Daniel steps out

There come times in ones life when you must admit to something. I have admitted to many things, including that I have indeed been wrong on many occasions, and am sure I will be wrong many more times. But there is an admission that I have not made, that I have decided it is time to make. I am stepping out…

I am not a conservative evangelical Christian. I really don’t like christian music, I don’t enjoy singing in church, I don’t even like going to church, I’d rather not set foot in a christian book store, you will not catch me buying anything overtly labeled “Christian”, and I am a little suspicious of any company that advertises that they are christian. I also am saddened by the mixture of Christianity and nationalistic pride, christian leaders that endorse war, fear-mongering from the pulpit, christians that “trash talk” Democrats, Liberals, Feminists, Environmentalists, welfare recipients, presidential candidates, rednecks, Mexicans, Muslims, Catholics, Pentacostals, Southern Baptists, Free Methodists, Athiests, fellow motorists, and … well, anyone. Yep, it really does give me an icky feeling in my stomach. I have it right now.

So what am I? Do I have to say? To those who would claim to be christian, I might seem a liberal tree-hugger, and compared to the average consumer, my ideas may seem to lean toward communism. So, to make things easier, I will outline my core values, and you can make up whatever label you prefer.

I do still believe in God, and that he somehow made this incredible universe at least partially for us, but mostly to enjoy for himself. I think that we fit in there because, as he made us somewhat free agents, we can somehow please him more than the rest of the stuff he made. At some point we took that freedom, and twisted it and that did not really make him very happy. He decided that, at great pain to himself, he would extend a favor to us despite our twistedness, and in fact show us how to undo the kinks.

Yes, I know, I did not mention Jesus, or the cross, or the bible. Those are all parts of it, but the terms themselves do not add anything to the story. I do believe that Jesus was much more than a very wise man, and I think that his personal example, as recorded in what we call the gospels, is probably the best example there ever was. The horrible way that he died, and the events following that death are very significant, but to what extent we will not truely know until later.

So there is the theology section. Now, on to regular everyday life. I believe that God made the world that made me. I believe that God cares not just about people, but also about all the other stuff he made, and if we care at all about God, we will also care about his stuff. When I say “care about”, I do not just mean disapointed if something happens to it. I mean really take an interest, and be actively invovled in taking care of it, in the same way that you would “take care” of your ailing aunt, or your new infant. Not how a gangster would “take care of it.” This means be good to yourself, your fellow two-legged-rational beings, the other creatures around you, the bit of dust that keeps producing the stuff that keeps us alive, and the elements that we are built from. Be good means more than don’t be bad. Being good involves active choices for doing things that are beneficial. There are some virtues that describe this type of good: self-discipline, humility, justice, mercy, compassion, charity, love, and grace.

As it turns out, these virtues were the primary teachings and example of Jesus. Some of the other things he taught or lived were simplicity, intolerance of religious facades, modesty, integrity, perserverance, community, stewardship, and self-sacrifice (literally!). Those are the values or virtues that I see as the core of what Jesus taught and lived. If I take him as a excellent teacher and example, those become the core values for which I yearn and strive. The other stuff? Church service, Sunday school, daily devotions, quiet time, yearly bible, praise music, “the experience”, full-time ministry, excecutive pastors, assistant pastors, “emergent”, neo-conservative, sword-drills, memory verses, alter calls, “the prayer”, christian radio, christian movies, christian products, christian versions of ideas that are already in use, christian America, christian stores, church camp, study bible, teen bible, womens bible, christian fiction. It is just extras. I see it as the weeds that grow up and choke the seed. It is the stuff that keeps us from taking care of the things that God cares about, the stuff that can keep us from doing good.

So, there you have it. I think I still please God. I long to please him now, more than ever before. But now I feel more freedom to follow Jesus more fully than I ever have.

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Daniel

Hey, I run the place.

12 thoughts on “Daniel steps out”

  1. I’m going ignore the main point of your post, and comment on a piece of it. And you may not even be saying what I’m posting about. ( I do this all the time)

    I’d agree, teen Bibles are fairly worthless. But you’ve got to be very careful in dismissing church as worthless. Even though it modern western form it may be fairly regimented, a good church is a place where people who love God gather together.

    I’ve seen my family almost get destroyed while taking “some time off from church to rest on Sunday” – even though the reason we tired was from ministry work during the week and weekends. Isolated cultures tend to be fairly different from ones in communication with lots of people. Wolves and lions like to eat stragglers. By staying away from assembling of believers, people tend to go weird in their beliefs or fall away because no one is around to point out when they start down the wrong path.

    I guess I’ve done it and know several people, who have stopped going to church, realized that it is unhealthy, and gone back again. Some other people stopped going to church since it wasn’t really required for Christianity and were going to live for God their own way, and soon fell away from following God at all. But I’ve never met a joy filled believer in America that didn’t go to church.

    Anyway… 🙂

  2. Before I get too many more comments encouraging me not to jump ship, I still do go to church, and have not included many fellowship oriented activities in my list of “extras.” I do value community, and am not even considering isolating myself from other believers. I am trimming down my faith to the essentials, so that my faith can more easily lead to the good works that are supposed to result from faith.

  3. I think a lot of people, myself included, will sadly agree with you that there is a lot of hollow Christianity out there that does not please God. What keeps me focused on the essentials are what you implied are non-essentials: Jesus, the Cross, and the Bible. It is by focusing on these things that really do matter –and not the fallible church- that I can filter out the cultural fluff. Sure, the fluff still bugs me and sometimes discourages me for a while, but I don’t allow it to drag down my relationship with Jesus.

    What you’ve written may have come across incorrectly, but is nonetheless alarming enough to me that I feel compelled to bring up a few of your points again:
    1) It sounds like you choose not to believe in Jesus’ deity
    when you carefully choose to call Him everything but
    God.
    2) You wonder what Jesus’ death on the Cross means to
    everyone, eternally!
    3) You are now focusing on doing good works to please
    some depressingly distant God that doesn’t really care
    about us personally and whom we might please by
    being “good enough” if we’re lucky.

    So are you really saying that you now deny Christ as your personal God and Savior and have converted to Deism?

    Ouch. I truly hope that’s not what you meant to communicate. It’s one thing to be disillusioned with the ever-so-fallible church, and yet another to be questioning the basics of Christian faith.

  4. Jim, I doubt that Daniel intended to write a complete statement of faith, but more a statement of evolution of his ideas. Those of us that know where he’s coming from will understand the differences that he states. Without a point of reference, it’s an incomplete theology… but I don’t think that was the intention.

    The homogenity that is assumed in the contemporary Christian community makes one want to define one’s ideas and make them understood by others. In fact that sense of individuality is precisely a defining quality of the American culture, and larger Christian culture. I feel fortunate that I can more simply reference the beliefs of my church, to which by-and-large I subscribe. http://www.oca.org/QAindex.asp?SID=3

  5. I choose to be vague because having all the answers hurts more than it heals. We have theories about how exactly the incarnation works, and what exactly happened at the cross and the grave three days later, but the how and what are not as important as the reasons. Sure, I believe that Jesus was somehow God, but I make no claim to understand it, nor do I think I need to. I also beleive that what he did in dying was critical in allowing us to be able to be pleasing to God again, and without the return on the third day, it would be pointless.

    While I deny nothing, I refuse to use words that have become meaningless to categorize my faith. I love God. I have devoted my life to him. Through his son he has given us a chance to express our love to him, and an example of perfect love and obedience. I see his world around me and it fills me with joy and life. I long to be near him at all times. I see his beauty everywhere. I do not think he is my personal God, nor is he my personal savior. He is these things to all of mankind, of which I am a part. The attachment and devotion that I have to him are not unique to me, nor is the love he shows to me unique to me.

    I am not sure I indicated that I thought God was distant, but I do know that he is not. I see him in all the things he made, and in my life and those around me. As to pleasing him with works, I think that is in the bible. Faith without works is dead, and faith without love is nothing. My faith is stronger than ever… my constant prayer is that my love for others is as strong as my faith, and that both my faith and my love be fruitful as action.

    Ah, disillusionment, the disease of our time. I kick at the base of the christian faith because I take it seriously.

  6. Thanks, Nathan!

    Daniel, it’s a relief to hear you clarify yourself. I figured you weren’t *really* trying to say those things, but I thought that in reflecting them back to you, you might see how they could be taken.

    You might disagree, but I think that avoiding the use of Christian words and concepts can be taken too far, especially when we start to exclude language that is used in the Bible. We are left with man’s words and concepts to use, which often confuse the central concepts of the Christian faith. For example, practically everyone has heard Jesus described as a wise man and a great example to follow, but those concepts are usually coming from people who deny His deity. When a Christian re-uses those phrases, the concept that automatically comes into people’s minds is that Jesus isn’t God because they’ve heard it that way so many times before. Darn. While trying to avoid the Christian stereotypes, we run up against non-Christian stereotypes. That’s a frustrating Catch-22.

    On faith/works, God is surely pleased by our good works, but at the same time they can’t save us. (I often focus on salvation, because every other issue is meaningless in comparison.) Rather, good works are our natural response to God for saving us. Perhaps I’m extra-sensitive to the distinction because I see so many people around me trying to get to Heaven by being good enough. That’s a problem that is older than the Pharisees, but Jesus sure didn’t cut them any slack, instead addressing it head on.

    I find that a more simple faith, uncluttered by man’s additions (or subtractions!) is very refreshing. Sure we can’t understand exactly how God works, because He is not bound to the human form/function/thought/abilities/concepts. I’ve found that when people reject God claiming that something doesn’t make sense, they’re often trying to force Him into a human box, rather than humbly accepting him as the omnipotent, omniscient, omni-holy God. Bottom line, I’m content to allow much of God be a mystery without pretending to have all the answers. I find it far more satisfying to concentrate on the revelation He has given us. His Word is my anchor, and it keeps my head clear when I get disappointed by things in life, my church, my fellow Christians, the world, etc… The truths that He has clearly given us, I’ll clearly repeat. Everything else is up for discussion. But enough of my own musings… Let me share a practical point from my own life…

    As I finished college, two churches really disappointed me by firing three excellent pastors for trumped up reasons. (In reality, they only wanted to hear about part of the Bible.) To say this impacted me deeply is to understate it. Over the next couple years I found it very difficult to trust other churches because I focused on what I didn’t like about them. Those were hard, discouraging days with regard to church involvement. My relationship with God suffered for lack of fellowship, but I clung to the Bible and that anchored me well enough to weather that time in my life. As time went on, it slowly dawned on me that my focus on the negative was actually most of what made me so unhappy with the churches. When I realized that, I was able to slowly change my thoughts by focusing more and more on the positive and refusing to dwell on the negative; it might sound silly, but it actually works. Focusing on what was right with the churches changed my whole attitude and my feelings followed right along. Within a year or so, I was able to go to church and feel satisfied. All of this is to say that you’re not alone, Daniel. I’ve been in a similar place, and there is every reason to hope toward the future.

  7. Hey Daniel,

    I just discovered your blog and this fascinating post/comments. I too have been going through some realizations and changes about what I believe about God, especially as Father God. I was surprised to learn about myself that I believed at my core that my good behaviour made me better in God’s eyes. This is exactly what Jesus railed at the Pharisees over. My realization of my own sin in this area came about like this: I read an article which talked about what “the flesh” is. When Adam and Eve were in the garden they did not have the ability to distinguish between good and evil. God had not given it to them when He created them. He created man to be in relationship with Him all the time, and he could have directed and taught them about good and evil in relationship. When they ate the fruit of the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil they gained the ability to distinguish which they didn’t have before. But it was an ability that was outside of their relationship with God. This ability to distinguish could be called a “Picker”. The Picker is The Flesh. When we think we can choose between good and evil apart from relationship with God, we are exercising our flesh.

    The main point here is that anything we pick apart from relationship with God, whether good or evil, is done in the power of our Flesh. I realized that I had spent my whole life choosing the good, and it was all done with my flesh. I don’t have to deal with certian consequences that others might have had by making “evil” choices, but I also could take self-righteous credit for my good choices. But, I also learned how many of my “good” choices were actually unhealthy, or wrong.

    At the same time I was learning about this dynamic, another thing also hit home the behaviour/approval lie I was believing. Will was listening to a worship CD that talked about the “Esther Anointing.” The worship leader was talking all about how Esther spent six months with the oil of myhhr, and six months with the perfumes preparing herself for the king. At this point I popped my head around the door and said, “You realize don’t you that Esther was getting ready to go have sex with a man she wasn’t married to, and that if he liked her he’d keep her?!? How come no one ever talks about that fact at church? And what would they say about me if I decided to go spend every day in a spa getting facials and body massages? Would they think I was spiritual? And for that matter, what about Samson, and Rahab (what were those spys doing in her house anyway?) and Tamar, and David, and Bathsheba, and Mary Madgdalene, and the Samaritan Woman, and countless other Bible characters who had ‘sexual indescresions’? And when I really think about it, most Bible characters had big moral failings recorded in scripture. There are a handful that I can think of off hand-Daniel, Joseph Mary’s husband, John the disciple, and some others.”

    This tirade really made me think hard about our Christian culture today, and all our behavioural standards. Let me make one side note here: There are natural consequences/laws of sowing and reaping that all those Bible characters had to face, and those are still in place today. But, the point is that God did not change his acceptance based on behaviour. He still blessed them, used them, spoke to them and loved them.

    I also believed a subtle form of gnosticism. I believed that the things of this earth are of less value than the spiritual. It’s all going to burn anyway. But because of this belief, I also thought that my body wasn’t valuable enough for God to bless it. What I am believing now, like you Daniel, is that the Earth and things human are of huge value to God. After all, he did create us-He likes us this way.

    I think I differ from you in that I am seeing how God values me personally, as the creation he made me to be, which is very personal. I see that I am important to Him as Heidi, and I also see how being faithful to him means developing who I am as a person. I heard, like you, that God is a personal God, but I also was taught that I am an empty vessel for God to use as he sees fit. I saw myself as a tool by which he could do his will. One day I was actually describing myself to someone as a paintbrush for God to use. I went upstairs and opened up the Foursquare magazine. On the back was a huge quote by CS Lewis that said, “God is the painter, we are the painting.” I was blown away because I saw how I had so overlooked my own value as God’s painting. I am an expression of His creativity.

    All this boiled down basically means I see that my behaviour is not as important to God as I thought it was, and also that He values me for who I really am, not for what I do. My honesty with Him will give me a relationship with him in which He will show me and bring me the good works that the Bible talks about. Anything pleasing I do will only be pleasing if God initiates it.

    In this whole process I’ve described, I’ve experienced disgust and a complete fed-upness with organized religion, and I can really identify with what you have said. Fortunately, the church we are going to hasn’t crossed my red flag indicators, so I’m able to recieve there. The virtues you describe as the good are also described as the Fruit of the Spirit. I believe that it is only the active presence of the Holy Spirit in my life that can cause a manifestation of this fruit in me. When I try to imitate the self-discipline, humility, justice, mercy, compassion, charity, love, and grace, and suceed, I can take credit for it. When the Holy Spirit is working in my life, the self-discipline, humility, justice, mercy, compassion, charity, love, and grace will be a byproduct of the health that is in me by the grace of God.

    Thank you for “outing.” Its refreshing, and delightful to have a conversation on this level.

  8. Daniel,

    Isn’t it great to cut through all the crap? I was just saying the other day that true hospitality is the space and freedom to explore, err, and make great discoveries. I am certain God gives us the ground to explore the implications of your blog. It sounds to me like God has you in His fire, and that the gold is being refined. What really counts? What really matters? Where is the material edge that really makes things add up in life? It certainly isn’t in religious evangelicalism. I believe it is through encountering Jesus Christ.

    What I hear you rejecting is a spiritual abuse that I have often gone to war with. It looks like being told what the Love of God is when you know that loving God isn’t that behavior/cultural conformity. I agree with your intuition on religious activity. The Lord recently told me (via the Holy Spirit) to surrender my desire to be used by Him and replace it with a desire for Him. I did, and that is now the point of my “Christian experience.” Not for the sake of being a naval gazer, but for the sake of being honest, and having honest conversations with Him. My understanding is that the way to please God is through relationship. And that dynamic all begins through the silence and pain in a personal embrace of our individual poverty of Spirit.

    Mark 10:17-27
    As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.
    “No one is good-except God alone. You know the commandments: `Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”

    Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

    Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
    Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
    The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
    Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

    I wonder if even Jesus thought that He was pleasing to God? Surely He did not claim to be good, so radical and complete was His identification with man. (Even though He is identical to God.) Good will never get us there, and the values it entails (e.g. sacrifice, long suffering, patience, truthfulness, etc.) Grace, through the blood sacrifice of Jesus gives us access to the Father through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Once we have access we can only please Him with our relationship, which is, on this earth, a faith act. Love requires freedom. It cannot be forced, and forced anything will not qualify as love.

    As humans I do not believe we are capable of giving up the things that would keep us from the kingdom of God. I think all we can really do is ask God for deliverance, and wait for Him to take them away. If I can take credit for any choice, I can also take pride it. I can choose Christ, but sanctification is beyond my power. I have to wait for His power to be made manifest in me. This will only come through humility, and availing myself to the Holy Spirit

  9. I am really enjoying this discussion. I am reading a book about how the King James Bible was written. It is mostly historical and some of the discussions on what the church believed at the time of King James are quite apalling. I find it interesting because it is making me think more about God’s church through time and the constant changes it is going through — like a living being interacting in relationship with God. And it makes me see that where we are now as the church is just a point in that growth towards God. There are so many cultural values that seep into our religion and color the way we interpret the Bible. And though I often feel extremely frustrated with where the church is right now, I think God has the same kind of grace, mercy and desire to redeem it as he does for you or me personally. And just like it takes a life time for God to do his work in us, I see it being a long process for his church also. Realizing this makes it easier to handle the frustration and gives us a motivation to be involved in helping the church move closer in it’s relationship with it’s Creator.

    I have noticed a few assumptions in the comments above that I find a little disturbing. Our church has spent the last few hundred years taking scripture and turning it into a scientific study. So we have come up with a lot of doctrine to help us understand many of the mysteries of the Bible. While I am thankful for a lot of the ideas that we have come up with, I think we need to be careful to see them as man-made tools to help us understand and not mistake it for the Gospel. It can promote a kind of either/or thinking that truly misses the point.

    The first thing I struggle with is the consequences of emphasizing “salvation through faith, not by works.” I believe it is true. But we have made it so that “works” is a bad word! And as I read through the gospels again, it seems like the main point — the whole reason for God bringing us back into relationship with him through Christ. How did we miss that? We have gotten so cautious about making sure no one thinks that we are trying to earn our salvation that we are slow to do the works God called us to do. Our works should be an outflow that comes from our relationship to Christ because of our faith. And when you look at my outflow, I wouldn’t be surprised if you wondered whether I truly had the faith I talk about.

    I also think that lately we as a church have really over-emphasized the personal vs. nonpersonal God. We have turned it into an either/or argument. Since God is interested in me personally, he is concerned with others personally. And since he is a personal God then he is more concerned about me as an individual than he is with my community, my country, and my world as a whole. And if you believe he is concerned with the environment, then you must be talking about a nonpersonal god. When you write it down it sounds idiotic, and yet we operate this way a lot. We make decisions based on this assumption and I don’t think they are decisions that are pleasing to God.

    I found it interesting that William chose to use the same words of Christ that have been running through my head for the last week. The last time I read that story, I realized that I am that rich man. We live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. I read recently that to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in the world it would take an addition annual investment of 19 billion dollars. And currently Europe and the US spend a grand total of 17 billion dollars a year on pet food, not to mention 18 billion on makeup! I am that rich man. I cannot figure out how to do what Christ asked. I sit here and tithe 10% of my income and think I am doing okay, but that is NOT what he asked the rich man to do. I also noticed in this passage that he never tells this rich man to “believe” in order to inherit eternal life. He tells him to act. And like William and that story tell us it is totally out of my power to do what Christ asked without his strength. And so I am broken, and begging God to give me the strength to do what he asks and to show me where to start. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

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