Thursday, January 19, 2012

A theological house of cards

Michael Patton gives us useful and helpful advice about "Dealing with the Doubting" — advice that is as useful to those who are doubting [each of us, I suppose, at one point or another] as to those ministering to doubters. A couple of quotations from a much longer essay:
.... The last thing the doubting need are cliché answers. In fact, these will almost always make the crisis worse. People normally go through these trials because they are thinking deeply about their faith. They are critically examining it, possibly for the first time. Sound-bite answers only reinforce a naive picture of the faith. People in the crisis have a new ability to tell if you are being fake, even when you don't know it yourself.

Be ready. Be honest about your faith. Enter into the crisis with them and find answers together. ....

It could be something as small as someone at school ridiculing them for believing that a donkey talked, discovering an apparent discrepancy in what Christ said in Matthew compared to Mark, or hearing a science class presentation on the theory of evolution. However, for those who have never been prepared for this crisis, they cannot discriminate between essentials and non-essentials. For many, everything is essential. Their theology is a house of cards. Once one card falls, no matter how small, the entire house comes tumbling down.

We can do much to lessen the effects of this crisis if we can help those going through it gain some perspective. Someone may be questioning the legitimacy of his belief in the rapture, whether to include the Apocrypha in the canon, whether hell is eternal, whether God changes his mind, whether Christ can work through other religions, or the inerrancy of Scripture. Whether the crisis of faith is brought about due to intellectual or emotional reasons, start by encouraging doubters to consider core issues of the faith and then move out from there. I think the primary core issue of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Christ. All dominoes fall from there. It is also the easiest to rest our intellectual head on. I have yet to meet someone who was going through a prolonged crisis of faith who was well established in the historicity of Christ's resurrection. .... [much more]
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