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16 October 2008

Agnosticism and the Church

"'What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,' says the Lord." (Jeremiah 23:1, NLT)

Just the other day I was told of yet another young friend -- someone who grew up in a "church" environment -- who's embracing agnosticism. My purpose at this point (in this post, anyway) is not to bemoan a falling away, but to note that this person is seeking truth, and doesn't believe that it was found in anything the Church presented.

Why is that?

What are we doing?! In one way the "sheep" mentality works -- we're supposed to be shepherding people. On the other hand, we can't see people simply as sheep who'll blindly go wherever we lead them (or fail to lead them, especially). I wonder if this is what we Christ-followers do. We have an answer that we know to be true, and expect others to embrace it just the same as we do, and to do so without question (or that they'll take the simple, Sunday School answers), and honestly, it just doesn't work that way all the time.

I have observed that we in the Church are scared -- yes, scared -- to allow people ask "tough" questions in the church, because we're afraid that we can't let them do so in a controlled enough environment, and that others around may hear them and question the validity of the beliefs that we've presented. Or that they might come up with some theology that is not Baptist (for instance) in nature.

This fear and the sweeping under the rug of serious and valid questions leads to the thing I noted above -- people leaving the fellowship of the Church and seeking to find answers to their questions elsewhere.

And really, I think I've had quite enough of that. I'm interested in discussion. I'm interested in talking to people about why I believe it's logical to have faith in the God of the Bible. I'm interested in finding the answers to the difficult questions people ask. But I'm not interested in steering people toward a religion of rules or a denomination, frankly. I'm interested in steering them toward a relationship with Jesus Christ.

One argument against this is the one that says, "You can't argue someone into following Christ." I'm not claiming that I can. But I am implying that this very argument is at the foundation of the problem: "I won't argue my point, therefore I'm completely unwilling to listen to yours."

So... where shall I start? How do we engage people in conversation and discussion? It's not going to happen at a church building -- the people I'm talking about have no interest in and no use for church buildings and assemblies of people they see as blind followers of a set of rules. Whether they're right or wrong, this fact remains.

Again, where do I start? I'm asking for practical, real-life things that I can do in Madison or Huntsville, AL. And I'm asking for your participation, if you desire.

"So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do." (2 Thessalonians 1:11, NLT)


Tony M said...

I agree totally; I've a relative, raised in a "good, Southern Baptist" church, who had some "tough questions" at Sunday school and was basically told, "We don't ask questions like that."

She currently is atheist, believing in "worldly science" and the "accidental creation of all life from inanimate matter." (I think, anyway; I know she's atheist.) Her one-year-older sister, however, is a good, strong Christian woman.

Had someone been willing to listen to and (at least attempt to) answer her (the now-atheist) questions, perhaps she would not be where she is today. At this point, with her intellectual viewpoint, she's nearly unreachable with the truth. I say nearly, because God of course can still make the truth plainly visible as such, and I still pray for her (admittedly, not as often as I should). We attempt to continue to live out our faith around her (because words seem to fall on deaf ears).

It is absolutely essential that we answer the tough questions (or, if we don't know the answers - and there's no sin or shame in that - we promise to help find the answer, take the question to a more knowledgeable source, help seek the truth in God's Word right along with the individual doing the asking). Yes, it's often uncomfortable. Yes, it can be embarrassing to say, "I'm leading your SS class / small group and I don't know the answer to what you're asking." Yes, it requires effort and time (and the "time" part is what we probably most often fail to offer and sacrifice). But it just might bring one more lost sheep into God's fold. And certainly that is worth it, no?

What do we do? Take the time to listen. Work/study hard to be able to explain the word of truth (my paraphrase of a portion of 2 Tim 2:15). Don't be content to satisfy the requirements of your position (SS teacher, small group leader, participant), but seek to invest heavily in the areas (individual lives) where it will make the most impact (e.g., if you have 10 in your class, 2 of which are obviously seeking answers of the most critical nature, be sure that those who are on the verge of falling away are attended to). Then again, maybe I'm wrong about that last sentence - we obviously need to care for all those "under our wings" (so to speak).

What else do we do? I'll let someone else answer that. I've written enough already. :)

Preston N said...

Dean - A Tremendous Post!

So often I have found that churches are unwilling to have many of their theological beleifs challenge or put under the scrutiny of reason and logic. (I will warn you Dean this is easier said than done and often your church will not appreciate your efforts!) Instead many churches seem to avoid the hard questions.

Sadly, for those who are seeking answers to tough theological questions, they often get a "parroted" response that a church member has heard their pastor say, but with no real deep explanation (Christian "speak" for example).

Most people I come across want to have a logical and reasonable dialogue. For example, how many of us can logically explain the following topics - and explain them without saying "Oh we will only know that when we die" or claiming it is a "mystery".

Why did God create Lucifer knowing all along he would rebel and cause such destruction and sin?
Why did God create the angels that he foreknew would rebel and become demons?
If God created everything, where did evil come from and why is not God responsible for it?
Why couldn’t God have simply forgiven us without the cross?
Why did God make the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?
Is this the best world God could have created?
If this world is good and there is evil in it, then why is evil wrong?

NOTE: Will your answers make sense to a Non-Believer?

Trust me when I say that these are many of the question the world is asking from Christians these days. Most of my experiences with non-beleivers usually boils down to how could a "loving" God who has infinite foreknowledge allow such evil and sin into the world. Many have experienced great pain and sorrow and somehow feel God is to blame. Many walk away from Christianity as a result of our inability to get the answer to these tough questions.

So what can we do? Approach the bible using sound hermeneutics (I realize I keep kicking this dead horse). But is when we approach the bible using the rules of "True to Life, True to Reason and True to Scripture" that we can finally start explaining the bible in a resonable and logical manner, instead of simply parroting what we hear every Sunday. Sadly, truth is never popular and many will find it is not popular even within their own churches.

Preston N said...

Let me also add this. I have also been thinking and praying about doing some "Open Air Evangelism". This is where Christains go out to college campuses, public events (concerts, fairs, etc) and engage people about the gospel. Instead of having people come to us - we go to them! This is done by using T-shirts, banners, even sandwhich boards.

I am reading a great book on this called "The One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven" by Mark Cahill. (BTW - the one thing you can't do in heaven is share the gospel!) Mark also has a great website called

Christy said...

Great post. I feel your frustration. I think one of the problems is that we are not transparent enough. We just aren't sharing enough of our everyday struggles with others. We try to pretend that everything is OK, couldn't be better, when behind the doors we're falling apart still. Being saved doesn't fix everything, and unbelievers only see what we want them to see. There's more I'd like to say, but I'll hold my tongue.

Leroy said...

I think a key place to start, and a very hard place to start, is getting more than a handful of people to realize that 'something' is 'wrong'.

IMO some people need to be steered and not ask questions. If at a certain point in one's sprititul walk they can't comprehend a particular subject or the depth of it, then discussing it could distract them from learning more of the 'basics'. So a level of spiritual maturity is required. And today we have a lot of "content in my walk" Christians that have no desire to increase in maturity.

Preston N said...

Leroy's comment reminds me of a quote that Leonard Ravenhill once said:

"Every magazine I pick up now, Christian magazine, is how to make your church grow. I’m looking for one that says how to take your church deeper! Somebody said to a preacher, "You’ve the biggest church in... How big is your church?" He answered, "Three miles wide and an inch deep". I think that’s true of a lot of them. Three miles wide and an inch deep. And while it’s humorous, it’s tragic!"

Indeed it's very tragic!

Christy said...

Preston - AMEN and AMEN again, brother! YES THAT'S IT!!!

Leroy said...

Just so we're clear, I am NOT advocating a "no questions allowed" mentality. I think we should ask questions AND answer them. But I AM saying we have to be careful and consider the timing.

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