Photo by Gwydion M. Williams Accessed through a CC License. No changes were made to this photo
There was a time in my Christian walk when I had an existential crisis of faith. I was raised in a Christian home, and accepted the belief system of my parents. I thank God for allowing me to be raised in a godly home.
Biblical Christianity is an extremely personal religion. You don’t get grandfathered in just because you were raised by Christian parents and attended church all of your life. Its an advantage, to be sure, assuming the home you were raised in exemplified the Gospel message of faith and repentance. It can be a real disadvantage if you were raised in a works righteousness atmosphere.
My faith was real, but I had little foundation in the actual Gospel. I got caught up in the “name it and claim it” movement, which has a dangerous and intellectually stunted theology.
There came a time when my life experience and my worldview came to a head-on collision. Reality and my beliefs didn’t jive.
I was faced with rejecting Christianity altogether, or finding a better Christian foundation than the one I knew.
Thankfully, I knew enough about Scripture to begin an honest and earnest exploration of “the Faith once for all delivered to the saints”.
There are some basic questions every worldview, (either theistic or atheistic), must answer to be coherent. All of us ask these questions, at some point in our lives, if we are thoughtful, and live an examined existence.
Some of my own questions during this time were:
What is the meaning of life?
Where did everything come from?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
How do I know what is right or wrong?
Why is life so hard, and why is there suffering?
What happens to a person when they die?
Is there a God, and if so, who is he?
I’m sure you have asked many of these questions. Fortunately, I had the intellectual and theological foundations to work through many of these questions.
Oddly enough, it was while I was in a theologically liberal Methodist college that I settled many of these questions, since every course I took pertaining to science, theology, or philosophy completely conflicted with my belief system. The things they were telling me didn’t ring true with Scripture, so I worked through these conflicts, and found a renewed and strengthened faith. Not every one in that situation is so fortunate.
On a side note, many of our kids lose their faith when they reach college level, mainly because they have little understanding of their faith, and lack the skills to answer intellectual and emotional challenges to their beliefs.
It is ironic that I went to this school for the purpose of entering Christian ministry, but it (said college) was busy trying to tear down my belief in Scripture and the historic Christian faith. It had the opposite effect. Not all questioning of your faith is a bad thing. It is resistance that builds strength, both physically, mentally, and spiritually.
It was later in life that the big question of suffering challenged me. Because of the influence of the Word of Faith movement, I had a faulty view of the existence, cause, purpose, and ultimate end of suffering. When suffering touched me personally, I faltered, and the book of Job became very real to me.
Why did the Lord let my father die, when we prayed so hard for his healing? Is it because we just didn’t have enough faith? Am I to blame?
Why am I in such excruciating pain all of the time?
What did I do to deserve this?
Why doesn’t positive confession work like they said it does?
Why can’t I stop sinning? Why does “letting go and letting God” not work for me? Why can’t I just exercise mind over matter and live a perfectly holy life?
I had, for better or worse, developed a real skepticism of the leading voices of my own generation, theologically speaking. I no longer trusted the theology of many of the big names in pop Christianity.
I had sense enough to know that Christianity had a rich and long history in this world, so I began to read. I spent a lot of time devouring the words of dusty old dead guys, especially the magisterial Reformers of the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Puritans. I felt some camaraderie with the reformers, because they faced a similar situation with the Ronan Catholic Church. Indulgences, corrupt leadership, aberrant theology, Biblical illiteracy (even and especially in the clergy), and human tradition that had replaced God-breathed revelation.
The reformers had a view of the world, the Church, and the believer that made sense to me. It was coherent with reality, and Scripture.
It used strange phrases, like simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and sinful), and emphasized Original Sin, the centrality of the Gospel, Justification by Faith Alone through Grace Alone by Christ Alone according to Scripture Alone, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the Economic Trinity, the Sovereignty of God, and the Means of Grace (the Word and Sacraments).
They, and the Puritans who followed, used a lot of ink to explore suffering in the life of the believer, and the reality of the pervasiveness of sin, as well as the distinction (but not separation) between Justification (Monergistic, all one-sided, from God alone), and Sanctification (synergistic-still God-sided and controlled, but allowing cooperation from the Christian).
It was the theological and philosophical grounding I needed. I won’t lie and tell you that I have everything figured out. “Aslan isn’t a tame Lion”. There is is Mystery and exhaustive Incomprehensibility in the nature of God. We can’t know everything about God exhaustively, since we are finite, and He is Infinite. We can however, know what He has chosen to reveal about Himself through Scripture, and we can know it truly.
We can also know the Biblical Historic Christian faith by studying history, and the theological works of giants who were a lot smarter, and wiser than ourselves. To see where we need to go, we stand on the shoulders of these giants, like Merry and Pippin stood on the shoulder of the Ent Treebeard.
You have to overcome chronological snobbery, though. It also helps to distrust the theology of your own generation, since it is still in flux, and doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight. Just like fish, we can’t always see the philosophical water we swim in.
Be at peace, little Hobbits.
Simul iustus et peccator,