Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Prelude

I've been chewing on a post I'll call "A Theology of Love" for a while. This post is not that, because I don't think I'm quite ready to write it yet, but in any case, that's not what this post is about. This is a meta-post, if you will. A post about the post I have yet to write.

Over the last few years, I've done a lot of wrestling. That wrestling is largely chronicled in this blog, so if you want to read about what led up to this point, it's all there. But the relatively, but definitely not absolutely short version is thus:

As a preacher's kid, by the time I was at the point where I might start to make my faith my own, I already had a lot of expectations as to what my faith was supposed to be, and what my faith was supposed to do. If I had started questioning or doubting, it would have been some significant boat-rocking - there were a lot of people watching me, expecting me to be what I wasn't yet. So I learned to playact. And I got really good at it. Now a lot of this process was subconscious, but I believe it to be pretty accurate. I'm not saying it's anyone's fault, and I obviously have a big part in it. But whatever the reason, by the time I headed off to college, I was an excellent doer of church. To borrow a phrase from my new friend and author of Stuff Christian Culture Likes, I was really good at "doing things and avoiding true relationship." And also had no personal faith whatsoever. I don't believe that to be an exaggeration.

Then I showed up at SPU. In comparison to my middle school (which is where I formed/was handed most of my good Christian Conservative beliefs), SPU is pretty liberal. Granted, their social policies are somewhat stringent (no alcohol or sex), but they teach evolution and have several Catholic faculty, and profs have told me that America was definitively not founded on Christianity. All of this contributed to the realization that there was a duality in my beliefs: the Christianity that I was raised with and professed, and what actually made sense to me. The latter, of course, was what I actually believed and based my decisions off of, especially now that I was free of expectations. This set off a long process of deconstructing my worldview that I was given, and building up, bit by bit, one that was I could honestly say I held. This involved throwing off ideas that were not essentially Christian, and problematic to my worldview, such as Creationism or American Sovereignty. I kept a tent, as Descartes would say, of basic Christian morality (which I do adhere to), but did a lot of stripping my worldview down to the core. Some great books such as Mere Christianity, Pagan Christianity? and Language of God were very helpful in not only distinguishing the core from the periphery, but also in reassuring me that I'm not crazy, and that I'm probably not on my way to Hell.

Now all of this deconstruction caused much strife in my family, my friends back home, and many people who care about me. Many feared (and may still fear) that I am "straying from the faith", that I'm suffering in "my walk", or I'm drifting away from Christ, or am being deceived by the world. Now, I can't say for sure on the latter, but the rest could not be farther from the truth. I am just now truthfully, sincerely approaching faith and Christ for the first time. Up to this point, I have had no faith to stray from, no walk to suffer, and no relationship with Christ (on my part, anwyay) to drift from.

That brings us to today. At this point, most of my deconstruction is done. I've cleared out a huge portion of the periphery that was standing between me and a genuine faith. Depending on who you ask, I may be a bad Christian now, but frankly, they can believe that if they want. I'm done arguing. So now I've found myself asking: what now? What do I do with this? I know pretty well what I don't believe, but what do I replace that with?

That's what I've been wrestling with for the past few months. I've had some fantastic people that have helped me with this - first and foremost my girlfriend, who is an incredible blessing and a fantastic co-conspirator, and is constantly wrestling with me, keeping me accountable, questioning alongside me, offering a refreshing perspective on things, and most of all, setting an example of what it means to truly, deeply love people. My father, the preacher of "Confessions of a Preacher's Kid," has also been very open to my questions and struggles, is more like myself than I had imagined, and has been very honest about what he has been wrestling with. John Chase, my former college group leader, former pastor, and always friend, has been a great "elder" to talk to and bounce things off of. I've had some good conversations with Nancy Smith, my Mom's college friend who has also gone fairly liberal, but has a solid faith and asks me tough questions, but is confident in my search regardless of my answers. UScholars has been an incredibly helpful experience as well. And I've also read some books that have helped steer me towards something that I can actually believe, instead of steering me away from things that I don't. First and foremost, Shane Claiborne's raw, honest testimony of a man living out the words of Christ - not the words of Christianity - in Irresistible Revolution has had a profound effect in focusing my thoughts, and is basically the mainfesto for my life. I also came across an excellent little book called Stories of Emergence that has some excellent thoughts by real people. And recently A.J. Jacobs' Year of Living Biblically was surprisingly insightful in getting down to the reasons and meaning of religion and belief.

So after all this talking, reading, and thinking, where am I headed? I'm still not exactly sure, but I do know this. It will be a theology of love. Period. This is the prelude for the yet-to-be-written manifesto, if you will, of that theology. But basically, it is this: God is Love. Again, period. It is a theology of reaching out, of loving people, regardless of who they are or what they believe. A theology of helping the poor and the widowed, of sharing your wealth, your life, yourself with others. Of loving your neighbor as yourself, and doing unto others better than you would have them do unto you. Of accepting people as they are, without judgement, and loving them where they are at. Of forgiveness, of not holding wrongs. Of defending the downtrodden, and questioning and fighting anything that devalues another human being. How exactly that meshes with Christianity I am still hashing out, and will elaborate on later. I'm still pretty clueless as to what it really means to do things like put your faith in God, ask Christ to forgive your sins, or be in a relationship with the divine. But seeing as how this idea of love is pretty much what Christ did, I think I'm on the right track. Because last I checked, Christianity pretty much means be as much like Christ as humanly possible, and then some. This is common knowledge, but it is surprising - and heartbreaking - how often it is lost by the wayside by peripheral, insignificant squabbling. One of the reasons my father understands where I'm coming from is that he wrote his thesis on how ludicrous it was that churches split over millenialism. We don't really do that today, but there are a multitude of issues that are just as arbitrary, and just as divisive. My goal is to shout at these debates, STOP! Please, stop! This is destructive, stupid, wrong, and, as far as I can tell sinful. Please, love people. Be Christlike. Stop fighting each other, and instead together fight homelessness, genocide, injustice, human rights abuse, slavery. And individually, fight loneliness, discrimination, and apathy. Society today needs us. Not to protect it from the gays, the liberals, or the ecofreaks. Not to rescue it the humanists, the atheists, the Mormons, or the Catholics. Not even to save it from the Christians or the conservatives or capitalism. Instead, society needs love. It needs people who care, both for and about their fellow human. People who love others, for no other reason than the fact that they, too, are human. People who work to relieve the suffering with which this world is rife. In short, it needs Christ. In person-sized serving sizes known as "Christians."

That is what I believe. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now, the hard part: doing it.

Here goes nothing. Or maybe, just maybe, everything.


  1. Barna/Viola's "Pagan Christianity" wasn't a stand-alone book. The sequel is called "Reimagining Church", it's the constructive part of the discussion. He also has a new book that's the practical follow-up to both books. It's called "Finding Organic Church." Viola's article "Why I Love the Church" explains the motivation behind all three books.

  2. Joel...I love you. A lot. We're pretty much the same and I appreciate you...leeeets talk.