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Monthly Archives: December 2009

I posted last week about my experience over the last number of years coming to terms with my faith and breaking out of the evangelical cocoon that I felt trapped in. One of the subjects I touched on was the issue of doubt and it generated a bit of good discussion. I’d like to explore this topic a little further here. The quotes here are taken from a book entitled How (Not) To Speak of God by Peter Rollins (a Belfast boy!) whom I think does a great job of putting into words what many people feel and think.

Here what I’d like to touch on is an aspect of evangelical Christianity that seeks to give answers to the spiritual questions that people have. What I find most disturbing is that this vein of Christianity is prideful in that it supposes to know God. Now to be sure, the scriptures talk about knowing God and the fact that God is revealed in the scriptures and in Jesus but this revelation is simultaneously concealment. In other words, when we seek to talk about God we must recognize that God is beyond our words and cannot be contained by them. If you have God all figured out and He fits nicely in your head then that thing which you are talking about is not God. This idea of God being beyond our language is something I think is missing in much of evangelical Christianity. We think we can put forward propositional statements about God that are true in and of themselves while failing to realize that these words cannot contain the God we seek to talk about. Anyways, let’s take a look at some quotes from Pete’s book:

“In contrast to the view that evangelism is that which gives an answer for those who are asking, we must have faith to believe that those who seek will find for themselves…If this is true, then the job of the Church is not to provide an answer – for the answer is not a phrase or doctrine – but rather to help encourage the religious question to arise.”

I don’t know about you but in my experience of Christianity I was always being trained on how to give an answer. In fact, this is what modern day apologetics is all about. Defending the faith by way of reason. But if it’s true that God is beyond all language then there really aren’t any propositional statements we can give to people to satisfy them. This is true in my experience as well. I find that the more propositional statements about God I’m given the more I cringe and seek to be embraced by a God that cannot be contained by our knowing. At any rate, I think what Pete touches on here is key. The Church is to “help encourage the religious question to arise.” In fact, didn’t Jesus say something about the Church being the “salt” of the world (Mt. 5)? Salt adds flavour to a meal and makes one thirsty. Salt gives you a taste of the meal but it is not the meal itself. Salt causes you to thirst but it cannot satisfy that thirst. Rather, it points towards something else. In my experience with evangelical Christianity we’ve always sought to give people answers. Perhaps we’d be better off asking questions that will help people realize they are thirsty.

“Christianity thus engages in a pragmatic discourse which intends towards the one who lies beyond all language. As such, the language of faith is at its best when it both remembers its profound limitations and simultaneously places us in a clearing within which we can be addressed by God.”

Here God is described as the One who “lies beyond all language”. I think this is important for Christians to remember. We don’t know God fully. You cannot reason your way to God because he is above reason and language and these things cannot contain Him.

“The silence that is part of all God-talk is not the silence of banality, indifference or ignorance but one that stands in awe of God. This does not necessitate an absolute ‘silencing’, whereby we give up speaking of God, but rather involves a recognition that our language concerning the divine remains silent in its speech.”

“Central to this approach is the idea that God stands outside our language regimes and cannot be colonized via any power discourse. This means that the Christian faith is extrapolated via a powerless discourse which, at its most evangelical, attempts to create a space in which others can seek for themselves. Consequently, one of the roles of the Church is to provide a sacred space for this exploration.”

I think this is a great picture of the Church and one that remains faithful to the scriptures. I don’t know about you but if I’m listening to someone talking and they are speaking as if they have the answer I’m immediately turned off. The Christian faith isn’t presented in the scriptures as a destination people reach when they’ve come to a right understanding of God. Rather, the Christian faith is presented as a journey that is embarked upon where the pilgrim is taken up and embraced by God. We don’t embrace God with our thoughts and our words. Rather, we are embraced by God.

“So in a sense, when it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it. Our approach must be a powerless one which employs words as a way of saying that we have been left utterly breathless by a beauty that surpasses all words. This does not mean that we remain silent – far from it. The desire to get beyond language forces us to stretch language to its very limits. As Samuel Beckett once commented, we use words in order to tear through them and glimpse at what lies beneath. This is why the mystics would write so extensively about how nothing can be written and would preach beautiful sermons about the futility of words.”

“God is not revealed via our words but rather via the life of the transformed individual.”

To my fellow brothers and sisters, let us cease striving to have all the answers because this just makes us seem arrogant and proud. May we realize that our faith does not need defending and God cannot be contained by our words. Instead, let us be salt. May we be the aroma rather than the food, the question rather than the answer. May we be a hint rather than a propositional statement.

Church is big business and more people in the seats means more money to spend! Hey there Pastor, is that car weighing you down? You deserve an upgrade and nothing spells success like a new Benz. Show your congregation just how richly God wants to bless all of you by getting a big ole’ car. But first you’re going to need that raise. So get out there and win some souls! Remember, more souls means more money in the offering baskets. Just how can we get the word out about our church though? Well, it’s winter here in Canada so why not pass out some nifty windshield scrapers with a catchy slogan on it like, “He has already cleared the way,” and a link to your fancy church website (because successful churches are also media-saavy!).

Leadership talk weird’s me out. Maybe it’s because whenever I think of leadership I picture older white males that are a little too self-confident. I have had a lot of bad experience’s with so-called “leaders”. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in a relatively short time it’s that if someone calls themselves a leader, they’re not.

I’m realizing more and more that growing up in a fairly fundamental evangelical faith tradition was a hinderance for me in terms of experiencing a true and beautiful faith. These last number of years have been quite an experience. I feel as if I’m a butterfly trying to break out of her restrictive cocoon. I have yet to really take flight but the cocoon has been irreversibly cracked to the point where I can now see the outside world, and it is beautiful. When you’re trapped in a cocoon that is your reality. All you can see is what is within the cocoon. This was my faith for a number of years. However, a few years ago this all started to change. I experienced doubt. I began to ask myself questions about faith. Far from driving me away from faith these questions only served to deepen my faith. For example, a few years back doubt started to play a role in my faith. Now, in fundamentalist evangelical circles doubt has no place. Doubt has no place because fundamentalist faith has God figured out. They *know* God because God has been fully revealed. Therefore, they can know God’s thoughts and how God might act in a particular situation and so on. There is no place for doubt then. However, on occasion when doubt does arise (or perhaps in a Christians conversation with an unbeliever) we have developed a robust apologetic. In fact, there are organizations directed towards the purpose of being able to *prove* the Christian faith on rational grounds. Therefore, the Christian faith becomes the most rational option. However, this is all for nought because it fails to take into account the beauty of doubt and the bigness of God.

Anyways, that is a little sample of the road I’ve been on over the last few years. In the new year I’m going to do some writing on this journey.

There once was a baker who lived on the edge of a small rural town. This baker had an ancient secret recipe for the most delicious, mouth-watering, make-you-want-another-one brownies. He was not the only baker in town but he managed to attract many of the town folk since he often walked around the village handing out free samples of his baked goods. The reputation of the baker and his brownies spread to the surrounding towns and villages until the baker became overwhelmed with the demand. Luckily for the baker though he was beginning to bring in more money to help finance the demands of the local towns people. One day as the baker was walking along the road on his way home from purchasing some flour he was struck with an idea: “If I purchase a few cows and plant a few crops perhaps I can produce some of my own ingredients and cut down on my cost” he thought. So the baker did just that.

Over the next little while more and more people came to visit the baker. In fact, some townsfolk would visit him every week just to buy more brownies. As the baker’s bank account grew and grew he had another idea: “Perhaps if I spruce up the property around my home I will please my customers.” So the baker did just that. He planted a lovely garden full of all sorts of beautiful flowers and he planted lovely hedges all around the edge of his property.

The people were all very impressed with the baker’s beautiful home bakery and would tell all of their friends about it. As a result, many people came from far away to visit. In fact, the other bakery across town had to shut down because all of her customers left for the other baker.

The years passed and the baker’s reputation grew and grew and his brownies became more and more known throughout the land. His property developed beautifully until his gardens were packed full and the hedges around his land grew to no less than 10-feet tall! What a sight to behold! The hedges grew and grew and grew some more until they had totally enclosed the baker and cut off his view of the town. He didn’t really have to worry about going out any more though because everything he needed to bake was there within reach. He had his cows for milk, his chickens for eggs, and his grain for flour. He even had planted his own cacao trees to harvest cocoa beans.

Eventually, the baker never had any reason to leave his home any more because all he needed was there and the money he made he would pour back into his developments. The towns people found it harder and harder to visit the baker because his hedges had grown so big and thick that it was hard to get to him so eventually they stopped coming. And so developed the baker’s habit of dining on his own baked goods, which he found delicious, to the point where he became good and fat.

This is the story of the fat baker who became a recluse in his very own town.