Rethinking Everything

There have been rare occasions in my life when my entire worldview has been forcefully and very much against my will turned upside down. One especially severe example is when I came to believe that baptism has a part to play in the “plan of salvation” and had to abandon Calvinism and the doctrine of “faith alone” as interpreted by Reformed theologians. That was October 1995, and during that month I came to lament having ever been born and thought I would lose my faith in God entirely. In the end, I adapted well to my “new reality” and came to read the Bible with new eyes.

A few weeks prior to my father’s death, in January 2005, I was running headlong into another crisis of faith. The ministry wasn’t going well at all, and my confident absolutes were hitting what seemed to be impossible contradictions. How could the mercy and love of God allow for an endless hell of fire? For years I’d told myself that justice required it, but the doubt always lingered somewhere deep. The enormous condemnation of most of humanity, including some very dear to me, was suffocating my spirit. My spiritual life was becoming toxic with the increasing fundamentalism that I was forcing myself into. The crash and burn that followed and left me languishing in here New Jersey, hoping for an early death that refused to come, has begun to pass in recent months.

In both instances, there was a disorienting sense that what I had been convinced was God’s will and Word, really wasn’t. In the former example, I found resolution fairly swiftly. Perhaps it was because I was at a Bible college, with the resources of library, professors and fellow students. In truth, that recovery was mostly helped along by a visit to the family farm and my subsequent supply preaching for friendly, supportive independent Christian Churches in Missouri and Illinois. In the latter example, restoration and healing has been harder to come by. The farm is too far to affordably visit, and the church I attend with my wife is not one with which I have felt comfortable ministering. In my prior experience, I was finding my way with the teaching of truth I’d recently learned and which were mostly shared by the congregations I visited. In my current predicament, my doubts have not easily found resolution in any particular approach to Scripture, and the church I attend would not understand this struggle. When I read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis last year, I turned a vitally important corner. Yet still I didn’t find rest.

Things have been changing for me over the past several weeks, though. A friend at work, a staunch Calvinist, has been loaning me CDs of lectures by N.T. Wright. I’ve printed material from the unofficial N.T. Wright page as well. This man speaks truths from Scripture, derived from an honest and searching analysis of the Word, that lift my soul and give new life to my faith. Even though I’m feeling the anxious uncertainty that comes from having to take nothing for granted and read the Scriptures again with new eyes, I’m glad it’s happening. Maybe my new perspectives will get me labeled a heretic or worse, but at last I can feel confident again about my relationship with God and His Word.

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