Forecast: mud and fog ahead


I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan since 1963, when he was often described as a “protest singer”. But after only a few albums of “protest music”, he turned his back on it all, and wrote a song with the refrain:

“Ah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

Sometimes I know what he meant.

Christianity used to be so simple

I was brought up as a young christian to know exactly what was right, and why other people were wrong. Things were simple, black and white. The Bible was true and told us everything we needed to know.

Dominoes along the way

But it wasn’t long before I was discovering that I needed to re-think – first one thing, then another. Historical Jesus research, the charismatic movement, living simply, community, social justice, the killings in the Old Testament, missional church, and reading the Bible with eyes wide open ….. all these had something to teach me that my evangelical upbringing didn’t really grapple with. And so my faith adjusted, step by step until I could no longer call myself evangelical.

It was exhilarating sometimes, but it isn’t always easy.

Wrapped around whose finger?

Sting once used the image of “Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis”, and rhymed it with “apprentice” – all in a twisted love song. Somehow that’s how I felt, and still feel.

The most obvious alternative to evangelical christianity is liberal christianity, but I have never feel that classic liberal theology was any closer to the truth. Somehow it lacks faith. And truth. It is just a little too easy to make it up as you go along.

So here I am, suspended somewhere between evangelicalism and liberalism, part of neither.

And these days I am finding more and more people facing similar issues. I wrote about this recently in Change – coming ready or not?. Bloggers like Peter Enns and Rachel Held Evans are other examples.

The road ahead

So what is the future? I am convinced that God is wanting to lead his people into new understandings. I fear that the US evangelical Right, the Anglican Sydney Diocese in Sydney, and luminaries like John Piper, will grit their teeth, dig their heels in and resist any change, while the enthusiastic “post evangelicals” like Australia’s Uniting Church, Rob Bell and a growing number of bloggers, flushed with new understandings, may run too far ahead of the Spirit.

But I believe there is a third way, somewhere in the middle, and I’ll begin blogging on it soon.

Seeing new truths

How do we find what is true? One things seems certain – we won’t find it by preparing our defences and arguing vehemently with our “opponents”. Surely we would be more likely to find it by getting together with our “opponents” and praying for the Spirit’s guidance? It will be messy, but renewal generally is.

Perhaps the last word should go to Bob Dylan (writing into a different context):

Your old road is rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. Although some of the changes that are a coming are not positive changes or good for humanity – I have left it to God. He will direct me in the path I am to follow. Prayer is definitely what this world needs regardless of how or when the world changes, because changing it sure is…

  2. Hi Unklee 🙂
    I just wanted to ask, why do you believe in God?
    or more specifically why do you believe Jesus is The Son of God?
    Do you believe Jesus is The only way? eg: THE Way, The Truth and The Life?
    Sorry if you have already addressed this previously.

  3. btw to clarify Im not asking why other people should believe in Jesus, Im asking why you yourself believe in Jesus.

  4. Hi Ryan, thanks for the questions.
    1. Let’s start with God. I believe in God because (a) I think the evidence points that way quite strongly, and (b) I find that believing leads me in to a life that is fulfilling, challenging and “feels right”.
    I think the following evidence points to God:
    (i) If there was no God, I’d expect there would be no universe (what would cause it to exist?). And if a universe did exist, it would surely be random and chaotic. But if there is a God, he might easily create a universe and design it very precisely to allow life to occur – which is actually the case.
    (ii) As human beings, we seem to inevitably live as if certain things are true – human beings matter, we are able to choose, we think rationally, we love, we appreciate beauty and we recognise some things are truly right and wrong. If there was no God these human characteristics become just evolutionary side-effects and are not real, i.e we have no real choice, ethics are only relative and socially determined, etc. But we can’t easily live as if that is true, and our whole nature rebels against that, and I think deep down our instinct is telling us something. But if God exists, all these things make sense.
    (iii) Many people experience God – through healings, visions, a sense of peace in troubled times, etc. Many of these experience have been documented, and although many are undoubtedly urban myths, products of a fevered mind, etc, some of them seem to have really occurred. I don’t believe we can write every last one of them off as not true, and I think they are indications for those willing to see that God is there.
    (iv) I have had small confirmations and experiences of God’s presence with me, to reinforce the above.
    (v) If we take what the secular historians tell us about Jesus, there is enough to indicate that he lived and was believed to be a healer and prophet (at least). He convinced many people he was divine, the Messiah and the revealer of God. I believe there is enough evidence to trust he was telling the truth.
    2. I believe in Jesus because (a) the historical evidence points to us having reasonable records of what he did and said, (b) the only explanation that makes sense of his life and death, and this first followers’ belief in his resurrection and divinity, is that these are actually true, and (c) he taught about a God that fits with science and the evidence above (many religious gurus did not).
    I think the evidence of his statements indicates he believed himself to be divine – he spoke on behalf of God, he claimed a close relationship with God as his father or dad, he did things only God could legitimately do (like forgive sins and speak with authority that was higher than the Old Testament Law), and he said he would one day judge all people. (All this can be established from passages that most secular scholars regard as genuine.) He thought he was divine, son of God if you like, though that phrase had a different meaning back then than it has now, and I believe he told the truth.
    Trust is an indefinable thing – you cannot always know exactly why you trust someone. I have those reasons, but, simply, I trust Luke, who wrote about him, and Jesus himself. That trust is based on the above facts, but it goes beyond them. I trust Jesus, I have gambled my life for 50 years on him telling the truth, and I still feel that is the best choice.
    You can read a bit more about this at Why believe? and follow links to other pages.
    So I think christianity is true and feels true when lived out. Thanks for the questions. How do you feel about these things?

  5. What I don’t understand is that if God has such a problem with those who disobey Him, and cannot stand to have blemish or sin in His presence then why does he allow the devil to have any power? Isint all authority given by God?
    Isn’t that like leaving a rabid dog in a children’s day care? Or like leaving a snake in a garden? I don’t understand it, why give the devil ANY authority? Any power? Even more than that, why permit the devil to live long enough so he can continue to deceive God’s creation? We are given a life span of about 120 years I think it says in the bible.
    The devil is apparently still alive and kicking since the fall (knowing he’s already condemned maybe but still given authority??) but why give the devil any space to continue? How does that make sense? The devil is referred to as the “god of this earth”. But why? why does he get any power?
    I personally hate the devil. I really do. It’s the personification of evil. I hate the idea of a devil. I hate what he represents and I hate what he is. But why is the personification of evil and deception allowed the power to deceive and sin? What makes the devil so special? Nothing makes him special. The devils only there to lie, cheat and steal. So why is he given any power? why should he be given any power, what? because he’s evil??? shouldn’t that be more reason to disarm him???? makes no sense to me.

  6. Yes, you’re now asking questions that I don’t think I have answers for. I think there are three ways we might approach your question of the devil.
    1. Accept everything unquestioningly – God created angels just like he created people, and some of them rebelled against God, just as all of us have. We can’t fully understand how all this works, just accept it.
    2. Some christians regard the devil as simply a metaphor for evil, and a way for primitive people to explain evil. This doesn’t seem to fit the Bible evidence, but hey, we’re postmodern!
    3. God must have known how things would turn out from the beginning, and whenever free will is given, sin is possible. It could never be any other way without God taking away our free will. So in the end, the devil serves God’s purposes.
    I don’t think any view is entirely satisfactory, nor clearly wrong. This is one of the things I just accept that I cannot understand, just like quantum physics.
    I think anyone who believes in God has to accept there will be things they cannot understand – we simply cannot comprehend God in any depth, certainly not unless he reveals truth to us. The truth on this matter hasn’t been fully revealed to us.
    That’s the best I can do on this matter, I’m sorry – I hope it helps at least a little.

  7. Thanks 🙂 I agree that as a Christian the best thing to do would remain faithful and accept that we don’t have all the answers.
    On a side note: quantum physics doesn’t call us to accept its existence. The stakes are incredibly higher in the bible.
    Quantum physics also doesn’t claim that it is going to judge us and we will have to give an account before it one day. Furthermore, quantum physics doesn’t warn us that you could be thrown into a hell for denying quantum physics.
    But I think I understand what you mean. Plus, getting fixated on these questions doesn’t bring any lasting peace or contentment. I think its far better for me to be working on helping and caring for others than focusing on these questions 🙂

  8. “I agree that as a Christian the best thing to do would remain faithful and accept that we don’t have all the answers.”
    That sort of trust is necessary in any relationship, but of course one must have good reason to trust in the first place – as I believe I have in this case, for the reasons already given.
    “quantum physics doesn’t call us to accept its existence. The stakes are incredibly higher in the bible”
    Yes, but the principles don’t change – in both cases, it is sensible to trust what we have good reason to believe to be true even if we don’t fully understand.
    Best wishes in working out your priorities.

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