If there’s anything you need to know about me, it’s that I make a cheeseburger that can make you wonder what exactly you’ve been doing with your life (the caramelized onions are really what make the whole thing come together). Another point of significance, but possibly of far less importance, is that I am an ex-fundamentalist. What brand of fundamentalism you ask? That would be the Christian brand, specifically of the American protestant variety. Assuming you aren’t completely disinterested yet, I’ll try a little harder by getting into the details.
I personally have come a long way theologically. I started out in a pentecostal church when I decided I wanted to pursue the study of scripture in college. I began to dive deeper into protestant theology, only to find out that where I was attending church at the time looked nothing like the churches that emerged from the protestant reformation. The baptizing babies thing was still a hard pill to swallow (baby steps right? Pun definitely intended), so I became a reformed baptist. Eventually I came around to infant baptism, mostly because it seemed obvious to me that baptist theology really wasn’t a thing until just about the reformation period, and the idea that God could not bring infants into the fold seemed scripturally and logically inconsistent. So I became a reformed presbyterian. Then I ran into the work of David Bentley Hart, and the man ruined everything. I started to question the eternality of hell as inconsistent with the logical outworking of a God who is, in his very being, goodness. Wouldn’t that make the eternal persistence of evil necessary to God’s self revelation, which would make evil necessary to God? Then I ran into the work of Peter Enns, and he ruined whatever was left. First was the theory of evolution. Is it really incompatible with scripture? What is the nature of scripture anyway? Everyone in the ancient near east wrote their history with divine interventions. Were the Israelites really the only ones writing a journalistic retelling of the events, or were they writing the way everyone else of their time was writing? What did the first century Jews think of their own bible? Apparently allegorical interpretation was commonplace, and wasn’t exactly frowned upon. That was also true of the theologians of the patristic period. What does that mean for how the Old Testament was used in the New Testament? Were the Apostles fundamentalists? That seemed to me a hard case to make.
There it is. From fundamentalist to now merely mental. Here I stand. Or sit rather… So this isn’t as exciting as the German monk facing execution about to reshape the religious landscape of Europe, but it is significant maybe for someone who has some of the same questions I did.
So what is my advice for someone in a similar situation? What can I tell someone with questions? I would say two things.
- Hold on to the idea that God is not angry.
The Old Testament can for many paint a picture of a God who treats human beings as essentially disposable. When the world is a mess, just flood it and start over. Right? Wipe out humanity, and God is like, “Well there’s more where that came from.” Admittedly, that’s kinda scary. Who wouldn’t be walking on eggshells around a God like that? You’re disposable, and the hell fire could use some more kindling.
But what if you thought for just a moment that maybe God isn’t angry all the time. That God isn’t watching your every move looking for an excuse to let off some pent up steam? That your next slip won’t be the last straw? What if you believed that God, in all his transcendence, isn’t aggravated with us finite, ignorant, immature creations of his. Maybe he understands your faults better than you do, and in his providence he will guide you to himself, in his grace he will bring you closer not push you further.
Keeping that in mind, now ask your questions. God can handle it. You aren’t one doctrinal error away from perdition. Love is patient, love is kind, love endures all things, hopes all things, and God is love. Hold onto that, and go on a journey for truth. That doesn’t mean make up answers to your questions. But hear what others have had to say about your questions, consider their answers and evaluate them.
A side-note for this is that in the Gospels we see Jesus get angry a few times, and the pattern is that Jesus was not angry at those who didn’t know truth but were searching, he was angry at those who thought they already had the truth, and so were completely closed to what the actual truth was. There isn’t an example in scripture of God being angry with someone who had questions. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they thought they could see, but they were really blind (John 9:41). His point was that their pride in what they thought they knew made them guilty. If they were humble and blind, they wouldn’t have been guilty, just ignorant. But they were prideful and blind, they couldn’t see but they thought they could, and they weren’t interested in what anyone else had to say, especially not Jesus or some blind beggar. It is those kinds of people that we see Jesus rebuking. Yet, those who were blind, who had questions, but were humble enough to listen to what Jesus had to say and really consider it, with them Jesus was happy to share a meal. This leads to my second point.
2. Have an open mind.
The key is being committed to the Logos; to the revelation of God in Christ. What that certainly doesn’t mean is being intellectually closed minded to anything that seems to threaten your current presuppositions. This is the world of the Logos, and being committed to finding truth means being open to whatever that truth may be. God isn’t threatened by truth, because any truth is God’s truth, and so we shouldn’t be afraid of it, and we shouldn’t be surprised to find it in unlikely places. If anything threatens our conception of God, then we should be open to the idea that our conception of God might be wrong. It doesn’t mean it is wrong, but we should consider that as a possibility, be willing and humble enough to hear it out, and sincerely consider the evidence.