Let me start by mentioning the three posts.
1. Beth Caplin, Dear Church, here is where you lose me.
Beth talks about her disagreements with conservative Christians within the church, and how she has not been persuaded by the “answers” that conservative Christians have given her.
2. Bob Seidensticker, The Design Argument (Fiction).
Bob Seidensticker is an atheist, and this post is an excerpt from his fictional work, Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey. In this book, a Christian named Paul is trying to evangelize to an atheist named Jim, even though Paul has his own religious doubts. This post focuses on the design argument for the existence of God, the argument that the universe is orderly and looks designed by a creator. It gets into a variety of topics and questions, such as the question of whether complexity necessarily indicates design. The most powerful part of the post, however, concerns the existence of natural evil (i.e., parasites, earthquakes) and the question of whether that undercuts the idea that a benevolent God designed the universe. Paul comes back at Jim’s arguments by saying that God may permit such things to teach us moral lessons, but Jim asks why God would have to go that far—-to cause that much pain, suffering, and death—-to teach people to be moral.
3. K.W. Leslie, Q. When are my fellow Christians gonna grow up?
I read this post a few months ago, and it has haunted me ever since. A seminary student writes to K.W. Leslie and complains about people at his church. The seminary student is asking questions, and he is not satisfied by the pat answers that Christians are giving him. K.W. tells this seminary student that he should work on spiritual maturity himself and focus on loving the people in the church. Loving the people in the church is much more difficult than promulgating one’s seminary knowledge, K.W. acknowledges, but it is very important to God that we do so.
I have been thinking about the issue of Christian small groups and Bible studies. A lot of them may be rather homogeneous, but some have two types of people. You have someone who has arrived at answers that satisfy him, and you have another who is not satisfied by those particular answers. To the latter person, the former person looks like someone who is offering a bunch of pat answers. To the former person, the latter person looks like someone who will never be satisfied with any answer that he’s given. “I’ve answered your question, so can we now move on?”
I remember reading some quotes by Mark Driscoll, who was a conservative pastor. He was complaining about Christians who keep asking questions, and, whenever their questions are answered, they have ten more questions. They’re never satisfied, Driscoll was saying. Driscoll also criticized the Emerging Church movement for asking questions that, in his mind, have already been settled by Scripture. He may have been talking about homosexuality in that case.
I wonder myself how those two types of people can co-exist in a Bible study group. Someone has real questions, and someone else tries to help out by offering what he believes are real answers. But the person asking the questions is not satisfied by those answers. She may not believe that quoting a prooftext is enough to make problems magically go away.
I think that different people may manage to co-exist in Bible study groups by focusing on other things than their differences. They may believe that they can get something out of the Bible study, even if they disagree with people there. Perhaps they have done what K.W. has suggested and focused on love rather than trying to convince others.
I can’t say that I am there yet. On getting something edifying or informative out of Bible study groups, I can still do that, but I find that my differences with people are what are foremost in my mind, whether I like it or not. On loving people, I am socially-challenged, so that hinders my ability to do that. Yes, it’s important, but I wish that I did not fear or resent rejection so much. One reason that I left my Bible study group is that I figured it would run more smoothly if the people there were roughly on the same page, and I—-a liberal who struggles with things in the Bible and is not satisfied with a lot of conservative Christian answers, for intellectual and emotional reasons—-was not on that page.