Circumstances Can Alter Perception

Dear Mr. Lough:

In your most recent letter, you somewhat sidestepped the question of whether you consider yourself a liberal (just kidding, I know exactly what you meant) :-), but it still raised some additional questions. I pose them now as follow-up, if I may.

First, I know how much it hurt you to lose your job as a teacher, but do you think you would be where you are today if you hadn’t? Second, have you ever considered that you might have formed some of your current positions and opinions as a reactionary response to that unpleasant situation? And finally, when I had you as a teacher, you spoke very critically of a number of well-known liberal scholars and writers. Have you changed your opinion about any or all of them?

I hope you don’t think I’m being impertinent or disrespectful with these questions, Mr. Lough, or that I am trying to “trip you up” in any way. If you do, just ignore them, let me know how you feel, and I’ll apologize and avoid that kind of thing in the future. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cordially,

Kathryn


Dear Kathryn:

I don’t feel you are at all impertinent or disrespectful in your questions. I know you well enough to know those traits are not in your DNA. I’m pleased that you felt free to ask questions of this sort, and I am happy (or at least willing 🙂 ) to respond as frankly as I can.

It’s true that the loss of my job as a Bible college teacher was painful and difficult to work through. Perhaps the day will come when I can verbalize the sentiment that I am glad it happened. Today is not that day.

On the other hand, it is true, as your question implies, that I would not likely be where I am today—in terms of my beliefs and opinions about Christian faith, theology, discipleship, and life in general—if I were still in that job.

(In the interest of integrity and full disclosure, I should say that there is virtually no chance I would still be teaching in that institution today in any event. Some of what I now believe was already taking shape in my thinking prior to the termination of my contract. And not that it is germane to this discussion at all, but my frustration and sadness have more to do with the manner of my dismissal and its timing than with the fact that it happened. Given the direction my thinking was beginning to move, it was only a matter of time until a parting of the ways would have been necessary anyway. That “matter of time,” however, could have made some of the consequences of my dismissal far less severe.)

It is absolutely true that the change in my circumstances provided an opportunity to look at some issues free from the need to constantly measure my developing convictions against the yardstick of a doctrinal statement I was expected to sign annually. I don’t think I made any changes in my thinking in specific reaction to my dismissal from my teaching job (although that is not outside the realm of possibility, I suppose). On the other hand, I’m sure that my perception of reality was changed by that experience. As a result, I was likely more open to new ways of thinking—theologically, spiritually, sociologically, etc.—than I might otherwise have been.

My answer to your last question is a resounding yes. I have changed my mind about a great many things in the past ten years, and my attitude toward so-called liberal (or progressive) scholars and writers is one of them. When I was a conservative evangelical, I read liberals, if at all, in order to know their arguments so that I could refute them. Free of the constraints of my evangelical presuppositions, my appreciation has grown for writers who have nudged me outside my earlier comfort zones and challenged me to explore possibilities I was never willing to consider before.

In the process, I now read authors such as Brian McLaren, Stanley Hauerwas, the late Marcus Borg, and many others with new appreciation for their insight and their devotion to Christ. At the same time, I’m finding that numerous writers from an evangelical background similar to mine are, like me, reexamining some of the most basic elements of their faith convictions. When I observe that their conclusions are also similar to mine, in one area after another, I am encouraged to continue to pursue the course I have undertaken.

As a result of the changes in my thinking over the past decade, it would be easy for me to portray conservative evangelicalism in grossly unflattering terms. I am resisting the temptation to do that, since it was that tradition in which I came to faith in Christ and where my convictions related to Christian ministry were first formed. Despite my belief that evangelicalism has lost its way and is flailing around in a confused state of self-misperception, I pray for the movement’s recovery of the gospel of the kingdom. In the meantime, I press on in my relentless pursuit of authentic faith. Thank you for your willingness to explore some of this terrain with me.

All the best,

Arthur

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