faith AND suspicion; belief AND scepticism (156)

This episode is the fourth of a four-part series where Gregg reads excerpts from—and comments on—an excellent  conversation that took place in the Untangling Christianity Facebook group.  All comments and names are used with permission of the authors.

In this podcast Gregg engages with Amy’s comments about “preaching the Word of God” and “sensing the the Holy Spirit’s movement.”  He notes that the “typical” evangelical response is one that focuses almost entirely on trust and belief.  Yet Gregg explains that belief and trust are not “biblical principles” in that neither one of them “stands alone” but, instead, each in fact represents one “pole” of a complimentary opposition (or a mutually-informing tension).

So in order best to engage with Amy’s comments he takes the approach of decreasing trust and belief and increasing suspicion and scepticism.  For example, Gregg is skeptical—that is, he doubts or finds it rather questionable or simply does not believe—that most Christians without exegetical training (and likely without a commentary in hand, in the pew) would know if a verse is being taken “in context” or not.  Similarly, Gregg is suspicious—that is, wary of false orientations and hidden motivations—about how Christians view humility.  Specifically, evangelical culture tends to value certain virtues (such as humility) more than other virtues (such as confidence).  Yet in my experience it is just as easy to hide unvirtuous motivations behind a veneer of humility as it is to misrepresent a confident person as “proud.”  Further, humility also is not a “Biblical principle” but, instead, confidence and humility are two poles within a “productive opposition” (or a necessary tension).  So both are equally valuable.

The point is that false humility is no worse than pride, but because it is harder to detect most Christians tend to favour and promote humility, rather than confidence, in any given situation.  Why?  Because it’s safer.  Which really means: because it takes less effort, both to claim humility and to prioritize it.  Yet when it comes to teaching the Bible, I don’t want someone who is humble for humility’s sake—I want someone who is duly confident!  That is, someone who has the necessary skills, knowledge and dispositions to do the job well and to be clear, level-headed and persuasive about what s/he believes (and why).

The result, then, of applying scepticism and suspicion to the typical, evangelical perspective is that what is typically taken as trustworthy can also (and legitimately) be seen to be problematic.  And what seemed like a good formulation to believe can also (and legitimately) be seen as a formulation that is questionable.

Gregg does not know what “preaching the Word of God” means, if it means anything more than “someone preaching a sermon and referencing the Bible.”  So instead of talking about “preaching God’s word,” Gregg advocates just talking about “good preaching.”  And this often prompts questions, such as “What do you mean by good?”  Such a presentation results in explanation of the matter at hand rather than demonstrating membership (and worse, doing so as if the topic were clear and uncomplicated, which he argues it certainly is not).

Similarly, Gregg has no sense of what constitutes “the movement of the Holy Spirit,” if it is anything more than “some way in which a person or people whose reliance upon God empowers them relative to their finitude, fallibility, and / or fallenness.”  In cases such as this, he believes that Christians would be well served by examining more closely the nuances and complexity of such matters as perceiving the Holy Spirit.

Finally, Gregg highlights how offering non-Christians theological (and thus theoretical) conclusion in the form of an explanation for what logically should be an existential (and therefore, a practical) response in the form of an example. is both terribly common and yet broadly misses the point.

And what is the point?

The point is that, both for non-Christians and for Christians, the only valid expression of the Christian faith is one that relates to, impacts upon, and is impacted by real life.

Instead, then, of offering a conclusion to non-Christians (which could be summed up as “the Bible is true and God is real” and implies, then, that the important part is understanding the right things—or getting the right “truth”), Christians need to offer truthful evidence that their claims are relevant and impactful for human existence.  Doing so requires Christians first to show how, and how much, the truths in the world around them inform their beliefs and how read the Bible (such that, by being broadly informed—by sound psychology, sociology, and philosophy—Christians actually do demonstrate living as their best selves and offer compelling, embodied examples of “full functioning”).

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