in several places (blogger Sabio goes into that a bit here).  The article starts out with an assertion that some anti-Christians will use the King James Bible’s references to unicorns to mock Christian beliefs as akin to belief in fairy tales. Fair enough, I haven’t heard that, but I’m sure it happens.

The article then goes on to provide some guesses as to what kind of creatures the biblical authors were referring to, under the assumption that they must have been referring to a real creature. But could it be possible they were referring to a creature that never existed, under the false assumption that a legend was real?

Answers in Genesis says categorically it is NOT acceptable to think the biblical authors referred to a mythical creature. The article ends on a typical Answers in Genesis low note, with polemics against those who would disagree with them, finally concluding, “To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God’s Word, which is true in every detail.”

Such a simple equation; doubt the biblical authors, demean God. It is ultimately a call to submit to authority rather than to exercise critical thought, and it preempts honest study into origins and meanings of the bible. If only we could all hear God’s voice as clearly as Ken Ham does. Or on second thought, maybe not…

May 18, 2010 at 11:45 am 24 comments

the ghost of bobby dunbar

This American Life is a wonderful program on National Public Radio featuring essays and interviews about people’s lives. Describing the show on their website they say, “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but, like we said, it’s sort of hard to describe.” I have listened to maybe a half-dozen episodes and have found each one impressive, often moving. Podcasts of the episodes are available free, I think each one is an hour.

I recently listened to this episode, a fascinating and haunting story in its own right, which also provides insight into the way people hold beliefs. I will not include too many details to avoid spoiling the story for anyone who might want to listen.

The episode is introduced on their website as follows:

In 1912 a four year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar went missing in a swamp in Louisiana. Eight months later, he was found in the hands of a wandering handyman in Mississippi. In 2004, his granddaughter discovered a secret beneath the legend of her grandfather’s kidnapping, a secret whose revelation would divide her own family, bring redemption to another, and become the answer to a third family’s century-old prayer.

People can experience a very real sense of trauma when long and deeply held beliefs and convictions are challenged, which can create both internal and external conflict. The granddaughter conducting the research in this story experiences both. At one point a character in the story tells her, “Nobody wants to know,” about her research. Meaning that the granddaughter should stop prying into the past, even though it is her own personal family history she is investigating. But learning about the truth is more important to the granddaughter than remaining comfortable or making people happy. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Perhaps the person’s complaint, “Nobody wants to know,” does contain a grain of truth. Some or many people in the story likely will not deal with the turmoil well. Living in denial might maintain a degree of comfort, but is it best for him? What will really bring him peace? Will the truth set him free? Sometimes the answers to questions like those are not as clear as we might think.

But peace and happiness can be found in searching for truth even when it hurts, as this story beautifully demonstrates. Introspection into human nature, a mystery, truth, history, redemption… What more can one ask for in a story? Please let me know your thoughts if you find the time to listen (so there may be spoilers in the comments section). Warning before you get sucked in, the episode is an hour long and is devoted to this one story. Got some time on your commute? Need to turn the TV off for a bit? Enjoy!

February 22, 2010 at 9:50 pm 6 comments

the greatest of these is love

Christiana said in the comments of my deconstructing daniel post:

I think many people are confused about what the essentials really are. They will die on the hill of textual dating, marriage roles, politics, clothing, music styles, church polity and organization etc all the while leaving, justice, mercy, faith and love in the dust.

Which reminded me of a recent post from James McGrath’s blog, Exploring Our Matrix. My wife and I have both benefited from the post this week. It is a refreshing reminder, and a surprise that this emphasis is so easily neglected or forgotten. I’m just reproducing the post below because McGrath did such a good job.


The Greatest of These Is Love

I’m grateful to Richard Beck for highlighting Paul’s own words on an important subject. Paul is famous for his emphasis on faith, and much contemporary Christianity follows his lead on this point.

Yet when it comes down to it, Paul says that there is something more important than faith – more important even than the sort of faith Jesus talked about as capable of moving mountains:

If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13).

Richard’s own conclusion is likewise worth quoting:

The defining criterion of Christianity isn’t faith. It’s love.

February 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm 17 comments

reconstructing daniel?

Biblical scholar Peter Enns says of his book Inspiration and Incarnation that it is “an attempt to bring an Evangelical doctrine of Scripture into conversation with the implications generated by some important themes in modern scholarship.” My paraphrase of that statement would be that Evangelicals should not automatically reject the findings of modern biblical scholarship. In discussing the fear some Evangelicals have towards the implications of modern biblical scholarship, Enns writes:

“…fear cannot drive theology. It cannot be used as an excuse to ignore what can rightly be called evidence. We do not honor the Lord nor do we uphold the gospel by playing make-believe. Neither are those who engage the kinds of issues discussed in this book necessarily on the slippery slope to unbelief.”

In my previous post I included the quote below, relating a view of the book of Daniel as a later writing rather than as literal history and prophesy:

Like his New Testament counterpart, the Revelation of John, Daniel was written to strengthen his people during a difficult time. Whereas John wrote to Christians under the persecution of Domitan, Daniel wrote to Jews under the persecution of Antiochus. By casting his history as a series of predictions, Daniel hoped to show that the present sufferings were indeed a part of God’s plan for his people.

Accepting this view can lead to a couple of different conclusions:

  • Rejection of the inerrantist view and seeing the story as the work of men and not of God.
  • Rejection of the inerrantist view but seeing the story as still divinely inspired.

The theory in support of the second conclusion would state that the author did not intend to deceive his readers. This genre of prophetic literature was common at that time (so the theory goes), and the audience would have known to read the book allegorically. The book still communicates that the sufferings of the readers were part of a bigger plan and that God had not departed from Israel.

I do not know Enns’ view of the book of Daniel in particular, but this view is generally consistent with his approach, accepting some modern conclusions and findings about the bible without giving up his trust in its divine inspiration.

While I do not hold the same kind of faith in the inspiration of the bible, I find his approach engaging and honest. Enns’ analyses of biblical history seems trustworthy, in contrast to scholars (apologists?) who place certain presuppositions higher than evidence in reaching their conclusions. Regardless of your view on what kind of book the bible is, grappling with issues like these is essential for understanding its real meaning.

February 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm 6 comments

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