To paraphrase philosopher Peter Rollins, there is a tendency to outsource our faith and have someone else do the believing for us. At first, I thought it was another one of Pete’s interesting conjectures but felt it was a bit of an overstatement. Then he offered this next thought: Imagine a pastor announcing to his congregation that he/she no longer believed in their Christian faith. Likely such a confession (or anti-profession) would shatter the faith of a significant number who identified that person as a pastor and spiritual leader in their life.
As a pastor, I’ve often thought about this, not because I am on the brink of abandoning my faith and overwhelmed by the guilt of ruining the faith of others but for two reasons: One is what the pastor represents and two, the fragility of faith.
There are pastors who abandon their faith, there are those who have done so quietly but keep on pastoring (this is scandalous) and of course, there are those that truly believe despite the madness of the world. Further, whenever I hear of a pastor publicly renouncing their faith, I feel more sympathy than threat. My faith is more troubled by the evil and suffering we encounter in this world. All this said, when I imagined what I might feel should my favorite theologians/thinkers abandon their faith, I was bit more bothered.
What if N.T. Wright came out and stopped believing? What if his next book was Simply Atheism, Why I No Longer Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus? What if Ruth Haley Barton started to teach that prayer is not actually transcendental, merely psychological for incremental self-improvement? What if Tim Keller preached his last sermon and it was entitled, “Richard Dawkins is Right”? I’ll admit, it would stun me.
The previous post discussed the issue of spiritual laziness, in this one I’m aiming to confront it. When framed this way, it feel like the first question then is asking, “Who is doing the work of believing for me?” or “Have I outsourced my faith?” and the second is “What is it that I actually believe (and/or trying to figure out)?”
Similar to the first post, it’s tempting to just yell out, “Jesus!” and while this is true in the big picture, this doesn’t actually help that much in the local and immediate. Yelling “Jesus” at your billers, or in the middle of a conflict or at Isis does not solve the problem. It’s who Jesus is to us and what this means to the situation that makes the difference. Thus, this unpacking, believing and practicing requires work and diligence.
For some, believing is outsourced to a particular media outlet (or a defined ideology), or to the consensus of their friends, whether be trusted friends or people they aspire to be or be accepted by. For some, believing is outsourced to their tribe, whether it be familial or occupational or some other marker of identification. Lastly, some outsource belief in a number of different directions, held together by what is most convenient or alluring to them in the moment.
While I believe we must hold our convictions with an open-hand, we must be careful that our beliefs are not whimsical and superficial. The great revealer of weak belief is how it endures during times of testing and the storms of life which brings to mind Jesus’ parable of building your house on rocks versus sand.
Who is doing the believing for you? That’s a harder question than it first appears to be. It’s in exploring how I come to my beliefs that cause me to wrestle.
Can I disagree from your favorite authors and thinkers? For me, I need to remind myself that N.T. Wright, Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis are not infallible. Not only that, I’m finding that not only can I disagree with them but I must on some level so I can preserve my own thinking. Further, as great as certain minds are, there all contain blindspots and weaknesses. Apparently C.S. Lewis was terrible at math, Luther was a racist, and I’m not sure that N.T. Wright knows any music outside Bob Dylan and the Beatles, which isn’t bad, but there’s certainly much more.
Wright probably has the better handle on soteriology, Pauline studies and historical Jesus, but is it possible that you might have a better understanding of say, the doctrine of creation? Is it possible that in heaven, you might have tea with C.S. Lewis and help bring clarity to his understanding of the atonement? And it’s safe to understand that many in the church have a better understanding of multiculturalism/multi-ethnicity that the great reformer Luther (but we certainly have a ways to go).
To avoid outsourcing our faith does not mean that we practice belief in a self-contained vacuum. But not just the brilliant minds of those whom we read but we also need each other’s presence to have dinner, wine and coffee with and to gather in each other’s living rooms. We need different forms of community. Not so the community thinks for us in some sort of tribal group think, that’s unhealthy as well. Thinking in community means we contribute to each other, listen to each other, process our confusion together, correct, rebuke, reform, reframe, create, and continue walking together.
For Christ-followers we must be rooted in Scripture as well. This blog often critiques the shallow Christian thought and cliches that we hear. This series of posts has taken special aim to “Jesus is the answer” (which He is). But it’s been my experience that some Christians have used this excuse to refrain from being a student of Scripture. After all, if it all comes down to a revered, five-letter name, why read the 66 books? In short, we need to study the 66 books, we need to read the books about the 66, we need to hear sermons, study privately, and study in community. This is part of the tradition of “Sola Scriptura” that the Reformers (including Martin Luther) fought so valiantly for.
Lastly, we need to depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Inevitably, our best minds will fail us, even the best of our communities will bring hurt at one point or another, and our own understanding of our God-given Scriptures may even impair us. We need to be people committed to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we pray, serve, learn, unlearn, gather, and worship in general. This latter point, is the only one that is exclusively divine, and unimpaired by our own personal/collective deficiencies. And it’s through this process that we confront our spiritual laziness and construct a robust faith for belief and practice.
There are a couple other drafts of thought regarding “being informed,” seeking the balance of worldly matters and having your head stuck in the clouds and being manipulated/brainwashed or lied to. Would welcome feedback on what’s connecting and/or what could use some fleshing out. Feel free to comment or private message me via email, text or Facebook.
Grace and peace, Tim