Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Anchors of our Faith

James McGrath links to an interesting post by Ricky Carvel where Mr. Carvel talks about his struggle to reconcile his faith in God with his growing skepticism about whether the Bible actually "describes" that God. This prompts Jim to reflect on his own "life-transforming" experience of God that was more important in his faith formation than his belief in the Bible. This experiential "anchor" freed him to do critical study of the Bible and that critical study did not lead to the loss of faith. He wonders if those who resist critical study of the Bible do so because the Bible as the revelation of God is their anchor, more so than experience. Interesting question.

I never believed in the Bible as "the Word" of God. I was a sceptic about miracle stories and resurrections from the dead from childhood on. I also never had any kind of "saving relationship with Jesus Christ." In fact the two worst experiences of Christianity that I ever had growing up were going to a Billy Graham movie with a youth group and participating (by virtue of being in church on those Sundays) in a Lay Witness Renewal where the goal was to bring us to a saving relationship with Jesus and where I felt totally manipulated.

What "saved" me in church was the community made up of caring Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders and just lots of good people. With a very few exceptions I enjoyed church and was encouraged by pastors and other leaders who took an interest in me to raise the questions I was raising, and who embodied the way of Jesus in the way they lived their lives.

My "God" experiences growing up were mystical experiences in nature, in reading and thinking, and in relationships that I didn't think of as God experiences because I wasn't given the language to connect my experiences with God. They certainly were nothing like the God I heard talked about in church or read about in the Bible. It wasn't until I began reading about mystics and I learned that there was such a thing as an apophatic tradition within Christianity that I realized that my own spiritual experiences had a place in the big tent of historic Christianity. That helped keep my in the fold, so to speak, and eventually gave me a passion for reaching out to others who might have the same kind of non-traditional experiences.

What also helped was doing critical study of the Bible which had the seemingly curious effect of strengthening my faith. I learned that there wasn't just one understanding of God or one picture of Jesus in the Bible. The Bible itself was full of diversity and not only diversity but disagreement about Jesus and God and Truth. Furthermore the various authors weren't just channeling God or singing in harmony but were vigorously arguing a position with their contemporaries, and correcting the positions of those who came before. Learning a little church history and discovering the non-canonical gospels only confirmed this truth for me. There was never a golden age of unified belief and there has never been one correct picture of God, Jesus, or the Truth. Learning to read the Bible as an ongoing conversation or argument helped me re-engage the Bible as a beginning place for reflection about my faith.

Anyway, for me it wasn't believing in the Bible or having a life-transforming Jesus experience (language not used by Jim) that kept me within the fold of Christianity. It was community - not perfect community, but real community made up of imperfect but good-hearted people, which in its own way was a life-transforming anchor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great testimony! It reflects some of my own faith journey. I credit my parents who always told me the truth about things, like Santa Clause. I never believed in the literal Santa Clause so I didn't need to demythologize anything. I never believed in a literal seven days of creation, so college/seminary Biblical criticism was exciting, but not scandalous. It simply took me deeper into what I already knew. I'm sharing this post with my daughter, who is on the same journey.
Thanks, Ralph Detrick