October 29, 2020

Riffs: 07:23:07: Religion: A Test of Faith by Amy Welborn

logo1.gifRiffs are posts launching off from good work from other bloggers.

The inimitable Amy Welborn reviews and reacts to the first person story of an LA Times religion reporter who lost his evangelicalism, Catholicism and, eventually, faith entirely as a result of what he saw on the religion beat. Clergy scandals figure prominently in the story.

The story is interesting, but Amy’s response is spot on.

2) It is interesting to me that many anti-religionists (not talking about Lobdell here) accuse believers of taking an easy way out. Of embracing a sweet vision of life and reality that avoids hard questions, or, in the end, is satisfied with platitudes.

It is not so, is it? For faith is hard. Does anyone really think that faith is easy in the face of the innocent suffering of a child? Or the ravages of Alzheimer’s? Or the existence of evil? Or, as we’re talking about here, the ironies, paradoxes and counter-witness of the Church?

3) But in the end (at least to me) what is even harder than faith is making sense of reality without God and making sense of what happened 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, period. It is too late at night for me to ramble on about this (thankfully), but simply put – one’s faith in Jesus Christ is faith in Jesus Christ. It is more than a challenge, because that whole “Jesus Christ” thing involves this other thing called “Incarnation” which means that, nonsensically, the God became human as a baby, grew up, and was executed by those he had created out of love. The whole thing is almost impossible from the start, and once you throw in the rest of the billions of us, with all of our sins and blindness, it gets crazier still. And even more painful because of how many of us (all of us, perhaps?) use God as a cover for our sins.

Don’t we?

I often wonder- without any attempt at pity- how anyone of modest intelligence can accuse a thoughtful Christian of taking the easy way out when it comes to embracing the answer of the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis said that atheism was, in the end, too simple. He said that pantheism offered better answers. Christianity was, however, true.

When I stand up to preach these days, I am more and more aware of the issue of truth, and the fact that while we can speculate, preach and philosophize, there is and always will be only one truth. Jesus, for whatever other reasons he will be remembered or worshiped, had the audacity to claim to teach truth, know truth and incarnate truth. He said this wasn’t a matter of being smart, being moral, being on the winning side, living in a time of educational advantage or having the advantages of science. Knowing the truth was a matter of following one’s heart into and after the greatest of all love stories: the God who is a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit.

Pilate cynically said what is truth, and the beaten-and-soon-to-be-crucified one looked at him and said, in effect, I am. This is, arguably, the most difficult concept of truth the mind can consider. At every place, this concept of truth runs into the harsh walls of what we call “reality” and “logic.” Anyone who contemplates the meaning of the Christian story as a claim to truth must surrender to something- someone- that offers truth of an entirely different sort. That truth is not easy, and it is not comfortable in this world. It is, as Amy says, outrageous at every point.

The failures of Christians are far from the most difficult aspect of my personal faith and I think most thoughtful and serious believers would agree.


  1. This is almost becoming a series for me here in the comments section of internetmonk.

    Yet Another Reason Why I Left Fundamentalism:

    Reactionary Christians among those who brought me up in the faith railed against post-modernism as the great threat because, they claimed, it reduced to a rejection of any concept of absolute Truth, aka relativism. The adoption of relativism would certainly be death to the claims of Christ, wouldn’t it?

    Then I figured out that it is, in fact, the Fundamentalists who do not believe in absolute Truth. If ‘absolute Truth’ is ‘that which corresponds to reality’, then the fundamentalist notion is the farthest thing from it, because when they talk about ‘Truth (TM)’, they mean ‘that which corresponded to my own personal interpretation of scripture regardless of any consideration of history, science, or logic.’ They are the relativists, as ultimate truth becomes defined by their subjective reading of the text.

    Although Paul made plenty of arguments for his beliefs from ancient scripture, said that we ought to abandon the faith is Christ was not really REALLY raised. (1 Cor 15:14) It was the actual, experiential reality which was the cornerstone of his faith. Peter’s epistle says pretty much the same thing. (2 Pet 1:16,19)

    Strike two!

  2. Fr. Mike Creson says

    Michael, Good comments by you, Amy, and Matt. What does one say? ‘This is true’or’I believe this to be true’. The difference is huge. Can a mortal know ultimate truth? Can’t we only choose a way on faith. Maybe all we can find is the fullest participation in truth. Faith certainly is hard, It is no easy way out.

  3. Judd, old BHTer says

    Michael– good thoughts. However, I just heard something the other day which really put a difficult and intriguing light on this apologetic issue.

    It’s from Tim Keller (free mp3 download here) and deals with the exact same issue, but with a twist. It’s about 35 minutes long, I think. Check it out if you can.

    God be with you

  4. Frank Bucher says

    I have a dear friend of mine who hangs on every bad story about Christians as a means of showing why he doesn’t believe. Yet… when you really get to know him you find he believes more than he wants to admit, even to himself.
    Fr. Creson, you and I both know there is truth but the problem is humankind has layered it over with truth perceptions that cover it up in ideals and dogma. To Paraphrase the great philosopher Shrek… It’s an onion… it has layers.
    The truth is Christ… That’s the truth… he’s the truth… One layer out, he’s the Son of God… The Savior of man (and woman) kind… Yet even this one layer out is probably already clouding the truth.
    How many layers out are we when we speak of truth from out pews?
    I am not Catholic although I was and soemthimes could be again… I worship at a Lutheran church happily… I pray with Christians of all makeups and I recognize that Paul probably has to move over and share the greatest sinner spot in history with me… I am no better or no worse than the priests named. I am just me… a sinner who needs the truth, the essence of truth… Jesus… enough said for me…

  5. I must have missed the C.S. Lewis reference you mentioned. But I like it. There was never any chance that I would settle into anything like atheism. I was comfortable with the pantheistic or panentheistic answers for a very long time. The only reason I’m Christian is because of people who lived it, causing me to reexamine it, and the odd conviction I developed that this strange story of Jesus of Nazareth was true. It all flows from that.

  6. Ah, that old cop-out: “I can’t believe Christianity because Christians are sinners.”

    Such people are asking us to believe that they really and truly expect that once a person chooses to become a Christian, they’re going to reform completely. Converts will never lie again, never cheat again, never steal again. Their health will become perfect. Their financial status will become rock solid. Their marriages will be the best ever — unless they’re celibate, in which case they will never, ever desire sex again. Every word from their lips will be wise; every action will be charitable; every thought will be pure; even temptation will bounce off them like bullets off Superman.

    In other words, because we don’t magically become better than Christ once we say the sinner’s prayer, they say the whole system is bunk. And they accuse us of being unrealistic.

  7. A year ago I ended an eleven year stint at a megachurch, five years in lay leadership. Shortly after I left, the sr. pastor admitted to habitual and long-term sexual sin. Since that time I have been reminded of interaction after interaction with him that betrayed the public persona he presented. Also, I have been appalled at the viciousness of the anonymous blogosphere and the gossip and innuendo spewed forth, proclamations that I know to be false but I refuse to respond to as long as the hurlers hide behind screen names.

    I have found solace at IM and the BHT (among others), in an ecumenical Bible study at my workplace, and in floating from church to church in search of a safe place. I cringe when I flip past pastors on TV, and at Sunday school answers left as comments to blog posts, and I find perverse pleasure in shocking former congregants in the grocery store with the reply “Nowhere, right now,” when asked where my family is worshiping.

    Was my faith in Christ damaged? No. Was my faith in the church damaged? You bet. But there is a wide gulf between those two realities. At least, that is my hope, right now.

  8. I really don’t follow the direction of this post, or it’s possible I’m misunderstanding. It seems as if your main analysis is just that the Christian life is hard. I think that misses the entire point of the article.

    To me, the point is that one of God’s beloved children has become so disheartened and discouraged that he gave up. And the reason he became so disheartened was because of Christians who sinned, and Christians who condoned that sin and looked the other way, and “christians” who sent him mountains of hate mail.

    That’s not life being “hard.” The aricle appears to repeatedly reflect a failure of Christians to address sin. And not addressing THAT point, seems to me to be just more looking the other way.

  9. K.W.: however, there is another side to that argument: Christians tend to argue, and the Bible would seem to support, the idea that we children of God do indeed have a divine means of shielding us from sin, and that while we don’t always take perfect advantage of it, by virtue (pun intended) of that Holy Spirit influence the saved lead holier lives than the unsaved. Not perfect lives — but holier ones to some notable degree.

    So if the non-believer doesn’t see evidence of that Holy Spirit influence, keeping believers at least in part from sin, how should he interpret that?

    Overall, if the pagans are roughly as happy as the saved, and roughly as well-off in the circumstances of life, and “behave” about as well, then where can it be said that the Divine influence of which we speak is at work?

    I read the original article/confession. Either you didn’t, or you’ve misread it very badly. Bill Lobdell didn’t expect Christians to never sin, but as so many Christians defended sin, he began to question whether there was any Holy Spirit at work at all. And, in all honesty, I’ve been wondering the same thing lately.

    I live in Anderson, IN, where the Church of God of Anderson, Indiana has its headquarters (naturally 🙂 ). Every year, on the grounds of Anderson University, the annual CoG Convention is held. (It’s long been nicknamed “Camp Meeting;” a few of us winkingly call it the Annual RV Show.) People who live and work in this town in the retail industry hate Camp Meeting. The servers at the local restaurants, which are always packed during that week, are regularly stiffed for tips, receiving either nothing at all, or religious tracts in place of money. My wife, who used to work at the local supermarket, tells me that theft rates on alcohol always rise during Camp Meeting. And the CoG has historically called themselves a “Holiness Movement!”

    You can say all you want that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” but if Christians aren’t seen statistically to be behaving at least somewhat better than non-Christians, what’s to keep people from rejecting Christianity for some form of practical post-Christ Deism, wherein God, having sent Christ as a sacrifice, has stepped back and said, “My work is done; I shall feel your pains in My own Heart, it is true, and comfort you, but as far as actually running the race is concerned, you’re on your own?”

  10. Jay H
    Boy did you hit a nerve! My husband is a pastor, and being in and around church work for 20+ years has been the most difficult challenge to my faith, because I see so little difference between the Christians at church and the non-Christians I encounter everywhere else. “Christian” schooling was a virtual nightmare of clique-ishness and bullying for my kids. The Youth for Christ group at the local high school has become mostly a place for the “cool” kids to hang together, excluding anyone that isn’t like them, mainly by completely ignoring them, sometimes by harsh words and nastiness. One of the local “Christian” schools had a problem a few years ago with a parent getting thoroughly soused at an out-of-town sports tournament, but when the school board tried to pass a no alcohol policy for parents, it would soundly defeated. As you say, we all sin, but I, like you, see such a tendency among Christians to defend it. What I see more and more is Christians trying to prove by their lifestyles that they are just as with-it and trendy and cool as any non-Christian. I know we are not saved by works, but if our lives are no different than non-Christians, how will the world see any validity in Christ? Would you go to a doctor whose patients nearly all remained ill? I wouldn’t.

  11. Jay H: Valid points. My response was more of a knee-jerk reaction to iMonk’s riff than Wellborn’s article. Usually when I deal with pagans who argue Christianity is false because the Christians are false, it’s usually a cop-out. They don’t have real concerns about Christian misbehavior; they’re just doing the whole “What about the Crusades?” excuse that every agnostic likes to fling around.

    I don’t mean to excuse Christian sin. I agree that there should be no such thing. Bad Christians make me nuts. They make my job harder — trying to tell people about Jesus when they’ve been burned by a hypocrite means I have to spend a lot of time compensating for what these folks already think a Christian is like. They’re quick to excuse their own sins and the sins of others to the point that no real Christian discipline is taking place in most churches — and any disciplinary measures are seen as totalitarian or abusive. Plus I have to overtip to make up for those idiots who like to tip with tracts.

    But in spite of how annoying these folks are, the personal relationship I have with Christ more than makes up for the disfunctional relationships I have with Christians. I don’t look at widespread hypocrisy as a sign that God isn’t there; I look at it as a sign that the devil has successfully got a lot of so-called Christians to not care enough that He’s there, and behave like pagans and justify it to themselves. No surprise there. It happens time and again in the biblical books of the prophets; it’s just history repeating itself. I think people are surprised by this behavior because they simply don’t read their bibles.