A Slippery Slope … or A Two Way Street?

I am still in the throes of paper writing, proposal writing, and travel … so haven’t had time to get back to Joel Green or C. John Collins. These will come, both Green’s chapter on resurrection and Collins on Adam and Eve. Today though I would like to pose a question – with a link and quote from Roger Olson’s blog. On a recent post Dr. Olson wrote about a letter he received from one who had read his book Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology. This letter was a note of thanks for the influence the book had on the writer.

In his post about this letter Dr. Olson asks Do people ever go from liberal to evangelical? At one level the answer of course is yes – we all know people who came to faith, and did so from more liberal backgrounds. A better question might be this – can one raised or trained in conservative theology, even fundamentalism, find faith and peace when they begin to ask questions, explore options and look with open eyes? Again the answer is yes … but it isn’t always easy. Different people take different paths. Some find a conservative faith most convincing. Others don’t.

A comment on a recent post I wish I hadn’t said that tells a far too common story.

I used to be a Christian.
First evangelical Baptist, then liberal Mennonite. Now happily atheist / naturalist / humanist (pick a label).

I remember thinking, very explicitly, when I was 15 (I’d just read something by Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel), that I knew too much not to be a Christian. In retrospect, that thought is very funny to me.

I also had a pastor who said “follow the evidence wherever it leads.” I did.

I will return to Dr. Olson’s post and the letter he received below, but the question I would like to focus on today is the difference between the experience of the the commenter above and the letter writer.

What can be done to change this kind of story – or make it less frequent?

What can the church do? Where do we fail?

Follow the evidence wherever it leads is dangerous advice, without competent guides and thoughtful community. We are not meant to stand or reason alone. Joel Green in exploring the relationship between the Bible, neuroscience and conversion notes that relationships and community are important in moral formation and transformation. These relationships and interactions shape who we are and help form us a Christians.  It isn’t the power of God and of the Spirit OR community but the power of God and the Holy Spirit through and in Christian community.

The young man who wrote to Dr. Olson found his faith fading as he read liberal theology such as “Tillich, Bultmann, Hick”, and the gospels with these new insights and ideas. But people and community made a difference.

It was after this I had a most marvellous evening at my cell group: the curate … introduced me to the work of two people who would go on to change my spiritual life, who I thank God for every day. The first was Rob Bell: in watching the Nooma DVD ‘Sunday’, I felt a strange sense of life, that there WAS hope for Evangelicalism still.

After talking to the curate about this video, about how impressed I was, he went into his study and brought out a semi-slim book: Reformed and Always Reforming. … Nonetheless, something stirred within me – it was as if I could be an Evangelical AND STILL be an imaginative thinker; I had a brief image of what it may be to truly be theologically Evangelical, and yet not ignore the insights of all the thinkers I was reading.

Many of us can tell stories similar to this. I’ve never really read Tillich, Bultmann or Hick (I don’t even know who the last is) … the threat was never liberal theology, which holds no appeal for me. Rather the threat was a path more like our commenter above, either find a way to be a thinking evangelical in the fold of orthodox faith or become agnostic with presumption of atheism. I have found a breadth of Christian thinkers who have been a continuing influence. N.T. Wright, Larry Hurtado, Robert Weber and more – thinkers who may not fall within the bounds of some definition of conservative theology, but are orthodox, faithful, and intent on following God. Sometimes I find myself on a more conservative side, sometimes a bit more liberal, but always learning and facing the questions.

Scot linked to an article yesterday that described Josh McDowell’s fears about the internet. His fears are not totally unfounded. The internet can provide both information and community – and the community can be relentlessly skeptical. Ridicule is a powerful tool, freely used. Who really wants to be backward, ignorant, described as less intelligent and superstitious?

The solution, though, isn’t to eliminate the internet or the increasing interconnection and information it provides. As though we could. The solution, I think, is to model thinking and conversation in community. As we teach and disciple Christians we need to teach them how to think as Christians, not what to think as Christians. This is uncomfortable though. It takes time and work. Small group Bible studies, integration into service in the social structure of the church, and an attractive worship service with an inspirational sermon won’t do it.

What or who has helped you on your journey? What advice would you give?

How can the church create a community of growth and support?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you have comments please visit A Slippery Slope … or A Two Way Street? at Jesus Creed.

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