Sunday, May 24, 2009


By Bill Colburn

You have probably heard the expression that if something is really true it can withstand intense and repeated scrutiny. Ideally, that ought to be the watch-word of religion. Religion serves us best when it reminds us that the world we live in is not all there is. It invites us to re-imagine everything from the cosmic, eternal perspective. Christianity embraces the vision of an awesome God who ceaselessly inspires awe with joyful anticipation.

Functionally, though, religion - including, unfortunately, Christianity - often imposes itself as a fearful, protector/gate-keeper of the supposed, effectively suppressing all attempts at 'rethink'. Rather than inviting believers to question, it insists on conformity to an already believed set of notions - as if all that can be known of God is already known.

I recently reread Matthew's account (ch. 11) of John the Baptist questioning if Jesus truly was the Messiah. Hoped upon expectations didn't match up with uncomfortable reality of the man. Incredibly, John felt free to question the very integrity of Jesus as Messiah - despite his earlier convictions. Jesus didn't reject the query. In fact, he exalted John, and thus his questioning, before the crowds as one who was not weak as a reed, moved by every breath of wind. John was a great prophet, yet one who so loved God he was unafraid to ask the hard questions. His search for truth would not permit him to suppress his questions or to pretend everything was copacetic, when it wasn't. To refuse to question is to hide from truth - which would have been a denial of the Eternal One.

David Dark's newest book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (Zondervan, 2009), presents belief as question. Quoting C.S. Lewis, he suggests that scripture is more often than not used rather than received. When received it is an invitation to pursue the Infinite. When merely used, it becomes a buffet table from which we find support for what we already believe. Here are a couple of thought provoking statements from his book:
Only a twisted, unimaginative mind-set resists awe in favor of self-satisfied certainty.
When religion won't tolerate questions, objections, or differences of opinion and all it can do is threaten excommunication, violence, and hellfire, it has an unfortunate habit of producing some of the most hateful people ever to walk the earth.
My blog entries will attempt to follow this sacred art of questioning - not, though, with anarchical abandon, but with a deep, second naivete love for the God of all who continuously draws us deeper into himself with an everlasting love. In some respects, to quote the title of another book by Peter Rollins, I will pursue the role of the orthodox heretic - as a fully committed wonderer of God. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, in response.


  1. With this approach, the one thing you are not questioning is the existence of the god described in the Bible itself. Christianity is not the only religion that is inspired by a particular description of god. Inspiration is not evidence of anything other than inspiration.

    The twisted, unimaginative mind-set that you are talking about has been the bulk of Christian believers for the last 2000 years. It is the bulk of the message of the Bible. One has to put on a pretty thick pair of glasses with blinders to filter out all the violence, jealousy, and ego run wild of the Bible god.

    If we are to save anything from the sayings of Jesus, I would think that Jesus needs to be divorced from Christianity.

  2. Or, Richard, at least 'divorced from' Christendom? God's accomodations of 'where his people are' have been turned into sacred definitions 'of' God. Inspiration is subject to that same 'accomodation'. It is a snap-shot, it seems to me, out of a transgeneration process of people encounters with God. The eternal God is not captured, defined, or measured by the snap-shot. The many 'pictures' of inspiration simply confirm that God is infinitely beyond my imagination. In that God I can safely trust.

  3. Then why doesn't Christianity accommodate other tradition's "snap-shots" of god? Why is Christianity the only "way?" And when does a "snap-shot" simply become ignorance? How do we know who God's people are if these same people are simply doing the same violent, jealous, and ego centered acts their god is?

    The problem is this form of questioning doesn't question everything. It assumes that the god of the Bible actually exists, inspired the Bible, and wants us to keep it alive. Any questions under those conditions will always conclude that this god exists.

  4. I love your questioning. Christianity isn't the only way God works. It defines the way a group of people believe God works. God isn't the bible, rather the bible records how various men believed God was working in their place and time. These are all human interpretations that God is satisfied to use, but is not satisfied by. God must be much larger than anything we call inspired. God must not be repulsed by our questions even of his existence. God loves to have us think, to wrestle with our doubts. Bible authors did. We all must. At least, this is the kind of God I have come to believe in. I believe in the existence of God while continually wrestling with many questions, paradox, conflicts, anger, frustrations, etc. My belief is in a God that accepts my 'messy' finiteness.

  5. Well, I guess you really are a heretic. If the Bible is only a description of what men thought God was, then it would not be a very reliable source of factual truth. What I wonder is how do you determine what is true?

    There are a number of rather fantastic claims made by Christianity that I have examined rather extensively. I allow for the possibility of some type of creator God, but I am reasonably sure that the god described in the Bible is about as likely as Zeus. And I am reasonably sure that what we read of as Jesus in the Bible is a syncretic amalgamation of various pagan sun gods, mystery gods, neo platonic philosophy and Jewish messianic mythology. These would agree with the conclusion you state that the Bible is a man made description of some god.

    And I would agree that there are some empirical and inspirational ideas that are worth retaining from the Bible, but I also believe there are some rather violent and harmful ideas ascribed to this "loving" god that have been emulated to create some of the most insidious forms of suffering.

    It might be very difficult to define what it means to be a Christian within the process I think you are advocating. I have nothing against an honest look at what brings life meaning and what forms of community can we create to bring about more inspired forms of living. What gets tricky is when there is a need to retain the Bible as some authority.

  6. Richard, you seem to read the Bible without the Holy Spirit, hence your wild ideas about God and Jesus. One can read anything into the Bible but only the Holy Spirit will impart the true knowledge of truth.

    Think about that!

  7. Well Teologo,

    I'm not sure what qualifies my ideas as wild. Unfortunately I can't provide a lot of evidence in this format, but you are welcome to read the extensive references on my blog.

    If there is such a thing as the holy spirit I would think that reading would be optional. There are so many more efficient methods of communication.

  8. The label 'Christian' was applied to those who followed Jesus, rather than a set of specific beliefs. Though it seems that Jesus valued the scriptures, he also seemed to use them very playfully at times. Is it possible, that we define and thus use 'inspiration' very differently than did Jesus? Whereas the contemporaries of Jesus 'used' scripture, as C.S. Lewis said, to establish a specific set of beliefs, Jesus used the same scriptures to undermine those beliefs. I think the Adventist notion of inspiration opened up a refreshingly new approach to scripture - one, though, that has not been thoroughly explored. It seems quite harmful to define 'christianity' by interpretations of the scripture rather than by being a follower of Jesus. The evidence is in the fact that there are currently nearly 40K Christian denominations/sects.

  9. "It seems quite harmful to define 'christianity' by interpretations of the scripture rather than by being a follower of Jesus. The evidence is in the fact that there are currently nearly 40K Christian denominations/sects."

    Well, that form of definition is a self definition by most of the nearly 40K sects, each claiming that their particular interpretation is the only true one. I agree that that is harmful. I don't think its very clear when we have these sliding definitions of what it means to be a Christian. That seems to me to be a debate about semantics rather than truth.

    That is certainly a very creative way of retaining the Christian label for a much more mystical approach, but I don't think it is near the majority and would not be very useful for dialog among the majority of Christians. And historically it would certainly not fit the understanding of what Christianity has been for most of its life. The Protestant tradition would not exist without the proof text.

    I wouldn't have near the concern about Christianity if it were open to your approach. The problem is that I don't see how your view would come close to representing the majority of Christian believers.

    All I can say is, good luck...

  10. Richard,
    Perhaps by now you have read the excellent blog by Segue on fact as opposed to Truth. I go along with what he has said.
    When it comes to other religions, I believe there are "footsteps of God" in all of them. Many began with profound truths but over the centuries slipped into superstitions (the same can be said for Christianity). The literalists and absolutists can drift easily into superstition or become severe critics--they seem to have some common mindsets.
    The Bible points to Christ and His salvation--not just for Christians--but for all humanity even those who have never heard of Him but live by His precepts of love and compassion. And these can be found in all religions. The religion doesn't save them (give eternal life), but Christ does, as His sacrifice was as the Bible says "from the foundation of the world."
    The Bible needs to be taken as a whole and not divided up into pieces, I believe, of proof texts. Although verses are used for devotions and inspiration, they are only pieces of a very large puzzle called life.
    I believe in the Holy Spirit that comes to us in many different ways that we are unaware of. It is tragic if one is not open to its whispers,so that is why the "unforgiveable sin" is rejection of this Spirit in any or no religion.
    The Bible characters all had one characteristic--they were willing to listen to God. And the story of Christ coming to die and save us is the greatest story of love the world has heard--if they listen.

  11. Ellamae posted

    "The Bible characters all had one characteristic--they were willing to listen to God. And the story of Christ coming to die and save us is the greatest story of love the world has heard--if they listen."

    For one thing that basically states that other religions are inferior narratives. If we place Christianity on an equal footing to all other beliefs, there is no way that Christ is the greatest story of truth or love.

    Jesus is basically put to death by Himself for rules he made up Himself to prevent Himself from punishing us. This looks more like madness than love to me. If we take a factual approach, this type of myth looks very immature.

    What appears more likely to me is that religious ideas are evolving to solve earlier problems and, while this Christ substitutionary death idea solves some earlier problems with a sin narrative, it begins to fall apart within our understanding today.

    When you study the history of how Christianity was assembled and who assembled it and why, the facts reveal quite another probability.

    It may be true that we will need to retain the Christ character to continue this evolution mythically, but certainly not factually.