Faith Shift


faith-shift-663x1024When once faithful followers begin disturbing the status quo, instead of honouring their spiritual evolution they are often labelled as rebellious, divisive, and even heretical. We attend church less often or leave church altogether. Sometimes we’re asked to leave. The anger and guilt can lead us to disconnect from God. Lost and without a map, many of us end up on the fringes of all we once knew – alone, disorientated, and disillusioned.

Faith Shift – Kathy Escobar

Many Christians encounter what is often described as a crisis of faith. Some supress it and just carry on. Others leave the church and faith entirely. Escobar describes this as a faith shift. In this book (also entitled Faith Shift) she offers a description of the journey many find themselves in and offers hope that this might be a good thing.

She describes the early stages of the Christian life as Fusing. We begin with belief, add to this learning, we work hard for God, and find security in belonging to our tribe. There is security in affiliation, conformity and certainty. Many stay at this stage for all their lives.

But for many this stage is followed by Shifting.  When the foundation of faith begins to crack there are often common ingredients. Disengagement with the worship, the sermon, the church and others. Uncertainty with what seemed so sure. Longing for a more authentic faith, a faith that is bigger than the rules, regulations and certainty of our infancy. A faith that is more about redemption than judgement, more about restoration than condemnation. A faith that is more about this world than the next. At this point do we turn back to safety or push on into uncertainty?

There are many reasons for turning back: we may be concerned about the effect on our family our children, we may miss the inspiration we used to receive, we want to avoid the pain and turmoil of moving forward, we miss the certainty of our old faith. Escobar is clear: it’s OK to go back, and it’s OK to go forward.

For many going back is not an option. The forward path leads to Unravelling. Each unravelling is different. But negative feelings are commonplace, including sadness, anger, confusion, fear, and shame. Escobar offers soul care for the unravelling: expect the unexpected; come to terms with negative emotions; consider the possibility that your soul is not at risk; accept that some relationships will fall away; make time for safe, life-giving friends; try experiencing God in new ways; be selective in what you read and what events you attend; resist the temptation to compare yourself to others; avoid big triggers if possible.

Fortunately there is hope. Unravelling is just a stage in the journey. You can move on to Rebuilding. What seems like an ending can become a beginning.   Drawing on her own personal story and that of dozens of others, Escobar offers compassion, hope and tangible practices for rebuilding a new and authentic faith.

kescobarKathy Escobar co-pastors the Refuge, a Christian community in North Denver. You can learn more about her work and writing at www.kathyescobar.com. Faith Shift is published by Convergent Books.

Benefit of the Doubt

doubtBenefit of the Doubt by Greg Boyd is a book for those Christians who are afraid to express doubts, afraid to question the Bible, and afraid to talk to others about these doubts for fear of judgement and condemnation.

It is Boyd’s contention that certainty has become an idol in the church, especially in the evangelical, pentecostal and charismatic wings. For some, unquestioning affirmation of a set of beliefs has become the hallmark of Christian faith. Doubt and questioning have become the enemy, unequivocal allegiance to doctrine is a precondition of fellowship, and certainty is elevated to that of a demigod. The result is the church lacks the tools to grapple with uncertainty and many faithful Christians end up leaving the church through shame and condemnation.

Boyd invites us to embrace a faith that doesn’t strive for certainty but rather for commitment to Christ. He argues that wrestling with God and scripture, ‘screaming at the sky’, and giving up a commitment to certainty are all healthy and necessary parts of our spiritual journey. He contends we can have a rich and fulfilling relationship with Christ even with unresolved questions about the Bible, theology and ethics.

Boyd’s views on the role of doubt are part of his ‘big picture’ in which open theism plays a big part. However there is much that can be gained from this book without having to subscribe to this. I don’t always enjoy his writing style but I’m glad I didn’t stop me completing this thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful book. I read this at a time when many of my long-held ideas about faith were becoming just too heavy to keep carrying round. This book didn’t exactly challenge my faith but did help to articulate some of the thoughts I was having. In brief, subscribing unwaveringly to certain beliefs is not faith; faith is trusting in a loving God, demonstrated through the self-giving sacrifice of Christ, even when you aren’t really sure of anything at all. Following this journey might be unsettling and we may well be misunderstood. But it might just transform us in a way that worshipping at the altar of certainty never can.

Greg Boyd is senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church, St Paul, Minnesota. He blogs at ReKNEW (http://reknew.org/). Benefit of the Doubt is published by Baker Books.

What I’ve Been Reading

img_0009Some readers might be aware I have undergone some changes in my faith recently. To a non-believer these might seem trivial – I still very much identify as a Christian – but from my perspective some of the shifts in my belief have involved a significant realignment. Part of my story has been the influence that reading has had upon the re-forming of my faith. The charismatic network I spent the last 30 years in, with all its wonderful people and vibrant witness to the goodness of God, was nevertheless somewhat of a mono-culture in relation to beliefs. It distinctiveness was for a large part in a set of beliefs, one of which was that these beliefs were the right ones. In such a context questioning and debate is only possible within very narrow limits. Thank God that we live in an age of mass publishing and the internet.

So I present the following five books as a sample of some of the reading I have been doing these past few years, some so called ‘Christian’ books. Just as significant have been the fiction and nature writing that I return to over and over, but those will have to wait for another time. Let’s be clear, these books are not all well-written, not equal in significance, and certainly not the only books that have made a deep impression on me. But they have all challenged my thinking, nourished my soul, fuelled my prayers and left me more awe-inspired and in love with the God who revealed himself as a carpenter from Nazareth.

The books are:

I’m publishing these reviews as separate posts over the next couple of weeks starting off with pure gold from Jersak (click here).

 

A More Christlike God

jersakI’m kicking of this series of posts with a review of A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak. If I were to recommend just one of these books, this would be it. I was immersed in a legal model of salvation from an early age but have done some serious questioning about this in recent years. Jersak articulates much of what I have come to believe.

What if we conceived of God as completely Christlike: the perfect Incarnation of self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love? What if God has always been and forever will be ‘cruciform’ (cross-shaped) in his character and actions?

‘God is like Jesus’ is the simple thesis of this book. Jersak contends that the statement ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1:3) is actually true. Few Christians would disagree. But many beliefs and whole systems of theology held by Christians are actually the antithesis of this statement, and lead to many harmful beliefs and practices.

Jersak begins by discussing ‘What is God really like?’ and examines several un-Christlike images of God, for example, the doting grandfather, the ‘deadbeat’ dad, the punitive judge, and Santa Claus. He examines the fundamental nature of God and concludes he is a God of Love not a God of Will, that is, the will of God does not make a thing loving, rather the love of God finds expression in his will.

Jersak goes on to explore the Word made Flesh, God as revealed in Jesus. He argues that the cross is the ultimate revelation of the love of God. This was not a legal transaction but the self-emptying love of God, absorbing all the sin, hurt and brokenness of humanity. The cross did not pit the Father against the Son, but ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor 5:19).

This leads to a conclusion which may be disturbing for some, that where God is portrayed as acting in a way (or sanctioning actions) which Jesus clearly taught or showed were unloving, then this portrayal of God cannot be true. It is God incarnated in the person of Jesus that is the true revelation, not the scriptures whose whole purpose is to point us to Christ.

This ‘unwrathing’ of the cross leads into an unwrathing of God. Jersak dismantles models of atonement and salvation which are characterised by an angry or wrathful God intent on punishing sin, arguing instead that God’s heart from the beginning of the human story has always been to save, to heal and to restore. This all leads to a more ‘Beautiful Gospel’; one that is truly good news for all of humanity, not merely for an elect few. God has not turned his face from sinners, but has come to us in human form and taken on all our sin, suffering and even death itself, in order to restore humanity to loving fellowship with him.

Jersak has succeeded in producing a very readable book which is both thought-provoking and inspiring. I highly recommend it. It might just change the way you think about God,

Brad Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC, where he attends Fresh Wind Christian Fellowship and serves as Reader at All Saints of North America (Orthodox) Monastery. You can read more about him at his website www.bradjersak.comA More Christlike God is independently published on CreateSpace and is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.