Saturday, May 31, 2008

if

With the surge and surgical strike of these previous posts there is something else on my mind. I continue to be alarmed at how often I hear people having a 'faith-crisis' or moving into a 'post' space of some kind where the faith-stuff they once held close no longer holds much significance for them. It is very distressing.

I find two responses well up within me. One is the desire to walk alongside such a person until their night-time turns to day. That is the pastoral response.

The other one goes something like this:

If in my understanding of the God of the Bible I see him to be something akin to a buffet from which I choose what I like and avoid what I don't like, rather than me being the buffet from which he picks and chooses...

If in my chatting with God I default to him being there for me, rather than me being here for him ...

If in my singing to God, I am full of how I am going to hold on to him forever because he is the one that I want, rather than how he will hold onto me forever because I am the one that he wants...

If in my journey with God I consider the story to be more about God walking with me, rather than me walking with God...

If in my enthusiasm for God I brim with all that I am going to do for God, rather than lingering over all that he has done for me in Christ...

If in my reflection on conversion I am more like Wilberforce's butler ("it sounds like you've found God, sir"), and less like Wilberforce himself ("no, I think God has found me")...

If I allow 'the pursuit of happiness' to jump the fence from being a human right enshrined in the American Constitution to being a truth integral to the Word of God...

If in my obedience to God I find myself embracing sundry short obediences in lots of directions, rather than a long obedience in the same direction...

(and this does tend to describe the 'faith' into which I have heard young people so often being socialised and discipled at camps and conferences and concerts over a generation)

And if all these 'ifs' are in place then I can have every confidence that faith-crises will follow me all the days of my life, if indeed I don't exit off into a 'post-' experience before I reach those final days.

Why?

Essentially it is a theological problem. It requires a theological response alongside the pastoral one. At the core the knowledge of God is all messed-up. These 'ifs' shape the Christian life with such an alarming self-centeredness. The God at work here is too small, too shallow, too marginal. He is only near and only close. He is all immanence and no transcendence. "The God of mercy has become a God who is at our mercy" (David Wells). This God thrives in our spring and our noontime but shrivels into nothingness in our winter and our midnight. This God has been tamed and domesticated. He is just not big enough to cope with today's complicated life - and so the faith-crises precipitate and proliferate.

And this is why the wisdom surge and the worship surgical strike is so desperately needed.

What did Jesus do when he encountered two disciples in the midst of a faith crisis? He walked alongside and listened to them - yes! His was a pastoral response. But he also probed them with questions. What did he discover? He discovered that they did not know their Bibles well enough. He discovered that their understanding of the Messiah was too small, too limited. Ah - a theological response as well! And the first steps from 'downcast heart' towards 'burning heart' - and the alleviation of their faith crisis - came as their minds gained fuller and deeper understanding of what their Bibles had to say about Jesus (Luke 24).

nice chatting

Paul

9 comments:

Tim & Lizzy said...

Yes, yes, and yes Paul.
Thanks for putting it so clearly.
In about an hour I'm preaching on Gen 12 'Abraham - Faith and Failure' and your comments tie in so well and clarify well the state of affairs of so many.
Thank you.

ryan said...

This is really cool, Paul. I like the buffet image a lot.

Paul said...

I am glad it is helpful - I guess that is pretty much my motivation in being a blogger! Thinking, reading, observing ... and then packaging stuff in a way that might serve others.

Mark Maffey said...

Hi Paul

Have just done a sermon and one of the things within it was What is worship?

Some links of interest:

http://www.essortment.com/all/whatisworship_rjmy.htm

http://www.calvin.edu/worship/resources/what/index.php

http://209.85.173.104/search?q=cache:2J5ZL13tv5AJ:www.tenth.org/fileadmin/files_for_download/New_Member_Articles/whatisworship.pdf+what+is+worship&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=8&gl=nz

http://www.xenos.org/essays/worship.htm

This last link I found to be challenging and useful:

http://www.wcg.org/lit/spiritual/worship/worship1.htm

There is a worship that expresses the heart, and worship that involves the mind, and a worship that involves the body. There is a worship that is giving praise upward, a worship that is receiving instructions from above, and a worship that carries out instruction in the world around us.

We need all three types of worship. Some people focus primarily on speaking or singing praise to God.
Praise is good, but if all we do is praise God, without ever listening to what he says, we have to ask whether we believe the words we are saying. If he is really all wise and all loving, then we need to be attentive to what he is telling us, because he is worth listening to.

The end challenge is who is sitting on the throne? Part of Authenticity is recognising that we need to be available and open to hear God's voice and and then to do what he says

Alex said...

Amen and amen, Paul. It poses a huge challenge when so much of our Christian culture is saturated in all of this.

Richard said...

I've actually had the exact sort of experience you described in your blog when i was at the end of my school years and i think your advice and diagnosis is exactly what i think was helpfull.

My "crisis of faith" (i hate how this language is used in a smug and condscending way) occured after having about 5 years of bad and lukewarm theology taken up from youth group, large pentecostal gatherings where i was told to abandon the heritage of my parents very solid evangelical faith and discover God for myself. Everything was about experience, "closeness" or "intimacy" and the picture of God painted was always hugely anthromorphic and reliant on unhelpful and inappropriate imagery, which by the time i was 17 had very little connection to reality at all. The absence of a transcendent and sovereign God was missing, which in turn gave me huge doubts about God's omniscience and the doctrine of election when i actually started reading the bible. Furthermore, the kind of biblical theology and understanding given in a passage like Luke 24 was also very much absent which made it very difficult to actually develop a Christian worldview capable of making sense of things. Having pastorally sensitive people preach and teach how to see God and his work in history from a broader picture really helped me to make better sense of things.

However, one problem i think is that people can often be really dismissive and arrogant in the face of other people's crisis. It was as much the fault of the churches and groups who taught me to think about God in a misleading way as it was my own. The condescending and unhelpfull reaction that some more "sorted" or "sound" christians have to people's struggles (how ever wrong they might seem) often simply ends up alienating and angering people...leading them to the
'post this post that' sort of fragmented faith that is unhealthy. Many people's faith crisis' tend to result from the subtle abuse of power and authority in churches as often as they do in poor theology.

Paul said...

Thanks Mark for those web-sites

Richard - it is this sort of 'comment' that makes blogging worthwhile for me. The echoes in your own story bring my words to life and I find your words about people being 'dismissive' timely as well.

It immediately took me back to Acts 15 and the crisis which the early church faced over whether Gentiles needed to become Jews on their way to becoming Christians. If the deliberations of the Council hod got it wrong, it was the end of the church pretty much! But I think it is John Stott who writes about how the outcome they reached was a triumph of both truth and love ...

As we walk with people near, or in, 'post-land' and as we engage their faith-crises, truth AND love must be our concern.

Thanks

Mark Maffey said...

Holding onto our faith and dealing with the challenges the world throws at as is very real yet we can learn from the likes of St Francis:

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.


O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

His struggles with his faith and his turning away from a wealthy lifestyle are well documented. We live in a MEcentric world and yet we are called to live differently. As Romans 12v2 (NLT) puts it - Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

We also live a very DOING based faith, yet I wonder if God desires more than anything else a relationship with us where we give ourselves over to hearing his voice first, and then doing? Perhaps he is saying to us as to the Church at Laodicea : Behold I Stand at the door and knock.

Mark Maffey said...

One final thought - if any of you haven't read "Soul Survivor" by Philip Yancey,I highly recommend it and his other writings. I'm sure Paul will agree that he is one of most thoughtful and challenging Christian writers out there.

His awareness of the issues around faith "crises" is second to none and I keep going back to re-read Soul Survivor. It is a challenge to those of us "in church" to think about how we can both stay but also help others back "in" and support them in growing rather than losing their faith.