Why Evangelical Bible Idolatry Sucks and Why I Go to a Greek Orthodox Church Even Though It’s A Mess Too

 

Having elevated the Bible — or at least the nicer bits that they like — to the status of a magic book  evangelicals  have demoted God. Their “god” is trapped in a book and kept somewhat like a tame rat inside the cage of “biblical inerrancy.”

Since the evangelical/fundamentalists worship a book rather than God they can’t admit that the Bible has flaws and is just plain crazy in places. So they spend lifetimes working to make “sense” of something nonsensical, mean and stupid.

Why Bible idolatry is a particularly evangelical/fundamentalist blind spot is that, unlike earlier Christianity—at least in the more enlightened non-retributive threads of church history, evangelical/fundamentalist Protestants have forgotten and/or banished the idea that an oral tradition coexisted with the Bible within the life of the Church. They also have forgotten that some of the earliest Christians wrote that God is not to be defined or hedged in by Bible-derived “theology,” even by descriptions about him in the Bible. And evangelicals have subverted the teaching and life of Jesus because the idea that love trumps theology makes them nervous.

 

Love trumping theology is “why” I’ll be in my local Greek Orthodox church next Sunday with my grandchildren: Lucy age 4 and Jack age 2. Church is one of the places where my grandchildren can be lovingly swooped up.

“Swooping up” covers everything from being waved to by choir members, picked up and/or patted by a multitude of “little old ladies,” offered snacks during the service when we wander to the church hall where coffee hour is being set up and start munching early, and of course going to our eccentric Sunday school where a friendly chaos reigns that — thankfully — precludes most teaching.

This loving “swooping up” also changes brains by producing a sense of benign tribal belonging, in this case to a mostly benevolent tribe. It isn’t about correct belief, let alone if the Bible is “true” (whatever that means) but about the brain-changing effect of community and the humbling mystery of unconditional love experienced in the “ordinary” in a sacramental context.

This isn’t a theological concept to which you must assent. It’s as practical and measurable as doing dishes for 10 hours after the annual food festival fund raising event.

That’s where a “stranger” I’d seen around church but didn’t know became a friend as we worked together in 90-degree heat over a slop-filled sink. By the end of the evening, I’d told her more about myself and she’d told me more about herself than I would have thought possible, such as how embarrassed I was as a child victim of polio by having to wear an iron leg brace and how chagrined she was at having had 3 divorces. Somehow the context of working together for something bigger than either of us – sustaining our community – provided a free pass to sharing our inner selves. We did dishes and exchanged stories.

I’m not as nice as my fellow dishwasher probably thinks I am, but since I’m a pretty good listener she never knew that I started out our time together not very interested in our conversation and inwardly cursing myself for volunteering for the cleanup crew. But I acted the part and she bought the act. Then somewhere along the way, I stopped acting and became the part.

That’s been a pattern of Orthodox teaching: act right then get into the habit of actually being what you’re pretending to be. That is what the sacraments are: playacting at virtue until it is real to us and we “see” with inner eyes and perhaps encounter the divine.

 

There are never good reasons for major choices. In fact there are no “good reasons” for anything, including what churches we join or don’t. Life is short and we humans are only minimally evolved. So between too few years and too few brain cells we don’t have enough information to make any choice. A best guess is all any choice really is.

When it comes to buying household appliances I have reasonably good information. I can spend 10 minutes online and learn what washing machine to buy. But when it comes to the existence of God, what church to join, who to marry or where to live there’s never been a “good reason.” Life just happens. Grownups admit this. Only teens and theologians think they know anything.

Our universe is old and we are young. Given that our life span is more like a fruit flies’ than a planet’s we have to settle for best guess intuition not facts. But because other people ask us why we did thus or so we invent “reasons” in hindsight to “support” our guesses.

To believe something – rather than just stumbling into a malleable opinion — you’d have to have considered all the options. And that’s impossible. There’s always one more book to read. So what we actually mean by saying “I believe this or that” is “I think” or “I hope” or “ I’ve settled on this because my parents said so” or “I earn my living by being a pastor so I’m not about to question my creed” or “I have to believe this because my wife does” or “I need to hold on to something so I choose to believe this.”

 

What we never can honestly say is “I believe this because I know it is true. I know that because I’ve explored all other possibilities completely and lived every sort of life in every place and time, including the future and I’ve proven this is true. There are no other alternatives.”

Since we don’t like to admit that our mortality and primitive half-baked brains preclude fact-based certainties, we invent theologies both religious and secular that are closer to superstitions than facts. Then we assure ourselves and others that we have “good reasons” to believe this or that.

We say things like “I married the woman God led me to.” Anyone even minimally honest knows that what we really mean is: “Out of the tiny fraction of women I met I married Genie and things have worked out well so I like to dress this lucky break up by saying ‘God led me to Genie’ because that sounds better than saying, ‘I happened to meet her because she hadn’t yet listened to the Beatles’ album ‘Abby Road.’ I had the record and that’s how I lured her to my room, slept with her and 43 years later found myself with 3 children and 4 grandchildren and a life. But the fact is I never did get to sleep with all the other women in the world let alone buy them each a cup of coffee so I have no idea who else I could have been as happy with or even happier with.”

 

Which is a roundabout way to admit that I have no good reasons — other than grace — for why I’ve been going to my local Greek Orthodox church for the last 25 years or why I’ve been married to Genie for 42 years. That said here are some random hindsight self-justifying thoughts in no particular order of importance on what is less a “free will” choice about where I go to church than something to do with genetics, psychology and brain chemistry and where I happen to live and in what time.

Since the answer “I haven’t a clue” to the question “Why did you leave the evangelicals and join the Orthodox Church?” isn’t going to provide much satisfaction to readers I’ve come up with a few random reasons.

First, Mom and Dad conditioned me to feel guilty if I don’t go to church.

Second, these days I like church because I love taking my grandchildren and Orthodox liturgy is aesthetically pleasing: no guitars or histrionic preaching, lots of candles to light, incense to smell, things to kiss stuff to march around with in processions and no one cares if you arrive late.

Third, since I’m no longer a Protestant let alone an evangelical I’m working to get the ringing out of my ears caused by too many sermons and great liturgies reprogram my brain. This is something like moving from a Chicago winter to the Bahamas.

Fourth, I encounter God in the liturgy– or rather “encounter” the part of my brain that feels like its encountering God.

Fifth, anything religious that dresses up faith in the garb of mystery is a welcome break from the rationalistic absurd entirely circular Calvinistic “certainties” on which I was raised.

Sixth, in the Orthodox Church I’m free to pick and choose how I interpret our traditions since our worship is liturgy-based rather than theology-based. Theology is defined as prayer, not rules about belief because salvation is seen as a journey not a series of one time juridical events – in or out “salvation” experiences. Who you are, not what you believe is what’s important. In that sense you could be a “good Orthodox” and also an atheist– at least some of the time because doubt is not looked down on.

 

What the evangelical/fundamentalists (of the kind I used to be myself) rarely seem to admit is that by necessity fundamentalists also pick and choose what they believe. In that sense everyone is a liberal. Fundamentalists’ commitment to truth is as fluid as anyone’s. They just lie about it. Their claim of consistent belief in the Bible is two-faced. If fundamentalists didn’t pick and choose by omission if not by commission, they’d all be in jail— literally. Seen any adulterers stoned to death in a church lately? And if they all “believed in the Bible” there would be no denominational splits because the Holy Spirit” doesn’t lie (they say) and so all sincere Christians would be guided to the truth and agree on what the Bible “says.”

Above all the Bible-worshiping evangelicals have ignored the fact that – ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN THEOLOGY — there is a supreme lens through which to edit the meaner stupider bits of the Bible. Jesus is the lens.

 

If Jesus is God then Jesus has the right to contradict the very imperfect book in which he has the misfortune to have his biography trapped. Jesus transcends the book he’s trapped in. He does this because he is the perfect fulfillment of an imperfect human tradition. And the book in which his story is told is only enlightening when read retroactively through the eyes of Jesus. We need to read the Bible beginning from the gospel narrative not from the book of Genesis. If Jesus is Lord only reading the Bible backward starting with him makes sense.

 

Jesus does not “fit” any “biblical interpretation,” which makes the text less important than him. Jesus introduces the transforming possibility of nonviolence and forgiveness to our retributive primate way of being human that ensnares the rest of the Bible.

Until Jesus, the Bible is the story of retributive sacrifice to an angry “god” modeled on a pagan paradigm. Jesus ends sacrifice. Jesus is the opposite of a “substitutionary atonement.” He is the contradiction of human conceptions of justice projected on a “god” created by pagans and Jews in our own retributive image. This is where Jesus smashes “atonement theory.” Jesus’ death is an act of grace not the violent continuation sacrifice. Jesus’ death stops the sacrificial principle — the dark side of religion – forever.

If Jesus is the “Son of God” (as Bible thumpers claim but don’t seem to believe) then his “take” on the Bible and the “Law” must be our take. If we follow Jesus we have to copy him and therefore edit and reject the Law (i.e., portions of the Bible) as Jesus did. His teaching was essentially anti-Bible. In evangelical terminology Jesus was a “backsliding Jew.” He attacked the “Bible” of his day.

 

Jesus attacked the idea of salvation through correct belief. He attacked the idea that only Jews were “saved.” Jesus said that the Good Samaritan, today’s equivalent of a gay Hindu outsider crashing a Southern Baptist church supper, was the only one in his story doing God’s will thus “saved.” Jesus broke the biblical Sabbath laws. He thumbed his nose at the church of his day and the keepers of the Law. In another instance Jesus said that “The Law says… but rather I say…” and then repudiated the Law in in favor of the woman “taken in sin.” On the cross Jesus said “forgive them,” thus doing away with hell for evildoers.

 

Jesus died violently to confound violence. Thus Jesus is the ultimate paradox. He dies to end sacrifice and he repudiates parts of the very (yet to be organized and “completed”) book that will ultimately tell his own story. Jesus death didn’t result in some kind of retribution. It was the forgiveness expressed by God in the resurrected Jesus that collapsed all of his disciples’ Jewish theological ideas that dictated a retributive response on the part of God to sins. This is the Jesus “lens.”

Evagrius Ponticus summed up Jesus’ anti-Bible/Law anti-theology view exhorting us: “Do not define the Deity: for it is only of things which are made or are composite that there can be definitions.” A whole anti-theology train of thought came to be called apophatic theology, or the theology of not knowing, or negative theology. It speaks only about what may NOT be said about God. And given our fruit fly short lives, our limited brains and the need for humility this non-theology makes sense.

 

Don’t get me wrong: the Orthodox Church is full of nasty people from some of the Church Fathers to some evangelical converts today who are so sure they’ve found the “true church” and — like their evangelical counterparts — are today’s pharisees.  They parade their certainties and exclude others.

But another thread also exists from the earliest times: a thread of hopeful uncertainty. And that humble “thread” is what I keep coming back to church for. And I experience this “thread” in the liturgy and community.

In that humble thread it’s impossible to separate Jesus from his followers. He chose to make himself known through those who follow him: the Church. There can be no objective, “historical Jesus,” only Jesus as the Church has experienced him.

 

The Jews of Jesus’ time rejected his message because they could not accept the “new” God Jesus proclaimed. If Jesus had said that God was retributive and that God would punish evildoers, then Jesus would have been saying the same things about God that many others had been saying. Jesus taught something else.

Jesus’ non-theology of love trumping retribution takes a mystical humble approach related to individual experiences of the divine through love shared and mercy given beyond ordinary perception. It teaches that the divine is ineffable, something that can be recognized only when it is felt, then remembered within the liturgical context of the ongoing witness of the people who follow Jesus. And therefore all descriptions of this sense will be false, because by definition the experience of God eludes description.

 

Apophatic descriptions of God acknowledge:

  • That neither the existence of God nor nonexistence, as we understand these words in the material world, applies to God,
  • That God is divinely simple and that one should never claim God is “one” or “three” or any “type” of being,
  • That we can’t say that God is “wise,” because that implies knowledge of what wisdom is on a divine scale,
  • That to say that God is “good” also limits God to what that word means in the context of human behavior.

Jesus’s life and teaching trump theological rules, let alone the Jewish/pagan juridical retributive sacrifice-based idea of God as an angry and disappointed judge. Hell doesn’t exist because Jesus the Son of God and the Creator himself said – even of his killers — “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

 

The Christian communities that wrote the disparate texts we now call the “New Testament” did not preach a view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. They preached Jesus. Jesus, his life, death and resurrection and ascension were the beginning, middle and end of all they thought and taught. These ideas preceded the text and these ideas trump the text today.

Some of the earliest Church Fathers — who themselves were partially responsible for the formation of the canon of the New Testament portion of what would (400 years later) become “The Bible” — believed that portions of “Old Testament” scriptures pointed to this apophatic anti-certainty anti-theology approach. God is said to reveal himself in a “still small voice.” And Jesus is revealed as a still small voice that exists independent of the “noise” of the Bronze Age retributive Jewish tribal angry God of mythology. Paul tries to liberate us from this Jewish/pagan angry God when he speaks of an “unknown God.” Tertullian said, “That which is infinite is known only to itself.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, “For we may not explain what God is but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning him.” Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and Basil the Great spoke of God in apophatic terms.

This theological humility (a humility that recognizes our cognitive evolutionary limitations) might be called the humble thread that runs through Christianity parallel to the deadly we-know-it-all thread of theological hubris with its insane models of theology designed to “explain” God and/or justify his “anger” at sinners up to and including hell. And yes, this is very different from the idea of the “revelation of God’s character” through an “inspired” scripture, where God, as if writing a memoir dictated to scribes, “reveals” himself. And it stands in stark contrast to the major flaw of most theology that begins with abstract notions of God, filling out “divinity” with metaphysical terminology. For instance take the Westminster Confession where God is described with a series of adjectives and nouns rather than with reference to Jesus’ life-altering. In describing God there’s no mention of the final authoritative revelation of God in Jesus.

 

It is the harsher traditions that have provided us with the most splits. The more mystery-orientated Orthodox Church is less split than the more theologically inclined Western Church with its Reformation and all that followed. Nearly all evangelical groups have split at one time or another because one person decided he or she had a better, truer interpretation of some Bible passage regarding God’s revelation of himself through the Bible. And the result of these splits has been to replace the ancient Church with a series of personality cults built around pastors and others who are strong leaders.

So ironically those who point to the Bible as their sole base not only wind up worshiping the text rather than God but have retroactively joined the Jews who rejected Jesus’ message of love trumping the Law, and his “new” God. Protestants find themselves following the local interpreter of their text more in the role of groupies than worshipers of God — their version of “Pastor Bob” or whomever — who is said to be a “great Bible teacher.”

 

To reject the Bible in favor of following Jesus – who we mostly know about because of the Bible — is an ironic and extreme paradox. Then again paradox is the only way to describe all our conflicted ideas about the reality we’re trapped in beginning with our mortal brains that “illogically” long for immortality.

This quandary could be called the quantum theory of Bible study. To observe the experiment changes the result. To find Jesus is to edit “his” book. To find Jesus you have to transcend the text about Jesus.

Jesus never tells his followers that they should be more obedient to their Jewish tradition than they are. He’s always challenging them to move past their text’s received meaning and to look for a deeper more compassionate truth.

St. Maximos’s teaching about the Church and the Eucharist expresses the idea of accepting this “quantum” paradox. Maximos says that “lovers of God” are granted to see with inner eyes “the Word and God Himself,” in spite of — not because of — the Bible.

Maximos teaches that the soul is granted to “see the Word,” who leads it to the spiritual understanding that is “immaterial, simple, immutable, divine, free of all form and shape.” In other words the more you read about the Word the less you know the Word because the Word does not live in a book but is an actuality to be experienced. Truth is not to be found in writings about The Truth but only in The Truth within a living, not academic relationship. By canceling out the Jewish notion of God and removing retribution from the character of God, Jesus, for the first time in human history, opened up a new way, a new path.

 

Authentic spiritual apophatic experience is the exact opposite of intellectually organized theology of “fact” and “history.” And it is non-retributive. It admits the limits of certainty and therefore the limits of judging others as wrong or “not like us” and therefore not saved or not loved by God. And biblical “revelation”—just as is mother love— isn’t about books on the subject but is expressed in those moments of tenderness that transcend description and are seen with inner eyes.

In Jesus’ day, holiness codes of “correct belief” kept Jews from experiencing the full rich human community. They lived in separation from the “other” and the “unclean.” Likewise virtually every church today — including the more juridical and right wing and evangelical-influenced parts of the Orthodox Church — has some form of holiness code. It knows who is “wrong” so it “knows” how “right” it is. Likewise, it was paramount for the Jewish faith tradition that Jesus confounded to make clear distinctions between that which was holy and that which was profane. And Jesus courted disaster because of the way he showed extraordinary mercy to those who had been deemed “outside” the grace of God.

 

According to the humble apophatic tradition the goal of discipleship is not about making sure we behave so that God will accept us. It is rather about maintaining strong relationships with other people and through that action, through this “spiritual kiss,” as St. Maximos says, the soul comes to the Word of God, because it gathers to itself the words of salvation—in other words mercy and love. The declaration in the Liturgy “One is holy, one is Lord,” chanted by all the people, represents the gathering beyond understanding based on love rather than retribution.

According to Maximos, the distribution of the sacraments is participation in the divine life itself not about the divine life, “and in this way men and women also may be called gods by grace.” The call by the priest as he summons believers to partake of communion, “With fear of God, faith and love draw near,” indicates that salvation is a journey dependent not on “right thinking” but on love This form of worship is not to study about worship but to participate.

Judgment is not predicated on faith or lack of faith, on right doctrine or belief, the amount of holiness one has achieved or not. Jesus’ “judgment” is related to the way in which we relate to others.

Jesus said that those who judge others are in danger of judgment by God. Therefore if Jesus hates anything it is theology, as the word is usually understood. And to the extent that the experience of the Orthodox liturgy and the Orthodox community is about love and grace rather than false certainties I feel at home there– but then again I won’t live long enough to consider all the options, which is — perhaps — where faith enters in.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.

To book Frank to speak at your college, church or group please contact Frank HERE

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

  • John

    God help you, Mr. Schaeffer, for such a confused presentation of the Orthodox Church. How many people must you have alienated from the Church with this arrogant tirade. Platitudes, cliches, and your protestant-style reverse-dogma are an insult to the true faith for which the martyrs and confessors shed their blood. Shame on you for such a careless and scandalous exposition of the True Faith.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      John thanks for reading my post and for your comment. You are an apt illustration of why I say the “Orthodox” are a mess too. Don’t you mean the Republican Party? You sound like a member of the religious right. I didn’t know there is a “True Faith.” I just thought there is a true God.

      • Troy

        Mr. Schaffer,
        From your reply to John I am going to assume you do not know him, so help me understand your response to him. What is the rational for putting labels on him that you don’t know are true or not? Help me to understand why someone who offers a critique is called “a mess”? Help me to understand what you are trying to accomplish by placing a predetermined set of ideologies on a person whom you don’t know and whose story you have never listened to. Help me to understand your reply – was it an honest attempt at dialoguing with him, or were the labels and assumptions a means to disregard his critique without intellectual engagement?

        • Jakob Hedin

          But Troy, John did nothing to start a dialogue himself with Frank in the first place. HE was the one beginning the fight, with no evidence or thoughts at all to back up what he was saying. If you really want to defend something you have to be willing to demonstrate some proof. That’s how you begin a debate, not by personal insult.

          • Troy

            Jakob, I am not trying to defend John’s comments nor whether or not he attempted to enter into a dialogue. Rather, as the author of the post, I am trying to understand why Mr. Shaeffer didn’t ask for proof from John to buttress his assertions. I am trying to understand why he made no attempt at engaging John. Perhaps you can help me to understand why his only response was to call him a mess, to claim that John was really talking about the Republican Party, and why he put a label on him that then gave him the ability to dismiss John as “one of those people”. I am trying to understand why, as the author, that was HIS response. To be quite honest, this was the first thing I have read by Mr. Shaeffer and I thought, while I don’t agree with him, I am going to keep coming back here to try and get a better perpective of his position. However, after I read the way Mr. Shaeffer choose to respond to John, I have very little interest in listening to someone like that.

    • Doug

      I disagree with your comment. People who love God and the Christ are disillusioned with American Christianity. It is packed with fear and manipulation, much the same way the Pharisees had stolen Judaism the years before Jesus. This representation of Jesus is fresh and I found myself loving Him all over again as I was reading it.

      You said “How many people must you have alienated from the Church with this arrogant tirade”. How so wrong you are, I here people running back.

  • Kyralessa

    If our Church is so full of nasty people who parade their certainties, Mr. Schaeffer, then I guess I understand why you feel that you fit in. I’d think *theological* humility is far less important than *personal* humility, sir.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi K: that’s a bit of an inscrutable comment. Are you judging me? If so welcome to the club but you might concentrate on your own journey instead of worrying about mine.

      • Kyralessa

        Indeed I am judging you, Frank. Indeed I am.

        “Nasty people”? For decades you’ve spewed bile in article after article, constantly disparaging your family and upbringing.

        “Parading certainties”? You paraded your certainties in supporting one of the most pro-abortion candidates (now President yet again) that the U.S. has ever seen run for office. (Don’t tell me he’s not pro-abortion. He said he’d take *one of his own daughters* to get one if it seemed necessary.)

        You’ve got no place criticizing people in the Orthodox Church for their foibles when, in your 22 years in the Church, you seem to have achieved less spiritual maturity than you started with.

        Oh, I’m not judging your heart, Frank. Just your words and actions. But then, “those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.”

        • http://gogetmurphy.com RAMurphy

          Kyralessa – There are nasty people in every denomination. The “church” has become very careful about self criticism. Mostly, it is avoided and the reliance is on criticism of other religions or denominations, which to me is a problem.

          “Oh, I’m not judging your heart, Frank. Just your words and actions. But then, ‘those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.’”
          Well, you are actually judging his heart, you’re just doing it in a more subjective, less overt way. How would I, as a total stranger, view these responses? I heard anger, frustration, possibly defensiveness… I did not hear love or compassion in any way. There are faults in any system. What is the danger of stating them? If I was a jerk sometimes, shouldn’t someone tell me that? How does a body self correct if not through the honesty of its members? This, to me, is where humility comes in. The church should be humble and accepting of the inherent faults that are present in any organized body comprised of people.

        • Dale

          “…(Don’t tell me he’s not pro-abortion. He said he’d take *one of his own daughters* to get one if it seemed necessary.)…”

          I’ll get in on some of this “judging.” You are either misinformed or a liar for what you stated. President Obama NEVER stated that. Further, what if he is pro-choice? W was in office for eight years, was pro-birth, but abortion is still legal. You do realize in all likelihood that most of those “God-fearin’, Bible-thumpin’ conservatives” at the top of the chain could care less, right? It’s nothing but a way to get your vote, because “I’m for giving the super-wealthy citizens and faceless corporations tax breaks and loopholes” probably wouldn’t be a good selling point.
          If you have a problem with the man who was legally elected for a second term, maybe you’d better take that up with God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. ” – Romans 13:1 (ESV). Just saying; seems I heard that lots when W was prez.
          Frank, I’m sorry that I went a bit off topic. I was in the SBC from newborn until five years ago…44 years altogether. I get it, I’m much happier, and I’m thankful for those like you who understand.

  • Lou

    Your written arguments in my opinion seem to draw on your personal observations rather than factual.
    If the Bible is innerent then Christ Jesus is all He claimed to be. Lord God Messiah.
    Jesus quoted from the Bible ( old testament) quite often.
    Why would a perfect all knowing omniscient God make fallacious statements??
    Jesus said I am the way the truth the life, no one comes to the Father except thru me.
    Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord..
    If He is truth..then your article has some large holes in it.
    JESUS also said every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to t he glory of the Father

    • Frank Schaeffer

      You mean you have facts! Wonderful! I thought we finite humans all only had opinions. Lou, I didn’t know you’re God or that you read my work. Flattered!

  • Tami M

    Well, I liked it. For what that’s worth.

    But then I, too, am a refugee of a movement that has left the spiritual landscape littered with the bodies of the wounded and discarded not-quite-righteous-enough adherants. I appreciate your thoughts about the centrality of community and our connection to others. I appreciate “fake it til you make it.”

    But mostly, I just appreciate knowing I’m not alone when I wake up and find another pastor friend has “unfriended” me for not worshipping the right morality or giving voice to the approved voiceless. I appreciate knowing there are other people out there who might just want to pursue God and know Him but don’t want to look through a lens of politics and money and Calvinism to find Him.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Tami, thanks for the kind note. I am glad you read my post. Best, Frank
      PS I’ll “Friend” you anytime, with or without agreeing with you!

  • Anne

    Thank you, Mr. Schaeffer! You articulate well many of the thoughts and observations that have been percolating in my mind which I find hard to explain to friends and family in my former evangelical tribe.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Anne, thanks so much. As yo. As you can see from several of the comments above there are always new members of the “correct” whatever ready to burn us heretics.

  • Dana Ames

    Frank, I found this to be some of your most beautiful writing.

    I see now that what people complain about as your “tone” – at least with regard to being irritated by “religiosity” – is your deeply felt, imperfect expression of -can I say pain? over people settling for lesser gods that God Himself, which reflects at least some amount of love having been worked within you… Your parents’ good example of living higher than their professed theology taught you well, I think your dad is prouder of you than ever, if you’ll allow me to say that, too…

    And as you kept writing this post, that irritation melted into something that points to Jesus, and what Jesus being God really means. Transcendent. I was crying. Thank you.

    Even though I couldn’t articulate a lot of it, the intuition that that’s what Orthodox Christianity is – as I came to find out even the beginnings about it in the midst of an episode of severe messiness (and the attitude toward the messiness and how mature Orthodox, both cradle and convert, dealt with it really attracted me) – is why I ended up almost literally banging on the church doors begging to be let in.

    Now, if you were to go to a Russian church, they might care a bit more about people coming in late ;) Do pray for us OCAs this week.

    Dana

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Dear Dana, I’m moved by your great kindness to me here. It is painful to struggle with these issues of our souls. Your love touches me. Frank

  • Monica

    Wow, Frank. You really hit the nail on the head for me with this article. Amen to Tami and Anne’s comments. The older I get…I’m 57 now – Catholic religious studies major, “saved” into Protestant Fundamentalism at 22 until about 10 years ago – now resting from all that “churchianity” and enjoying just living my life for the Lord…the more I know I don’t know. But I’m good with that. And for me it’s all about relationships and lovingkindness. I think that makes God so much happier than arguing about religion, who’s in and who’s out, and devisiveness.

    Thank you, Frank, for putting my feelings down on “paper”. I’ve read all your books. Big fan. Would love to see you speak sometime out in Southern California. Or how about doing a virtual speaking tour online. Would love that!

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Monica, thank you so much for reading my article. Thanks too for sharing a bit of your story here. I’d love to come and speak on these topics in southern CA, so ask someone to invite me! And I like the idea of a “virtual” tour online. If you have a way to help make that happen or know someone who does please pass that along. Very Best, Frank

  • Brother Nelson

    Simply BRILLIANT !!!

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Thanks Brother Nelson!

  • George

    Frank, my friend from my religious studies program at my univ linked me your article. I’m Greek so he figured I would get a kick out of it. The first thing I told him was, “for a convert, this guy has a good understanding of Orthodoxy”. This was an excellent article, a great dismantling of biblical innerancy, and I personally believe your mindset reflects Orthodoxy well . Yes, you said some controversial things, but I still want to offer my praise. Maybe I’ll offset some of the other comments. I have also noticed the growing ultra-conservatism within the church from both incoming converts and followers of monastic personalities.

    All Orthodox, regardless of nationality or jurisdiction, need to practice their faith with the following quote in mind (It also has much in common with your article):

    “The Orthodox Church is not primarily an institution. Orthodox Christianity is not a series of rules to live by, nor is it a particular structure of church government. Orthodoxy is not a theological system, nor is its fullest expression limited to any particular period of history or cultural environment. Orthodoxy is nothing less than a relationship with God.”- Meletios Webber

    • Jakob Hedin

      Thankyou for very inspiring words. I am a protestant and might stay thus, but I love this attitude to Christianity, and I don’t think your choice of church really matters, you can never escape personal faith. (As if that were something non-desirable!!!)

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Dear George, thanks so very much for your kind note. I love this quote you shared : “The Orthodox Church is not primarily an institution. Orthodox Christianity is not a series of rules to live by, nor is it a particular structure of church government. Orthodoxy is not a theological system, nor is its fullest expression limited to any particular period of history or cultural environment. Orthodoxy is nothing less than a relationship with God.”- Meletios Webber

      Many thanks! And thanks too for your kindness in offsetting the critical comments her re my Orthodoxy or lack thereof. I claim no spiritual insights but it does hurt to be “excommunicated” by the right wing Orthodox for asking questions as honestly as I can, however mistaken. Then again this is all part of the journey. Thanks for your encouragement. Best, Frank

      • George

        Just stay strong and keep your head up. I look forward to reading more of your work. Your quote, “If Jesus is God then Jesus has the right to contradict the very imperfect book in which he has the misfortune to have his biography trapped,” is a new favorite of mine.

        The Orthodox have a slightly easier time recognizing the nature of the bible because it’s easy to trace our literary tradition to that time period. When our major biblical scholarship was taking place, we understood that, in 1st century Greek literature, the message matters, not the details. We read the bible for its overall meaning rather than trying to obsess over laws. That, combined with a very literal understanding of Paul’s separation of Christianity and Jewish law, makes for a non-legal faith.

        The mystical, non legal basis for the eastern churches was covered in my undergraduate level “Intro to Christianity” class. I remember this being covered in my own Sunday school classes in high school as well. Somehow, a vocal minority of our orthodox brethren have misplaced the “memo”.

  • Jakob Hedin

    That was a great article! Hugely inspiring and well thought-through. It gave me what I needed right now. Although I might agree that your attack on the more conservative voices was blunt, it’s justified as a wake up-call. The hatred and suspicion and fear towards any liberal interpretation outside of any churches’ theoretical frames is massive, and independent thinking and personal belief certainly never encouraged. Thanks again, I loved this article.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Jakob, thanks so much for the kind note. I know I’m “blunt” on this issue but since I come from a far right fundamentalist background I fled I am deeply troubled to see, hear and feel the same “vibe” of exclusion and fear-filled false certainty turning up (usually brought by convert priests and people) in the Orthodox church. What a shame given that this is a time when so many people are burnt out by this politicized “Christianity” and would love to discover another kind of open spiritual path that Orthodoxy can offer some.

      • Jakob Hedin

        Yes we are many getting tired of old structures. But things are changing rapidly and as they do, the underlying fear and hatred gets out in the open. It’s happening on so many levels in society and that’s a good sign, not a bad one, and I feel great hope for humanity, in spite of it all. This however is no reason to stop fighting, on the contrary.

  • Roger

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

    -Jesus

    • http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com Sonja Faith Lund

      But does “fulfill” mean “confirm”? Frequently I see Christians from all kinds of traditions saying that one should understand “fulfilling” the law as doing something which makes it obsolete. Laws are put in place to prevent things, but if you do something that makes the thing to be prevented impossible, why have that law anymore? Abolishing the law implies it may still be needed.

  • Ben

    “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Thank you for the perspective.

    But do you think every non-Orthodox tradition is incapable of embracing the uncertainty and mystery that you find in your Orthodox experiences? That sounds like another false certainty.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Ben, thanks for the note and question. Of course I do not think that “every non-Orthodox tradition is incapable of embracing the uncertainty and mystery that [I] find in your Orthodox experiences.” I think that I’m in the Orthodox tradition for my own reasons alone and that other people find faith, meaning and valid spiritual experiences in a host of places. In fact I think that people who reject religion also find truth because love is open to all.

  • Jeffery J.

    Overall an excellent article. I agree, Protestants especially of the Evangelical flavor worship the Bible over God whether they admit it or not. The West has obsessed over “figuring out” heavenly things and it’s cost them. On the other hand if I may be so bold, I have a criticism to offer about Orthodoxy. I am uncomfortable with the veneration I see given to bishops (including the office of bishop in general) or certain gerontas or elders–I have in mind one particular monastic elder living in the States today. I am uncomfortable when a priest tells an Orthodox to obey their spiritual father “as one would Christ,” or that it’s evil to even attend a non-Orthodox church or pray with non-Orthodox loved ones. There’s a different kind of idolatry going on here, and I think it may be every bit as harmful as the Evangelical’s bibliolatry.

    • George

      I completely agree with you Jeffery. This growing ultraconservative monastic movement is a huge issue. Please keep in mind that some jurisdictions are doing something about it. The Antiochian church has excommunicated several priests in the last two years over the issue. They also commissioned a book a number of years ago refuting many of the theological claims and made it required reading for priests.

      Unfortunately, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is being EXTREMELY slow to act. I heard that they commissioned a “monastery review committee” recently, but I’m not sure what the goals of it are.

      Trust that you are not the first to notice this issue. There are a number of websites around, but http://gotruthreform.org/ out of Chicago is one that comes to mind. I pray that God will lead us out of this mess.

      I’m curious about what you are referring to with the bishops. In my area, the relationships seem frosty with the hierarchy.

  • Theodore Bosen

    Frank. I am a cradle-born Greek Orthodox Christian who was re-inspired by your writings and books back in the 90′s to fall in love with my faith all over again after some years of agnosticism. I have always been a liberal and used to lament your politics, but always loved you for your articulation of the faith. Imagine, I used to actually pray that your political eyes would open as wide. Now I know there is a God. Brought you to my church on the Cape years back to speak. Several parishioners still tell me it was one of their most memorable and thought-provoking experiences. I now lead a teen class there weekly and I am most grateful for this article as it will provide fodder for next week’s class. You never cease to astound me with your ability to articulate the experience of your journey in the faith. You help me crystallize so much of my own and I am grateful beyond words. This eye-opening rant of yours is truly one for the ages!

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Theodore: thanks so very much for the kind note. I’m grateful you are going to use this article with your class. Thanks too for the prayers. It has been a long journey from right to center, from evangelical to Orthodox, from inherited “views” to a few conclusions of my own. I’m glad we met along the way. Very Best, Frank

  • Denzil

    Very thought-provoking article Mr Schaeffer, for which I thank you. I have no experience of the Greek Orthodox Church, but your article struck a chord with me in my (sadly) increasingly fundamentalist Baptist church, where currently there is a huge argument going on over Genesis/Origins, between the fundamentals (you can guess what they are saying. And yes, they really believe that “this is how it actually happened!”) and the more deeper, progressive thinkers who are open to theistic evolution (and are hence incurring the wrath of the Fundamentalist’s God for such Satan-inspired atheistic lies). OK, rant over. But what struck a chord is the fundamentals’ desire to “get the theology right” without “putting the theology into practice” – i.e. by caring for God’s creation. And by caring for creation I include the human inhabitants as well as the non-human inhabitants. So to put it into your context, I think I would rather be a practicing Orthodox than a non-practising Evangelical. Keep the courage!

  • Frank Schaeffer

    Denzil, thanks so much. And of course you hit the truth on the head: its all about the practice. Better a humane atheist than any sort of in-human “believer.” Baptist, Orthodox, agnostic, we’re all just people. And the fundamentalist trend with its fears and hates and desire to be certain about everything is in every religion these days. Just ask Afghans trying to live peacefully next to the Taliban!

    • Denzil

      Yes, you are right. Certainty … what you are left with when faith goes out the window. But I am frankly astounded at the number of ex-evangelicals/fundamentalist replying on this forum to your article, each with our own grievances and hurts as to how we have been (mis)treated. Here’s hoping and praying for the Spirit of God to sweep through these dusty legalistic churches to bring new hope and love and action.

  • Penny Hammack

    Aside from the fact that Mr. Schaeffer is one of my favorite authors, I think he makes his point very well. I too was raised as an evangelical and have been hit over the head with the Bible too many times. I wish I had a condensed version of this to pass out to the latest group who insisted that my views on homosexuality and abortion were wrong because THE BIBLE SAID THEY WERE WRONG. The Bible says a lot of things and I’ve yet to meet a Christian who thought it was wrong to eat pork or shrimp.

    • Shreen

      Unfortunately, I have met a Christian who thought it was wrong. Quite a few, actually.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Penny, Thank you so much for the kind note re my writing, rather how you like it. And you make a great point “The Bible says a lot of things and I’ve yet to meet a Christian who thought it was wrong to eat pork or shrimp.” And I’d just add that what is also so odd is that so much of what the “Bible says” re abortion for instance– it doesn’t say! Find me the verses on abortion as clear as those on love or helping the poor, and mentioned as many times as warnings to the rich! And yet the Republican agenda makes all this stuff up. Listening to them you’d think that there were whole chapters on abortion or on homosexuality rather than a few mentions, if any!

  • Margret Ollis

    Hello Mr. Schaeffer,
    Your opening paragraph is right on target: Having elevated the Bible — or at least the nicer bits that they like — to the status of a magic book evangelicals have demoted God. Their “god” is trapped in a book and kept somewhat like a tame rat inside the cage of “biblical inerrancy.”

    Several years ago I took a philosophy course entitled “Science, Religion and Social Policy”. A couple of religious fundamentalist students wanted to talk about Genesis and Evolution. At on point I said something like “when I listen to you talk I get the feeling that the book, this Bible is God, and beyond that there is nothing”. The lady sitting next to me popped up and said “Congratulations, you finally got it!”

    Demoting God is idolatry and then its not really about the book, but what they say the book means. Actually they are not talking about the Bible, but their translation of the book; they worship their own understanding, and they they call worship of God.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Margret, thanks so much for reading my article. You are right. I’ve had conversations like this too. It strikes me that so much evangelical Christianity is really a fundamentalist American alternative religion very much like the Mormon Church. It centers around “special” revelation from a book that has little to do with even the historic church’s understanding of what was believed. This leads to the magical thinking about that book that pits creationism against science for instance no matter what the evidence. As you say “and beyond that there is nothing” for these folks.

  • http://www.nwanglicanblog.wordpress.com Steve Bailey

    Frank:
    You capture a whole universe in the apophatic description of God as “divinely simple”. I’ve just completed a series of essays on 17th century Anglican priest and poet George Herbert that traces his journey as depicted in The Temple poems toward living into the Divine Simplicitas as both priest and poet. Herbert’s treatment of the necessity to search for and find the ‘simplicity’ of God through his use of sophisticated approaches to rhetoric and language are little understood, but central to his work, and reflect much of what draws me back to Herbert again and again.

    The essays can be found at nwanglicanblog.wordpress.com

  • http://theologyoflove.wordpress.com John Arthur

    Hi Frank,

    Thanks for this very thoughtful post. I loved what you had to say about Jesus. Jesus, in his very humanity, reflects a God of compassion, healing mercy and loving-kindness. He welcomes outcasts and sinners. He reflects a God who loves his enemies, who stoops down to lift up the downtrodden and the afflicted, who welcomes the socially ostracised, who sets forth a hated Samaritan as the one who was a neighbour to the wounded one.

    What a contrast with the Jewish ideas of his day! He forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery rather than stoning her to death. He challenged the Jewish purity boundaries, He healed on the Sabbath and restored lepers to the community by healing them. He disputed the self righteous Pharisees and their notions of holiness. He challenged the religious principalities and powers, uplifted the poor and ther powerless, welcomed little children for of such is the reign of heaven, and brought dignity to women, welcomed prostitutes and ate with the hated tax gatherers.

    Thanks for pointing out that God is mystery and we can never know God fully but that God is something like Jesus. We can say what God is not. He is NOT the vengeful tribal God of the OT reaking his violence and retributive punishment on ‘sinners’ nor the God of right wing Fundamentalism which prioritizes “right” theology and politics over the loving praxis of Jesus, the prince of peace.

    Of course, I am reading a lot into your post, Frank, but I hope I haven’t misinterpreted you. I am an ex Evangelical who left the Evangelical church at Easter 2011 and haven’t been to church since. it’s all very lovely in an Evangelical chuech until you verbalize your differences from their Fundamentalism, then all ‘hell” brakes loose from a group that has very little tolerance for theological diversity.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

    • Frank Schaeffer

      John Thanks for reading my work and your kindness. Far from “reading in” to my post you have articulated what I was/am trying to say better than I did. So quoting you here is just what I mean and hope to say. It should be repeated. As you put it so wonderfully:

      “Jesus, in his very humanity, reflects a God of compassion, healing mercy and loving-kindness. He welcomes outcasts and sinners. He reflects a God who loves his enemies, who stoops down to lift up the downtrodden and the afflicted, who welcomes the socially ostracised, who sets forth a hated Samaritan as the one who was a neighbour to the wounded one.

      What a contrast with the Jewish ideas of his day! He forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery rather than stoning her to death. He challenged the Jewish purity boundaries, He healed on the Sabbath and restored lepers to the community by healing them. He disputed the self righteous Pharisees and their notions of holiness. He challenged the religious principalities and powers, uplifted the poor and ther powerless, welcomed little children for of such is the reign of heaven, and brought dignity to women, welcomed prostitutes and ate with the hated tax gatherers.”

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for this! I grew up in the right-wing, domion-ist, ultra-conservative Christian Patriarchy family, and since I escaped I’ve barely been to church since. I’ve been thinking about trying an Orthodox church for the very reasons you said.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Elizabeth: Thanks for reading my post. You might like the liturgy and community, but as I warn in my article the Orthodox too have their/our share of ex-evangelicals who have imported their far right harsh thinking, so I hope you get lucky and find a church that isn’t too crazy. If you do you might like it. Let me know how you get on. You may always contact me via frankschaeffer.com if I can help. Best, Frank

  • http://thefirstmorning.wordpress.com David Weber

    Thanks Mr. Schaeffer for an obviously heartfelt piece which is exactly the kind of thing more Christian leaders and thinkers must also be willing to share.
    It is the logic of the ancient Greeks which seems to fuel so much of modern Christianity, rather than the metaphoric poetry of the Hebrew prophets. It is from that paradoxical prophetic tradition that Jesus rose- with parables, neopraxy (is that a word?), and the turning inside out of ancient scripture (“You have heard it said..but I say..”). Yet we default again and again into what we think is our own thinking by trying to keep Jesus corralled behind concretized dogma.
    He came to set the prisoners free!!! He did it by breaking chains AND breaking bread!
    Thank you for doing what you can to help him continue in that great work!

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi David: You made my day by reading my post and responding. “Breaking the chains!” Yes, that’s how I see it too and I think the importation of the rationalistic Greek “logic” into Christian thinking is a tragedy. Seminary is where faith goes to die. Thanks for your good word and wisdom.

      • Nick Gotts

        I can’t agree that it was a tragedy – although I’m looking at it from the POV of an atheist. I could have plenty to say about the evils of the medieval Catholic Church, but in the course of the Schoolmen’s attempts to reconcile Aristotle with Paul of Tarsus (doomed to failure, naturally), they invented much of the essential “information technology” that underlay the later rise of modern science and scholarship – things as “obvious”, but previously and elsewhere unknown, as indices, tables of contents, alphabetization (this one occasionally used in the ancient world), punctuation, indentation, capitalization, running heads (for all this, see Alfred W. Crosby The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600); as well as universities, “mass production” of hand-copied texts, and related institutional systems. In the millennium during which the Orthodox east possessed the works of the ancients, they did little with them intellectually – although they did at least preserve many of them. That was left to the early Muslim world (via which a lot passed to the west through Sicily and Spain), and to the Catholic west, particularly after the fourth crusade, brutal and destructive as it was.

  • Simon

    Frank you’re a Champion!! Love your work! I think it’s telling that some of the more “seasoned” Orthodox are much more forgiving of your brashness than the converts. I myself remain in a semi-Protestant sect that originated in North America. I know that the doctrine is immature, but I love the people too much. It’s hard to walk away from a community, even when some of the things that bind that community are dumb and/or wrong. What is the most important thing is that there is love there, not perfect love all the time, but there is love. One thing that strikes me about mainline Protestants and fundamentalist evangelicals who switch to Orthodoxy or Catholicism, is the ease with which they can move straight over. No one seems to care if you switch churches. It reinforces the notion that the Reformation left us with a completely individualistic society and no one much cares when the community (or lack thereof) is fractured – in fact these are hardly communities, they are more like clubs where people hang out only with people who agree with them. This article is a prime example why I am drawn to Orthodoxy. Although brash (I can forgive you for that knowing your Calvinist past!), it was eloquent and goes straight to the problems of evangelicalism particularly their doctrine of inerrancy. The Puritans were worried about the apparent “idolatry” of icons – little did they realise that they had deified a book, an idolatry in itself. Perhaps I’ll join Orthodoxy in my old age, like the late Jaroslav Pelikan did.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Simon, Thanks for reading my post. I love what you said here: “The Puritans were worried about the apparent “idolatry” of icons – little did they realize that they had deified a book, an idolatry in itself. Perhaps I’ll join Orthodoxy in my old age, like the late Jaroslav Pelikan did.”

      Actually reading Pelikan’s books on church history was very helpful to me about 26 years ago. That was before he “converted” but he was already thinking very much like an Orthodox Father and less like a Lutheran theologian.

      I think that some of the convert’s reaction to my work (other than what is my fault for crossing the niceness line too often) is because they “joined” the Orthodox Church as a last stop on what they hoped was a journey to absolute certainty. And NOW — they say “I’m in the true church! No more struggles or questions! I’m home!”

      To find a doubting questioning “snake” in the grass in the form of people like me who have been in the church longer (25 years in my case) who are still asking questions, pushing back and willing to consider alternatives and who even question the sillier bits of the cannons for instance, must be a shock. It’s even more shocking to the true church types when they realize that they have joined a “true church” that has in its history fathers and saints that denounced the whole idea of certainty. Again, thanks for reading and responding so constructively. Best, Frank

      • Simon

        Thanks for the response Frank. Yes I heard Pelikan say that he was always Orthodox, he just needed to peel away the layers. I hope to read his books over the (southern hemisphere) summer (I live in PNG, from Australia). This statement is so true “I’m in the true church! No more struggles or questions! I’m home!”. I have heard those sentiments many times, especially from American converts – some grow out of that mentality thankfully. I have mostly found the “cradle” Orthodox to be mature when it comes to things we can’t know about for sure. I really identify with that. Like Pelikan, I think that I’ve always been Orthodox. Best regards

  • Nathan

    Mr. Schaeffer:

    I just wanted to say thank you for this article. In many ways, what you wrote here is exactly why I left the Word of Faith after 15 years and started attending an Anglican church. The liturgy, ritual and mystery (not to say the short sermons based on being kind to people, and full of “I don’t know”) are wonderfully refreshing after far too many know-it-alls, and preachers manipulating my vote.

    By the way, I saw you on MSNBC yesterday. Excellent analysis, sir.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Nathan, thanks for reading my article. We both have discovered something “wonderfully refreshing after far too many know-it-alls” as you put it. Thanks for the kind word on my MSNBC stint too. I’m grateful. Best, Frank

  • Bill Hooson

    Frank, thanks for such an illuminating and personal article. I especially like the part about “swooping up”. After all, isn’t a church supposed to be about love and community? I was recently denied by a Protestant denomination the opportunity to become a licensed part-time pastor because of my theology, or lack of it. Yet I remain active with the local congregation because it is where many of my spiritual friends are. Although it was at first like a punch in the gut, it has become a blessing. I have been encouraged to start a “worship group.” (Because of this I have had to give up all leadership roles in the local church!) It will be open to and welcoming to all. We will continuously explore what participative worship looks and feels like, we will love our God (no matter what name some choose; due to cultural/religious upbringing or discernment) and we will love and serve our neighbors – in ways they ask to be loved and served. I don’t know where this will lead, but it feels like (in that part of my experience where I have encountered what I think is God) that this is where I need to be. Hope to see you at the Wild Goose if not before…

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Bill, thanks for the kind note and for reading this post. I admire you for sticking to who you are rather than doing what I think lots of people do — bend the theology for the career. Hope the new group goes well. Let me know if I can help. Best, Frank

  • http://TheBereanObserver Bob Wheeler

    So are you saying that the Orthodox Church no longer holds to the Nicene Creed?

    • Frank Schaeffer

      I’m only talking about what I think on this one day. As for the church or anyone else there are as many opinions as people. The Orthodox Church has no pope. There are many ways to “read” the tradition. I hold to the creeds. I hold to lots of things. But who knows what such things mean. If good judges argue about the Constitution that’s only a day old as far as history goes imagine all the versions of the creed that have existed even if the words don’t change. No one “holds” to anything. We all have days of doubt. So I guess the answer is: on what day do you mean?

  • Lily

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I just told my daughter that this is probably the best article I have read to sum up where I am and what has happened in my faith journey. I spent several years at a southern bastion of fundamentalism. As I read the first comment on this thread, I was struck by the fact that people who have not taken a similar journey just do not understand.

    This year I finally found the courage to visit an Episcopal church. My background has made it very, very hard to take steps of faith that would disappoint certain family members. I don’t know why I fear their rejection so much, but so much of what you articulated is exactly how I see church, scripture, etc. I have yet to announce this change to said family members, and I know I would see a mass exodus of face book “friends” if I were to be that open.

    Healing is a long, hard process, but I am thankful for every new step toward freedom from that oprressive mindset. I will be returning to this post frequently, and I can’t wait to share it with my immediate family members, who have joined me in this journey toward soul freedom. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    You are a light along the path!

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Very Dear Lily: the best to you and your daughter. I wrote this for you. Really. We on the journey stick together. I’m grateful for your kindness.

  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009H0IYPW/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B009H0IYPW&linkCode=as2&tag=absdevllc-20 Carl Peter Klapper

    Good article, though I have a few quibbles:

    1. Atheism is based on a straw-man definition of God. With a proper definition, i.e. God is Existence, the existence of God is a truism. The whole controversy is over the nature of God, about which we are all stumbling in the relative darkness philosophically.

    2. Evangelicals are not Fundamentalists, the latter just appropriated the name, then dragged it through the dirt and the mud.

    3. The Bible is a dialog stretching over centuries and then cut short by a Roman emperor. One could make the case that “The Imitation of Christ” and “The Cost of Discipleship” should be included in an updated Bible.

    4. On the other hand, there is merit in keeping the old books and the gory parts which would not be out of place in a Stephen King novel or the police blotter. One can’t understand Existence by bowdlerizing depictions of Reality or, for that matter, cutting out a bitingly satirical book like Job.

    5. So theology, i.e. religious philosophy, has its place. What has no place in a religion of the Christ Jesus, Job or the Garden of Eden is morality. Remember, the sin of the Garden was eating from the morality tree!

    Love and Peace,
    Carl Peter

    PS: You might like my recent book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009H0IYPW/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B009H0IYPW&linkCode=as2&tag=absdevllc-20

    • Nick Gotts

      Atheism is based on a straw-man definition of God.

      Nonsense: it’s based on the definitions of God used by the great majority of theists, who do not identify God with existence. A “strawman” is a deliberate or careless attribution to others of a view they do not hold; so I’m afraid the claim that atheism is based on a strawman definition of God is not just wrong, but dishonest.

  • Pingback: Our incompatible narratives « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  • Davina

    Thanks for writing this. I knew you are Orthodox, but this is a great piece of writing articulating what one can find in in the church. I found myself inside a Serbian Orthodox (mostly convert) church two years ago – it’s beautiful and healing for all the reasons you mention. I’m gay (and not out at church) though, and struggling with the lack of justice and compassion I find among my fellow shipmates. Seriously – reading this and knowing there are Orthodox folk who question and yearn for justice is a huge gift to me right now. Thank you so much.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Davina, thanks for the kind note. Please get in touch with me any time I can help. You may contact me at frankschaeffer.com

      Just click on “contact” it goes to my email. It sounds as if you could do with a little encouragement from time to time, as I could. Best,
      Frank

  • Kirk

    Frank, I was mentored by you back in the early 80s–at a distance, but you were cogent in your defense of life and the importance of Biblical truth. Today, I am confused by much of what you stand for; mind you, I have not voted for a Dem or a Rep for President since I voted for Carter, McGovern and Reagan. I see very little difference between the duo puppets of the banking/corporate entities. Goldman Sacks is very well represented in the Obama administration. Here we have a President who believes partial birth abortion is acceptable and sodomy between two men is to be embraced as love. What happened to you? I support Dr. Paul, but I see the greater effectiveness in individuals learning the law and standing up in court for the truth. What happened to you? I wish we could talk on the phone.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Kirk, One reason I wrote a trilogy of memoirs beginning with Crazy For God was so I could stop having to entertain the possibility of answering the same questions. Since you must know I’m a writer and a quick click on Amazon will take you to those books I wonder what picture you have of my or anyone’s life in that you think that A I owe you an “explanation and B That I have time to write on. This is sort of like asking a doctor you happen to meet to treat you on the sidewalk rather than bothering to make an appointment like anyone else. In my version of “call my office and I’ll be glad to see you” I urge you to read my answer(s) as written. If you read Crazy For God, Patience With God and Sex, Mom and God you’ll know everything I have to say on the subject. Mind you I’d never ask anyone to read all those books but you said you want to know. If so take two books and call me in the morning (so to speak!)

      • Kirk

        I will see if they are at the library. If not, I cannot afford to buy all your works. My phone number is available at remedyatlaw@yahoo.com. I would enjoy a brief discussion.

        May I add that your visit to Riverside, California, in 1996 was highly instrumental in my family coming to Orthodoxy. I thank you for that.

        Abortion is still murder, yes? Sodomy is still an abomination yes?

        • Frank Schaeffer

          Are you performing abortions and sodomy? If not and if you are Orthodox the Fathers teach us to worry about our own spiritual journeys not other people’s. Or perhaps it is easier to “take a stand” than to work on our own souls.

  • Dave

    Very interesting article, Frank. The big question that kept coming to mind for me was this: do you believe Jesus rose from the dead? I apologize if I’m taking your words to unintended ends, but if the Bible is just a book, are you saying that God communicates directly to us all that we need to know as long as we just seek to know it? This all has a very postmodern feel to it, but maybe Orthodoxy is just very postmodern (I admit I’m pretty unfamiliar with it). All in all, I’m glad I read it. It has definitely affirmed where God has taken me in my life.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Dave, it is a pleasure to have you reading and questioning my opinions, such as they are. Thank you. Since what I believe is neither here nor there, because belief like doubt ebbs and flows, the real issue is if I’ve learned to be kinder than I was when younger. Belief like sincerity is overrated. Why? Because we change our minds. So the question is never what do I believe, but who am I imitating? I’d refer you to my blogs on this page for my “answer.” Check out Parts 1 to 4 of this. Here’s part 1 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2012/09/the-blessed-hypocrisy-method-acting-of-salvation-part-1-of-4-parts/

    • Simon

      Dave, saying that Orthodoxy is post-modern is an anachronism. Orthodoxy has been around a long time before modernity and post-modernity. I’ve found that Orthodoxy handles truth much better than Western Christianity and especially Protestantism. This is precisely because it’s methodology is based on what we can and cannot know about God and reality – i.e. the apophatic approach that Frank explains above. This all seems “post-modern” to conservative evangelicals. And partly because there is some truth in post-modernity (The thing that opponents to post-modernity don’t realise is that if you simply go back to the 1950s, you’re eventually going to find yourself in the 70s again – that whole mindless and arbitrary rule keeping of conservatives will eventually be too much). But Orthodoxy is not post-modern, it is pre-modern. In contrast, Western theology tries to explain too much and in doing so fools us into thinking that we “know” certain things that are better left unexplained. It overreaches – this was Augustine’s problem, it was Anselm’s problem, Aquinas’ problem and definitely was Calvin’s problem (he was a lawyer, what did we expect?!). This methodology, ironically, was influenced by Islamic Aristotelian philosphers like Avveroes in the medieval period. It’s interesting to see how the Protestant presuppositions about Scripture and usage of it mirror Islamic presuppositions and usages of the Koran. Protestants weren’t the first advocates of the sola scriptura, the Muslims were. I think these similarities should be teased out a bit more by historians and philosophers. Aristolelian philosphy underpins Western theology, particularly Protestantism and the application of it to Scripture. This eventually led Western civilisation down the path towards the Enlightenment and secularism. Historian Brad Gregory has written a great book about how the Reformation set off our path towards secularism. Now there are really good things that the Enlightenment has achieved, like modern science and medicine, but it has also led to a sort of arrogance that finite humans can know everything. The irony is that Protestants collude with the Enlightenment, yet can’t handle it’s scientific discoveries. Orthodox thought is furthest from Enlightenment thinking, yet is not threatened by any scientific discovery. What I glean from this is that conservative Protestants oppose truth. When plain scientific discoveries, like the age of the earth are presented, they cannot deal with this. And so they oppose the truth. This is the folly of the whole modern/post modern debate. Protestants collude with the material, Aristotelian approach of the Enlightenment, yet cannot deal with its findings. Richard Dawkins is not a post-modernist. He affirms that there is “objective truth” using much the same methods of Protestant theologians. Only difference is that when it comes to science, the data is on his side. And so he spurns conservative evangelicals. In actual fact, fundamentalist evangelicals and atheists are different sides of the same coin. Fundamentalists affirm a “god” who is hateful and rejects facts. Atheists, like Dawkins, negate this “god” – and rightly so. Actually, if you look at the dialogue between Dawkins and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, you will immediately see that he is a reasonable discussion partner with thoughtful Christians. Put him on with the loonies on Fox News or debates with fundamentalists and he is understandably shrill. So I guess my point is that Orthodoxy transcends the modernity-post modernity culture wars. And that post modernity is really a reaction to the excesses of modernity, the Enlightenment and so on.

      • Nick Gotts

        fundamentalist evangelicals and atheists are different sides of the same coin

        Yeah, yeah.

        Atheism and fundamentalism are different sides of the same coin
        War and peace are different sides of the same coin
        Freedom and slavery are different sides of the same coin
        Ignorance and strength are different sides of the same coin

        Aristolelian philosphy underpins Western theology, particularly Protestantism and the application of it to Scripture. This eventually led Western civilisation down the path towards the Enlightenment and secularism.

        Here I agree.

        Now there are really good things that the Enlightenment has achieved, like modern science and medicine, but it has also led to a sort of arrogance that finite humans can know everything.

        So it did, in the 19th century. But many of the key scientific and mathematical results of the 20th century were precisely about the limits of knowledge: quantum mechanics and in particular Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Goedel’s incompleteness proofs, Turing’s proof that the halting problem cannot be solved, proof of the independence of the continuum hypothesis, proof that long-term prediction can be impossible even within deterministic systems, due to chaotic dynamics. None of these have anything to do with post-modernism – although ignorant post-modernists often think they have, and misuse scientific and mathematical terminology in their worthless babbling.

  • Jakob Hedin

    “I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley. If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices.” – J. Krishnamurti

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Jakob, thank you for a marvelous comment, so perceptive, so liberating and humbling too. I’m honored to have you here on my page. Best, Frank

      • Jakob Hedin

        I thank you Frank, for reminding me of what I was beginning to forget.

  • Mary

    I came across this blog today and thought you might be interested in what she has to say:

    http://theupsidedownworld.com/2012/10/30/do-you-read-scripture-like-a-pharisee-or-like-jesus/

  • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    Good to find your blog. I am also from a Calvinists background and am tired of defending the Bible but not willing to let go of the faith completely.

  • Chance

    I loved the article, thought it was on target. As one who is distancing myself from the evangelical world, I too have come to embrace the idea of humility and the idea of not knowing, of embracing Christ and the disavowing the idolatry of the bible. I downloaded one of your books and watched the interview on Grit TV on your website. From the interview, I do think it is quite premature to consider President Obama such a great President though. We won’t know that until we are 20 years beyond the end of his presidency. So far I think he has been quite divisive and can do a lot more than he is doing to bring some unity to our deeply divided nation. He also seems to be overpraised, as in the Nobel prize he received with no accomplishment to earn it. He has another 4 years to either screw things up or do great things, we’ll see…

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  • Rob

    This blog is both boring and arrogant. Good for you that you found what works for you, but as for the rest of it…yawn…

    • http://patheos.com judyciotti

      I agree wholeheartedly!

  • Michael Redmond

    Dear Mr. Schaeffer: I just read this piece and it rings true to me. It never ceases to amaze me that people who say they’re committed to the truth cannot handle other people speaking truly and frankly about their own spiritual journeys. I’m glad you’ve found a home in Orthodoxy; I wasn’t able to, after ten years trying. I’m back to my Anglican roots and find there much of the same sense of “this is where I walk the walk” as you found by heading East. There’s no theology test in Matthew 25. Christ’s peace to you.

  • Justin

    Frank,

    Please pray for me. I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy and your comments are baffling to me. Please pray that the Lord would help me to understand where you are coming from.

    I am curious, though, as to why you seem to deny the reality of hell and God’s specific Providence for each of our lives. If this is not what you mean, then please forgive me for reading too much into your words. But if so, I would be thankful if you would show me where, specifically, any of the Fathers have taught this.

    Thank you, and God bless you.

  • Steven Roberts

    Mr. Schaeffer,
    I’m curious as to your claim that “there are many ways to read the tradition.” I was wondering if you can provide some examples of this.
    In Christ,
    Steven

  • carlos

    the whole bible is magical irrationality, including the Jewish Torah. the idea of a god calling a human to amy mountain to deliver the answers about human lifeto him, the idea of a god sending a son from heaven to basically do the same thing, etCjust defy reason and senses. evangelical or greek orthodox there is no ifference. reason is the only thing that will give us the answers but, of course, reason has limitations, so we just must keep at it. it is reason not the gods that GIVESBUS DEMOCRACY, PRACTICAL.LAWS, HUMAN RIGHTS, MATHEMATICS, MEDICINE, SPACE EXPLORATION, PSYCHOLOGY, IN FACT WHEN THE SIMPLISTIC, IRRATIONAL BUT SEDUCTIVE BIBLE PREVAILED OVER GREEK PHILODOPHY HUMANITY TOOK HUGE STEP BACK. THE RENAISSANCE.UNDID PART OF THE DAMAGE BUT WE HAVE NOT CAUGHT UP YET TO THE ANCIENT GREEKS. THAT WILL.HAPPEN WHEN WE GINALLY ABANDON REVEALED RELIGION AND GO.BACK TO THE HARD, SELF RESPONSIBLE WORK OF USING REASON TO FIGURE OUT THE AMSWERS TO UNCERTAINTIES. SOONER OR LATER WE WILL ABANDON WITHOUT HATE RELIGIONS.

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  • Kathy

    I don’t really understand this. The first time I visited an Orthodox church the priest’s whole sermon was about the Bible and why the Orthodox have the bible right because the Protestants don’t believe it and the Catholics don’t read it. I thought that was a bit narrow minded and putting people in boxes myself.

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  • Robert MacDonald

    Frank, You are spot on. The very freedom you experience is a great threat to an evangelical as I have been one for 44 years and a Pastor for 29. As far as I can tell what I speak if spoken in any other non-denominational church, I would be asked to depart. How about we experience the I Am…in Him all in His grace apart from works…we merely believe/accept. In humility we know He cares for us and we can cast our cares on Him and more grace is supplied and when we are weak His grace is sufficient. His nature our nature a new species/creation not a redeemed last Adam…born again after the Life Giving Spirit…Jesus…led by the inner witness. I am no longer an evangelical I am me in Him and there are a bunch of us living outside the lesser glory of the “church.” Better for some to be in prison and go to heaven….what a mess indeed.

  • Mike

    Where did my question go?

    • Mike

      Are they really that open minded? I’m a freemason, married, 45 years old, childless and planning a Viking funeral when I die. Would I be accepted in Orthodoxy?

      • Abouna Raphael

        Why would you want to be? Thats the real question……The only real answer to that is because you think it is really “The Way.” And if its so, would it not be the pearl of great price that a man would sell all that he has to acquire?

      • periclesdestro

        Orthodoxy accepts you as a human being. The Orthodox serve God and by serving God they serve humanity no matter how flawed humanity is. Jesus said, pay your taxes, obey the law. Work with others if they do good work even if they are not of your sect, do not revolt against secular authority with violence and serve as an example to others (in other words make people want to be like you based on the good fruits your faith will bare).

  • PCA

    Nonsense. Your post rambles. If you are a true Orthodox you should be loving those who are a part of your church and those who are not, not crushing them to pieces.
    Or is that what the early church fathers did? They spoke evil of their brothers, hated those who persecuted them and we two faced? I don’t think so.
    Read your bible and study your early church fathers, you might just learn a few things.

    • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Trollfree/ ttomm46

      @PCA..Frank is an idiot.

  • periclesdestro

    I think the Orthodox state they have the faith correct – the Bible version used kind of thing is a Protestant Sola Scriptura kind of belief so I don’t think you got the message.

  • periclesdestro

    The reality of hell is for God to judge you into. Orthodox do not know if anyone will end up in hell or be forgiven when judged all they know God does the judging. Protestants seem to know who ends up in hell beforehand.

  • periclesdestro

    The Anglican church is an apostolic church. You did not go that far away (In the USA before there were many Orthodox churches, the church authorities declared it was acceptable for Orthodox Christians to worship in Anglican churches and receive from them the sacraments).

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Trollfree/ ttomm46

    He’s not a true Orthodox christian..Frank has been a Heretic for a long time and his critique of the bible is Blasphemy..

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Trollfree/ ttomm46

    No prayer needed..you are on the wrong site..go to a real Orthodox site not a theologically liberal Heretic.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Trollfree/ ttomm46

    what he describes as Orthodoxy is heresy…abandon this site and go to a real Orthodox site..

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Trollfree/ ttomm46

    Frank Schaeffer’s Rage and Spite…

    November 30, 2012 By Mark Shea 59 Comments

    …at Daddy, Conservatives, Evangelicals and Catholics finally finds fruition in this incoherent “Go to hell” to the entire prolife movement. He is, of course, right that the GOP has largely exploited prolifers and has never been serious about abortion. But the BS arguments he and his guest contibutor pull out of the worst sort of sola scriptura rationales for abortion on the Emergent Church Left are frankly embarrassing. I mean, come on, “A fetus is not a life that can be taken. A life that can be taken is a life that is aware it can be took”? Great. I’ll be over to this man’s house tonight to put a bullet in his head while he sleeps. It’s not murder since he won’t be aware of a thing.

    Is Schaeffer even a member of the Orthodox communion anymore? What does his bishop make of him? The man seems consumed with rage (and arrogance–Why I Still Talk to Jesus, In Spite of Everything–how gracious of him). The madness of Christian alliance with the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism at the expense of the teaching of Holy Church is very much to be opposed. I try to do it here every day. But nothing is helped by embracing the opposite insanity of opposing anything in Church teaching that happens to be approved by American conservatives. Yes, it is true that opposition to abortion does not take away the sins of the world and excuse the many blind spots of the Thing that Used to be Conservatism to authentic Christian teaching (torture, just war, just wage, etc). But that does not mean that the conservative Christians are “lying” to say abortion is, as the Church says, an “abominable crime“. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath.

  • Jonathan James Rychart

    Be careful, because Frank Schaeffer is one of those who call out, “Lord, Lord” but don’t actually know Him, and will be spit out if he does not change. He “likes” Christianity because it feels good, he hasn’t made the commitment to follow Christ in all ways for the rest of his life. This isn’t because he’s orthodox, (there are plenty of authentic orthodox Christians,) this is because he doesn’t practice the faith as defined in the Bible, and even, as you see in this article, openly mocks the Bible. He’s a wolf attempting to cover himself in sheep wool.

  • Jonathan James Rychart

    If we can’t know spiritual truth, we can’t know any truth. If you don’t accept Jesus as Lord, then your “faith” is nothing but emotional, feel-good nonsense, and worth absolutely nothing. If I weren’t 100% certain of the truth of Jesus Christ, I’d rather just identify myself as an atheist than lie to myself so that I can have warm tingles down my spine.

  • Jonathan James Rychart

    The gospel of “feeling good” isn’t worth anything, and those who follow it will be spit out by God. Instead of trying to straddle the fence, you really, really need to take a side, Frank, and make sure it’s the right side. Because if you don’t, you won’t be seeing Christ when you leave this world. I don’t want to come across as cold or cruel, but I’m concerned about you. I’ll continue praying for you…

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