(This post is part of the synchroblog “What Saved Your Faith?” hosted by Ed Cyzewski to celebrate the release of his new book, “A Christian Survival Guide.” Get the book free today only!)
I’ve written about this previously over many blogs, so my answer has been cobbled from these, but it’s a question that comes up often; mostly from Christians who’s faith seems to be falling apart before their eyes. Hearing the stories of those who have come close to losing their faith, only to come out the other side again can be very inspiring. I hope my story does the same for someone.
If I were to answer this question directly, I would say that those who were considered heretics were the people who helped to save my faith and make it stronger. I’ve never been particularly scared to ask questions, or to challenge the views of others and express my own. Whilst I am very determined, I try to remain open to the possibility I am wrong, though I can be stubborn. An infinite being such as God is never going to be explained properly by my finite mind, so I try to keep it open. Discussions with atheists regarding religion, faith and evidence for God always left me feeling challenged but inspired, and therefore, I’ve always tried to take on board what I was being told.
But none of this really prepared me for my encounters with those regarded as religious fundamentalists. From the beginning I was bombarded with scriptures and was told the ways I should interpret them. Because I was still learning about the scripture, I took what they said as gospel and went with it. Difficult topics, like Genesis, sin, and hell, I went with what I was learning from others. But as time went on, questions began to come to my mind. What about evolution? Why would a loving God send people to hell? In my usual manner, I asked these questions to the people who I was discussing these issues with. Sufficed to say, the responses I got took me by surprise. Same scriptures but with the added “why are you questioning God?” in there for extra spice. “It doesn’t make sense to you? You just need more faith!!!” Wonderful! I just need more faith. How do I get that if I can’t ask questions? “Well you’re not asking the right questions!” Yeah, well that’s less than unhelpful, along with being overly aggressive. I retreated into my shell and just hoped it would all go away.
Something I heard Michael Ramsden once say kept coming back to me; “If you have doubts and you leave them un-answered, they will erode under your faith until eventually it all collapses.” It got to the point for me where that’s exactly what was happening. I couldn’t reconcile everything I knew with what I was being told. I risked losing it all, but according to some, I already was by sending people (and myself) to hell with my theology. What this talk did though was show me that it’s perfectly acceptable to have questions and ask them, and slowly, my confidence and my curiosity grew once more, and my need to ask questions returned.
During one of my Google searches regarding homosexuality and the Bible (it turned out that it was a huge topic for many so I wasn’t alone, which felt good), I came across an article by Rachel Held Evans, titled “How to win a culture war and lose a generation”. Lovely article which really demonstrated love for others. This resonated with me, this was what I was looking for. When I did a search for more of her work, turns out not everyone saw it that way. Many of the searches came up alongside the word heretic; “a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church”. This made me nervous. Was I a heretic for agreeing with her? I’d already been told I was going to hell, maybe this would just seal the deal.
As I researched more topics, more names starting popping up; Justin Lee, Richard Beck, Peter Enns, Derek Flood (who I will come back to), Jeremy Myers; each Google search revealed them to be considered heretics. But the more I read their work, the more they made sense to me. Not only with the points they made, but with the diversity of the questions they were asking. These weren’t people afraid to ask questions, they openly did it and confronted head on many of those who would rather they were quiet. They had opened up a whole new world to the one presented to me before, yet it was a vaguely familiar one as they vocalized the questions I had been suppressing. They took a lot of abuse for it, but they persevered. To this day, I still don’t know how. But in it I began to see the vaguest of ideas of what the Bible was getting at and more importantly, what it meant to be a Christian.
So with my confidence back, I adopted my usual grace of a free falling safe and dove in. I rediscovered what I’d lost – my relationship with Christ. That difficult, slightly odd but totally unique relationship I have with Him.
Everything became different as I learned to embrace the relationship once more, I tried to look to Him for answers and see things as He does. I have my quirks because He gave them to me. If I was expecting a smooth road from there on out, I clearly hadn’t learned my lessons from the past.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I refer to Derek Flood a lot. I can say that his book helped to save my faith. As I mentioned previously, in the early days of my faith, I was influenced by people like Ravi Zacharias and Michael Ramsden, but their interpretation of the cross, (that it was about the pouring out of God’s wrath onto Jesus) really didn’t seem to settle with me; it didn’t sound like the God I knew. Previous issues regarding Genesis and the whole inerrancy issue were coming back to the forefront as a result. The work from the likes of Peter Enns and John Walton were helping me with these issues, but I couldn’t understand God and His wrath. It wasn’t until I read Flood’s book that I began to understand that the cross was about restoration, not wrath. Until that point, what I was coming to understand about heaven (courtesy of NT Wright’s work), were just words that sounded great, but I had no idea what they meant or how to apply them. Flood’s book acted like a pen joining up the dots, not just about the cross, but about virtually everything that I couldn’t reconcile. It blew away my fears, and I felt a freedom and a peace that I hadn’t had since that night at my friends house.
When you’re in the middle of working through something, and you have all these voices telling you conflicting things, having people you trust who you can go to can really help you to find a path, but in the end, I had to work it out for myself. When relying solely on other peoples opinions, you run the risk of simply being blown about in the direction of whatever author you happen to be listening to at the time. Also, your understanding isn’t really your own – it’s your understanding of somebody else’s point of view. Your faith is effectively somebody else’s. It is a fine line to tread, but there is a difference between being influenced by someone and saying “this is true because they say so”. It isn’t wrong to listen to others, it’s how we learn, and it certainly gives a great starting point. It may even result in a massive breakthrough like Flood’s book did for me.
Looking back, the people I mentioned (and countless more I’ve missed) have helped shape my outlook on the Bible and my faith. These “heretics” have quite literally saved my faith and my relationship with Christ. They blew wide open the questions and dared to go down roads many deemed too dangerous. Anytime I find someone branded a heretic by a Christian, it encourages me to go read their work. This doesn’t mean that I agree with everything, but it encourages me to think differently about things and to be confident when doing so. You can’t do any of that without support, and I’ve not always had that from churches, so I often have to remind myself that it is ok to take a step back. It’s also opened my eyes to a great many things, I still have lots to learn though, and lots to work on, but at least I feel more confident to walk alongside Christ once more.
What saved your faith? Write a blog post answering that question and then visit this post at Ed Cyzewski’s blog to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide.