What If: Faith Has Nothing to Do With Doctrinal Purity?

Deconstruction is a popular word that is used in the circle of recovering Evangelical Christianity to explain the process of unpacking old thoughts. My journey of deconstruction began in 2002. It was in a season of absolute desperation and spiritual death that I began to question all of the ways in which I had been taught to look for truth and hope in ways that no longer made since. I didn’t have a box for the reality that I wanted to commit suicide. There was no way to explain the truth that I was pastoring teenagers with the Good News of hope and joy and yet most mornings it was all I could do to get my head off the pillow and face the day.

I built a life that was based on a system of absolutes. The structure that gave me a job and a calling and a purpose was simultaneously feeding my need to cover my truth, deny my doubts and run from the soul spaces that were calling me to look for more. If I admitted that I did not believe in the story of Adam and Eve as a literal creation narrative how in the hell was I supposed to teach original sin – the root of the need for a savior? While to some this sounds like an overblown drama fest, to a person with only one experience of anything faith related, I feared that my entire existence could come unravelled.

Simple math would tell you that this has not been a quick journey. In so many ways, the last almost 2 decades have been quite the roller coaster. There have been moments of big, scary climbs – moments where I thought that the decent from that climb would actually kill me. One of the first biggies that I walked away from was the denominational church system of my childhood. I spent 30 years believing that the best expression of the Body of Christ was that system. And then that reality died. To say that a piece of my soul died with it is an understatement.

I wish I could say that was the hardest death. It only got harder as the stakes got bigger. The dismantling of my understanding of ordination did me in. The moment that I accepted that the work that I was doing was indeed pastoring…mind blowing. When I realized that me not being able to check the box of every profession of faith found in the creeds of the Church and yet that fact did not disqualify me from being a follower of Jesus – I was floored. The first time that I allowed myself to think about the possibility that sexuality was not something that needed moral policing, I was done. Flat out done. This list is not exhaustive, by any means. What I know today is that I am not done.

Here is the thing about deconstruction: it never stops. When you begin to live your life from a posture of leaning in, one of openness and space for new growth, the universe allows your heart and mind and thinking and loving to come from a bigger, more expansive place. In the process, my beliefs about doctrine and theology have changed. I took seminary classes in systematic theology. I still devour texts on historical shifts in church beliefs and makeup. These things are fascinating to me. But the process of deconstruction has wrecked my understanding of pure doctrine in the best possible way. No longer is the list about conforming. My journey is now about exploration. There is no fear in saying that I don’t believe in _______ or I can’t put the Divine in the _________ box.

I fully believed, for DECADES, that by altering my absolutes, by taking certain “fundamental” beliefs off the table, I was committing catastrophic damage to my own faith. Instead, what I found is that the “purity” factor is the lie. The box of believing that without certain certainites it all goes to hell, has been destroyed. I would instead argue that what I have found on the other side is a breath of fresh theological air. At the very essence of the Divine is great mystery, a big questioning mystery. We are not supposed to know and be certain. Certainty and absolute knowledge is the opposite of faith. If we find ourselves in a place where we have it all figured out, if we have all of the answers, we don’t need the Divine.

What If: Science Has More Answers than God?

When I first saw this question pop up on my screen, I immediately thought, well it does. And then I thought about what I just “said.” That’s how these questions become the What If’s, especially for those of us that have the pre-programmed right answer. You know the one that makes you smart and sure and FAITHFUL? That’s the dangerous ledge that I find myself on when I hear questions like this one. I cannot count the number of times that I have been asked a question and my gut, my inner knower, knew the answer that should come out of my mouth, but instead the years of being taught how to answer a question demanded that my lips move in a different direction. So for the record, science DOES have more answers than God.

Here’s why: Science is factual. Science has provable data with clear right and wrong answers. Science produces the same results for every person. Faith, God, humanity’s connection to the Divine…well that is far from scientific. Rarely is it even quantifiable. And even when the moments of measurements are experienced by more than one person, the internal journey to process and bring meaning to the experiences varies as vastly as the hair color of humanity.

For many years, my belief system taught me that the answers to the things of faith were equally as precise. My religious system prided itself on the answers. Those that studied and attained and read and got letters behind and in front of their names were capable of offering the masses the clarity of answers to all of the questions. There were books and courses and studies to learn. There were words to memorize and songs to sing. When committed to pursuing the truth in black and white, you could find it. This all worked so well for me until the first time that I allowed myself to think about the answers that I so easily spouted. As I began to question and think about the reflexive responses, I began to cringe. I wish I could tell you that the answers in the Divine realm were clear. There are clear experiences. People can report their own journey. Others can tell stories that are factual in their own soul. But the majority of understanding and experiencing God comes down to a tricky little thing called faith.

Faith requires us to listen and question and think and process. The things of God are felt and experienced and nuanced and extraordinary and tender. These words make for a full life experience, but they do not reflect an acurate or even factual measuring of answers. At least not in the way that people who are willing to ask this question usually mean. If, from a place of sincere question and searching, this question is posed to a spiritually “smart” person, the attempt is to tap down the doubt and give the sure-fire Sunday School answer. I’ve spouted it off with great conviction on many an occasion. But if instead, if the questioned one listens to the heart behind the question, we see the seeker longs for truth. The most honest answer is to admit that by all worldly standards, science will always have more answers. But what if clear answers are not the end game? Connection and holistic beauty are the ultimate answer, but they won’t be measurable in a graph. Here’s to a soul journey that empowers the imagination and wonder and leaves behind the measurable success.