Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Monday, June 16

My on-going crisis of faith

This post is to be read by mature Christians who have been through storms of doubt and who can help me.

I continue to attend a ‘progressive’ church with my wife, as a refugee from my home Evangelical church which is the focus of her formal complaint to the diocese.

The church suits my wife in its theology and social action, although she feels that their ‘all welcome’ and ‘inclusive’ slogans just mean that they won’t tell you to shut up, not that you actually are welcomed or included.

For me, there seems to be something more deeply wrong with the church, something seriously lacking, which is hard to put your finger on. The best analogy I can think of is that it is like chicken soup that has been put through a strainer. It still tastes of chicken, it still smells of chicken, it is still called chicken soup, but it lacks those lumps of chicken meat that are essential to the chicken-ness of the soup.

The progressive church is keen to avoid the patronising attitudes we have had to followers of other faiths. It is a place of refuge for people whose theology is not congruent with their own churches. So there is no mention of sin or our need of salvation from it. Any mention of Christ and the cross is watered down to something neutral and inoffensive. The hymns sometimes have recognisable tunes but the familiar words have been supplanted by insipidly neutral ones. And they are hymns about God, not to God, sung more as social lectures than worship of a saviour. The chicken has been taken out.

This means that I don’t feel I am fed or nurtured, and this at a time when my own faith is desperately sick.

My own crisis has the following elements.

The validity of scripture

This started before my wife’s theology course started, when I had to preach on Joseph. In my reading I came across the view that Joseph was a fictional character created by much later Jewish people seeking to boot-up a Jewish identity. I dismissed it as nonsense, but it was like a splinter under my skin. Then Mrs started her theology course, and came home saying that Daniel is also fictional, that Pauls letters were not written by Paul, and that most of John’s Gospel was not written by John. Now in a sense none of this is new to me. I have always known that ivory-tower academic theologians justify their existence by having to come up with ever more novel interpretations of texts. But the new aspect was my wife’s assertion that these are not anti-Christian theologians trying to undermine the faith but genuine believers trying to get to the bottom of it, and that they have found the truth. But for me the truth is: if Joseph was not real and Daniel was not real and Paul and John did not write, then the whole thing is fraudulent. Such lying scriptures cannot be a basis for faith.

Heaven and Hell

The curate at my home church insists that hell is not a place of eternal suffering, but a place of annihilation. He quotes a range of scriptures to support his case, and I can see where he is coming from. Meanwhile, my own observation is that in this life the Christian path is one of self-sacrifice. Heaven is obviously presented as a place of reward, but the character of God will not change and the truth is that heaven must also be a place of self-sacrifice. I don’t see it in quite the utopian terms that I did as a child. Far from being able to stop worrying about things in heaven, I will have to continue putting the needs of others above my own. I will still not have time to do all those things that I have always wanted to do for myself. Now if hell is a place of eternal torture, then the life of self-sacrifice is the obvious choice. But if hell is a place of annihilation – a place of dreamless sleep, a place of non-existence, a place where no self-sacrifice is required, then hell starts to look like the preferable option and the self-sacrifice of the eternal life with God starts to look like the eternal torture that I was trying to avoid in the first place. What then is the benefit of faith?

The wife’s formal complaint

She is perfectly entitled to make this complaint about psychological bullying and sexual discrimination in our home Evangelical church. But the fall out of this is that she is increasingly less evangelical in her outlook. It represents to her a theology of persecution, not freedom and life. This means that she has gone to the progressive church. And as a husband, I have to be by her side supporting her at this time. But the church provides no comfort or feeding for me, as described above.

So it’s the perfect storm. The foundation of my faith is gone. The purpose of my faith is gone. The context of my faith is gone. I could sustain one of those on its own, but with the three together, I have to confess I am struggling.

I still go through the motions of prayer. And I do still believe, deep down inside, but I suspect that that is more to do with it being steeped into me in my upbringing – I don’t have a non-Christian life to fall back into. I don’t have a non-Christian pattern to know how to live as a non-Christian. I live a Christian life not by faith but by default.

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