Dear Mr. Lough:
Thank you for sharing with me your current thinking about the place of the Bible in the life of the Christian and the church. I will need some time to ponder all that you wrote, but I have already found it helpful and thought-provoking. So, let me ask you this. Would you say that your attitude toward the Bible is the area where you have experienced the greatest change in the past ten years? If not, would you care to say what does fit that description?
Actually no, my views on the Bible are not the area where I have experienced the greatest change in my thinking, but I’ll be happy to tell you what does qualify for that distinction. It’s not so much a specific subject or topic as it is the attitude with which I approach the process of discerning truth in general.
The most significant change in my thinking over the past ten years has to do with the increase in my ability to live with uncertainty and ambiguity. If I were speaking instead of writing, I would repeat that sentence for emphasis. In this context, I’ll just ask you to read it again. 🙂
Evangelicalism is obsessed with certainty. Trouble is, every group, every different tradition, every doctrinal variation trumpets the certainty of its particular claim to a knowledge of the truth, even when those claims contradict one another. For example, both Calvinists and Arminians are certain of the truth of their doctrinal pronouncements. So, too, for charismatics and cessationists, pacifists and warriors, double-predestinarians and universalists. They can’t all be right. It was an epiphany for me, however, when I realized they could all be wrong!
Start with some erroneous assumptions about the nature and essence of God. Draw some conclusions and build some theories based on those wrong assumptions. Combine it all with the need to be right and the fear of change, and what you have is a version of Christianity which means well but ends up limiting God, reducing theology to time-bound propositions, and offering non-Christians a belief system that strikes them as out of date, out of touch, and out of steam. That, I fear is the direction evangelicalism is heading.
We evangelical Christians need to shed our insistence on certainty, which is the very opposite of faith. Faith, after all, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Certainty obviates the need for faith, and when that certainty is misguided or based on false assumptions, it does not enhance our encounter with truth; it impedes it.
Further, we need to get over our fear of doubt. Faith and doubt are not opposites. They are two dimensions of the same reality. Doubt is uncertainty marked by questions. Faith is uncertainty marked by hope. Honest doubt is essential to healthy faith. Too much of contemporary Christianity is based on unwarranted certainty. That yields pride instead of humility and prejudice instead of love.
In the kingdom to come, when we see things as they really are—and not distorted, filtered, and misrepresented as they are now—we will all have reason to say, “Ah, so that’s what that means.” For some, the surprise will be greater than for others, but everybody will see how they had misinterpreted and misunderstood reality. That’s why it makes so little sense to be doctrinaire, judgmental, and accusatory now. God will not limit admission to those with the most precise doctrinal statement, and that’s a good thing, because none of us knows as much as we think we do.
We should also remember that spirituality does not begin with faith; it begins with experience. Faith is our response to that experience. I don’t have to know everything there is to know about Christian faith and the interface between faith and life. That kind of comprehensive knowledge is not even possible. More than that, I am never going to be right about everything I believe, and I’m never going to be completely right about anything!
It’s true that I am certain about a lot less than I used to be. I have definitive answers for far fewer questions than I used to have. Three things I’ve learned: One, absolute certainty about metaphysical and spiritual reality is neither possible nor necessary. Two, maturity is the ability to live with ambiguity while, at the same time, enjoying an increasing sense of equanimity. And three, everything rests on Jesus’ summary of the Law and Prophets: Love God, love others. My circumstances are unsettled, but my heart and mind are at peace.
Have a good weekend, Kathryn. I look forward to hearing from you again.