When Rachel Held Evans passed, I watched her memorial service online. I’m sure that tons of her fans watched with me, and I’m equally sure that none of her critics did. Because isn’t that the way things go? We like to critique and pick apart and argue against people like they are the sum of their beliefs; just don’t ask us to actually remember that they are humans, with people who dearly love them and compelling stories of how they came to see what they see. One of the mottos that RHE used to guide her writing was incredibly simple: “Tell the truth.” I have been trying for some time now to figure out how to do that anymore.
Because the truth is the last few years have left me exhausted and disillusioned by the amount of noise and fist raising, fear-based panic I see in the Church that raised me. I feel a little orphaned at the moment, not sure where I belong in all of it anymore. TRUTH doesn’t seem as simple and one dimensional as I was once told it was, and I’m tired of needing to hold the corner market on every angle, nuance and extrapolation of it. Honestly, I’m wondering if there’s room in the church for someone who believes in Jesus, but just really isn’t sure which way they lean on a whole lot else anymore. Is that even allowed?
I read an article a week or so ago that really bothered me and have been trying to figure out why. This article didn’t pull any of your obvious jackass moves. It wasn’t blatantly disrespectful or insulting of other people, but in a very subtle and disheartening way, it basically told me: “No. No there really isn’t a place in the church for your questions. There is no place for not knowing where you stand on secondary issues. There is only certainty and deep conviction about all the little things. Certainty is where you will find belonging in the church; pick a camp and you can have a family.”“We seem to be saying: ‘There is no place for someone who doesn’t have a firm stance on secondary issues; certainty is where you will find belonging in the church: pick a camp and you can have a family.'”
The premise and title of the article was “If the Bible is wrong, I’m so so wrong.” In it, the author sets up a scenario in which people either believe the Bible in its entirety, or they are the “pick and choose type” who aren’t really “all in.” (Five bucks if you can guess which type the author decided to pat himself on the back for being). The problem is, the author then goes on, paragraph after paragraph, stating not simply WHAT the Bible says, but an extrapolated version of his interpretation of what the Bible says. He then says, if you don’t believe his interpretation, then you don’t just think he’s wrong, you’re saying the Bible is wrong! He equates his hermeneutics (fancy word for the lens through which we read Scripture in order to determine its meaning and therefore our theology) with the very Word of God itself so that the only option presented to the reader is “You believe MY understanding of what God means by these stories in the Bible, or you, poor reader, don’t believe the Bible!” Tsk tsk.
Do you see the problem here? What arrogance!
As a recovering people pleaser, reading this article triggered parts of my younger, ‘rule following’ self. I was not a boat rocker growing up. To question authority felt rebellious and if there was a worse title you could label me with than rebel, I didn’t know it. But these last few years have awakened a protective rage in me for those who ‘toed the line’ in their youth and never asked questions. I think a lot of us are deconstructing right now because we took so much of what we were taught at face value. Believing of course that the big “C” Church and all its mainstream leaders were being careful and fair; seeking Jesus’ face and character and heart with every nuance and interpretation they championed. Submission to their “wisdom” was never hard for me because I never dreamed they’d have an agenda other than loving God and His Word. Unfortunately that trusting side of me broke somewhere around the 2016 election and I just don’t buy it anymore. I have seen one too many authorities use the Bible and tradition as excuses to promote and protect their own privilege. I have seen Scripture twisted and slung at human beings to preserve hierarchy. I have seen NFL jerseys burned and hateful signs constructed and despicable behavior defended in the name of Jesus. So when this article makes the reader out to be “wishy washy in their faith” or someone who “calls GOD a liar” if they challenge the human author’s personal perspective, I get a little ticked.
It’s a jackass move to question someone’s commitment to their faith because they aren’t sure where they land on WIDELY disputed interpretations of certain parts of Scripture. It’s a jackass move to write and teach as though there aren’t intelligent, Jesus loving, BIBLE loving people who disagree with you. It’s a jackass move to declare that THEOLOGY is the line in the sand between the people who are “all in” and those who aren’t. Theology is NOT the “narrow gate.” If it was, Paul might have been a little screwed: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2).
I’m sorry. Why is Paul the only one allowed to say this? I guarantee you if someone used this tactic today (without actually reminding everyone they were quoting Paul’s own words) he, and definitely SHE, she would be met with arrogant eye rolls and assumptions that they clearly do not have a deep love of Scripture or theology. I’m not exaggerating or being uncharitable, I assure you I have heard these comments with my own ears.
As Mark and Ryan like to say, we have yet again, become more biblical than Bible.
Paul goes on to challenge the Corinthian church to cease their pettiness over whose leadership they follow because there is ONE church and one foundation and that is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:4-11). I take this to mean that if I believe in Jesus Christ and him crucified then I am “all in.” That there IS a place in the body of Christ and in the Church for me. And I don’t need to agree with every or even ANY of your extrapolated interpretations of other portions of scripture in order to belong or give my whole heart to Jesus.
The truth is, I am holding on by a thread these days. I am clinging with the stubborn, toddler type hope that there is still room for me in the church. It feels more like defiance that starry-eyed hope at this point, but whatever works. I’m not leaving yet. I’m with Paul in believing the church is bigger than the wise think it is and messier than the clean want it to be (1 Cor. 1:22). And I think he’d be heartbroken over the ways his words keep getting twisted around in order to justify exclusion when his entire ministry was to bring simple invitation to those others assumed weren’t worthy or welcome.
Thank you so much for this article. It puts into words many of the thoughts and emotions I’ve been having over the past few years. I am not entirely sure where I fit in either, although I have found a good church whose members have a very eclectic mix of upbringings that seems to help take the edge off of a lot of this. However, I find that I haven’t really been able to dig deep and talk about my feeling that the Jesus I see in the Bible and am trying to follow does not quite match up with the jesus other christians are following. The response I most often get is something to the effect of “well, not everyone who claims to be a christian is really a christian” which I understand, but it seems so dismissive and too easy of an answer that it actually misses what is going on in others and it also offers no constructive criticism for me to work on.
I appreciate your honesty and your desire to hang in there.
“…the church is bigger than the wise think it is and messier than the clean want it to be.”
This stood out to me most overall. Based on the content here I think we could spend some time debating the finer points of alot of things Biblical and/or Theologically based, all while we are both loving Jesus…
I love this stuff, you guys are doing a great job! Keep at it!
Preach, sister! I wasn’t raised in the church, and my initial exposure to Biblical Theology is through things like The Bible Project, Dr. Michael Heiser, and NT Wright. The more I read, the more I realize how muddy and complicated a lot of Scripture is, since we are so far removed from the context of the ancient world, and aren’t the original audience that these letters and Gospels were written to (much less the Old Testament).
I sometimes feel like I am an alien in the church. Just even hinting at the idea that we need to step back, humble ourselves, and realize we know less about Scripture than we actually know causes people to FREAK OUT! When I try to explain to my small group why we need to study more than just the Bible to really really understand the culture as much as possible so when we do read the Bible, it has even more meaning to us than we could have imagined, I get blank looks or outright hostility.
My point is that you are definitely not alone, I pray for us all to try and practice humility in the face of self-exultation, and that we hold firmly to the hope that is in us through what Jesus has done for us.
I’m with you Katie. it’s so discouraging to witness this mindset pervade the church, and it often seems fruitless to argue against because people of this persuasion are so convinced of their own righteousness. There was a time I fell into this camp. Speaking for myself, I clung to this mindset because of fear that I wasn’t “pure” enough or “right” enough. But isn’t that just the problem? The lack of trust that Jesus is *enough* for me to boldly approach the throne of God.
A few more thoughts–
Pride separates us from God. That should scare us and cause a lot of self-examination. Unfortunately the nature of pride is sneaky. The reference to a circumcision of the heart in the Bible is a prayer said by the Israelites for God to “see if there is any way of hardness in me.” That’s a good prayer for all of us.
The people who are so certain that their version of theology is correct of use the phrase “the CLEAR teaching of scripture” as a weapon against people who question their interpretation. It confounds me that they ignore Peter’s acknowledgement even to his own contemporaries in 2 Peter 3:16 that Paul’s writings can be hard to understand. Even back then in the same culture, time period, and language, things weren’t “clear.”
As I was reading the article, I got an impression in my heart that God may be using this challenging time in the American church to sift us and cause us to seek His wisdom more than ever. There’s no formulaic answers. We have to lean on His grace and wisdom every single day. He’s with us, and the best thing we can do is keep our eyes on Him.
“I’m with Paul in believing the church is bigger than the wise think it is and messier than the clean want it to be (1 Cor. 1:22).”
Katie, I am with you. We are one body under one head. This is the church. You and I are body parts of it. What you are exposing is what I’ve come to refer to as the ch**ch. You may not want to be a part of that. I don’t, and I’m a denominational official!
Christ and Him crucified!
Thank you for calling us to account. For clarifying. Ever since Jesus and Paul made sin and foolishness the core requirements of adoption as children, we’ve been promoting behavioral perfection and human wisdom the qualifiers for the elite level of our evangelical caste system. It is ludicrous. And even this, the Father is using. How mysterious is that?
Katie, I like this post and yes, we need to ask questions on theology and Church doctrine. This is where it gets very messy, because I can give you every denomination of Churches, from Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Mormon, and I could go on and on. They all have their own doctrine and beliefs, and if you go against what they believe or have differences, it gets very heated. Our hearts are so hard we cannot even put our feet in their shoes and try to figure out where they are coming from, and they are wrong, and I am right. The God Head has revealed this to me and has showed me, this is all Satan doing.
There is only one truth, and in the Word of God there is only one Church. Satan has come into the Church and taken truths and half-truths and deceived us and has divided us. Look at Paul’s story he was a Christian persecutor and on the way to Damascus he sees Jesus, and everything changed. Paul did not walk with Jesus; he was not taught by Jesus. Paul did not go to college and learned everything he wrote. It was all God inspired and downloaded through the Holy Spirit. Paul was transformed into the image of Jesus and Paul became the rebuke of the Church. He wrote letters calling them out and giving truth and promise to get them back in line with God. I believe todays church hangs on to the promises and they will not look for the truth and the condition to receive the promise, meaning when you hear a promise in the Word read the scriptures before and after to see if you’re in that condition to receive it, and do you see these promises in your life?
For revival to happen the big Church and the little church(individuals) needs to realize this has happened, and we need to turn back to God and ask him how we can fix this. This is going to take a lot of humility and surrender and asking for the help of the Holy Spirit to soften hearts and be able see it through Gods eyes.
I am going to ask the Church, and the church some questions to make you think on this, and if you have the courage to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, and have an open heart to receive what he will show you and convict you of. But before you read these questions will you be able turn over your heart, mind and soul to God and let him teach you what he wants to show you. Say this prayer and take it to heart.
I pray to you O Heavenly Father everything I know to be true about you and your word take it away from me. Teach me your truth through the Holy Spirit. Have him guide me and convict me where I need convicting. Teach me your ways not church ways or human ways. I want to hear from you O Heavenly Father.
1. When was the last time you verified your Church Theology and Doctrine through the Word?
2. Once you have done question one, do you have the courage now to pray to God and ask him to lead you to the truth and search scripture and put your feet on the other side and prove me wrong, or show me how Satan has deceived me?
3. Does your Theology and Doctrine, has it provoked arguments and division with other Christians to where it looks like the warning in Gal. 5: 13-15 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Here is something else to think about: What is Theology?
I think it is human mindset. Every denomination of Church can trace back when it was formed and who was it that created the denominations. They all used scripture to write their doctrine and their beliefs, and I think Satan crept in and deceived them and they interpreted to fit their beliefs. Like I said, there is only one truth, not one hundred. Satan has divided ONE Church into many. Remember God’s goal is to be united in one Spirit and have the mindset of Christ.
Thanks for writing, Katie. Coincidentally, on my blog reading list right next to your post was Scott Saul’s, titled “We Disagree, Therefore I Need You.” Yes. Unity in Jesus’ love has to be the church’s priority, far above deciding who is “right” or “wrong” theologically (in fact, does the latter even have to be on the list of priorities at all?) In my NT class, I just finished a group project in which we had to present two sides of a controversial issue in the church. My classmates and I didn’t all agree, but we’ve spent the last 6 weeks growing and learning together, praying for each other, enjoying each other’s company (over Zoom, of course.) This experience has renewed my hope for the church, especially in the age of social media rants and politicized religion.
Wow! I love the observations and the honesty Katie. I too have felt what you are talking about with the “all in” or your out! Whoa! Wait a minute! I have many non-christian friends who like to challenge me about the far right and the politics of the “Moral Majority”. Their challenges always center on the display of poor moral values and the alignment among Christians in perpetuating those poor values through support. All I can say in return is that like any other group of people, be it ethnic or religious, they don’t speak for everybody and they certainly don’t speak for me. Your article is spot on for my experience, and I feel reassurance in reading it. Thank you for articulating it so well.
Gina, I liked what you said, and you gave a picture of what it should look like. We need to be able to humble ourselves, and in love talk about this. When we have disagreements, we should ask questions.
1. Put your feet on both sides and ask, if the way I believe, could it stop the chase, to get closer to Jesus, or stop the race or hinder it.
2. Which side may or may not hinder or grieve the Holy Spirit?
3. Put your feet in Satan shoes and ask, if I were Satan how would I deceive them, or trick them, or lie to them, so they would think they are right with God.
Look at Paul, he ran his race to very end. Am I running the race? Do you see the Holy Spirit in your life and the supernatural, or do you believe the Holy Spirit doesn’t work like that anymore? If you believe the second, I will say, Satan has trick you and lied to you.
Hi Mrs. MacDiarmid! Out of curiosity, are you referencing Tim Challies’ article “If the Bible Is Wrong, I’m So, So Wrong,” or another article?
Do you listen to BibleProject’s podcasts? Their teaching of the Bible (a narrative taught by explaining the Hebrew and Greek, culture, etc) saved my faith as after not only I was abused by our pastor & his wife, but so was our oldest son & daughter. After growing up in an unhealthy church environment & then experiencing it as an adult & as a parent I had had enough. I had so many questions and wrote them in my Bible. All of my questions have been answered through these podcasts and the Bible FINALLY make sense. And their only agenda…TEACH the Bible in its original context & intent.