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A Turning Away from the Faith

  • By Kelly Carter
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Perhaps the following is worthy of being discussed among others.  To what extent, and why, is it appropriate to allow non-Christian perspectives to shape our views?  On what and to what extent have we misunderstood God’s will on contemporary social and moral issues?

If there is anything that occupies my thoughts these days more than any other, it is the tenuous future of the faith of the young people in our church and generally the future of our faith in Canada.  Christian faith is threatened when Christians intellectually accept perspectives that are difficult to reconcile with traditional, orthodox Christian beliefs. This causes them to move away from what I take to be the Lord’s will for humankind.  In my opinion, across the board there is too prevalent a tendency on the part of even believers: 1) to think that God Himself, or the Christian Scriptures, or both simply have it wrong when it comes to various social and moral issues or with respect to reconciling a Christian worldview with various truths of reason and experience; or 2) to think that traditional Christianity’s understanding of God or its interpretation of the Christian Scriptures is mistaken, or, at least, mistakenly applied by the contemporary church.

In the case of 1) Christians are thought accurately to have born witness to their God, and to have interpreted well the Scriptures that reveal Him and His will for human beings, but, in the end, Christianity’s God, His will for humankind and the Bible’s witness to God’s desires for humankind are rejected as being unacceptable foundations for social and moral decisions or as a grounding for an acceptable worldview.  I think I am correct in saying that this entails a rejection of Christianity’s God as God, because, if He exists and if He has successfully revealed Himself and His will to humankind, and if He is simply mistaken on moral and social issues, He is not completely God-like, meaning that He is no God at all and that a worldview that takes Him as the foundation of the universe is mistaken.  So, I think 1) is essentially a rejection of Christianity’s God and the truth of Christianity, no matter what one claims to believe.  People don’t always like admitting that they don’t believe in God, but in this case they are certainly indicating that they don’t believe God, which ultimately doesn’t seem to me all that different than not believing in God.

In the case of 2) it is not God who is wrong but Christians, so that although God has revealed Himself in the Bible or otherwise, traditional Christianity has inaccurately perceived who He is and His will for humankind, especially given present day circumstances.  In this case God’s existence and authority are accepted, His will is accepted, and a worldview that includes Him is accepted, but His revelation of Himself and His will for humankind as perceived by traditional Christianity needs correction, because the traditional church thinks inaccurately about Him and/or His will for human beings living at the current time.  Often, the church’s inaccurate perception of God’s revelation includes the idea that the church fails in evaluating where God now stands on social and moral issues or with respect to a Christian worldview because they do not allow for adjustments in God’s will that are necessitated by current circumstances.  I think in the case of 2) that someone would say that they believe in God, but not the God of traditional Christianity.  God has not changed, I think they would say, but our perception of Him needs to change in the direction of more accurately reflecting God’s will, given current human circumstances.  Traditional Christianity needs to catch up to the place where God has been all along.

As you can imagine, I doubt the legitimacy and fruitfulness of  both 1) and 2).  If God has revealed Himself in Jesus, in history, in the Bible, and in the Spirit’s activity in the church, including its traditions of belief, we should be hesitant to accept either 1) or 2) as justification for moving away from traditional Christianity.  Now, when I say “traditional Christianity” please don’t take me wrongly.  I don’t hold a fundamentalist perspective when it comes to Christianity and the Bible.  Nor do I think that every practice of the early church needs exactly to be bound on the church today, as my own tradition has sometimes claimed.  But neither do I think that God is simply mistaken when it comes to His take on social and moral issues or with respect to the bankruptcy of non-Christian worldviews.    Nor do I think that the traditions of the church and traditional doctrine should be too easily jettisoned in light of current circumstances.

If the biblical record of God’s people shows us anything, it is that we have always been tempted either to too quickly pursue other Gods (or to deny God’s existence or His exclusive nature as God) or to give too much place in our lives to the realities and opinions of cultural norms. And I don’t think you have to be an anti-intellectual, credulous fundamentalist to consider this a mistake.  If God is there, and if He has revealed Himself in Christ (both credible claims in my view), then His will for humankind should be taken more seriously than any other reality.  That means that both establishing and prioritizing His will for humankind and thinking long and hard before departing from what we previously have thought His will to be must be part of who we are.  I would say this is part of what it means to have an adult faith.  Paul says that it is the immature, the infants, who are tossed here and there by every wind and wave of teaching (Ephesians 4:14).  It may be just as immature to fail in reaching a knowledge of the Son of God and the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13) by remaining stuck in an anti-intellectual fundamentalism.  Nonetheless, that some are immature in this way should not push us to think and act immaturely by trying to avoid anti-intellectual fundamentalism by too quickly rejecting traditional Christianity in favour of cultural norms.  To do so would be to let go of what God has revealed as true about Himself and His will in history, in the Bible, in Jesus, and in the Spirit’s activity in the church, including its traditions of belief – without, in my opinion, adequate justification.  To reject these in favour of either that which is not the true God, and so no God at all, or in favour of the cultural norms of our world, is to base some of life’s biggest choices on perspectives which in my view have been bankrupt for as long as we have tried them.

I understand why questions are raised about the legitimacy of holding traditional, orthodox Christian beliefs, especially when it comes to social and moral issues. But as a Christian I don’t agree that the answers offered by other systems of faith, other worldviews, or by contemporary culture are better answers, more defensible answers, or answers that ring truer than those held by traditional Christianity.  I don’t think God simply has things wrong, nor do I think traditional Christianity has wrongly interpreted God and His will for humankind.  I do think that circumstances and our own human tendencies (our pain? our unhappiness? our short sightedness?  our unwillingness to live in light of God’s expressed will? a lack of personal understanding of God or a lapsing relationship with Him? our willingness to accept convenient explanations?) sometimes mean that human beings have a hard time accepting that which is God’s will for their lives.  When this is the case, they turn away from some of the core elements of the Christian faith; which, in my view, is always an inadequately justified move in the wrong direction.

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