The Evolution of Faith

Scot McKnight has a very interesting post over at Jesus Creed. The comments are equally as interesting as the post, if not more so. As I read through the post and some of the comments I find myself thinking about my own faith journey. In the comments some have pointed out that in those who lose their faith there tends to be the shared experience of a very rigid systemic idea of Christian doctrine. A common saying during my upbringing that reflect this is – “If you start saying Genesis isn’t literal than pretty soon Jesus didn’t have a resurrection!” Today I fail to see the logic of such a statement, yet at one point in time I would have heartily agreed to it.

My own faith has moved from a fundamentalist “you must believe like this,” to a more Evangelical™ idea of “we’re okay as long as we believe (insert list of ten important doctrines that must include verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy),” to finally where I find myself today – somewhere different all together. I would say now that as long as you believe Jesus is the son of God, died to make atonement for the sins of the world and literally rose from the grave we’re okay. Perhaps we could just say the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed, and be okay. But I’ve reduced things even further than in my Evangelical™ days. Some doctrines which I used to hold quite dear (a pre-tribulational rapture – which I no longer ascribe to) I now care little about. I’ll have fun discussing things, but at the end of the day I hold very few doctrines closely to my heart. In fact, Jesus is pretty much it – him and perhaps the idea that as Christians we must live out the Jesus Creed, as Scot calls it.

Because of all this, I wonder at times – am I on the road to losing my own faith? I don’t feel like I am, which is perhaps the difference between myself and some of the others that are mentioned in the Jesus Creed discussion. Nevertheless, in recent years I have radically rethought the way I interpret the Bible. This has lead to some conclusions that would have be anathema for me just a few years ago. Chief among these is that you can be a Christian and believe in evolution – and that makes quite a bit of sense given the genre of the first chapters of Genesis and it’s ancient near eastern background. Yet for me these discoveries haven’t really shaken my faith. They’ve made me think. I’ve been forced to adapt some (okay – many) of my preconceptions regarding the Bible and various doctrines. But I have never really felt that my faith was in jeopardy. Perhaps I owe some of this to Dr. Snyder who taught me that the Bible could stand up to questions, and that regardless of what we may discover God has inspired the Bible and it is good and profitable. In many ways I am more…”passionate”…about the Bible today than I was even back when I viewed it in more conservative terms.

I do, however, find that when I get together with my brothers and sisters in Christ of a more conservative viewpoint I am often uncomfortable. This lack of comfort comes, I think, from two things. First, I think I often feel that I can’t be real with my conservative brothers and sisters. I fear that if they find out that I don’t care how one views Genesis 1-11 they will start questioning my own faith in Jesus. I fear that if they hear me use a profanity on occasion they will somehow view me as less spiritual than themselves. I fear that they may dislike my discussion of the editors of Proverbs or Qohelet (to say nothing of Acts or the Gospels!). Second, and this is really an internal issue within myself, I’m prideful. In some ways I believe that I have gotten beyond those kinds of “lower” questions and so I dislike having to be put through them again. I have a very difficult time, on occasion, remembering that once I shared the some conservative view that these brothers and sisters now hold. Because my own faith has evolved (and that very much is the right word for this) I assume that I am “beyond” them – when I have no right whatsoever to do so. Part of this assumption of being “beyond” comes from my own memories of when I shared a conservative view. Looking back I see how illogical and inconsistent many of my own views were. So because of a combination of my own issues (pride) and my fears coupled with experience (the possibility of being rejected and unloved by conservatives) I end up very uncomfortable around conservative Christians – who, it would appear, are the most populous bunch of people anywhere I live who have any interest at all in the Bible. Faith can never be a lone ranger proposition; so I wonder – is this the position that others have found themselves in? I think perhaps not, but how can one know?


4 thoughts on “The Evolution of Faith

  1. Dr. David L. Wilcox is an Evangelical Protestant Christian and has a Ph.D. in Population Genetics, and is Professor of Biology at Eastern College, St. David’s, PA. He is the author of God and Evolution (Nov. 2004), and a contributor, along with 18 other Christian evolutionists to the book Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003).

    Dr. Wilcox writes, “My guess is we have about 5000+ ‘theistic evolutionists’ of various stripes teaching science at the 100-odd schools of the ‘Council on Christian Colleges and Universities’–but most of us keep our heads down–hoping to ‘pass’ as ‘real’ Christians (in lieu of our fellow brethrens’ suspicions to the contrary).”


  2. Calvin,
    If you liked Scott McKnight’s blog discussion on “deconversion” then you also might enjoy Dr. Ruth Tucker’s books and blog sites, some of which deal with “deconversion.” She is an Evangelical Christian who has also composed a book on the subject of folks leaving the faith or fold. I provided a link to her blog in the third or fourth blog response at McKnight’s site that you listed in your blog entry above.

  3. Calvin,
    McKnight’s two entries on this subject have been the most interesting he’s had in some time. I’m a little further down the road than you (time-wise for sure, and probably also in the area of questioning the faith). I am a physicist but was attracted in my younger and more evangelical/fundamentalist days to “the ministry” or to seminary. Although I reject the “scientific” claims of fundamentalism, I do so not because I think the Bible is at fault, but because fundamentalists and other Christians are at fault, imposing on the text an interpretation and/or hermeneutic that is not demanded by it. To the extent I have lost my faith, it is because of the failure of the conservative / evangelical church rather than because of the Bible. That which has most repelled me from the faith has been the non-biblical practice and hypocrisy of American evangelicals and fundamentalists as they do violence to the word of god in the bible; one of the things that has continually drawn me back has been my scientific understanding of the immense mystery of creation and how its “allusion” (Abraham Heschel’s word) to something outside of itself.

    I have found the approach of the Jewish theologian / philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel very helpful. He regards all dogma as the effort of people to interpret something more fundamental which is their experience of the divine. These experiences would be, say, the exodus for the Jews, and for the Christian the resurrection. Interpretation involves not only the experience itself but the culture, knowledge, epistemological system that the person brings to the experience and through which the person views the experience. This is true for us, surely, but it must also have been true not only for the first few generations of Christians who gave us so much of what constitutes “orthodoxy”, but for the Biblical writers themselves. Consequently, all dogma is contingent. The bible is the record both of the experiences of people in it, as well as the record of how they understood that experience. It is not illegitimate for us to try to understand how they filtered their experience to get at some sense of how that experience might appear to us were we in their place. I think people who are doing this, and a number of them are responding to Scot’s post, routinely voice ideas than even the more open minded evangelicals can find quite shocking.

    Best Wishes

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