From Nathan: "I like your liberalism, but your faith is cold..."

'Nathan' e-mailed me recently. In addition to referencing a GREAT link from, Nathan asks an important question...

I come from a fundamental background, and am also trying to figure my faith out. This amazing statement reflects what I've been thinking about lately: "Personal transformation is quite separate (in my experience) from corporate teaching. But I continue to resonate more with liberal teachings because - at least in ideology - it seeks more gracious roads."

I'd have to say in regard to personal transformation, I have found religious liberals and conservatives to be fairly similar. I'm sad to find both conservatives and liberals equally lacking in kindness. Initially, I thought liberals were so much kinder than conservatives, but that illusion was quickly corrected by reality. Here is a link.

Anyway, there's another unrelated topic I wanted to ask you about. I find so much of what religious liberalism stands for as personally appealing. (For example, the possibility of universalism, acceptance of "practicing" gays etc.) However, I sense a certain emptiness. Religion needs to provide concrete answers, yet those answers can't be found in liberal Christianity. I don't know if you can relate to that feeling or not?

I responded:

It sounds like you and I are wrestling with a lot of the same things. Well said - there's little difference between liberals and conservatives in the way of personal transformation. Both sides have strengths, weaknesses, and RAGING BLINDSPOTS! Eh? Yeah, the most welcoming churches in my experience have been conservative ones. BUT, that "welcome" only goes so far, because they have very little room for divergent opinions. And don't seem to recognize that disconnect.
I was REALLY captivated by your final comment: "I sense a certain emptiness. Religion needs to provide concrete answers, yet those answers can't be found in liberal Christianity. I don't know if you can relate to that feeling or not?"

Yes, I can absolutely relate; I have had similar observations. I'm actually not sure I agree that religion needs to provide concrete answers, but it DOES need to do something to fill the emptiness. A personal God, for me, is crucial. I need to know, to love, and to be in relationship with the God who created me and who I believe loves me. That's why I haven't let go of my personal context for approaching and viewing God. I have the same feelings, visualizations, and approaches to prayer and living "in Christ" because the liberal church hasn't provided an appealing alternative. I suppose there ARE concrete answers for me, then. I believe Jesus was and is God. I don't feel like dying on the hill of "literal or metaphorical resurrection." I believe in the literal resurrection, but that's less important to me than who Jesus is: God. And that means God is very active in this world, and very involved in our lives.

* * *
Have you had an experience like Nathan's? Attracted to an ideal, an ethos, or a worldview, but when it came down to the nitty gritty, it looked less appealing?


Irritable said...

"Have you had an experience like Nathan's? Attracted to an ideal, an ethos, or a worldview, but when it came down to the nitty gritty, it looked less appealing?"

Story of my life! :)

Bad Alice said...

I can relate to this. I was never a fundamentalist but did go to a fundamentalist church as a child. I am much more attracted to liberal or progressive Christianity. But sometimes it seems as if liberal Christians strip the faith of everything until I wonder if secular humanism wouldn’t serve just as well (I don’t actually have problems with secular humanism). Spong comes to mind. I sympathize with his vision of inclusiveness and his desire to move beyond the literal, but in the end I’m left wondering why be Christian at all.

I’ve also found it odd that I cannot find any sort of liberal Bible study guides. It gives me the impression that liberal Christians don’t want to read the Bible or don’t think it’s particularly important or would rather just do away with the nasty bits and focus on the nice parts. When I think of the passionate declarations in the OT about God’s word being like honey and binding it to your forehead and the doorways to your home, well the lack of love for scripture just seems impoverished. (I say while recognizing that I am not exactly an enthusiastic Bible reader myself.) Maybe I’m wrong and there are liberal Christian study guides and I just haven’t found them.

I too want that personal relationship with a God who loves me. Haven’t had much success with that, but without it there doesn’t seem to me to be a vibrant faith at all. We can all do nice, moral things without Christ. I don’t think we need Christ to stand up for human rights. So what do we need him for? Is he just a banner we fly and say we do these things in his name because he was a great role model?

Sometimes liberal Christianity leaves me as cold as conservative Christianity.

Joan Ball said...

Hi Peter: I come to this question a little differently, since I was never attracted to any kind of Christianity. The whole lot of you seemed to be overarchingly full of crap to me. So, when I had a transformational conversion experience about 6 years ago, I found myself having to change myself to fit the faith rather than requiring the faith to conform to me and what I find ideologically comfortable.

Irritable said...

Wow. Verb tense makes a lot of difference, because I thought you wrote "seem to be overarchingly full of crap" -- meaning those of this in this conversation, and I thought that was mean. I didn't like you for at least an hour. But you're referring to the way you once thought about Christians (aren't you?).

Anyway, I don't know that Peter or myself or anyone else here is unmoored from the faith, in the sense of not being changed by it, even though we each bear a different relationship to it.

I'm wondering, if you don't mind indulging my curiosity, how you knew which articulation of the faith you were supposed to conform to?

Joan Ball said...

Hi Irritable: First, yes, I am referring to how I felt about the faith and there is no doubt that I was unapologetically mean about it at the time. As for which articulation of the faith I embrace, that is a very interesting question. I still have not embraced one articulation of the faith over the other. I have learned from each and every one of them. From Catholics to Protestants, evangelicals to charismatics, monks, nuns, televangelists and those who embrace denominations. I read, and try to learn from all of them. I also find challenges and contradictions in the teachings of all of them. Contradictions that I don't feel moved to debate, fight or challenge. Instead I make note of them, I pray, I trust the Holy Spirit to keep my path straight and I rely on the Bible, although I don't claim to fully understand it. I am rabidly obedient to what I perceive to be the leading of the Holy Spirit even when it leads me in uncertain and seemingly irrational directions. I view my faith as a journey to be lived rather than a theology to be understood. I also recognize that I may be going about it all wrong and I am willing to shift gears and admit that I've been doing it wrong if and when more is revealed.

Irritable said...

Sounds pretty healthy to me.

Peter said...

Some great comments here. I agree with Irritable, "sounds pretty healthy" Joan.

Bad Alice (great name!) thanks for sharing. I can really relate to your frustrations. I think there ARE liberal writings that strike a gentler, more faith-based (i.e. personal salvation, relationship to God, even charisma...) tone than many of the more radical, academic, and deist voices. Unfortunately, those probably don't differentiate themselves enough - in tone - to stand out on the bookshelves. Controversy sells. But I'd venture to say that writers like Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo (albeit, only to a degree) and Jim Wallis really fit that mold. In fact, it might even be fair to say that much of the Emerging Church conversation is focused on trying to answer these complaints. I hope so!

Can anyone else name some authors/theologians/thinkers who fit this category?

Bad Alice said...

Thank you for the suggestions. I've been meaning to read Brian McLaren. I'm not so familiar with the other two and will have to look them up. Part of the problem is no doubt with my own fuzzy brain. I seem incapable of digesting anything substantial.

Looking foward to reading more of your blog.

Sea Raven, D.Min. said...

In my own personal search for meaning, and a way to experience "God," a definition from John Dominic Crossan has had a profound effect. Now, I have to say that I am searching for an experience that is not "personal" as it is usually understood by most Christians. That is why I put "God" in quotes. "God" is not a person to me.

But back to Crossan's definition. Crossan speaks about a "kenotic god." He is using the word "kenotic" or "kenosis" in a very different sense -- and it really doesn't matter for my point. Anyway, a "kenotic god" is a god whose presence is justice and life, and whose absence is injustice and death.

Compassion comes in as soon as I realize the presence of justice and life (god). Compassion also is essential wherever and whenever I realize that I or anyone is caught up in injustice and death -- the absence of god and of love.

So, to somewhat respond to Nathan, the words may seem cold and impersonal, but if I live them out, they are compelling. If I live and work for justice and life, then I am living and working for the kingdom of god -- the realm of distributive justice-compassion.

It is not necessary to embrace a kenotic god in order to participate in Jesus's ongoing work of restoring God's realm, of offering salvation from injustice to everyone I meet. But neither is it necessary to "believe in" a separate god in order to participate in the work.

I have done a lot of writing on this topic, which you can find in the Blog Archive at

Irritable said...

Sea Raven -- I like Crossan's view of God very much, and your approach to it.

This raises another point, if I might make a subtle jab at Howard, that the goal of unity might be better served by finding common cause than common thinking. I think the kind of theologizing Howard is doing about what makes that unity possible is important work, but I don't think evangelicals are going to sign off on it.

I think it's very easy for those of us who have crossed whatever threshold there is to a non-literal understanding of the Resurrection to say that it doesn't matter if you believe in it literally or not as long as you're willing to engage in the work of social justice. Notice that this kind of plea rarely comes from someone whose own view of the resurrection is unambiguously literal.

So a milieu in which various ways of conceptualizing the resurrection are fair game (which I assume is the case with groups like Peter Rollins' Ikon) is a welcome respite from those milieux (conservative or liberal) in which a particular understanding privileged, but this is still very different from evangelicalism as we know it, and although that difference is a positive one, I don't think it's going to be a draw for a lot of evangelicals.

I guess I'm challenged by the subtle subtext among us liberals (and other heretics) that evangelicals would be okay if only they were more like us. This bothers me.

I think I'd be happy if evangelicals were willing to work with us for common causes (and this itself becomes trick; for instance, full inclusion is a social justice issue to me, but that's a deal breaker at a lot of evangelical churches). But in the spirit of Peter and Adele's exchange, the weakness of this argument -- even though I stick by it -- is that it inevitably marginalizes religious distinctives in the name of a kind of pragmatic democratic vision of social justice. Hauerwas would probably tell me to fuck off. :)

Brent said...

I tend to agree with Joan most the time.

What concerns me about this conservative vs liberal arguing is the over all theme of looking at God through a particular lens of ones own choosing. When I really experienced God's love and understood Him more, is when I gave up my own feelings of who He seemed to be. I started trying to look through His lens, that He does everything out of love for us. I grew up in what you could label a conservative church but when God led me to a better understanding of Him I was unconcerned if it was liberal or conservative.

I don't care if you are currently on the lib or con side. Ask God to reveal more of who He is to you. He wants us to see through His eyes, not ours. If this lands you on the opposing side of where you want to be, it doesn't matter. All that matters is you know God just a little better than before. I would says shove off all cares about sides. There are no sides in the kingdom of God when we leave this body, so why worry about it now. I want to know Him not man's differing theology about Him.

I want to know Him better each day. I also want all of you to know Him more. To know how much He cares about all the things in your life's big or small. To really know He is as close as your next breathe. He see's all your troubles and knows when you cry.

Growing up I couldn't see that He was really loving, it just didn't seem like it. Nothing really changed for me, until I told Him you don't seem very loving but I'm going to believe your truth that you proclaim to be. And seek You not my view point of You.

You will know your there, when you can't contain the joy you have in knowing Him. I only have a little taste right now but I want more!

Peter said...

Irritable, I like you more and more every day. I wish you did live in the Northwest.

"I guess I'm challenged by the subtle subtext among us liberals (and other heretics) that evangelicals would be okay if only they were more like us. This bothers me."

Bothers me too.

Brent, while I stopped counting your masculine references to God after #6, I love your sentiment and fully agree. Your approach, and Joan's, is a humble one: let God be God. Let us be transformed.

Brent said...

Now that's a little low. I did not choose to make Him masculine. I only read His Bible which usually references Him in a more masculine way. If He did not want this to be, wouldn't he have made it so? To me God is a father and also as gentle and caring as a mother. But I have never struggled with God representing Himself as a father. My Dad was always gentle and kind never harsh or abusive to me. He Did not care if I played basketball or rubber stamped with my mom. Masculinity has never been extremely swed to me by what the world says it should be. My dad never acted like crying was something men didn't do. So I don't have a problem seeing God as a father because my father was gentle.

But you can call God whatever you want, I don't care it still doesn't change who God is.

Why did you count them in the first place?

Howard Pepper said...

Wow, so much of this conversation that I'd love to respond to, but it'd be too long, and me too tired!

I guess I'll start w/ Irritable... I don't take your comment as a "jab." In fact, I appreciate the point about actions -- social justice or loving ones in general. I some time ago decided that was the more important goal myself... Trouble is life circumstances have me currently "stuck" about leading the way much in that respect. On the other hand, talk, or events I intend to sponsor, and writing to provoke engagement TOWARD cooperative action IS action, too.

On that matter, a few conservatives, Rick Warren in particular, and Billy Graham in times past, to a degree, have me puzzled some... Rick and his wife apparently are willing to take massive action, cooperatively with almost anyone ethical (not necessarily Christian). They don't seem to always have to have it lead to "presenting the Gospel." So I love that.... On the other hand, when I've heard him speak in interviews or read his "Purpose Driven Life," it comes across as the same old contrived, tortured (and I believe dysfunctional, dangerous) theology "systematically" derived by others well before him, much of it centuries or almost 2 millennia old.

On Bad Alice's and Peter's remarks about liberal-based Bible study guides and such... I also don't know of much. Some mainline denom's do put out both child and adult Sunday School curriculae, but I think most of it is more topical than the expositional and/or commentary style of Evangelical stuff. (Of course, liberal commentaries have been around for a couple centuries and continue to come out, but are different from what you seem to refer to, Bad Alice.) As Sea Raven hints, liberals of various stripes DO publish a lot of "historical Jesus" type books... Crossan, Borg, and many others. (I don't personally like the approach of the Jesus Seminar people, generally). Also many Paul biographies out there. Personally, on the "academic" level, I've become enthralled with the more historically-oriented and interdisciplinary studies, dealing with Christian origins and NT formation, moving away from textual studies. These are NOT designed as "spiritual growth" or inspirational books. (I particularly like Burton Mack tho I at first thought he was too speculative... the more I've studied, the more I feel his insights are at least plausible if not correct, and explain a whole, whole lot.)

As to other authors relatively "liberal" in one way or another, CS Lewis has some interesting stuff, tho the apologetics of his "Mere Christianity" is seriously lacking, I feel. Karl Barth can be a fun, stimulating read if you get the right stuff, like some of his sermons or lay-oriented stuff... if you want a REAL challenge, try "Church Dogmatics!" Barth, like Lewis, was basically a universalist, tho he'd never own to the label.

As to a "personal" God or "impersonal," it's a language category problem that tends to limit or derail communication... it's not a dichotomy w/ only 2 choices, to me. Many of my "New Thought" (Religious Science/Unity) friends, even ministers, speak of God, perhaps pray to him/her, worship, etc. AS IF she/he is personal. Same with me, tho my concept of "personal" involves intimacy and graciousness more than the transcendence and individuality of traditional theism. And some of these churches (now "Centers for Spiritual Living") such as Agape Fellowship in LA, have dynamic, fun, uplifting services with "contemporary worship" type music, hand raising, whooping, etc., almost indistinguishable from many Vineyard-style Charismatic services I've been to. Fun stuff... and people ARE getting ministered to, though with very different language at most points (tho some song overlap and use of "God," and also "Jesus" and "Christ," esp. in Unity).

Irritable said...

Brent -- not to be antagonistic or, er, irritable -- but how do we avoid looking at God through a lens of our choosing?

My ideas about God come filtered through my experience, social conditioning, circumstances of my birth, habits I've cultivated, books I've read, genetics, etc. Some of these I've chosen, some not. Even the very idea that things are filtered in this way is subject to the same contingency.

Peter said...

Brent, that was meant to be a joke - should have put a ;) to clarify. Didn't mean to offend, bro!

Howard Pepper said...

Hey, can I use y'all (the only south I'm from is SoCal) for some market research? I refer to Bad Alice's observation... few liberal Bible study guides. I do think the market would little support such from a "classic liberal" (rationalist, etc.) perspective. But as I gear up to write/publish more myself and pull together a cadre of similar-minded writers, one idea HAS been a series of works that might be cast in the form of almost verse-by-verse study guides... maybe a sort of brief commentary, with "backgrounds" and such, and including discussion questions and/or suggested "applications" or spiritual growth exercises (I can make those up by the dozens).

In my case, the text commentary would come with as few presuppositions as possible. Say, on the Gospels, as to Jesus: not that his birth was or was not miraculous, but what a given Gospel writer thought and why, maybe how it compared to other canonical (and NON canonical) works... same with miracles, resurrection. Probably I'd use critical scholarship to at least ask the tough q's, and examine authorship and date of writing some, to get as close as possible to proper setting, context, interaction with other authors, believers, enemies, etc.

So the focus would be perhaps equally on "personal application" and insight/learning about the social dynamics, even literary devices, etc. to enhance appreciation of the Gospel (or Epistle, etc.) on a variety of levels. And to give it a realistic relationship to the rest of Scripture, rather than this fuzzy and largely inaccurate idea of "unity" so central in conservative thought.

What do y'all think?

Peter said...

I'd buy it!

I'd contribute too, if you want it.

Brent said...

That is exactly what I'm talking about!:) The general tone of many post leave God out of the choosing. They rely on how we feel about a certain view point or moral problem. If we just rely on a kind of instinct, then.. yes, we won't be able to avoid looking at God through our own filters.

If God is left out of my trying to understand Him or know Him I will never be able to get outside of my filters. That is why I pray for leading. I want outside of my misunderstandings of God and into the truths of God. If I search for my own better understanding of God with my own filters or somebody Else's I will still be lacking the way in which God created me to know Him.

Us all coming to know God differently is not bad it is actually really good! As long as it was Him who led us there.

God has created us all with our own personal unique way to worship Him! I personally think that is awesome.

But, I do understand that in these conversation, the personal action of asking for God's guiding might easily get left out of the typing even if it took place. I am the first to confess that it can be easier to discuss the not so personal aspect of my faith.

I really do love all of you.
I pray you all will be blessed.
Even you Pete;)

Irritable said...

Brent -- thanks for the love. :)

You would seem to have a more personal (and personalist) view of God than I do to begin with. This could be because there is a personal God whom you grasp and I filter out. This could also be because God does not exist in a personal way, which I grasp but you filter through your expectations of God being personal.

Or it the truth could be somewhere in between, or something completely different, and we're both filtering experiences (etc.) through our own grid.

The only position I can hold with any integrity is the last one. That's what I was getting at.

Peter said...

Irritable, how very existential ;) And I agree. I'm comfortable with the mystical "Cloud of Unknowing," and I think God is probably a little bit of everything we guess at, but we still somehow manage to get none of it right. I think that's the real human condition.

Brent said...

sorry I haven't been able to reply. I don't have internet at the new place I moved to.

I would like to share some personal things that have happened to me lately that point to how personal God can be. They break out of my filter with no way to explain them away as being coincidences.

Once I get a good signal for a decent amount of time I'll share.

Brent said...

That seems more like relativism than existentialism. But then again everybody has their own idea of existentialism:)

I think God is personal and wants everyone to be close to Him, because its the basic reason He has decided to give us salvation. I don't see why He would desire for us to know Him and want us to believe that He will save us. Why would God only want you to come so far and view Him from a distance.

I don't know if you only believe that God is not personal as long as we are in the flesh but will be once our bodies die and we are present with God.

I'm going to paste something I previously wrote down. Pete is a local friend and can testify I'm not a loon. I'm very skeptical if something is of God or not. I always try to figure out if it could be explained another way, like a natural happening. So this is one of the things that has happen to me recently:

Oh yeah, the other thing you would need to know for this is my wife decide to leave our relationship a year ago and legally divorced me earlier this year. The legal divorce didn't hurt... it was the absence of her and her desire to be with me that did.

and sorry about the grammar.

The most recent thing that has happened was just so amazing. I was working in Lebanon and I had been feeling just down and I was being honest with God not trying to manipulate God with my sorrow. I was just downcast because I had seen some women walk by here and there that morning. The summer seems to bring out the desire to be in a relationship with a woman for me. But I told God, “I just want to be with my wife I don’t want to think about other women.” I was sincerely saddened with where I found myself. I had continued to talk to Him on the way home until I was just kind of at a resigned down feeling. After I was in Albany and my thoughts where kind of in neutral transition, I got a phone call. I didn’t know the number but decide to answer it anyway. At first I didn’t know who is was but it was Pastor Gary. He has never called me before this. He said he was calling to check how I was doing. And one of the first things he said was “I know it can be harder when the weather is nice and its summer time”. That spoke directly to what I was feeling and praying about. And then asked how I was doing. I partially lied and said, “good” because other than that I felt good. We talk for a bit and then ended the call. I was so struck by God acknowledging He heard me and was here with me in my pain that I was having a hard time holding back tear while I was driving. Once I got home I released all my tears and thanked God that he cares so much about me. I just can’t believe how real He has been to me lately. I’ve always believed, but this is just awesome to experience.
I usually always try to confirm to those who have done something for me, when they felt God led them to do it. So, last Sunday I told Gary about how that touched me and was so nice. He told me that he had been planning on calling me but not at that time. But while he was down in the office doing some stuff, God told him, “call Brent now”. He kind of questioned God and God repeated, “call Brent now.” Gary was so excited to hear about what God had done! It was so uplifting for both of us.

somethings are easier to explain in person but I've had a few experience like this and some other similar things lately.

Love you guys,

Irritable said...


I hesitate to write anything. Not enough to actually stop me, but I do hesitate a bit. If you met me in person, and told me this story. I would nod. I would smile. I might tell a similar story of my own -- I have few -- but more than likely I would just listen. I would recognize both the validity of your experience and your need for it to be true in just the way you've narrated, and I would keep my mouth shut.

But this is the internet, and I've constructed the "Irritable" persona so that I can write the things I'm about to write without fear of censure. Some people create alter egos to escape themselves; I created one so that I can be myself.

I don't doubt for a second the validity of your story. I believe you were concerned about those things. I believe your minister friend sensed God's instruction to call you.

And I am utterly unmystified. These things happen. They happen to all kinds of people, with all kinds of beliefs about what such things mean -- beliefs that in many cases are incompatible. Each of them probably thinks their experience verifies their particular belief system.

Jung called this kind of experience "synchronicity." I'm not saying that it's "really" synchronicity and you just interpret it as God, but rather that whatever this experience is -- or these kinds of experiences, since they're not exactly the same -- is something that you interpret as God (and you may be correct) and Jung thought was a broader category he called synchronicity (and he may have been correct), and a Buddhist or a Wiccan might interpret in yet a different way.

Not all explanations are equally cogent, but no explanation can make a definitive claim to get down to the ontological bone. I can't speak for Peter, but I could rightly pass as a relativist. Not an anything-goes moralistic flatland, but a kind of epistemic humility that says ultimately, we don't know what any experience "is" in a deep-down, non-negotiable sense. Not all explanations are equal, but no explanation is final.

I don't begrudge you narrating it the way you do, however. What else would it be, from your perspective? You are not required to frame your experience in terms that are comfortable for other people. You got something you needed when you really needed it. Why not, as a Christian, give God credit for it? This makes perfect sense to me.

You don't need my "existentialism," or my relativism, or cynicism, or theological non-realism. I need those things. You probably don't. I really only want you to see that there are people like me out there, maybe more than we think, and a good story about an improbable occurrence isn't going to shatter that frame.

Howard Pepper said...

I want to heartily concur with Irritable's comment... both the sensitive respectful tone, and the substance... the idea that "God" in some way is indeed "behind" the kind of incident you described. But the KIND of "God" capable of or actually engineering such things can be conceived in quite varying ways. I long saw the kind of personal God you apparently see, Brent, behind such occurances. Now I think I more consistently interpret them as from a "God" who is the essence of the way the universe works, with both its personal, compassionate aspects and its seemingly random, uncaring aspects. In that sense, and the idea that "personality" is one key aspect of all that exists, I believe God is personal, though not an "individual" nor distinctly separate from creation, as theism insists. Yet I still thank "him" (and/or "her") when really cool or beneficial things happen to me, even the chance to see a gorgeous sunset.

In other words, our categories, such as "personal" (or "relativity," etc.), fail to express very well the complexity of our beings and our struggles to make sense of everything.

I also have observed, like Irritable, that people from many widely varying religious belief systems experience the same kind of helpful synchronicities, and rejoice in them. At the least, they seem to show how interconnected we all are, and that "information," including the energy of emotions, is somehow everywhere afloat, whether mediated through a theistic God or not. It also is accessible to anyone open and interested, with a "need to know."

Thanks, all, for the conversation!

Peter said...

Brent, thank you for being so open with your personal struggles. I know you've been through a lot, and I grieve with you.

God is very real and personal for me. Even as my theology has evolved, my politics have flip-flopped, and my social and cultural views have radically changed, I still pray to the same conception of God I prayed to as a conservative Evangelical. It's just that the bullet points underneath are different.

But, at the same time, I must also admit that I resonate with Howard and Irritable. Just because I perceive God as the Trinitarian Judeo-Christian Creator, doesn't mean my beliefs demand that acknowledgment from others. Nor do I believe my perception is Absolute Truth. Only "true enough."

I don't think of religion in terms of who's in and who's out anymore. It's not an issue of Heaven and Hell for me. I think that stuff is up to God, and I'm leaning toward placing all my chips on Christian Universalism. There's a natural Quaker tie-in there, and I'm a wannabe-Quaker.

Anyway, a recent post at A.D. Hunt's blog talks about whether or not God is made up of a bunch of metaphysical particles, and whether or not that even MATTERS. We worry so much about whether our beliefs are objectively right, but I FEEL loved by God. I know you do too, Brent. And the conception I have of God is consistent with the love and hope I feel. I believe God is unquestionably good. And so I trust that goodness to prevail, regardless of how correct or way-off-base my theology is.

Brent said...

I know there are many out there like you. I also know that if a person desires he can discount anything if he is intent on believing his own theology. Explaining away an event as such that I had, would take more faith in the randomness of synchronicity. Since synchronicity is a hypothesis with no way to prove it. If I tell you how to make a cookie does it then negate that it is a cookie. I contend that that thinking is reductionism which can lead to an existential vacuum. And doing that only serve to discount everything as meaningless. And I use to be in that mindset in my youth.
I would say a person can view his life as meaningless or meaningful; whichever he wants to. I have been on both sides but now I choose to make it meaningful. Its a lot more enjoyable for me than when everything is meaningless. I don't care to change your mind that was not my intent by sharing. I shared because I felt like it and to be honest.

I like that you have been honest in your online Irritable name. It has to feel quite re leaving to share what you really think. Pete's site is definitely the place to do it.

I believe there is absolute truth but in my Humanness, I can only be true enough. I do trust in God goodness to prevail for you and me. But if you are called to be a pastor you have a responsibility to be more correct than off base in your theology for the benefit of those people in your congregation.

I do believe God is at work in all churches, in that there are humans there. And God is always drawing us to Himself.


Peter said...

I'm sorry you feel that way Brent. I don't feel called to be "correct."

I also don't think Irritable was being particularly irritable. Just sharing his vantage, which we're all doing. I appreciate yours, Brent. Thx,

Brent said...

Well, that should have be stated as more of a question.

I know he was sharing is vantage. If I sounded accusational it was because of my lack of sentence skills, and time taken in writing.

Irritable said...


I didn't think you intended " honest in your online Irritable name" to mean that I'm actually irritable as a character quality, just that the pseudonym is a platform to be candid, which it is.

For the record, it comes from a Keats quote about what he called "negative capability":

"..that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."

I chose it because I've heard too many people invoke this quote as a justification to ignore facts and abandon reason altogether. People do the same thing with postmodernism. I find it intellectually irresponsible.

So I'm not irritable, but I can get a little cranky sometimes. :)

Anyway, I'd like to point a couple of things out. First, I did not side with Jung in identifying your experience as synchronicity, nor did I suggest that it was random. I have no faith in the "randomness of synchroniticy" -- I'm not even sure what that looks like.

I was not saying that synchronicity, as an explanation, is more true than your explanation. I have no desire to adjudicate between the two. I was simply suggesting that other explanations are possible for the kind of experience you describe, and that such experiences are available to people who don't share your faith and therefore wouldn't accept your explanation.

To use your cookie analogy: I'm not saying there is no cookie. I affirm the cookie. What I'm saying is that what you call a cookie, a British person might call a biscuit. The French have a different word for it. No matter how good your cookie is, it doesn't prove that English is better or more true than French, or confirm American usage over British.

I reject the suggestion that my view of life is meaningless; in fact, I see such an abundance of potential meaning and raw materials for meaning-making that I often choose a kind of agnosticism rather than commit myself to one particular or exclusive meaning. I don't always have the luxury, of course, and I'm not always aware of the ways I'm privileging some ways over others; I have my biases, and I enjoy them. I don't think that one of those biases, however, is a desire to discount everything as meaningless. That's not what I'm about.

I realize this may not seem any less dour or hopeless to you, and I understand that. But I assure you I am not miserable; in fact, I seem to be much healthier owning up to my limitations and not trying to believe things that I can't.

You mention that you once saw life as meaningless (as you assume that I do) and changed your tune as you got older. By the same token, I could say that I once thought more like you do, before coming to this place in my life.

I try to be very careful with such sentiments, however, because it's all to easy to convey the impression that I used to think X, but I got over it. I've seen the light. When I was a child, I thought like a child, but now I've put childish ways behind me.

I don't think you meant all that. I think you probably just meant to indicate that you've tried what you think is my way of thinking, and found it wanting. And that's fair. But can you see the possible rhetorical violence of suggesting (intentionally or not) that another person's perspective was simply a way station on your own path to enlightenment?

I can't completely escape the charge that on some level, I don't believe some things simply because I don't want to. On a personal level, though, I've never experienced it as a simple matter of choosing. I disbelieve certain things because they don't seem to be true from my perspective; I don't want to give up that perspective and I'm not sure how or why I should do so. We believe what we need to believe, and that's a little different.

Again, I see a potential subtext here, an implicit suggestion that I could believe if I wanted to, and I just haven't tried hard enough. And to that I can only say: you have no idea.

Brent said...

I agree with everything you said there in that last post. You sound very authentic. I always admire that. I definitely agree with your follow up to the cookie analogy.

I like what you said about not giving up your perspective. That's the way I feel. But thinking back there are times I have given up my own perspective for a better one. But it only happened after I could see why my previous perspective was lacking. How those times come about for me I don't know. Thinking about it, I can only remember it was in suffering, most the time. But its different for everyone.

I see how the subtext could sound like that, But that is far from what I would want to level at anyone. I don't think I see "believe" as a pushing but more of a pulling. God continually pulling us. And I don't see our understanding of God as a race between us, like I am ahead, but a destination we are all traveling from different roads.

Irritable said...

Nicely put, Brent, and very gracious.

I think there's a kind of suffering that typically accompanies a major shift in thinking or belief.

Not every shift is traumatic, and I think some people are never afflicted in this way (which is to say I think we kind of do it to ourselves, not that I can stop), but usually a significant shift happens on the heels of a kind of system crash: we reach the end of the current system's usefulness, and that can be painful, especially since most of the time we don't have a fully formed replacement system waiting in the wings.

I think Peter's recent blog entry speaks to this somewhat.

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