A Way Back to Soul – Part 6

This series has focused thus far on the dilemma that occurs when a person begins to suspect that all he or she has been taught about God, and God’s relationship to creation, may not be “true.”  So far I’ve been raising the possibility that, for some people, this dilemma can be due to poor religious education.  People are regularly encouraged to invest their hopes and dreams in a false view of God – a view that brings comfort so long as life stays mainly on the asphalt.

I’m asserting that this “god” is little more than a golden calf — an “idol” we have crafted with our own hands.  Your idols will always get their power from your fear, and they feed on your need for control. Idols promise to take care of you.  The God of the Christian tradition does not promise to take care of you, but promises to be with you. This God promises to remain as close as your breath as you muddle through this mess of a creation that was thrown off its axis by the sins of others, and continues to wobble from the weight of your sins.

How do we move beyond this small god, and into relationship with the Living God?  To liberally paraphrase Richard Rohr:

There are two paths to transformation – prayer and suffering.  And most of us too dumb to choose the path of prayer.

(Richard is too kind to use a word like “dumb.”  No one is surprised when I do.)

I’m a big fan of the NPR program Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross. Gross recently interviewed Bart Ehrman, author of Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible.  Ehrman’s story is more familiar than Christians would like to admit.  He embraced faith as a teenager and became a committed evangelical Christian.  His studies at the Moody Bible Institute prompted him to further investigate scripture at Princeton Theological Seminary.  These studies  led him towards a more “liberal” brand of Christianity.  His attempts to wrap his mind around the Christian understanding of suffering eventually led him to embrace agnosticism.  Ehrman no longer participates in organized religion.

If you listen to the interview or read the transcript, your first reaction may well be to argue with him.  If so, I’d ask you to forgo that exercise and consider the following questions:

  • Is there really no place for the Ehrmans of the world within the church?
  • Is it inherently impossible to be both an agnostic and a Christian?

In my next post I intend to delve into these questions more deeply.  But, for now, I’ll just say that I think Ehrman’s story speaks to all that has gone awry in Western Christianity.

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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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3 Responses to A Way Back to Soul – Part 6

  1. Jenn Rushing says:

    Wes,

    I have had a similar conversation with many friends from various Christian backgrounds. It would seem I had my own “crisis of faith” when confronted with the notion that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I had been raised in an quasi- evangelical Christian home…(We prayed over our meals and were taught the “golden rule”, though my parents never attended with us but allowed our various neighbors to take me and my brother to worship at different Baptist, Church of Christ and Pentecostal churches on Sundays….) and later in my early teenage years was exposed to a more superstitious, but heartfelt and earnest amalgam of those traditions.

    When I went to college with the goal of becoming a pastoral counselor, I had no idea of the way that my own “idol” of God had been forged. I had been taught that if you were “right with God”, good things happened and you were protected from bad things. God takes care of his chosen. Your healing was a done deal–all you had to do was “claim” it. I believed that if you had mental illness or a particularly challenging situation in your life, it was probably because of unconfessed sin–just pray a little harder….and I was able to operate in that world for a time.

    My senior year I took a practicum class–serving as a chaplain intern at a large hospital in Nashville. I encountered a brand of pain and suffering that I could NOT reconcile to the self erected idol of my faith tradition. In my pride, I eyed the bedridden folks with whom I was visiting with compassion, but also suspicion. CERTAINLY, they were being punished for some unspoken sin or a hidden transgression. As I spent more time in this broken environment, I was convicted of the vanity in my own heart–but had no framework with which to integrate this new found humility. I simply could not make God…or at least my golden calf idol of God… conform to my experience.

    In good conscience, I could not keep up this facade of being a believer in a God who doesn’t take care of His own. In my Theology classes, I had been taught the concept of a loving God–of suffering and grace, sacrificial love. In my chaplaincy and pastoral care seminars, I was offered outstanding teachings of compassion and the technical, incarnational expressions of faith. But the bottom line was that all the superior education in the world is not going to “take” on a faulty foundation of faith.

    Many years later, after wrestling with angels and a lot of limping along the way–I find myself very grateful for those “chance” encounters with unlikely saints who pointed to a Christ that is Emmanuel–God with us–God who suffers along side us…instead of a god who just pops in from time to time with presents for us when we are good and to punish us when we aren’t…

  2. Georgia Brady says:

    It’s hard to put into words how much it means to me to discover kindred souls right here on the buckle of the Bible belt in central Texas through your website. More so after listening incredulously (I don’t know why I was so surprised) to Southern Baptists’ ire on last week’s NPR Story of the Day podcast, “Jesus, Reconsidered.” (March 27, which can be easily found on iTunes.) They were discussing (no, dissing) Brian McLaren and his book A New Kind of Christianity, which, as I understand from the podcast, challenges certain traditional doctrinal beliefs. Listening to their vitriol made me feel like a little liberal Presbyterian fish in a big Baptist sea.

    Regarding your first question to consider: Retired Episcopal Bishop John Spong, a liberal, “progressive” Christian who eschews all magical thinking and belief in supernatural events necessary to a literal understanding of the Bible, would say that the “Ehrmans” of the world should not leave their churches but should stay engaged; change can only happen within the church.

  3. John says:

    A friend put me on to your site.

    I’ve read Spong and other progressives. From what I’ve read, he’s affirmed that it’s not necessary to believe in the virgin birth either.

    Ehrman on the other hand, why not argue with him? Has that much really gone awry in Western Christianity? Maybe. Maybe not. Then again, we can always revise Christian history and thought to fit what we would like it to say as McClaren does.

    Is there really no place for the Ehrmans of the world within the church? Sure there is! Why not? If I’m not mistaken, all skeptics are welcomed into the church. That’s the one place we should have this type of dialog. Jesus did in his “church.” Why not in ours?

    Is it inherently impossible to be both an agnostic and a Christian? Technically speaking… yes, it is impossible. Agnostics don’t know there is a God to believe in. More precisely, agnostics do not know there is a divine Jesus who is God, to believe in.

    The real challenge is not whether or not Ehrman’s are in the church. All paths leading to God – sounds wonderful. However, the real challenge is whether or not Believers take the more difficult route that Jesus took to heaven by way of the Cross. It’s the perfect opportunity to take Jesus at his word, to find out if his burden is easy and his yoke light.

    By all means. Hear all aspects and arguments. Freedom to hear. Freedom to decide. Everyone has a choice for which they are ultimately accountable.

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