Some of you know of my interest in patterns in stories of conversion, about which I have written in Turning to Jesus and Finding Faith, Losing Faith (with Hauna Ondrey). One of the elements of conversion is that each conversion entails an apostasy, that is, to come to one thing one leaves another thing. This led to a chapter in Finding Faith, Losing Faith that was an “Anatomy of Apostasy.” We examined the reasons people give for walking from the faith.
Recently my friend and co-Patheos-blogger Pete Enns posted about this very theme and I found his conclusions similar to the ones I found.
Anyway, here are the 5 main challenges I saw in your comments.
1. The Bible, namely inerrancy. This was the most commonly cited challenge, whether implicitly or explicitly, and it lay behind most of the others mentioned. The pressure many of you expressed was the expectation of holding specifically to an inerrant Bible in the face of such things as biblical criticism, contradictions, implausibilities in the biblical story, irrelevance for life (its ancient context), and the fact that the Bible is just plain confusing.
2. The conflict between the biblical view of the world and scientific models. In addition to biological evolution, mentioned were psychology, social psychology, evolutionary psychology, and anthropology. What seems to fuel this concern is not simply the notion that Scripture and science offer incompatible models for cosmic, geological, and human origins, but that scientific models are verifiable, widely accepted, and likely correct, thus consigning the Bible to something other than a reliable description of reality.
3. Where is God? A number of you, largely in emails, wrote of personal experiences that would tax to the breaking point anyone’s faith in a living God who is just, attentive, and loving. Mentioned were many forms of random/senseless suffering and God’s absence or “random” presence (can’t count on God being there).
4. How Christians behave. Tribalism, insider-outsider thinking; hypocrisy, power; feeling misled, sheltered, lied to by leaders; a history of immoral and unChristian behavior towards others (e.g., Crusades, Jewish pogroms). In short, practically speaking, commenters experienced that Christians too often exhibit the same behaviors as everyone else, which is more than simply an unfortunate situation but is interpreted as evidence that Christianity is not true–more a crutch or a lingering relic of antiquity than a present spiritual reality.
5. The exclusivism of Christianity. Given 1-4 above, and in our ever shrinking world, can Christians claim that their way is the only way?
These issues aren’t new. We all know that. They keep coming up, which is sort of the point. I understand that some may feel they have found final and universally applicable answers to these issues, but the fact that these issues don’t go away tells us something: either the answers aren’t all that persuasive or the answers aren’t getting to where they are needed.
Whatever the reason, in my opinion, opening up and talking about these things with others also on the Christian path should not be the exception but the rule.
As for my own challenges, I resonate with all of these on some level. My personal top challenges–those nagging back seat issues that keep forcing their way to the front seat–are: various issues of intellectual implausibility, few and far between “God moments,” random suffering, and the fact that Christians can be complete jerks to each other and everyone else (I being chief among them, to borrow Paul’s words).