when our christian faith is questioned

the worlds crying out for hope

many years ago i had a friend who was concerned about my salvation.  it appeared that my position that  “we were made in the image of God and there is good in us despite our sin” freaked her out in light of her position on total depravity. there’s much more to the story, but toward the end of our friendship, she asked me if she could share the gospel with me one more time just to make sure i understood how far off i was. i said “no, it’s insulting. i am a christian and i do not need to be witnessed to.”

i remember that night as clear as a bell.

i was sick and tired of defending my faith with someone who was supposed to be my sister in Christ.

needless to say, our friendship didn’t last much longer; she decided that it was “just too hard” to be friends with me with our differences and was concerned that my views would lead her astray and she couldn’t risk the temptation. all these years later, i still feel sad about it. i also have to kind of laugh a little, though, since that was over 13 years ago; imagine what she’d think of me now!

this week i have been completely buried with a crazy-hard-good refuge week (i even got to see my husband in action in the courtroom; he is an amazing advocate!) and have been mostly offline, but a friend emailed me a piece about donald miller getting ripped by christianity today. it appears that the evangelical below-the-belt hit is is being lumped with brian mclaren & rob bell.

now, i guess, he’s not a “real christian” anymore.

brian mclaren’s question & response was really great & i am glad he shared it.

the whole thing reminds me of how much time & energy & money & passion is spent on what feels like a crazy evangelical-progressive war.  goodness gracious, it’s getting a little old, and the only reason i am writing about it is that i long for less polarizing. we’ve got to find a way to engage in dignified dialogue and embrace our christian diversity as a gift.

we are brothers & sisters with different views. people decide to do something else on sunday than go to a church service. people choose to stand alongside their gay friends in solidarity and love. people hold to the possibility that Jesus’ love and plan for the redemption of the world might include more than people who prayed a certain prayer in a certain way that “counts.” people believe that the earth is worth keeping cleaner. people are advocates, passionate about breaking down systems of injustice no matter the cost (thanks, rachel held evans for this awesome post).

these should not be deal breakers on who’s a real christian and who’s not.

over the years, i have had some really hard conversations about my faith where i felt like i needed to “defend” my christianity. some of that was me & my desire to be understood, and some of it was the questions that were being asked of me. each time it tripped a wire in my soul that made me so mad & sad, that i should not have to be fighting with my brothers & sisters about my faith. it never once drew me toward holding on to christianity (in fact, it often had the opposite effect, and i would often leave certain interactions wondering why i was still in. then, God would remind me that my faith didn’t have to look like the person’s next to me).

Jesus understood what it felt like to be misunderstood.

to be up against the wall all the time in terms of questions about his faith.

to be peppered with trick questions.

to be obliterated by the religious powers-that-be.

to be considered a heretic.

when our christianity is in question, we are in good company.

for those of you who are thinking “who cares what people think?” my response is that even though you may be right, it is always easier to say that than to feel that. there’s something about feeling like our own brothers & sisters turn against us that extra-hurts. it is hard when some of that opposition comes from people close to us.  it’s hard when our jobs are at risk. it’s hard when friends & family are scared for us. it’s hard when we are wrestling with what we believe and don’t have good answers to any questions, let alone the trick ones.  it’s hard when we feel like telling our truth means the loss of our reputation in certain circles.

it’s hard when we are worn out and just want to be loved and accepted and valued and respected, no matter our differing views.

it’s so easy to forget that there are an awful lot of ways to follow Jesus, and none of us have the market cornered on what that looks like. i have fallen prey to that and can definitely sometimes sound like my way is the “real Jesus.” i am working on that.

but i have never, ever, ever, questioned someone’s christian faith or salvation or heart toward God in the process.

in my opinion, it’s one of the greatest insults.

and these days there’s a lot of insulting floating around the blogosphere & the world of christian power.

it’s ugly & unsafe & telling.  it tells a story to the world that our beliefs are more important than our practices. that we are good at name-calling & finger-pointing instead of love & justice. that we are afraid of diversity.

and that we are clueless about how to engage in healthy conflict.

i’m guessing it’s happened in a lot of your circles, too. so many of you have had your christian faith challenged because you’ve decided to leave the confines of the system and find life on the edges.  your shift from black and white to grey has resulted in all kinds of losses. you’ve lost relationships, and that really sucks. you have been asked to leave churches you gave your heart to for years.

there is a better way.

we can learn to listen better.

we can apologize for our bad behavior.

we can lay down our stones and start sitting at tables to learn from each other.

we can accept our differences and trust God is big enough to hold it all.

we can focus our energy on being salt & light instead of vinegar & darkness.

we can worry about our own log & not our brothers’ speck.

we can be kind.

we can spend time cultivating and living out our faith instead of questioning others’.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

36 Comments

  • Girl, I’m so glad a friend of mine pointed me to your blog. Yes and a big “amen”! I read both of those articles {Brian’s and the one Brian was referring too} which is partly why I wrote today, myself. I’m encouraged by reading your words today.

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  • It breaks our Lord’s heart that we are being played by the enemy when there are many larger needs that not getting addressed because we are wasting time vetting each other. I long for the day when we are more concerned about being loving than being right!

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  • Kathy thank you so much for writing that. Love the line ““no, it’s insulting. i am a christian and i do not need to be witnessed to.”

    “Insult” was exactly the word I used in the last church I was at when someone claimed they were prophesying but actually they were using God’s name in vain. And when I told them I had lost respect for them for that the pastor said he couldn’t have that. Which then resulted in me leaving the church.

    Weren’t Brian McLaren’s responses full of grace? I remeber talking with him when he came to visit Scotland a few years ago and the International Christian College here in Glasgow. I remember thinking I would have loved to spend some more time with him and that there were some questions at the time over truth and whether what he was suggesting was syncretism or contextualisation of the gospel. Sadly and shockingly the news came this week form the principle of the college, that it is to close in a few months. I’m OK having finished my masters in December, but students are left without finishing their courses and staff are left without a livelihood and I feel for them! Perhaps it takes something like this to happen to bring about the diversity love and justice you are talking about Kathy sometimes but boy has it been a tough week!

    I found myself only recently on a facebook page with others representing an ogranisation here in Scotland proclaiming itself “centre for public Christianity” and comparing the kind of thing you are talking about between evangelicals and progressives with the differences between Jewish and gentile Christians that Paul faced. And wanting there to be unity. I might as well have talked to the wind! When I said of one leader that I thought he had done damage between evangelicals and progressives and continued to do so, he regarded it as a “badge of honour” saying that he hoped he had! He made comparison between him self and me to Jesus with pharisees, Paul with Judaising Christians, and Elijah with prophets of Baal!

    Wow! – my consolation is in the counsel I have had from advisors at the college, that I am creative and that people in positions of power who are comfortable with their systems and structure find that threatening! Well, Kathy, if you are the ex-good woman, I guess I must be the ex-nice guy! lol. And you know what – it feels good! Tough calling tho!

    But yes there is the other side to it. Losing relationships suck and leaving churches you have given your heart to for years does too. Of course theire is grieving to go through with that and a need for healing. But I wouldn’t trade the freedom in Christ I have now for what I have before!

    Thanks for what you wrote Kathy, it was empowering for me – it can be a lonely path to tread taking these kind of steps and the feeling that I am not alone that you have given me albeit just through reading your book and over the net has been precious.

    God Bless You!

    Adam

    Adam

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  • As a bisexual universalist Christian living in Lubbock, Texas, I know this feeling all too well. Like you said, it’s easy enough to say “Who cares what others say?” but when you know that the vast majority of people are going to reject you based on things you feel/believe at a core level, it’s not that easy.

    Unless I feel led by the Spirit to speak up, I’ve just learned to keep quiet more often than not. I don’t mind a good debate/discussion over our differing views, but when a person’s already made up their mind before I’ve even started talking, there’s just no point.

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    • thanks for taking time to share. yeah, i am with you, i have a strong reaction to a flippant response of “who cares what others say?” because it is usually much more complicated than that. peace from colorado.

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    • “Bisexual universalist Christian”
      You do understand how contradictory that is right? Just saying. Maybe non-denominational Christian spirit who is spiritual but not religious? Anyway, we are all on our own path, right? Good luck to you and yours.

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  • Oh Kathy! Another post which so much resonates with my journey and where I am now! Thank you for your ongoing courage, perseverance, and passionate thirst for beauty!

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  • Thank you for this post Kathy. I think of what’s happening in Uganda, the anti-homosexuality bills being made law, and I feel like this message needs to be shouted from every rooftop.

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  • wow Kathy, oh how I know these thoughts and feelings. sometimes I feel like a number of my christian friends think i have gone off the deep end. For me, its all about listening-first to God, then my heart and then to others thoughts and feelings. Its so easy to judge, and so much harder to give Grace. But isn’t that just what Jesus has done for me?? Thanks for this post. I want to do like you suggested.

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  • Kathy, the best way to deal with this sort of thing is to stay away/remove ourselves from these zealous religious types. I’m sure some of these folks check out the Refuge from time to time, but the statement “we don’t do that here” would be very apropos for those who wish to bring those attitudes along with them. Their behavior works only if we allow it to, and we can make a very conscious decision not to allow it.

    If someone needs to examine themselves and their relationship with God, that would be each of us need to examine ourselves, not others, be it Kathy, McLaren, Miller or whomever. I know – The zealous religious types have a bag filled with Bible verses that they think prove they should be examining you or me. Baloney! The need to set their own house in order and keep it in order.

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    • Sam – I hear what you say about staying away or removing yourself from
      “zealous religious types”. And for the most part I would agree with
      you. However there is something within me that thinks of the phrase that
      talks of a lot of evil happening because good people stand by and do
      nothing.

      So – I see it as a responsibility to engage with such people to the extent that is needed.

      A while ago, a prominent leader here in Scotland wrote this about me:
      “Your continual overflow of words, your attempt to denigrate those of us who are seeking to stand up against false teachers, and your use of the language of hurt all the time does not take away from the important issue here – who is Jesus Christ.”

      What I had been doing was engaging with and challenging his belief that “liberal theology is from the pit of hell”. His statement about me was deception and an avoidance of engaging with my challenges.

      When I came to my defense against these claims and gave a robust rebuttal he was faced with a choice of changing what he was doing or appearing to have acted inappropriately. Sadly for him, he chose the latter. What I found was that others too spoke up over time with a loss to his reputation.

      Sometimes in order for such type to get their house in order, they need to receive some push back.

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  • “We are among the disciples who are simply going outside, to freedom, together, intent on following Jesus; we love him so. We’re finding each other out here, and it’s beautiful and crazy and churchy and holy. We are simply getting on with it, with the work of justice and mercy, the glorious labor of reconciliation and redemption, the mess of friendship and community, the guts of walking on the water, and the big-sky dreaming of the Kingdom of God.

    “So may there be grace and kindness, gentleness and love in our hearts, especially for the ones who we believe are profoundly wrong. The Good News is proclaimed when we love each other. I pray for unity beyond conformity, because loving-kindness preaches the gospel more beautifully and truthfully than any satirical blog post or point-by-point dismantling of another disciple’s reputation and teaching.”

    Bessey, Sarah (2013-11-05). Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (pp. 4-5). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.

    Come out on the beach. Sit around the fire with me in the crisp night air under the glowing moon. There are many other fires along this beach, but this fire is mine. I built it. I maintain it, not trying to grow it larger, but just to keep it warm. I believe in it. Listen to my story. Lean into my fire. Learn from it. And if it doesn’t warm your soul, then move on. There are thousands more to choose from.

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  • Ah, the wasted energy. Sometimes I want to scream in a first session when it feels like a test of my scripture knowledge as a screening for my aptitude as a therapist. Conversely, I also feel sad/guilty at the false sense of security that can be given for having the *right* language. Interject enough christianese and the tone of the conversation can easily change. Here’s to more integration and less stock in other’s opinions. And, I feel really sad for your friend who is missing out on you! Gah. #herlossnodoubt

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  • I’m sure your article is lovely. Your grammatical errors and lack of punctuation made me give up trying to read it.

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  • Thanks for this. Unfortunately, in today’s Facebook world where people can share alienating, hurtful posts with a single click, it seems like this view of Christianity is in the minority.

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    • It means that you have understood that there is a God in heaven and He created all things. He is The Father, The Son (Jesus), and The Holy Spirit (Three Persons, One God). It means that when He created Adam and Eve, He dwelt with them in the garden but told them that they were not to eat of the Tree of Life. If they did, they would die (be separated from Him). They did eat of the Tree of Life, sinning against God and God alone. God removed Himself from Adam and Eve and cast them from the garden. Because of His Holiness, He cannot be around sin and once Adam and Eve sinned, Adam’s sin was imputed on all mankind. But, being Who He is, He decided that Jesus would come to earth in His timing and sacrifice Himself for us all, taking on our sins and the punishment for our sins which is death (being eternally separated from God). When you believe this and accept that you are a sinner and are unable to redeem yourself, you accept the gift that Jesus gave us and ask Him to be the Lord of your life. You give yourself over to His control and repent of your sins. When you ask this of Him, you become a Christian and He sends His Holy Spirit to dwell in your soul. The Holy Spirit guides you and teaches you through the reading of His Word, The Bible. When I came to Christ, I prayed this prayer and believed it with all of my heart and soul: Dear Jesus, I know that I have sinned against You and you alone. I know that I can do nothing to redeem myself. Forgive me. I believe that You are the Savior of the world and that You are God. Be the Lord of my life and take me and use me for Your glory and the glory of Your Kingdom. Be my savior, I give my life to you. Amen. Immediately, I was a changed woman and The Holy Spirit indwells me. Jesus is my life and my all in all and no matter what people say or do to me, nothing can change that. I hope this help you to understand who Christians are. But, be warned, not all who call themselves Christians are. We are sinners like everyone but we are forgiven.

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  • This doesn’t surprise me. Many Christians also consider themselves Republicans and Republicans have been trying to weed the party of anyone who isn’t “conservative” enough for years now. That is how the RINO (Republican in name only) tag came along. It’s just natural that they would carry it over to all aspects of their lives, including their religion.

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  • This is what Christians need to understand. They think that somehow they are responsible for there salvation…That Somehow It wasn’t Christ’s choosing of us that resulted in our transforming process…If a Christian can maintain in reality…Meaning continue being humble and loving because of the Grace that they have received…All of these condemning factors and lines in-between there salvation will cease. If a person feels that its there walk and they are responsible for there own salvation…there going to put alot of time into appearing like a christian…What changes the heart of a person is the stagnant point that Jesus Christ in Who he was and what he did on the cross…is the only reason That we are saved…It is because of him that God has chosen to overlook our sins….And if a person is christian and they are gay….God has chosen to overlook there sins as well….because the truth is…and this is reality….There is no difference in Sin….We just like everyone else sins everyday…It doesn’t look any different to God whether its a white lie or a homosexual act…it all comes from the same place…murder, lying, selfishness etc…it is all sin…..What God has chosen to do is overlook it…If Christians can hold to this point that a follower in Christ is under God’s grace and not there own….It will be much easier to accept people at the point where they are in there journey….Now the bible does specifically say that we are to hold each other accountable, but in no way does that say to cut, stab, or hurt the offending party. God has called each of us to a walk of love and that is what we sell ourselves too, Jesus and the love that he has shown should be reflected through us to our brothers and sisters AND to non-christians

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  • I do not question Christian’s faith, it is what they put their faith into that bothers me. Faith itself, regardless of what it is put into, is valid. Faith in toxic ideas is self defeating.

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  • Who or what is a Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian? When does one become a Christian? All of these are important questions. I was raised in a faith that had very narrow ideas regarding these questions. Over the years my answers to these questions have expanded, to a degree. My problem with many that wish to be considered Christian is that they seem to think there are no standards at all, it’s just whatever a person believes or decides. I can’t go that far, I just can’t believe that God would not give enough of an example of what a Christian is for people to be able to meet that example. I believe we find that example in the New Testament. On many matters people may disagree, but the examples of people becoming part of the body of believers that are found in the book of Acts are too numerous and too consistent to be ignored or replaced by any and everybody’s own thoughts.

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  • Does anyone remember that Jesus Christ himself was also accused by the authorities of his faith of not being “in with the IN Crowd”?

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  • Very well said. Above all else, guard your heart. This helps to remind me although you shouldn’t feel any negativity. (I use psalms 91 to calm)

    Isaiah 2 11-22

    11 The proud look of man will be abased
    And the loftiness of man will be humbled,
    And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
    12 For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning
    Against everyone who is proud and lofty
    And against everyone who is lifted up,
    That he may be abased.
    13 And it will be against all the cedars of Lebanon that are lofty and lifted up,
    Against all the oaks of Bashan,
    14 Against all the lofty mountains,
    Against all the hills that are lifted up,
    15 Against every high tower,
    Against every fortified wall,
    16 Against all the ships of Tarshish
    And against all the beautiful craft.
    17 The pride of man will be humbled
    And the loftiness of men will be abased;
    And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
    18 But the idols will completely vanish.
    19 Men will go into caves of the rocks
    And into holes of the ground
    Before the terror of the Lord
    And the splendor of His majesty,
    When He arises to make the earth tremble.
    20 In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats
    Their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
    Which they made for themselves to worship,
    21 In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs
    Before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty,
    When He arises to make the earth tremble.
    22 Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils;
    For why should he be esteemed?
    Remember, he loves us and there is nothing we can do to change that. The worst a man can do is take your life but we will live on. Good luck.

    Reply

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