Sunday, July 10, 2011

Changing My Mind

Change is hard.  I know I generally tend to resist it as much as the next person.  I recently discovered a couple of gray hairs on my head, and as insignificant as this may seem to my more mature readers, it's got me thinking about some things.  No, I wasn't freaked out about the gray showing up.  Not at all.  But being a generally thoughtful, introverted person - one who lives in his head most of the time, for better or worse - I started reflecting on all sorts of things in the light of yet another sign of my aging process.  I won't go into all of what I've been thinking about, but I do want to share one thing here on the blog.  That is, I want to tell you all about how I have changed as a Christian.  And indeed, I have changed...a lot.  These reflections are going to seem largely negative.  I believe these negative realizations are deeply important, but I realize it's frustrating to some.  Later, I will post on my positive affirmations: what I do believe, not merely what I reject.

Being an undergraduate religious studies major and then attending graduate school to study theology is a sure way to guarantee that you will experience some paradigm shifts in your faith.  I'm sure I will have more over my last year of studies, but this blog is where I process some of my ideas and occasionally share where I am at - so this is a 'confessional' blog post today.  As difficult - even painful - as this process of rethinking my faith has been for me at times, I also find it exciting and extremely important. The older I get, the harder it will be to deal with these paradigm shifts, so I want to take them seriously while I am young.

So how I have I changed?  To be blunt, I've gotten much more theologically liberal than my pentecostal upbringing.  There are many reasons for this, but I will list a couple important ones below.  I admit, there are smart people out there who disagree with me here, but hey - this is the best I can do with what I now know.  These are just my honest responses:

1) Biblical scholarship: Thanks to biblical scholarship, the bible I continue to read today is just not the same bible I grew up with, and there is simply no going back to the good old days.  I really have grown weary of the obfuscations of my well-meaning evangelical and emergent friends on this issue.  For instance, we work hard to explain away the clear patriarchal biases in the Bible to justify (rightly!) having women in leadership.  We engage in some seriously fancy 'hermeneutical gymnastics' (again, rightly) to get around the passages on slavery, racism, imperialism, and genocide that are so very obvious to even our most sympathetic non-Christian observers.  We (usually wrongly) try to develop coherent but conservative sexual moral codes based on a socio-cultural & pre-scientific context that we have very little in common with anymore.  I could go on.  The point is, we need to stop obfuscating about the bible, making special and rigid claims about authority on nothing but blind faith, and wrestle with it like the rabbis and even being willing to disagree with it when it just doesn't line up with our experiences and reason today.  And yes, that makes me liberal. So be it. I know there are problems with that position, I really do, but I'm convinced there are greater problems with the alternative.  I'm not giving up on scripture - far from it.  Inspired, yes - infallibly, inerrantly so - definitely not. 

2) Religious pluralism: I know this could be a cliche thing to point out, but the truth is, religious pluralism has changed my Christian faith.  I have spent a good deal of time with people from other traditions, learned new things from them, admired them, disagreed and agreed with them, and participated in their religious rituals.  I do not think all religious are the same, but I also cannot affirm the absolute superiority of Christianity either.  Christianity is one historical movement amongst others, and it has to continue to prove itself in a world of other distinct movements and ideas in an ever-changing world.  Many of these movements are deeply problematic, but others are quite powerful and transforming.  Christianity WILL be changed by these other traditions, and they will be changed by Christianity.  My hope is that we can begin to see a more complementary relationship between the traditions, even as they are mutually transformed.  As a result of this change in perspective, I am more interested in working with other religions on issues of justice and learning with each other through dialogue than trying to convert the religious other.  I am of course not opposed to conversion - I am a big fan of Jesus and love it when people discover this too - but it is not a priority today.

3) Postmodernism: As you might have noticed in another blog post, I reject a strong deconstructive postmodernism in favor of constructive postmodernism/critical realism.  But that still means that I am keenly aware that my own perspective and biases inescapably impact my discernment of truth.  I reject a relativism that says we cannot know truth, but I embrace a humility that says we are quite limited in what we can know.  As such, I take a much more humble stance in regards to my own Christian faith and am much more open to the different views of others - whether that 'other' be of another class, gender, religion, etc.  I assume they know something about truth that I do not.

4) Science: I've become engaged in process theology, largely as a result of my interactions with science.  Evolution has changed things and has put enormous pressure on evangelical theology.  Divine intervention and generally supernatural views are hard to maintain today.  For instance, it seems plain that there was no historical Adam and Eve who caused the fall of humans into sin and brought death into the world - death is a part of the creative process itself.  We were not created perfect only to sin and become subject to death afterwards.  Futhermore, nothing is static, everything is in process - this is the essence of reality that we now know thanks to Darwin. As such, there is good reason to doubt that there is such a thing as an unchanging essence of humans (a soul, at least in the traditional sense) or an essence of religion that we all need to discover and 'get back to.'  The essence of reality is change - to resist this is to go against the grain of the cosmos...which brings me back to my original point:

Change might be hard, but it's both good and essential to our well-being.  The common good, I believe, depends on our openness to change.  With process theologians, I believe that when we are open to being creatively transformed in the light of new information and experiences in history, we are participating with the God of Jesus Christ in the ongoing salvation of the world.


  1. I edited a book that included nearly three dozen first hand testimonies from people who left conservative Christianity for either more moderate or liberal pastures, more inclusive non-Christian religions, agnosticism or atheism. Check out :Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists.

  2. I also came from a conservative Christian background. Later, some charismatic friends convinced me to read books about speaking in tongues and I repeated a nonsense syllable until a few more syllables came forth. I can still "speak in tongues." The story of my journey, from the book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, can be read here:

  3. Have you contacted Peter Enns? His popular blog is running a series called AHA moments, when conservative Bible scholars encounter questions that make them ask more questions that draw them nearer to more progressive/emergent viewpoints.

  4. I forgot to click the "notify" box, so I am doing so with this message. Hope you enjoyed my previous ones.

    1. Hi Edward, thanks so much for taking the time to comment here (and elsewhere on the blog!). I am familiar with Peter Enns' work, and I certainly appreciate what he is doing to challenge conservative approaches to the bible with a more critical Christian approach. I think it's really easy to find errors and inconsistencies in the bible - TONS of them, in fact - and then simply to dismiss it. But what Enns is doing to take a nuanced approach to the bible that neither conserves nor dismisses is very much needed if we are to make progress beyond reactionary conservative readings of the text. A dismissive gesture tends to make conservatives dig in more deeply. His is a much needed strategy.