Saturday, November 14, 2015
What is the foundation of our faith? What is our faith based on? One of the most prevalent approaches within Evangelical circles is to make the Bible the primary foundation. This is typical of Calvinism, and in its stronger forms can involve a distrust and dismissal of things like prayer, worship, and mystical experience. In other words, anything that might be connected with feelings and emotions is seen as suspect. The rational is equally mistrusted. People are taught that they can't trust their own thoughts or moral judgments.
The problem here is not with the Bible, so much as it is with a particular way of reading the Bible which results in a faith that is disconnected from our experiences, relationships, feelings, and thoughts -- in short, disconnected from life and what makes us human.
That means that rather than having an experience of God, rather than having a living relationship, all there is is the Bible. It is not the Bible as a means to lead us to God, but the Bible as a replacement for God. The Bible being our one and only source, becomes our de facto god.
When we then discover that the Bible is morally fallible, this shakes the very foundation of our faith. We then need to figure out for ourselves what is right and wrong, but we have zero tools for doing this. Since we've been taught for so long to mistrust our own ability to make moral judgments, these parts of our brains are like atrophied muscles.
That brings us to the Charismatic movement which also has had a huge impact on Evangelicalism. Unfortunately, it does not offer much of an alternative. Here the problem is not that feelings are involved, but that very little thought has gone into how to connect our own life experiences with the Bible. Really all we get is something like "Just make sure that it does not go against the Bible, your pastor, or what your church friends think (in that order)" In other words, it boils down to falling back on authoritarianism, which is where we started. There's no thought of how we can be counter-cultural (including religious culture), or how we can question abusive authority like Jesus did.
What I'd like to propose is a third option that goes like this: We live our lives, and we have experiences. Say, for example, you experience what it is like to be loved unconditionally by someone. Like that guy who wrote Amazing Grace, you experience how that kind of "unmerited love" breaks you, changes you, heals you. Or maybe you experience what it means to forgive someone who has hurt you, and how your hurt and the relationship itself is healed and renewed through that. You live those things, and in that experience you recognize that, while these things were by no means easy or comfortable -- in fact, it was extremely hard and difficult -- yet, nevertheless, there was something amazing going on, something deeply good, something... God.
That's spirituality, where we connect those deep things in life to meaning, where we see what maters, what we were made for, where we recognize our telos.
Then you pick up the Bible and read where people are making those exact same connections, living out those same things, and you say "Yes! That's exactly what I'm experiencing, too!" The Bible then is not read as a catalog of dogmatic statements detached from life, but becomes a means for us to explain and understand what we experience, connecting it to meaning.
That's the function of story, and why a movie or novel can bring you to tears as it helps you connect life experience with meaning. The Bible is filled with stories, and the New Testament in particular is a testimony of a people's encounter with God among us. Their purpose in writing is for us to encounter the same living Someone that they had. That's why John writes,
"We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!" (1 John 1:3-4 MSG)
The Bible helps us to connect the dots between our own life experience of what is truly and deeply good, so we can recognize, as we walk in grace and forgiveness and love, "God is in this! This is the way! This is the life! This is the truth!"
The Bible has a vital role to play here in that it helps us to connect the dots, pointing us to Christ. But equally important is that we are living our faith out, growing in it, walking it out. Even better is to be walking it out together in a Jesus-shaped community which may, or may not, meet in a building with a pointy roof on the weekend to sing songs and listen to a talk. The important point here is not the thing that happens on the weekend, but that there is actually a community, a group of people who are all living this out in their day-to-day lives. When that's a reality then it becomes possible to benefit from the shared wisdom of others who have been down the road you are now on. However, when church is instead a thing we attend as spectators, that's not actually community at all.
Here I see the most fruits from those in the peace churches -- Quakers, Mennonites, and Anabaptists. They seem to have a deep history of walking out what it means to live in forgiveness, grace and enemy love. So those are the traditions I'm looking to, and hoping to learn from, as I stumble along towards the light.