"I try on atheism every morning and then discard it."
-J. Christopher Clemens, Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy at UNC when asked if he ever has doubts about his Christian faith.
Recently, some curmudgeon challenged Eagle on one of his comments. He didn't like the way Eagle said something. He then said that Eagle had been made a saint by TWW. I want to answer that charge in a way that I hope he understands. Eagle appeared at this site angry about his difficult encounters with Christians through the years. He had become an agnostic, teetering on atheism. He spoke harsh words, expressing his utter exasperation at the way he had been dismissed through the years.
I have something to say to another man who caused Eagle so much pain. He attended a church which is into "men being men." He acted like a coward. He got upset that Eagle harshly challenged him. Well, guess what? He challenged me just as harshly and I looked beyond the words and my own sensitivities to reach into Eagle's life beyond the surface. It was worth it. Too bad he couldn't do the same. He missed out on something.
I always know where Eagle stands on things. There is no guile. He says it likes he feels it and there is something remarkably refreshing when someone is so honest. I always knew where I stood. If I wasn't making much sense, he told me. He honestly confessed his sins and shortcomings. More of us could stand to be so honest, beginning with me. He lets you into his life, just as he is.
Due to my own experiences in listening to those who had left the faith, Eagle's language and his expressions didn't push me away. I decided I wasn't going to let him get off the hook that easily. The Deebs decided it was worth the criticism to keep him engaged and we lost a few readers over that decision. They let us know via emails.
Eagle would call late at night and push me on all sorts of questions, mostly dealing with the bad behavior of Christians and the problem of pain and suffering. He would never let me off easily as well. My husband would be in the kitchen, listening to my side of the conversation and peppering me with questions after it was over. Slowly, Eagle became a beloved brother to our family. For me this was the first time on this blog that I had the opportunity to walk with a person through their journey from deep anger and disappointment into faith. It is a journey which is ongoing. Both my husband and I look forward to texts from Eagle, telling us of his progress in various areas of his life.
I can only hope that all who read here can one day have an "Eagle" in their lives. Such a person will challenge you down to your very toes. It won't be easy but it will be life changing for you as it was for me. Eagle is no more saint than I am a saint. As I have said to him often "I will fail you one day, Eagle. Remember there is only One who will not."
Finally, Eagle honestly deals with doubt. There were many time, along about 11 PM, when he would say, "What do I do with my doubts?" I told him that doubt is part of the human condition. Everyone, no matter which end of the equation they fall on, doubts their position. I told him that, as I looked at the Biblical narrative, it answered most of the basic questions that I have about life. But, it doesn't answer all of them. Doubts are part and parcel of any honest Christian's life. Doubts cause us to search for answers and to realize that it might be as hard for us to comprehend God as it is for a clam to understand us.
Eagle now embraces his doubts as he seek to follow Jesus. Again, remember that these are his thoughts and his doubts and just like the rest of us, he is in process. He is taking us on his journey with him. He hasn't arrived and neither have we. But one thing I know, he is a follower of Jesus.
(Note: Eagle uses the term Hyper-Calvinism to connote those who follow lockstep with Neo-Calvinist leaders such as John Piper, Mark Dever, etc.)
It’s unfortunate that many evangelical Christians do not know how to process, deal or comprehend doubt. First of all while frightening, doubt can be healthy, vibrant and can help form a robust faith – if an outlet is created that allows for evangelicals to deal with their doubt. There are two key issues that I think make doubt worse in evangelicalism.
1. The first deals with the evangelical claim of inerrancy,
2. The second deals with those who insist on absolutes.
I would suggest that doubt is made worse in evangelicalism due to the insistence by some that the Bible is inerrant. I think by both claiming the Bible is inerrant and treating scripture in ways that it’s not designed for shows how many evangelicals are insecure in their theology. Now please note, I am not diminishing, trashing or taking a liberal view on scripture. I view scripture as being divine and inspired. But I do not think, nor will I claim its inerrant. I believe that by claiming its inerrant it actually makes issues like the genocide in the Old Testament, or the eternal destination of those who never heard the Gospel much worse.
Next I would further suggest that doubt is natural and inevitable to mature and grow one’s faith. Many evangelicals should come to understand that at one point in their life, especially as they age, they are going to deal with doubt. Ask yourself this…how does a person spiritually grow if they are 31, 32 and member of a Hyper-reformed church and already knows that the “correct doctrine” (note the commas they are there for a purpose) is what John Piper or Mark Dever teaches? Also if one already has “sound doctrine” how can they grow or develop? (Again I put sound doctrine in quotes for a reason)
If we are going to be brutally honest and have true humility, than doubt will help develop that as well. When it comes to doubt, I would suggest it would be healthier if more people would say, “I don’t know” and left it at that – and learned to live in the tension. I would suggest that a healthy faith is one that has shades of gray. Life is not black and white, and if an evangelical views everything as black and white then I would suggest that shows not only their personal insecurity in regards to faith, but a lack of depth, and maturity.
While I could continue writing about this claim, this is another criticism I have of Christian leaders like Mark Dever, John Piper and Jonathan Leeman. Since their faith is black and white and nothing but absolutes, it forces them to make outright ridiculous claims when things like disasters, differing points of view in church, discipline, or how a church holds the" keys to the Kingdom," etc… play out.
But each person will develop doubt differently. And what one person struggles with will be completely different for what another person experiences. That said, let me walk you through my thinking and show you how I resolved my doubts – or didn’t resolve my doubts. I write this with sincerity and to the best of my ability.
The Problem of Evil
I believe that the problem of evil is the single, best reason to reject God and faith. I don’t have this all worked out….but let me share some thoughts that came about as a result of banging my head on the wall for a few years. I wrestled with this issue for 6 years and today I am still very sensitive to it. What would often happen is that I'd read the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, or local news radio (WTOP) and would hear the following:
- A well liked teacher who is using his access to children to manufacture and create child pornography. I would think why.
- A dispute over clothing leads a person to leave a residence and come back and fire multiple rounds from a gun into a house, striking and killing a 6 year old. I would think why.
- A house mate in Baltimore who kills and cannibalizes his roommate leaving Police shocked. I would think why.
- A guy high on drugs who stabs to death a woman in Fairfax while her child is sitting in the back street. I would think why.
- I would often reflect on September 11, especially how terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center.
- I would also think of events like the Navy Yard shooting or Newtown School shooting.
- There is also natural evil such as the Japanese tsunami, the Indian ocean tsunami in 2004, etc.
Now here is the one thing that people in the Reformed crowd or other parts of Christianity are not discussing. To me, Reformed theology makes the problem of evil worse. If you want me to explain why, I can go in deeper detail down below in the comments. But for me the Problem of Evil finally resulted in me pushing away from faith. I didn't know how to resolve it. It drove me for years. And after a period of time I finally came to realize that evil is always going to exist, and the answer that I was seeking…driven by my question of "why?" is not going to be found. I had to learn to live with no answer. I can see how evil shows how sinful people are in this world.
However, what bothered me is the following. ..since evil is here to stay how do people react to it? What do you do when confronted with evil? There are two thoughts I have to say on that line of thinking.
1. The Problem of Evil helped me realize how government and legal forms of authority are ordained by God.
Why? The government can contain, push back and punish evil. When I realized that evil was not going away my thinking then began to ask, "Well then…what do you do?" And with that I slowly began to realize how important our judicial system is in trying, prosecuting, and convicting people who practice evil such as people who rape, molest a child, murder someone in a gang feud, etc…
It is with this thought, that I find it deeply and utterly repulsive, and from the pit of my stomach (or what's left of it! 😛 ), the fact that Hyper-reformed theology (along with other theological systems) at times appears to flaunt, push back against civil government, and violate laws by a governmental system that I see as ordained by God. For example, it is alleged (and testified to under oath) that Sovereign Grace Ministries pushed back and did not report as well as allegedly(in the Second Amended lawsuit) taught people not to report sex crimes to the government. I would suggest that organizations like Sovereign Grace are engaging in evil by not respecting the laws of our ordained government. And they are not the only ones. This is unbiblical and yet is coming from those who claim to be biblical.
2. But this also leads to a second point…what is a Christian to do? What I learned through watching the SGM lawsuit.
How does a Christian respond when churches ignores, abuse, or shuns them and thus practices evil? And this is where the Sovereign Grace lawsuit enters the picture. Before I continue I want to write a few words to the brave souls who are seeking justice through a legal means from Sovereign Grace Ministries. This is to Pam Palmer, and the many others who keep pushing and fighting SGM through court action. I imagine you must be tired. You want to raise a family, recover from a cult like organization, and live and enjoy the here and now. I know many of you guys are hurting, and in deep pain. I know you have children and family members who have walked away from faith because they are so burned and fried. Their reaction is normal, as I walked away for years – when I was burned and fried. That said…I ask you guys to please continue and finish the job that is at hand.
To those who are hurt please make sure that an evil organization is completely dismantled so that no more people are hurt. Sovereign Grace needs to be held accountable, and those who have held it up…the John Pipers, Mark Devers, Jonathan Leemans, etc… need to be held accountable as well.
Here's why I say all this…when I was wrestling with the problem of evil, I always thought of the question in the context of child abuse, child molestation. That is just how I thought and defined the doubt…and I wondered since evil is here to stay what do you do you when a "ministry" is covering up sexual abuse? With my thinking of how God ordains government, legal action I believe is very Biblical and in order. With teachings of Romans 13, and Titus, I believe legal action is the proper course. Not just that but watching Christians hold a criminal outfit accountable is something that I find deeply impressive. And it was through the SGM legal battles that I learned how to process The Problem of Evil. with SGM
Quick digression: I find it funny as hell that an organization labeled Sovereign Grace is fighting a lawsuit. That action alone shows that they don't believe the Lord is sovereign. Second I got a good laugh at reading about how a patriarchal organization with strict gender roles used a female lawyer to fight its case. My immediate thought when I heard was the following…shouldn't she be chained to a stove baking cookies and popping out three kids by the time dinner is served?
The Second Adam
This is an issue that plagued me for a while. Why should I be held responsible for someone’s sin especially if it took place thousands of years ago? I have to give Andrew White (formerly from Eric Simmons' church, Redeemer of Arlington) credit for helping me resolve this, as I said earlier. The conclusion that I came to realize in an "a-ha" moment is that for each person it’s different. The original sin that took place in the Garden of Eden was unique. Man disobeyed and ate from the tree that they should not have eaten from.
The peace comes from know that Adam’s sin was unique to him…so are mine. I came to the conclusion that even if I were in the Garden I may have committed a sin that might not have involved eating the forbidden fruit, but I would in all likelihood (especially with knowing my stubborn, prideful and stupid self at times) would have in all likelihood committed another sin that is different but just as egregious. All of us would have….our sins are unique and they are destructive in the end. People are destructive in different ways, and they destroy, hurt and harm themselves in different ways.
Genocide in the Old Testament
This is hard…and one of the harder questions I wrestled with. I looked at a lot of different alternatives to include the following.
- Is there archeological evidence for the destruction of people groups today?
- Have archeologists found specific scientific evidence to back this up?
If there are no evidence could it be a spiritual genocide to where the ancient culture at the time maybe “imagined” God smiting their enemies? And is it possible to assume that it’s not a literal massacre. This is part of the reason why I suggest that the Bible is not inerrant. Evangelicals have NEEDLESSLY and UNNECESSARILY painted themselves into corners by forcing themselves to defend the undefendable – mass genocide. The tricky part that bothered me as well…is this…if scripture recorded God ordering the molestation of a child, or the rape of a woman, or the cannibalization of a person…would evangelicals feel bound to defend it?
By the means that some evangelicals defend genocide, or scandalously and foolishly suggest that the annihilation of entire people groups is full of “grace” (note I put that in quotes) shows a lack of a conscious. If Abraham pleaded and begged God to show mercy on Sodom…why can’t we? And if we can’t come to a conclusion given the Polar Opposites in the Old and New Testaments, how about if evangelicals learn to say, “I don’t know” how, with and why genocide happens in the OT.
As for me I don’t know is where I have landed, I have decided to live in the tension and create a third way or myself. “I don’t know” gives me an out, because if God orchestrated genocide on a spectacular scale and destroyed entire people groups, and if I had to defend that, then quite simply I could not. I would choose to be an atheist instead. The way evangelicals feel compelled to defend OT genocide I would liken to the following situation. It would be akin to being an ethnic German and defending Hitler’s massacre of 6 million Jews, because you love your homeland. Who in their right mind can do that? But if John Piper or someone else is going to say that God has a right to kill people groups then my response is to say, “No”. I think John Piper is way off base. My answer is “I don’t know” why this issue plagues the OT but I will chose to live in the tension.
The Prosperity Gospel
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one…this is crap and needs to be simply rejected. It causes needless pain and is more widespread than people want to admit.
Pain and Suffering & End Times Theology
Here is what I am going to propose. In order to make and have faith work again, I decided to let go of all End Times Theology. In terms of when, how, the method, and the means when the Lord will return I am just going to say “I don’t know”. I refuse to look at every disaster, war, global financial crisis, conflict with Israel, etc… in an “End Times” lens. I am quite turned off from dispensational theology and personally I want to avoid it. Personally the way that I decided to proceed is to say “I don’t know”. Now the one factor about Reformed theology that I do respect is amillennialism. Furthermore the way the Roman Catholic Church approaches End Time Theology I find to be healthy and deep. It’s actually freeing….in many ways.
The other problem with those in dispensational theology is that it has led some evangelicals to celebrate, cherish and proclaim horrific news, tragedies, etc… as being “good”. This is sad, and I think its horrific. Many evangelicals need to learn how to empathize, express sorrow, mourn, weep, lament, etc.. I think that would be one of the healthiest things the evangelical church can do. This I actually saw once at Fairfax Community Church the Sunday after Adam Lanza went on his shooting rampage in a Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut.
Eternal Destination of Those who never heard the Gospel
This is another challenge that is hard to work around. Really quickly this issue is actually solved by the Hyper-Calvinists. However, that actually opens the door to new problems to include questions like the following:
- How does a Hyper-Calvinist know they are part of the Elect?
- How do they know with 100% certainty that they are pre-destined?
- How does someone like Jonathan Leeman know he is saved?
Those are questions no one has answers for and its one of the issues that undermines Hyper-Calvinism. It’s like the Problem of Evil…Hyper-Calvinism makes the Problem of Evil worse and contributes to additional evil playing out, while corrupting God in the process. As for me I came to the understanding that I am going to have to live in the tension and say, “I don’t know” For me, at this time, there are no answers to this question. However as I banged my head on the wall for years over this issue, I also realized the following. There was nothing I could say, do or influence in regards to what happened to people who lived before me, or those who even lived before the Gospel was even invented. Therefore I had to come to terms myself in knowing God would probably look at someone who lived in the 21st Century who rejected the Gospel differently, then someone who lived in Wuhan, China in 400 BC who never heard the Gospel.
This crap needs to end. PERIOD. I addressed I believe up above in the Problem of Evil segment.
Corruption in the church
Corruption, nepotism, cronyism, etc… are huge, HUGE issues that create lots of problems in evangelicalism today. The issue of corruption I think threatens the very Gospel itself. There is so much corruption coming from SGM, Mars Hill, the SBC, Prosperity Churches, HBC, etc… And this is why I think this blog (TWW and SSB I might add!) is so unique and a gem in the Christian world. It actually shines the light in dark places and shows the corruption that exists internally. Mark Driscoll should be permanently banished from teaching/preaching another sermon the rest of his life. And before he does anything, he should look at the log in his own eye before doing anything. Many Christians should, and this blog does that and shows how corrupt many churches are. Discernment is so desperately needed today and its noticeably absent in many places.
Problem of Prayer
I believe that I addressed this well in my posts. If you guy want me to discuss this just ask.