Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Falling away from faith Pt. 1

One of the interesting things about discussions related to "walking away" or "falling away" (interesting variation on perspectives those two labels indicate, don't you think?) is that those who still have faith often feel that they welcome questions, that they exercise faith, that they are willing to live with some cognitive dissonance while the ones on the outside were not.

The issue of trust comes up frequently - as in, can't you trust God with your questions? Why would the Bible be untrustworthy for matters of faith (even if we admit that scientifically or historically it is not 100% accurate)? An assumption is often made that the one who "walked" is just unwilling to allow for there to be mystery at all.

I want to share in several freewrites what it feels like to lose faith. This is a bit of how the journey "felt" as I went through it (more than a detailed expose of how my questions knit together to strangle my faith).

Like any good evangelical, I accepted the planks of faith that I had been taught (inerrancy of Scripture, absolute values for God - the omnis, Jesus as God's Son who died and rose again to save me from my sins, the importance of evangelism as the primary mission of the church, the power of the Holy Spirit to change me into a Christ-like person over a lifetime of prayer, Bible study and obedience, the necessity of the church to represent God on earth).

Salvation became the first battleground for my mind almost immediately upon conversion as I had to consider (and accept) that my high school classmates, step-family and neighborhood (most of whom were Jews) were all bound for hell... de facto. This concern broadened as I studied history and wondered how on earth Chinese and Africans in Old Testament times were supposed to get saved. The question deepened when I met my first Muslim in France and discovered that entire mission agencies were devoted to reaching (at that time) the 800 million Muslims in the world. I read widely the various answers to the question of who gets saved and why or how (there are a surprising number of postulations and few match up with each other, to be honest)... and decided the surest bet, no matter what answer (predestination, free will choice, God's sovereignty, my obedience to "go"), was to do something about hell-bound Muslims, not just to read more about them.

Putting my trust in God that he had instituted these fundamental planks of faith led me to radical commitment - living abroad to reach Muslims for Christ. The details of this journey are well-known here so I won't repeat them now. Suffice to say, failure on the mission field (every kind - missionaries who had affairs with believers, un-believers and maids; the lack of conversions; the inability of missionaries to share enough common ground theologically to meaningfully disciple the few converts there were; deaths on the field; the betrayal of trusted converts who turned in missionaries to the police; the pregnancy of a single missionary by a converted translation partner) led to repentance and a new resolve to let God be God by investing in the prophetic holiness movement.

Eight years later and three more children, all kinds of inconsistencies in experience and theology in that movement led me to wonder what we were playing at. The Internet broke into my life at that time, and suddenly I discovered an enormous world of Christians who not only didn't believe like me, but were adamant that their version of faith was the more accurate one. Reformed theology was familiar enough, but the daily encounter with apathy toward the billions of people heading to hell for eternity so chilled me, I felt it my duty to sort out who had got God's heart on the matter.

The upshot, though, is that those encounters dislodged my confidence in a single answer. I felt a bit desperate, as though that one loose Jenga block had disrupted the tower, but if I was careful, I could slide it back in and all would be well. I headed down the road to answering this riddle with that intention. What I never imagined is how many blocks would be pulled out of the tower each time I read, discussed or thought through my evolving questions.

I sincerely wanted to find the missing block, to put Humpty back together, to put enough glue on the loose pieces to hold the fragile structure in place. What I discovered instead: that honesty in the quest required faith and courage I'd never been called on to exercise.

(Part 2 tomorrow)


Rebecca C. said...

Oh Goody! Nothing I love like a good "I" statement (well, except a nice historical discussion but you knew that ;-) )

Looking forward to the rest.

Chuck said...

Just like a newspaper serial - waiting with anticipation for tomorrow's installment.

I like the Jenga analogy - I wish the precariousness of "theological systems" were more obvious to more people.

So what really made you an evangelical in the first place? Why did it make sense at the time?

geo said...

I found your site from Beautiful Heresy blog.
Falling away from your own faith is a GOOD thing. It was when after 25 years in evangelical christianity I gave up my faith. And a funny thing happened I FOUND HIS FAITH!

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