85: Listening to Yourself

In this episode John and Gregg again discuss the idea that Christians need “second opinions” about their faith. John sees parallels here with Wayne Jacobson‘s notion of listening to one’s “yuck meter,” where Christians need to attend to their negative reactions / feelings of unease regarding supposedly “Christian” responses (because this may be the Holy Spirit communicating that this is in fact a questionable response).

Gregg agrees with Wayne but also thinks that this mechanism is unlikely to function in those cases where it is needed most. Specifically, Gregg argues a culture exists within evangelical Christianity such that the more a particular situation challenges or even threatens one’s Christian faith, the more one has to act forcefully and without hesitation to preserve God’s truth or Christian vales (and so the less one will likely even experience any “negative reactions” when responding to such challenges / threats).

John wonders what practical advice we can offer to listeners? Gregg notes three points:

1) recognize that it is actually very difficult to become aware of one’s own perspectives and then draw those perspectives into question. In other words, it takes time and effort to examine and “excavate” one’s perspectives, such that one can understand not only what one believes but where the belief comes from (and even what purpose it serves),

2) situate oneself in the broader conversation, both with other people (who may hold different views) and with other disciplines (other than theology, because the issue is never just about God, but about God, humanity, and the relationship between the two). Therefore any field of study that may contribute to one’s knowledge in any or all of these regards is not simply helpful but necessary (i.e., to become critically self-aware),

3) dedicate ourselves to love and truth, truth and love (and by consequence, to defining and identifying these things) above all else.  Even above God.

Gregg explains his response as actually proposing a cultural shift within evangelical Christianity, yet John see this as merely “stating the obvious:” there is a problem, here is a solution but it’s very hard to implement. Gregg counters that, in his view, we should frame the overcoming of deeply ingrained cultural orientations as overcoming an addiction.

In other words, in Gregg’s view Christian faith has become intertwined with various ways of seeing and being that are not essential components to the Christian’s dedication to God. More problematically, identifying and itemizing these divergent themes is not the same (and not as difficult) as removing these themes from one’s way of seeing and existing in the world. Continuing the analogy, Gregg notes that not every addict seeks rehabilitation and, further, many addicts who accept rehabilitation do not succeed.

John summarizes this as Christians being “committed to the wrong things” and needing to “own” their faith. Gregg, in turn, argues that for human beings the proper commitment is first to love and truth, not to God. Yet Gregg believes / has experienced that the these two things are chiefly and best found in God. So just as he gave up his Christian faith before, he maintains a willingness to put his entire faith on the line now—to give up, potentially, his belief in God should he be presented with something that was truer. Yet because he has traveled that path already (of giving up his Christian faith and living for many year as an agnostic), Gregg is hard pressed to imagine such a case.

So it is a willingness to be open to the truth, no matter what it is or where it is found, that is essential for human beings and core to the Christian faith. For Gregg argues: if we embrace Christianity to the exclusion of everything else we will end up excluding the truth as well.

Also, Gregg argues that one’s dedication to truth is literally a lifestyle. Truth and love come first, and they need definitions, but a key part of healing from the cultural mispractices that Christians have tacitly adopted is literally to be willing to give up their faith.

John and Gregg conclude with a discussion of Gregg’s response to The Good and Beautiful God, by James Bryan Smith.

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