Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"He used to be such a fine young Christian": Reflections on Finishing Undergrad

Photo cred: Katie Yaklin
One of my favorite quotes from all of the reading I've done these past few years comes from one of Peter Enns' professors: "For Jews, the Bible is a problem to be solved. For Christians, it is a message to be proclaimed."(1) The fact that I didn't understand this statement the first time I read it is a testament to the evolution of my thinking.

Christians like to package the Bible into creeds, or messages for evangelism, or systematic theologies. I was like this for a long time. I wanted to come to confident conclusions on everything so that I knew what I believed and could share it with others.

In mainstream evangelical American Christianity (I'll say MEAC for short), a lot of emphasis is put on 'knowing what you believe'. You need to know what you believe so you can stand firm in those beliefs when faced with opposing beliefs, in order to avoid losing your faith. I sympathize with this to an extent. The ancient Israelites often forgot their Heilsgeschichte (salvation history) with Yahweh, and started denying it to collude with the religions and cultures of other nations. They needed to know what they believed about Yahweh so that they could faithfully stand firm in their calling and in the relationship with him.

But there is a difference between standing firm in the knowledge of one's history and relationship with God, and standing firm in one's intellectual conclusions so that no re-assessment ever occurs. The latter is intellectually dishonest as it refuses to engage in a genuine search for truth. Something I have learned over and over again the past few years is the need to be humble in making conclusions, because they are always, and always should be, subject to change upon further analysis.

A huge problem I have with MEAC is its suppression of questions and doubt. To the Jews, faith wrestles. Jacob received the name Israel because he wrestled with God! To Christians, questions and doubt are threats; they threaten the established order of Christianity. The faith of MEAC is defined by blind acceptance of unquestionable beliefs, which is not a healthy faith, as humans were not created to be mere yes-men. What such Christians fail to understand is that questions and doubt are keys to becoming more acquainted with God.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned in college is not to be so confident in my conclusions that I never subject them to doubt. Have you ever questioned your view of Scripture? Your stance on homosexuality? Your stance on salvation? Your stance on evolution? The Bible tells us to "test everything; hold fast to what is good, and reject every kind of evil" (1 Thess. 5:21-22); don't condemn people like me for doing this intellectually. Instead, subject everything to critical analysis as well. If you aren't willing to do so, then you might not actually be interested in truth.

"The canonical literature does not offer a settled, coherent account of reality; rather, it provides the materials for ongoing disputatious interpretation." - Walter Brueggemann

(1) See Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 71.

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