Making peace with Christianity

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O'Darby

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I posted this on my blog, where I'm trying to preserve things I may use in the future, but since no one reads the blogs I'll toss it out here for whatever's it's worth. It's how I’ve made my peace with all the various species of Christianity and the internecine fussing and feuding.
  • First and foremost, I’m a theist. I have a very strong conviction, based on extensive study and experience, in the existence of a personal, providential (involved) creator. If I could somehow know that Christianity were false, I’d still be a strong theist. (Note that I said strong conviction, not certainty.)

  • I’m a Christian because I believe that, in broad terms, it’s the species of theism that best explains human nature and the world in which we live. This likewise is a product of extensive study and experience.

  • In the above two items, the term "experience" includes (but isn't limited to) a number of what I believe were significant instances of divine intervention at critical junctures of my life as well as the transformative work of the Holy Spirit over the years. It even includes what more dogmatic believers might call divine revelation.

  • There is so much variation in the various understandings of Christianity, even at the highest levels of scholarship and apologetics, that I’m simply unable to have complete confidence in any of them.

  • Hence, I describe Christianity as my “template” or “framework” – meaning that I believe the core teachings at their broadest level, the level at which the vast majority of Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants could agree.

  • Like everyone else, I can’t resist putting some flesh on the bones of this framework by adopting at least a provisional interpretation and understanding of some of the specific doctrines, one that makes sense to me and seems plausibly consistent with the core teachings. I'm unwilling to live in the state of cognitive dissonance I'd be in if I were to pretend to believe anything I'm simply constitutionally incapable of believing.

  • However, I’m unwilling to reinvent orthodox Christianity to make it more appealing or plausible to myself. I believe that to do so is illegtimate.

  • I thus don’t reject any of the major doctrines. Some of them I say I “accept” in broad terms without pretending to fully understand them. Others seem problematical to me but I trust I'll see in the end how they fit into God’s plan and are worthy of Him. As Thoreau might've said, my Christianity has "broad margins" - I accept the uncertainty, ambiguity, mystery and even doubt.

  • I accept that my interpretation and understanding of Christianity (or anyone else’s) may ultimately prove to be seriously in error or even false. All I can do is “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” as best I can.

  • I don’t insist that anyone else’s understanding of Christianity is wrong, even if I regard it as unlikely or even preposterous. From the most rigid, literalist fundamentalism to the most flexible open theism or liberation theology, and everything in between, I acknowledge that any of these might ultimately prove to be correct or at least closer to the truth than my own understanding.

  • The net result is that I do end up with a somewhat idiosyncratic (personal), broad and undogmatic brand of Christianity that would not satisfy everyone.

  • I understand and appreciate that many people have a need for greater dogmatism, certainty, security and belonging than my brand of Christianity provides. They need what a clear statement of faith and an established church can provide. I simply could never fit comfortably within this type of Christianity. I tried numerous times and never felt authentic; I knew I was pretending to believe things I didn’t really believe for the sake of fitting in.

  • I enjoy discussion and debate with other Christians and non-Christians and continue my theological studies because I believe that remaining open-minded and flexible is consistent with my entire approach to Christianity and can only be beneficial.
I’ve been called a “fundie” and “not a Christian at all," sometimes on the same forum or even the same thread! This suggests to me that I’ve probably achieved a healthy balance.

Some of you may be familiar with theologian James W. Fowler’s extremely influential book Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. The stages he identified are briefly described here:

The Stages of Faith According to James W. Fowler |​

You might see where you fit. The only thing I don’t like at the site is the assignment of ages to the various stages of faith because I don’t believe it’s true at all. Many Christians remain at Stage 3 all their lives. We probably all overestimate our own spiritual maturity, but one Fowler expert described me as being at Stage 5 and this does seem to fit with what I’m describing above. (Bear in mind, Stage 5 isn't necessarily "better" than Stage 3 or any more indicative that one is a "real" Christian. Believers pleasing to God exist at every stage, and I feel sure this is what God intended.)

 
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Randy Kluth

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There are many of us are like you in one way or another--we don't like to be victims of manipulators who want to boost their egos by convincing you to adopt their pet doctrines simply because "they say so." So we try to strip things down to the basics, to the essentials of truth. Like Descartes we start with something like, "I think, therefore I am."

But God is much more personal than this kind of building block of philosophy creation. He doesn't lay down the essentials and then expect us to logically construct a philosophy of life. Quite frankly, I think it's as the Bible says--we're born in sin and have trouble with elementary reason! ;)

We don't hear too good! Revelation is, quite frankly, governed by divine timing and discretion. We will hear in time if God considers us worthy to hear it.

So we have to accept Christ, who administers the Spirit in the NT era. And then we grow, as we gradually put spirituality in front of our carnal tendencies. And as we become more sanctified, our understanding of spiritual things grows.

But yes, a lot of theology can be built up to construct a "tradition" as opposed to "spiritual truth." As Watchman Nee used to say, We need to base truth on our experience with God. If we haven't experienced it, how dare we teach it! (purely a paraphrase of the revered teacher).