Reconstructing Faith

This category contains 4 posts

Jon Meacham's "The Hope of Glory" and Reconstructing Faith

Jon Meacham is best known as a biographer of Presidents, whether his excellent look at Thomas Jefferson’s life (my review here), or his Pulitzer-winning biography of Andrew Jackson. His recent work, The Hope of Glory, is a short reflection on Jesus’s words from the cross. I grabbed it after I got an email from Goodreads in which Meacham described his perspective and talked about his faith. I thought it might be interesting to see his perspective, but have to admit I was a little worried due not wanting to see some sort of patriotic deity paraded in front of me. I shouldn’t have been worried. What I found instead was a pithy, frank discussion of faith alongside some theological reflection. I found it helpful in my own reading as I’ve been reconstructing faith.

Meacham writes that, “For the thoughtful believer… there is nothing more certain than the reality of uncertainty, nothing more natural than doubt…” (12). He notes the difficulty with seeking certainty: “Fundamentalist believers and fundamentalist atheists would both do well… to acknowledge that literalism may be comforting but is ultimately dangerous, for an uncritical acceptance of one worldview or another (whether in religion or politics) ends more conversations than it begins” (13). Though I feel more certain now than I had before, a lot of that is due to my decision to “go public” with my own thoughts about faith. The common saying about the more you know, the more you know you don’t know seems so true to me in regards to Christianity and faith. While once, I felt so certain that I could demonstrate my beliefs were superior to those of others’, I no longer feel that way.

Fundamentalism is a frequent target of Meacham, and he even goes so far as to note that it can be sinful: “Literalism is for the weak; fundamentalism is for the insecure. Both are sins, too, against God, for to come to believe that we are in exclusive possession of the truth about things beyond time and space, and thus hold the power to shape lives about things within time and space, is to put ourselves in the place of God” (69-70). Over and over again, I see people who talk about the “clear teaching of Scripture” and how those who disagree with them are sinning due to their rejection of God’s word. But if that’s true, how is it possible that people do, seemingly in good conscience, disagree on so many of these “clear” issues? I think that we need to be very careful about what we say is so clear. What is clear for one of us may not be clear to all. We get in danger of reductionism when we push for the “yes or no” clarity of certainty.

Meacham notes that we as Christians “are called to use our minds as well as our hearts in reading the Bible…” and that we need not ignore possible difficulties in the Bible. He goes so far as to say that one can hold the Scriptures are “perhaps inspired but certainly fallible” (42). His wording is strong, to the point I’m not sure agree (I would affirm the Bible is inspired, for example), but part of his effort seems to be to force readers to think through their assumptions and certainties and see where there may be problems.

Meacham writes about hell, and he argues that one can find verses to contradict each other on the topic, such that a reader who wants to insist on literal interpretations will end up in a “guerrilla war that never ends” as they “fight… verse-to-verse” (90). One thing I’ve contemplated a lot as I reconstruct faith is the notion of the polyvalence of Scripture. I don’t remember where I first heard the term–it may have been Peter Enns–but I know I reacted poorly the first time I heard it. But more and more, I’ve thought about it as I’ve read and reflected on Scripture in my reading and devotion times. I think about how Kings and Chronicles portray the Kings of Israel and Judah in different, sometimes apparently competing ways. What does that mean for our own reading of Scripture? What does it mean as we try to take it seriously and read at as inspired?

Meacham’s book is a fascinating, challenging read that highlights his love of Jesus while also noting his own perspectives related to Scripture and believers. It’s worth reading and challenging yourself to look beyond individual quotes and think about what he says. Like me, you may find yourself nodding along at times, while at others you may sit back in contemplation and wonder about your own faith journey.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Faithful Solace of Metal- Reconstructing Faith with Demon Hunter

We live in interesting times, for better or worse. Recently, the weight of many things settled down on me. The stress of dealing with various personal problems, along with the broader pandemic impacting everyone through the novel coronavirus COVID-19, really was hitting me hard. So I sought solace in music. Usually, I listen to audiobooks on the way to and from work (and pretty much any other time I have a chance to listen to something for any length of time). But I felt that I needed something more–some music to sooth the soul.

Demon Hunter is a band I’ve loved for decades, since their debut self-titled album. I have listened to each album many, many times. I was listening to their music on shuffle, and the song “The Last One Alive” from their album Extremist came on. The lyrics resonated with me in a way nothing had before. As I listened, I realized that it was something I had desperately needed, and also was able to reflect on the way that the metal music of the band “Demon Hunter” had helped me reconstruct my faith and get through many difficult times.

Living through a pandemic certainly lends itself to thinking of doomsday scenarios, for better or worse. The song starts with a poignant line: “Did anyone survive?” But after this question, it delves more deeply into the trials we face each and every day:

Where angels fall and darkness reigns
Where time dissolves the brightest flame
Ever the same

Whether I’m the last one alive
Or ascend before my time
Better I’m the last one alive
Than a soul denied

So this is how we break
And this is where we find the only hope within this place

The lyrics spoke to me on such a deep level as I was driving on the interstate on the way home. The music moved me, and I couldn’t help but feel the connection with God, the cry for help, and the hope inherent in the song. We live in a world where angels have fallen, and where it does seem, so often, that time wears away at even the best parts of the world and the most uncorrupted things get shattered. When we live in the midst of a pandemic, how easy it is to cede our hope. But whether we are the last one left alive or not, whether we ‘ascend’ before our time, dying younger than one might think is fair, it remains true that God will not deny us, and that our lord Jesus has already saved us. That is where we can find the hope, and that means that even if we think all hope is lost, it is not.

Time may dissolve the brightest flame; angels may fall; it may seem that everything changes and yet remains the same; but in spite of all of this, hope remains.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“It’s a Yes or No Question!” – Reconstructing Faith

On my faith journey one of the hardest things was when people I used to agree with would aggressively demand yes or no answers to what they thought were simple questions but that I thought were incredibly difficult and complex to answer.

Then they’d be angry about my hesitancy to answer. “It’s just a yes or no question!” they’d exclaim. Many continue to offer these questions to me as I consider questions about faith. The dichotomies that are offered are thought to be definitional, of deepest concern, and simple. But so often they’re not–they’re false dichotomies, they’re secondary issues, and they’re incredibly complex. Even trying to explain some of the difficulty with how complex these issues are would take much more than a single blog post. I’ll show a few examples of some of these dichotomies, some of which I actually did have offered as yes/no questions to me.

Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth? Yes or no?
Do you believe in hell?
Do you believe we have souls?
Do you believe the Trinity is an essential doctrine?

Some readers might see some of these questions as quite simple–maybe even all of them, but here are some examples of the complexity:

Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth? Yes or no?
What is meant by “created” here? Is it direct, fiat creation? Could God have used processes? What is meant by “heavens and the earth”?

Do you believe in hell?
What do you mean by hell? Do you mean endless, eternal, conscious torment? Do you mean literal fire? How does one “believe in” hell? Shouldn’t we all wish there were no hell and be hopeful that all might be saved, even if we don’t think all shall be?

Do you believe we have souls?
What is meant by the soul? Is it dualism? What kind of dualism–Cartesian, interactionism, emergentism? Could a Thomistic view of the soul be correct?

Do you believe the Trinity is an essential doctrine?
Yes, I do. But! What exactly does it mean to call it “essential”? Must one have it 100% correct in order to be saved? What does one make of the immense disagreement over subordination of the Son in recent debates, if so? What about questions of rejection of the Trinity being based upon rejection of colonialism?

Yes or no questions, intentionally or not, cut across sociological, theological, and philosophical lines without any precision and are seemingly designed to stop serious discussion and debate about a topic. They are used as a divisive tool, cutting apart people to show others what they’re right or wrong about? They’re traps that cut off discussion.

So yes, people will continue to get angry with me, but I refuse to allow some of these incredibly complex issues get boiled down to a yes or no question. It might make things simpler to boil down these topics to yes or no, affirm or deny type dichotomies, but it doesn’t help us get at truth. And that is what I desire: to seek truth.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Faith is Messy

A picture of a goldfinch I took. All rights reserved.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I’ve taken a kind of hiatus from some kinds of posts. I’ve mostly been posting a ton of book reviews. Part of that is because I have been reading all the time, trying to expand horizons and learn more. Another aspect of it is that my views have been changing, meshing, melding, and morphing over time, to the point that I kept thinking I should post on things and then being loathe to confidently put forward ideas that I wasn’t convinced were true.

I am hoping that pattern stops now. I have a lot of things going on in my personal life, but I also have a lot I’d like to write on and reflect on with you. If you’re a longtime reader, thanks so much for sticking with me through this, and I hope you’ll continue to read and comment going forward! If you’re new here, welcome! I hope you’ll bear with me on this journey.

First, there are still going to be a lot of book reviews. It’s a thing I like doing and that I like to think I’m fairly good at. Second, I’m still very interested in a lot of the things I wrote on before: apologetics, science and Christianity, and theology (especially Bonhoeffer!). I’ll still be writing on those things.

Faith is messy. That’s maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned on my own walk. It’s easy to have a set list of specific, explicit instructions about how the way things ought to be. It’s easy to stay in the position that you’re right and everyone around you is, at best, mistaken, or at worst actively deceiving others. It’s easy to subscribe to a view and never let it be questioned. Some people can live with that–and I’m not trying to judge them. I can’t live that way, though. I have to question, to poke and prod and find out if the ideas work. I don’t want to spend my life living behind a set of doctrinal statements that I’ve not at least tried to confirm for myself. I’ll be writing a lot more about this going forward.

So what do I mean that faith is messy? I mean that, for me, many of the things I was taught at various levels–all the way through graduate school–turned out to be much more complex than I thought at the time. Questions about what it means to affirm inerrancy, questions about hell–and heaven!, questions about what it means to live as a Christian today. I asked questions about my own Christian identity, and what it means to be orthodox.

I lost a lot of friends. I don’t know if it was because I was asking questions that were too difficult, or if it was that I felt some anger and lashed out when the answers I received seemed too simple to deal with the complexity I saw. Either way, I don’t begrudge them–but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Those are just some of the issues I’ve struggled with, and the struggle has been highly formative. I hope you’ll join with me as I write about some of my faith journey, and maybe even comment, and walk with me. I hope to explore the faith even more fully as I write and reflect on my journey, and I want you to join me.

I’ve decided to rebrand my blog a bit, too. Instead of “Always Have a Reason” – I’m naming the site “Reconstructing Faith.” It is one thing to deconstruct faith–that’s easy to do. But here, I’m going to be doing the hard work, hopefully with your help, of reconstructing faith.

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