I am now 76 and have been outside the walls of ‘traditional’ Christianity for some 40 years. I have never had any ‘ theological’ training but have twice been forced to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught. I cannot remember ever doubting the existence of God but my understanding of the Christian faith and the Christian religion have changed enormously over the years.
It has been suggested that there are now around three million people in Europe and North America (and maybe 18,000 leaders in America alone) leaving traditional Christian churches every year, some of whom would have been attending for many years. Why?
I first got to know my friend Dave in November 2010. He was writing about ‘radical sheep’ and describing rebellion as intelligent resistance to the status quo. His definition of simple church was ‘everyone participates, contributes and learns’. He suggested that knowledge without experience does not translate into wisdom. He had strong views about our education systems, believing in the need to teach children according to their own unique character – that only parents would normally be able to do.
Dave was shaped by Scouts and the Marine Corps and used to put up a sign in a pub, “I talk to God daily – ask me anything“. He suggested that our message should be, “You are loved and forgiven – be healed”, and that it is religious people who need to repent. He suggested that too many evangelicals jump up and down, but wondered where the love is that draws others to Jesus.
It had become obvious that despite very different backgrounds; growing up on different continents; and having differing understandings of some aspects of the Christian faith, that we both recognised how some people were being manipulated by religion. For me there are two articles that Dave had written that initially summed up much of the common ground between us:
‘The Church and the Genie in the bottle‘
‘My Favorite Objections to Christianity‘
It was in June 2012 that Bob Greaves – The Unconventional Pastor – had a long post on his blog entitled, ‘What I actually believe‘. He started by saying:
When people discover that I am a believer in Jesus and yet I do not seem to believe the sorts of things most other Christians believe, they often want me to tell them exactly what I do and do not believe. As I share that I want you to know that whatever it is that I believe, it is simply my opinion.
It was obvious that some of Bob’s beliefs had changed radically over the years, and may continue to do so. I could relate to so much of what he had written, and when Dave, my closest friend (who died suddenly in July) saw it he suggested, “it’s almost as if Bob has crawled into your heart and communicated the essence of your faith“.
Bob’s post consists of a long series of bullet points that start with:
I do not understand the trinity. I neither strongly embrace it nor reject it. It is to me a mystery and I am OK with that . . . I usually relate to God as a whole making little distinction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . .
Elsewhere Bob suggests that the nature of scripture has been radically overstated by Christian tradition and that the biblical text is not to be equated with the word of God.
I am convinced that the early chapters of Genesis contain important ‘myth and symbolism‘ and Bob has some significant thoughts on the place of Adam and Eve. He also suggests that Lucifer is spoken of as an angelic spirit-being, and that it is unclear to him if as such he is a personified figment of our powerful imagination or an actual creation of God.
Bob says, “I believe the scripture shows a progressive revelation of God. I think mankind struggles with a mature and healthy concept of God and that God knew this and deliberately chose to reveal Himself in a progressive transition from our distortions into His true representation. I am convinced that there is significant truth in that statement.
With Bob’s permission I re-posted his article here and highlighted some of his opinions that seem to me to be particularly significant, but like Bob I don’t expect others to agree with what are only my own thoughts.
I found out from Facebook that Dave had died suddenly of a heart attack. My immediate reaction had been, “I’ve just lost my closest friend” to which my wife replied, “that you’ve never seen”. I subsequently established that the last email I had had from Dave, that had been lengthier than usual, had been written on the morning of his death. He had been in good spirits and had written, “Well, how’s that for conversation? I haven’t spouted off like that for a while. You always have a way of drawing me out, of encouraging me to formulate in words, ideas that float around in my head. Thank you for that“.
Many years ago Grant, an old friend had said, “Peter, you have the knack of asking the awkward questions to which there are no easy answers“. I have had a long, interesting, and sometimes frustrating journey through life. It was only about four years ago that I came to the conclusion (self diagnosis) that I have lived with Aspergers Syndrome all my life. That was an exciting discovery because it helped to explain the way my mind works and why I have often been misunderstood. Since Dave’s death I have given a lot of thought to Bob’s material that raises several interesting questions. Maybe it’s time for me to step back and simply go on asking some of those awkward questions and encouraging people to think for themselves!