The question of unbelief 2.5

My friend David Hayward (a facebook friend, anyway…) has written a very interesting post on the 10 Movements of faith, most of which don’t sound very faith-like, using words like questioning, doubt, rejection, darkness, abandon and fear.  From a Western evangelical point of view, these are bad words, things that we either try to avoid, ignore, heal, or if nothing else fails, condemn.  However, perhaps David is right; perhaps we should not fear these, but recognize them as signs of growth.

I’ve seen these stages over the years in many friends and acquaintances.  I don’t know that everyone goes through all stages, at least concerning core beliefs. As I commented on David’s blog, I think the Western evangelical church is often geared towards keeping people at Stage 1, where people can be entertained, placated, and manipulated.  Growth  – as any parent can tell you – is often hard to deal with.  Then, some folks are just better at dealing with questions than others. And, as I have mentioned, it may not be our core faith that’s challenged, but the “baggage” that we often receive along with the Gospel, or perhaps even the nature of our faith.  Again, I think David is on to something: if we never go through these stages, we’re not growing.  As my favorite songwriter has written,

It’s not that hard
to figure it out
Where there’s no question,
there’s no doubt

– Glen Phillips, There Comes a Time

As we read through the Gospels, it seems that Jesus even encouraged questioning and doubt at times – consider the story of the Rich Young Ruler, for one, or the “eat my flesh” teaching.  A preacher that I heard many years ago said that God “offends the mind to reveal the heart.”  If we won’t challenge our own beliefs, sometimes God himself will.  The ancient church traditions – such as the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican – seem better able to deal with these stages of faith, and even anticipate and encourage them.  There is a wealth in the liturgical and mystical (speaking of the old mystical tradition, not what currently passes for mysticism) traditions that the evangelical church simply cannot understand; and perhaps it is this very issue – dealing with these “negative” stages of faith – that acts as a barrier between the old and new.

So, what happens when the church fails to recognize these stages as growth rather than “backsliding?”

At the close of his post, David asks

Can we consider the possibility that someone abandoning their faith and leaving the church could actually be a potential development in their spirituality, a stage where they are being beckoned to abandon their child-like faith to move toward a more mature and adult faith? And can we allow people to linger in any of these movements without time limits? I think these are important questions to consider.

Fundamentalism, and even more temperate versions of evangelicalism, leave no room for those who have to step outside of the program. If they fail to “experience” God like they are supposed to, or question some of the teaching, they are often condemned, or treated as immature (the “weak in faith”).  However, I think we need to ask ourselves, exactly who is “weak in faith,” those who dare risk their faith to deal with their questions, or those who insist on suppressing doubt?

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