Sunday, December 24, 2006

SEE ABOVE FOR ROGER EBERT'S TESTIMONY.

MY STORY

In Walking Away from Faith, I tell my story of belief and unbelief--a story that recounts of my struggle to believe in God from the time I was a child. Here is the first paragraph of Chapter One:

Where is God in the vastness of this universe? Where is God among the billions of stars and billions of light years and billions of people on this planet? Easy answers ring hollow. The unruffled childlike faith of bygone years seems insufficient in the face of scientific discoveries that all too easily engulf God in a black hole. When I look into the night sky, I sometimes wonder if my faith is a figment of my imagination? Where is God—not the God of the Big Bang, not the ground of being, but God—this very personal God of the Bible who knows me and who knows my every thought?

To purchase the book or to check my own review, go to Ruth Tucker's Books.

Reflections on 3 Professors

John Loftus has a 3-part review that deals with those who struggle with doubt. Check it out here.


A Fictional Minister Walks Away


I'm now reading for the second time John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies. For a detailed review, check out the New York Times online.

Less than three pages into the first chapter Clarence Arthur Wilmot, the minister of a Presbyterian Church in Patterson, New Jersey loses his faith. It happened in a moment: The sensation was distinct--a viseral surrender, a set of dark sparkling bubbles escaping upward." Yet there had been warning signs, even as he was reminded of the "pubnacious and bald-crowned visage of Robert Ingersoll, the famous atheist whose Some Mistakes of Moses the minister had been reading in order to refute it for a perturbed parishioner. . . . His thoughts had slipped with quicksilver momentum into the recognition, which he had long withtstood, that Ingersoll was quite right: the God of the Pentateuch was an absurd bully, barbarically thundering through a cosmos entrely misconceived. There is not such God, nor should there be."

Why People Walk Away

There are many reasons cited for walking away from faith. Matters of science and philosophy and biblical criticism are often right at the top of the list. So also, disappointment with God--as when an individual is striken with a debilitating disease or a child is killed in an auto accident. Disappointment with God's people is another frequently mentioned reason for leaving the faith.

This last reason is one I've contemplated a lot in recent months and years. I do not say it's a legitimate reason for leaving the faith, but I certainly can understand the disillusionment that comes when so-called Christian leaders behave far worse than those with no profession of faith. And, I'm not speaking here of the Ted Haggards of this world only. Indeed, the sins that are driven by temptations and addictions should cause us less concern that those that are driven by greed and pride and just pure evil.

For four years I've gone through the turmoil at Calvin Theological seminary. I was, without warning, removed from tenure track and given a terminal appointment. When the charges against me fell apart--after I insisted the documents be opened up--I was accused of ungodly conduct. Eventually mediators issued a report that was very decidedly in my favor, but the damage had already been done. I've asked myself so many times, how can these administrators truly be Christians. And I've wondered why they are permitted to remain in their posts. The dishonesty has been well documented, but church leaders want it covered up so as not to reflect badly on the cause of Christ. But isn't a cover-up worse than exposing the sin. See this story at CALVIN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY.


THE STORY OF BART D. EHRMAN

Bart Ehrman is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC–Chapel Hill and the author of several books that offer a critical approach to the biblical texts. His most recent book is Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend.

In his earlier book, Misquoting Jesus, he tells of his own journey of faith--from a "born-again" Christian to a self-described agnostic. Here is an overview of his personal remarks in the Introduction.

Introduction (pp. 1-15). Ehrman explains why the subject of the text of the New Testament is one that has radically affected him both emotionally and intellectually. He was brought up in a 'churchgoing but not particularly religious' family (p. 1) but in teenage years felt a kind of loneliness (which he now thinks was just what all teenagers feel). After becoming involved in a Campus Life Youth for Christ club he had a 'born-again' experience aged 15 and some time after that was encouraged to attend the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which he did in 1973.

This institution held to biblical inerrancy and that the words of the autograph were inspired, but in an early class he encountered the fact that we do not possess the autographs, only 'error-ridden copies of the autographs' (p. 5). This got him interested in trying to learn about textual criticism.

By the end of his three-year diploma at Moody he wanted to become '... an evangelical "voice" in secular circles, by getting degrees that would allow me to teach in secular settings while retaining my evangelical commitments' (pp. 5-6). He went to Wheaton College, majoring in English and learning Greek, and there he experienced some doubts.

After two years he went to Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied with Bruce Metzger. He writes, 'A turning point came in my second semester' (p. 8), during a course on Mark when he had written a paper trying to justify the name 'Abiathar' in Mark 2:26 and his professor, Cullen Story, wrote thereon 'Maybe Mark just made a mistake'. Once Ehrman had concluded that he did, 'the floodgates opened' to admitting other problems in scripture (p. 9) and then to having a radical rethink of his understanding of the Bible.

He now writes a book which he believes is the first of its kind: a book 'for people who know nothing about textual criticism' (p. 15).

UPDATE ON CHARLES TEMPLETON


The title of chapter two in Walking Away from Faith is titled "A Tale of Two Evangelists," featurning the stories of Billy Graham and Charles Templeton. They were co-workers and friends and both went their separate ways as evangelists. But Chuck was haunted by doubts and eventually walked away from faith. His son Brad hosts an interesting site on his late father, Charles Templeton (1915-2001).

ROB AND KIM (This is taken from the Preface of my book)

The theological issues related to belief and unbelief and whether or not an individual can walk away from faith fill many volumes. These doctrinal riddles, however, are not the focus of this book. Rather, I seek to grapple with belief and unbelief from a human perspective, operating on the premise that there is surely the appearance of losing faith. This then is the paradox for those of us in the Reformed tradition who believe that a Christian’s salvation is secure and cannot simply be lost or denied or abandoned. We are left in a quandary. How do we explain the one who faithfully ministers in the church for many years and then walks away from the faith? The answer, I think, is that there simply is no explanation—none that solves the problem, none that satisfies. So, we tend to avoid the issue as we watch our brothers and sisters in the Lord appear to walk away from faith. We avoid the issue rather than living in the paradox.

It is through the lens of human perspective that I will deal with this topic. I cannot see through God’s eyes and distinguish those who are truly sincere from those who are insincere. Nor can I know those who will in God’s time kneel before the throne and confess the name of Jesus. These matters are all in the hands of a sovereign God. But these individuals ought to have an honest hearing. As a Christian I need to listen to the stories to better understand and to more faithfully reach out in dialogue and love. Frequently, the Christian response is characterized by anger and accusations. We are threatened by the very presence of those who have abandoned the truths that we hold dear, and I sometimes wonder if our own insecurity is a cause for the breakdown in communication between those who believe and those who once believed..

So, how do we regard those who have walked away from the faith? I was challenged with this enigma tonight as I talked with Rob and Kim in their home in Grand Rapids, fifteen minutes from where I live. I had been given Rob’s name as someone I should contact--someone who had abandoned the faith. He invited me over, and I spent the evening with him and Kim, talking in their living room. Both had been raised Catholic, but as young adults became “born again” believers and joined the Reformed Baptist church, where they were actively involved for more than a dozen years.

“I would have given my life for the faith,” Rob recalls. “Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that I could be sitting here tonight telling you I am an atheist.” But that is what he was doing. His story is one I have heard and read over and over again. First there were questions—relatively minor questions—regarding apparent biblical inconsistencies. Then major questions and unresolved issues. And finally the whole system seemed to crumble and crash. The journey from fundamentalism to liberalism to agnosticism took several years. “I could never go back,” says Rob. “Never.”

If there was one thing that most impressed me during the visit, it was how likable and good-spirited Rob and Kim are. They are intelligent and well-read, the parents of four children, from seven to seventeen. They communicated easily with each other and with me, and there was no reason to doubt that they had found a measure of happiness in life—happiness that Rob insisted did not characterize their life of faith. They seemed to be living an incredibly normal life. This is not the picture of a happy family life that we allow ourselves to imagine as Evangelicals. What’s going on here? This is the basic question I seek to answer in this book. How do we unravel this mystery of belief and unbelief?

8 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Thank you for being honest with your doubts and for helping Christians understand and deal with those of us who walk away from the Christian faith.

Edward T. Babinski said...

I've enjoyed reading your books, "Walking Away From Faith," and, "God Talk," and have recommended them to others. They contain plenty of honest yet difficult questions.

My own loss of faith is of course a case in point. And though my doubts and questions never congealed into a singular solid viewpoint, neither theistic or atheistic, I definitely no longer have much fondness for church. My studies revealed far too many differing denominations and theological points to choose from throughout Christian history, none of which overpoweringly draws me toward itself nor asserts itself without doubt. I find the idea that "Scripture interprets itself" to be as doubtful as the idea that the Catholic church's interpretations are the supreme ones. So the infallibility of the Bible makes as little sense to me today as the infallibility of the Pope. And in the end, each individual Protestant is of course his own Pope when it comes to their understanding and interpretation of the Bible.

Choosing a church also means having to waste time over matters of church politics; or having to sit through sermons that are overly simplistic, condescending or ingratiating; or having to sit through repetitious rites, traditions and prayers that mean little to me today.

I of course am still affected by beautiful music of a variety of sorts, both sacred and nonsacred. I love instrumentals on a guitar especially.

And speaking of my deepest religio-spiritual hopes and feelings, I admit it remains difficult for me to give up all possible hope of a person-based eternal life, or of a higher wise being that wishes us all to continue learning and growing well past our lives on this misty, confused and ignorant planet, this veil of tears.

Have you read, "Why Christian Kids Leave the Faith" by Tom Bisset (Paperback - Sep 1997)? In that book Tom mentioned a close Christian friend he knew very well. Tom remarked, "If anyone had all the signs of being saved, and a believer and lover of Jesus and the Bible and a seeker after God's will, my friend certainly did" [my paraphrase]. Tom then described the depth of his friend's faith, Christian commitment, and ministry to others, and how fearless his friend was even in dialogue with a roomful of atheists. Yet his friend eventually left the faith. Tom's book appears to be Tom's way to trying to come to grips with this very real experience of shared faith he had with a close friend, and how that friend could possibly turn away from all that they once shared together.

Of course people who were once together may subsequently "part ways" for any number of reasons. A growing rift in religious beliefs (or growing doubts thereof) are but one among many possible rifts than can develop. All such "parting of the ways" are difficult and sorrowful, though in some cases a break may be accompanied by at least a sleight sense of relief, while in other cases there may even be a sense of exhileration over the changes that come about after such a break has been made. (And of course in other cases there is only sorrow, or the exhileration may not last.)

I suspect that today more people are exposed to a wider variety of views in religion than ever before. In the older days most people didn't travel 30 miles from the places they lived, and the churches and different denominations were few in any one area. But today travel is more common, and we see more on TV and in movies and on the Internet than our ancestors ever dreamed of seeing, including seeing the websites and books and ideas of people whose views are unlike our own. Neither is there any compulsion in Western governments to impose a singular religious view on citizens, nor any laws against espousing different creeds. So I suspect the exposure to a widening variety of ideas and religious beliefs will probably continue, even in communist nations.

It does appear to me that I've been meeting and speaking with larger numbers of Christians than I can recall in the past, who have been leaving the door open to "universalism." Maybe not completely open, but Western Christians seem to be feeling their way toward universalism in a non-dogmatic fashion.

They also seem to be feeling their way toward expressing honest doubts without being condemned for having done so.

That's what your books and this blog seem to be about. As well as your other website:

http://www.questioningfaith.com

And I applaud them all.

I also suspect that with Christian authors such as yourself and Dominic Crossan (author of "Who is Jesus?"--in which he replies to readers' questions in a concise and clear fashion), and Bishop Spong (author of Jesus For the Non-Religious), there are probably already enough books by Christians out there, who are able to express and argue the Bible and their reasons for honest doubts, such that I should probably suggest such works, including your own, to Christians who write me, rather than try to get them to read books by non-Christians. If only because the books that influence us the most are most often those whose views lay not far down the road from our own, instead of say, across a ravine.

For that reason, young-earth creationists should be directed to old-earth creationists; and old-earth creationists directed to progressive creationists or theistic evolutionists.

While conservative Christians should be directed toward websites by moderate biblical scholars, and moderate biblical scholars should be directed to the works of your own books and those of Crossan and Spong.

I believe that Dr. Price knows quite a few moderate Evangelical scholars and has read their intepretations and arguments concerning the Bible. He's going to mention for instance a list of such moderate works in his upcoming book, Inerrant the Wind: The Troubled House of North American Evangelicals, which includes a discussion of Evangelical Christians who do not believe in inerrancy, but hold moderate views of biblical inspiration.

Lastly, Ruth, some of the difficulties you have experienced being a female professor in a primarily male Evangelical professorial world, have been encountered by others, who have written eloquently about their own difficulties in the Catholic and Anglican worlds, not just in the Evangelical world. I mentioned them and their works by name in two blog entries that you can google simply by typing in:

Women Debunk Christianity

Cheers!

Edward T. Babinski (editor of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists)

Edward T. Babinski said...

P.S., Pardon me if I have suggested above that your views were the equivalent of Crossan's or Spong's! Yours are much nearer the position of Christian moderate than Christian liberal. Though from what I have read in your books, "Walking Away From Faith" and "God Talk," some of the questions you raise might even even prove be a bit challenging for most moderates to consider. There is a spectrum of beliefs of course. Even some liberals are nearer to being moderates in some ways, than they are to sharing all the views that Crossan and Spong hold.

Edward T. Babinski said...

My third and last comment, Ruth! I swear, at least for this evening.

I hope you can maintain the tension of your beliefs and doubts so as to continue to provide a sympathetic ear and voice for others like you that exist within what appears to be a widening range of moderate Christian beliefs.

There certainly appears to be a growing ease toward expressing one's doubts coming out within some schools of Evangelical Christianity today. Parts of the Emergent Church seem to be open to doubt as less of a foe to be obliterated and more of something one should be unafraid to explore.

The author of the Christian bestseller, Blue Like Jazz, speaks a jazzy new kind of honest doubtfulness to Evangelical Christians.

And even Christian novels are including real life characters in fuzzy life situations, who don't always have all the answers, nor employ all the Evangelical lingo that Christian novels from a previous generation did (or so I read in Publisher's Weekly this week).

Beautiful Feet said...

Thanks for your transparency. I learned through many phases of belief/nonbelief, that my wavering was no threat to God's existance - thank God!

Former_Fundy said...

Ruth,

I also enjoyed your book, "Walking away from Faith." I left the faith sometime between 1995 and 1997. This was after earning a Ph.D. in theology from Bob Jones University and teaching in a Bible college for 9 years. After leaving the Bible college, I was an assistant Pastor for two years. It was during this time that my faith totally evaporated. I was in a precarious position. I had two children, a wife, and a mortgage and no marketable skills. It would have been easier to remain in the church but I could not and be intellectually honest with myself.

I have since found a profitable occupation and have come to grips with my loss of faith.

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Breckmin said...

Former_Fundy,
Perhaps you just went too far.

Intellectual honesty does not have to ignore imperfection.

It is much more logical to differentiate between contradiction and complication in the midst of imperfection.