“Why Do I Keep Believing?” The Biggest Obstacles to Staying Christian

“Knowing what you know, why do you keep believing?”

I hear this question a lot. I get it a lot. I ask it of others. I ask it of myself.

I think there are many more who would like to ask it but can’t.

You may have been taught that questioning makes God angry, and so you are petrified at falling away from their faith.

You may have no one to talk to.

You may be afraid of where it will all lead.

You may be afraid of the fallout in your community–of being ostracized and exiled.

The problem, though, is that most Christians have had unsettling intellectual experiences. (I am confident in claiming this of “most Christians” even though I can’t back it up statistically–I mean, who keeps statistics like this?)

“Intellectual” can mean many different things, of course.

For some of us, it can be things we read and hear, then being left alone with our thoughts once the dust settles.

For others, it is not what we read in books or hear in lectures, but what we have experienced in life–a difficult time, a disappointment, a sorrow, a series of small moments that accumulate over time.

For most of us, it’s both.

So, what I’d like to know from you is:

  • What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian?
  • What are those road blocks you keep running into?
  • What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep going at all?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and so would others.

If you’d rather not tell us who you are, that’s fine. Post anonymously, or email me at the link to the right (OTprof@mac.com).

I will follow up in some way in a week or two to see where things are.

We’ll see where this goes. The only thing I promise is “no cheap apologetic answers.” They don’t work. If they did, the problem wouldn’t exist.

Encouragement and suggestions are great, but I want to focus on voicing the obstacles and allowing them to just sit for a while–without the fearful need to resolve them right away. Don’t try to fix people. 

For those on the Christian path, looking into the dark places, honestly and courageously, is part of the deal (see  Psalms or Ecclesiastes).

  • Evidence2Hope

    These are fantastic questions, from my perspective;

    What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian? – all the hurt and pain caused by people in the world and how Christians react to certain issues

    What are those road blocks you keep running into? – Trying to just simply have a decent conversation that doesn’t descend into an insulting slinging contest. I’m also fighting my own doubts about whether its all true.

    What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep going at all? – Biggest issue for me is the pain caused by people. I’m learning more and more about the sex trafficking “problem” (I put problem in ” because its the only word I can think of but it doesn’t go far enough) The other issue is homosexuality; some Christians treat them as sub human. I just feel I’m running into a brick wall.

    Not sure if I’ve understood the questions but hopefully this is the sort of answer you’re looking for

    • Carl

      I have always found atheists’ arguments to be rather shallow, and relatively easy to shake off. Whether Dawkins, Hitchens, or Ruse. They just seemed intellectually dishonest. However, peter’s blog has done more to expose the problems of the Bible and a Christian worldview than any atheist has ever hoped to. Peter has caused me to doubt the historical accuracy of the Bible, and exposed the intractable problem of an angry God that seems more the product of a peoples’ imagination. Realizing Genesis is wrong, Paul is wrong, and that the Bible are just stories written by people in captivity in 600BC, causes me do doubt inspiration as well.

      It leaves me with a man made religion. I’m sure Peter never intended for his blog to cause people to lose their faith, but in my case he has provided the strongest case against the Christian faith than any atheist.

      • Evidence2Hope

        It’s not easy respond without giving the un-asked for advice Peter is warning against but I will just say this; I absolutely see where you’re coming from re: Peters work and it is very challenging. For me though, its challenged the basis of my faith rather than my faith itself.

      • peteenns

        Not “against the Christian faith,” Carl, but against certain iterations of it.

        • Carl

          If Genesis are just hopeful stories to encouge people in captivity, if Paul is making of theology as he goes, and everything else you bring up, then Christianity is nothing more than tribal beliefs, no different than the Mayans. You are making up a new religion just to feel better.

          • Jack

            It’s odd how some folks clearly see the implications of certain theological positions, but others seem to miss the boat. Good observation Carl

  • Susan Gerard

    The thing that kept me from becoming a Christian for 15 years was the problem of evil; why would a loving God create people He knew would suffer eternally in Hell? Is that a God worthy of worship?

    Right now, (30 years later) what I’m struggling with is how much of Scripture is the inspired word of God? Reading Babylonian stories like the Yahweh-Tehom Myth, or the flood story of Gilgamesh cause me to wonder at the varacity of Scripture, esp. in light of Paul’s believing them as true. Also, that “natural evil” existed before man. I know that God made the world so it would be good for man, so I can accept the death and suffering of animals. But the difference between 3000 dying on 9/11 being an evil, and 225,000 who died in the Tsunami of 2004 as “not evil” because the sea was obeying forces preordained by God before man (earthquakes are necessary for the earth)? This causes a cognitive dissonance within me. I was taught that natural evil was a condition of the fall, and I can accept it as such. But if there was no sudden fall, if God preordained conditions that would kill thousands of people “and saw that it was good”… it’s a hard pill to swallow.

    • David Wanstall

      When considering those numbers and they have such an impact on us, it is Important to realize that somewhere above 100,000 people die each and every day, every day of the year. We can often lose site of that when a significant number of deaths occur at one place at one time. That is not to minimize those tragedies but to put them in context. The last enemy to be overcome is death.

      • David Wanstall

        It is also important to keep in mind the “other side”. There are on average significantly more than 100,000 births every day. God sees all of these, the good and bad, not just those that make the news.

    • Ed Gonzalez

      Dear Susan,

      God created Adam and Eve for a purpose but when Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, That is where the trouble started.. His son had to die on the cross for the sins that were committed and are being committed today. Since the days of Moses people have defiled the ten commandments. You are telling me about 9/11 and the tsunami in Thailand. The enemy Satan is still around. Most of the things happening now were prophesied in the Bible.
      I come from a third world country where 75% of the people are poor. We have a choice either to choose good or evil. I have chosen to choose good which is God. I have see my mother suffer from cancer. She was a Godly woman who accepted her fate. She is now with God. I have a brother that is suffering from schizophrenia and i am taking care of him. I could have chastised God for this. i accepted it as a challenge for me and i am taking care of him. Our country went through a terrible flood, that surpassed the rooftops of a car and the first floor of their houses were filled with water. and thousands of people died. But what i saw here was the love of God people from different christian faith came together giving relief goods and just embracing the people who have lost some members of their families. God is good he loves you. You just have to make a choice.

      ed gonnzalez- beliefasia.net

      eduardocgonzalez@yahoo.com

      • Susan Gerard

        Ed,

        I don’t believe in Adam and Eve. I believe in Evolution. It feels so good to finally say that. I thought that Creation fell because of sin. Without A&E, we must face that creation was created “fallen”. My mom died of cancer, too. My brother came back from Viet Nam a drug-addicted near-sociopath, and died 15 years later. These things didn’t shake my faith at all. People die. Atheists can choose good over evil, and often do.

        My questions are: why did a good God create a dwelling place for man which was both a blessing and a dangerous place (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, volcanoes, ie. natural disasters. These were created before the fall. Why? Is the loss of 225,000 not an evil?

        If Genesis is untrue, Job is untrue, Jonas is untrue, and Paul is wrong, how much of Scripture is true?

      • peteenns

        Ed, remember what I said in the post. I am asking commenters to refrain from giving unasked for advice to fix their problems.

  • Chip Heim, Columbus, Ohio

    At this point in my life (I’m 58) I find I’m holding on to Christ tighter than ever. I don’t say that lightly. And I for sure do not say that because that’s what Christians are supposed to say. My growing awareness of the darkness of my heart drives me to Christ. I am a pastor and have been in my current church 29 years. While I’ve not experience horrific things in my life, I have seen those things in others. (Praying at the bedside of a woman dying of AIDS as the illness she had was causing clumps of her skin to fall off her.) I feel like Peter when Jesus asked, “Do you want to go too?” and Peter replied, “Lord, where can I go?” The problems our faith encounters are not new to this generation. I don’t mean to be dismissive of questions or doubts, but raising questions is not hard. Giving people genuine hope, isn’t that more important? A doctor can tell a person the details of her cancer, but after those details, what does she want to hear from her doctor? And isn’t that what we are to provide to the people God has placed in our care? Even if someone could provide air-tight reasons for the evils and tragedies we see in our world, and even if those reasons settled all questions and doubts, that would not free me from the darkness I know resides in my heart. What about that? John Newton was right to use the term “wretch” in “Amazing Grace”. Who or what can free me from that darkness? That is why Christ is more precious to me now than ever.

    • Ed Gonzalez

      You are so right
      Christ is the light in the darkness that we have to go go through. I am 59 and i live in a 3rd world country in asia. I’ve seen a lot of sufferings but i am still holding on to to Jesus.

      ed gonzalez – beliefasia.net
      eduardocgonzalez@yahoo.com

    • peteenns

      Chip, I think you may be misunderstanding the purpose of this post. It’s not to do the “easy” work of raising questions (which actually isn’t easy, but I’ll leave that to the side), but to give people space to voice their own struggles without giving the “easy” answers they are used to hearing and that contribute to the problem for them. I can echo much of what you say here personally, but I don’t think the root problem here is the darkness of our hearts.

  • jonathan becker

    One of the most difficult things for me is the question of revelvance. “How will things be different if I am a Christian?” Some of my biggest doubts come after seeing large numbers of evangelicals offer the implicit answer, “Well it won’t look much different, but you’ll go to heaven someday and not hell.” Conversely, I am tremendously encouraged by those like NT Wright and Miroslav Volf who suggest ways out of that mire by making faith a driving force in public life and discourse.

  • Muoki Musau

    Suffering is the biggest obstacle. My father has been dealing with tumors in his body for about 7-8 years now, and is currently undergoing chemo for the third time. It is easy to read about God’s goodness and his love for his people (I just finished ‘Imitation of Christ’) but real life does not line up. Moreover, it is personally causing serious concerns especially since I am going into seminary soon. The character of God comes into question as the suffering which affects me directly mounts. I wonder, “Why should I keep praying? Does God hear my prayers?”

    • Ed Gonzalez

      My friend God hears your prayers. This is not a permanent world. There is darkness and there is light. We have a choice. If we choose darkness. then our lives will stay in darkness. I f we choose life there is hope. I have chosen the light and have gone through a lot of problems. my mother died of cancer 8 years ago but she gave he life to the Lord. I have a a brother who is schizophrenic but the love of God has inspired me to know Him better.

      ed gonzalez – beliefasia.net

  • Anna

    “For those on the Christian path, looking into the dark places, honestly and courageously, is part of the deal” – that’s very refreshing!

    Obstacles – prayer: what’s the point? What’s the difference between answered prayer and coincidence?
    The bible – what’s the point? How can we trust it when there is so much in it we can’t trust?
    God – how much of him is just a construction in our minds? Honestly, how can we really know if he’s there at all??

    Sometimes I’m not sure why I still believe, or how much/in what I have to believe to still be a believer, because I’m chucking an awful lot out… Which actually feels really good…

  • Seeker

    Hey Pete,

    Thanks for starting a conversation like this. This is a question I have also wanted to ask you many times, so it is nice hearing that others are asking you the same thing. My faith has undergone some pretty major transformations in the past year after I made the decision to step away from pastoral ministry. It has been said that “Where you stand often determines what you see.” I have found that to be true in my case. I am an example of someone whose faith has changed due to both areas you mention: 1) I’ve experienced plenty of difficulties in life where God seemed incredibly absent, and 2) I’ve decided that I will pursue “truth” wherever it can be found and will not avoid the difficult intellectual questions regarding the Christian faith.

    After stepping away from pastoral ministry I began reading much more widely than I ever had before. I started searching for answers to my questions from experts in a variety of fields, and no longer restricted my searching so narrowly to only Christian authors (who sometimes only give neatly packaged apologetic answers). I’ve read scientific books on the history of the universe, on the current fossil record of humanity, on the evidence for evolution, on issues related to human sexuality, on matters related to the historicity and meaning of the Bible, etc. etc. All of this searching has led me to some very different conclusions about the faith I grew up in.

    I certainly wouldn’t say that I have things all figured out now. Who does? I’m a work in progress, and my intellectual journey won’t end here. But it is probably safe to say that, for me, there is now no going back to the way things were… I feel a lot of freedom now because I am not afraid of asking questions. I’m not worried that God is disappointed with my searching. I’m taking the conversation wherever it leads, and intellectually that has been very liberating.

    Is there room for the Christian faith in the world we are living in where evidence continues to mount in a variety of areas that calls into question long-held presuppositions about Christianity and the Bible? Perhaps. But my guess is that it will be a Christian faith that will be rooted in some different soil than that which our ancestors faith was rooted in.

  • Ed Gonzalez

    I’ve seen my mother suffer from cancer and die, but this never led me to question my faith in God. I have a brother who has schizophrenia and i am taking care of him. God has doubled my strength. My mother died peacefully and she knew she was going to meet her creator. i have a friend who has to bear going through dialysis three times a week and yet he can talk strongly about his faith in God. I have another friend who has gone through a bypass but he keeps talking and sharing about Jesus.There are Christians who are locked up in China and are suffering tremendously and yet they can sing praises to God. Even as i go through problems everyday because i am diabetic and i am taking anti hyperthensive medications, i still rely on God’s spoken word. It strengthens me and nourishes me.

    ed gonzalez – beliefasia.net

  • K

    To be perfectly honest, the thing that’s always been my biggest obstacle is other Christians.

    My experience as a child raised by first-generation Christians in Asia was that being a Christian was a lot about being good enough for God, living in a certain way, memorizing all the Bible verses I could. I was really good at learning all the Bible stories, and I thought that made me a good Christian; I took comfort in the fact that I was “doing good at church” when I was being incessantly bullied outside of it, partially because of the confrontational way my parents had taught me to live (challenge people who watch this TV show as it is demonic; do not associate with people who are Muslim; proclaim the coming of the end times in class if you can).

    I think I’ve always been set up for this course by my parents – my father’s shaped a lot of what I think about Christians: even the intellectual ones like he tends to be seem to be wilfully ignorant or bigoted and lacking the self-awareness to recognize that in themselves. My mother on the other hand taught me that sometimes completely ignoring the facts of life is the best way to maintain faith. Between the two of them and an extremely conservative church culture that taught that I was inherently sinful, as a mixed-race child, I was pretty confused to begin with.

    (Oh dear, this is going to be extremely long. Do forgive me.) What happened next would have been traumatic on its own, but probably much less so had I not been in the church community and culture that I was in, which as things stood opted to completely ignore and erase my having been repeatedly sexually assaulted, to the point where my parents still deny it having happened today despite my suffering from severe PTSD. That was bad.

    Moving to a Western country was nice. Took my mind off things, and the churches focussed a lot more on love and a lot less on rules. But as I hit adolescence and the identity crises that accompanied it, I found that nothing really was different underneath: the structures that make up a church are still very good at hiding abuse. A man in my father’s Bible study group was making a lot of young girls extremely uncomfortable; we were told that he, being a troubled man, needed Christ and we needed to show more of God’s love and tolerance and forgiveness to him. Another close friend of mine had his father find out he was gay, at the age of sixteen; he was beaten and disowned, and the church higher-ups again never noticed. Nobody reached out to him. Likewise the teenage girl with bipolar disorder who slept with a number of men during an extended manic episode. Likewise the homeless young woman, the woman who didn’t speak enough English to file for a divorce from her faithfully church-attending, obviously abusive husband; the autistic child whose parents fervently believed that prayer would heal his ‘attitude problem’, and that psychology was a route to secularism.

    My mental illnesses and nightmares and my struggles with my gender identity and sexuality (only complicated further, of course, by the childhood trauma) went unspoken of until I was caught self-harming; after a bit of counseling that actually made things worse and involved a lot of references to hell and to my being “very messed up” and my being ‘fired’ as a Sunday school teacher (the final straw was apparently that I was ambivalent as to whether seven-day creation was a literal truth), it went back to being unspoken of since I had received professional help and kicked that visible habit.

    I’ve gathered a little flock, in the last year or so, of marginalized Christian teenagers like myself. People for whom the weekly diatribes at youth group on how virginity is almost a measure of value trigger flashbacks; people who are queer and shunned; teenagers with autism or mood disorders; teenagers who’ve been abused by parents active in the church; people questioning everything from their ideas about chastity through to spiritual gifts; people who are simply of a race or social class which disagrees with the ‘othering’ rhetoric that many of the elders hold as part of their core political tenets. Most of us are teenagers who are slowly falling out of church despite our appreciation of how good most of the people are, how useful a support structure it is, how much we do want to believe in God and everything that entails. Most of that is because we can’t predict whether church will upset us, whether the unspoken rules about what topics are verboten will swallow us whole.

    I cannot attend youth group. I wish I could. I serve in the ministries I can, but more and more there are days when one of the sermons being preached is extremely racist or homophobic or just plain horrible (the one sermon about how Cain’s bitterness and inability to let bygones be bygones and not bear grudges against abusers meant he was cursed to forever destroy communities and never find love and shelter again is the most upsetting example to me as a survivor of abuse). And I find myself feeling far safer around the promiscuous, atheist group of gay men I call my current friends, because they respect me and my experiences a lot more than the church has ever done.

    I’m sure there’s lots of other people who’ll specify all the various more intellectual issues I have as a student of philosophy and science, but quite honestly I just wouldn’t care a jot most of that right now. I just want to be able to actually go to church, but I can’t see past this culture that inherently disrespects my experiences and silences me and many of my peers.

    • Mark Farmer

      K, your story is painful to read. It is also inspiring because of your perseverance and lack of bitterness. Thank you for your honesty. May you find trustworthy friends and mentors wherever you go. May many who read your story have ears to hear.

      • K

        Thank you for your encouragement. Being able to tell my story and not have it swept under the rug has in itself been healing for me, and I hope to find a healthier community and faith in time.

    • nanbush

      Look for a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). Deeply Christian, founded by and for people with gender issues, now expanding to include people harmed by their early church experiences. Motto is, “Come just as you are.”

      • K

        Oh- there’s one here in my corner of the Pacific! I might check it out; thanks for the recommendation.

  • Anon1

    Big challenge for me:

    What difference does being guided by the Holy Spirit make?

    People who believe they have been led by the Holy Spirit often completely believe all kinds of crazy stuff. Including: believing that they are on a mission from God to promote fundamentalist creationism, believe God is calling them to start right-wing political parties, make B Grade movies about fundamentalist rapture theology…

    I believe God calls us to relationship but how is it that through relationship we all arrive at conclusions so deeply different…

    How can I trust a leading of the Spirit? There have been other times in my life where I have been certain about the Spirit’s leading on stuff that I now think is stupid/unbiblical…

    I also find it challenging when I see that Christians often are the most gullible. Shouldn’t we be the most discerning if our minds have been transformed/ ‘un-depraved’….

    Also the question of the Bible being confusing…

    Why did God give us a document that can be so confusing? Why are sections often only contextually understood by scholars (and for centuries people had no idea of the real context for particular passages)….

    Also: I believe that the Bible speaks about the issue of egalitarian values (when understood in context) but I also know that there are some scriptures that if God (in his infinite wisdom) had just made sure got left out, it would have prevented centuries of oppression of women (in the name of God).

    I also struggle with the apparent randomness of God at times (in the question of suffering). Why do I sit here in a wealthy, western country and believe that God responds and answers my prayers, whilst a widow in Africa (who’s faith and heart are solely devoted to God) cries out for God to heal her baby and yet the child dies a painful death within her arms because she cannot afford medicine.

  • Ed Morris

    I ask myself that question (torture myself with it would sometimes be more accurate) pretty much every single day. I actually have stopped believing in a lot of the things conservative Christians consider essential to their faith, like the Trinity and the substitutionary theory of atonement. I even have serious doubts that Jesus was a divine being in any completely unique sense at all, or that he rose from the dead in bodily fashion. Yet I can’t give up the beliefs that the universe is contingent and that there is more to human existence than the physical machinery of our bodies. There’s got to be an explanation for value and consciousness, and pure materialism just doesn’t work. So I still think a personal God (one who is purposeful, conscious, and who values things) is the best ultimate explanation, even in the face of the problem of evil that this hypothesis is admittedly so plagued by. This problem vexes me constantly, but I can’t bring myself to believe that God doesn’t have some kind of higher purpose for even all the seemingly-gratuitous suffering in the end, even though I admit this seems preposterous. Anyway, if that’s the case, it seems the only logical course of action is to have faith that if there really is a God who is capable of value and who has a purpose, then I can trust my future to him. And this attitude seems to me to be the heart of Christianity and what Jesus was all about. Historically, I think Jesus and the movement he inspired really did change the world to a significant extent to see that this is what God is like and what our attitude toward him should be–it’s not about performing various religious works, but about trusting in God’s grace. In that sense I see God working in Jesus and revealing himself in Jesus as in no other person. To believe in God but disavow Jesus would be like believing in evolution but disavowing Darwin. So that’s the most basic reason why in spite of my doubts I still consider myself a Christian (of a rather liberal sort) rather than a mere theist or deist.

  • Eric Kunkel

    I think as I have aged my faith has increased and my expectations of others, including institutions has decreased. My own systematic theology, well I see that as a human science now, not as dogma: so I believe religious propositions to a certain degree of confidence, with a standard error.

    Books like your’s Dr. Enns make me more sure of the Fundamentals of Faith, perhaps not how they were jotted down 100 years ago. That was a different time, with different needs of the hour – So in a paradoxical sense, in the philological sense: I am more of a fundamentalist.now than ever before. I think I believe in stuff of the Creeds, properly footnoted and other great foundational documents that have stood the test of time. Thanks.

    Then there is the whole topic of faith in whom and ones relationship to Jesus Christ the Person. Marriage was an apt metaphor and supervenes any apologetic.

  • Jason Brim

    My biggest obstacle to staying Christian is prayer. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and compassionate, then why does he not answer the prayers of those who pray for others? You (Peter) said there would be no cheap apologetic answers so I suppose that means you won’t answer with something like “well, God says Yes, No, and Wait.”

    I have a long list of people I pray for on a daily basis. I don’t pray because I “have to” but because I love to help others and (seemingly) there is no better One to ask than God to give assistance with that. I will not paint the picture more bleak than it is. Sometimes things happen that could be an answer to prayer. But how do I know it is that and not just coincidence? Other times, when needs are desperate, there is nothing. No wind, no light, no movement. Just darkness and static existence. Silence from heaven.

    On the other hand, I have explored my own questions so I don’t just ask them and then abandon all hope. If there is a God and if He is GOOD, then he MUST answer prayer. He cannot ignore the pleas of one who cries out to Him for help, and remain Good.

    Something I have learned (it was a VERY hard thing to learn) is that God is so much bigger than we are, so glorious, so vital, so immense, that we cannot (literally) begin to comprehend his majesty. We are but dust and He is the Lord of the Universe. I visualize an image of Betelgeuse with a comparative image of our Sun and another image of our Earth. Then I consider myself in regards to them all and I am nothing. Yet this illustration is but a grain of sand compared to God. In one sense we cannot know God. How can we? He is wholly other and is ineffable…beyond possibility of comprehension. Yet, as a Christian, I believe that he is in the smallest things too and is personally present with me and makes himself known to me. How this is so is a mystery. I have no idea.

    Another thing I have learned is that prayer is not exactly what we think it is. While it can be asking God for things (indeed, to ask is the meaning of the word, pray), what it really is is communion, fellowship, union. Though no request is too small for God if asked from a sincere heart, who do we think we are to demand that God cater to our wants and desires? God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose. If this is true, then oftentimes the difficulty of our prayer lives reveal more about ourselves than about God. We have wants. We have desires. We have needs. But do those wants,desires, and needs correspond to what God knows is best for us? Do they correspond to what He knows will work all things together for good?

    And lastly, I am persuaded that God is never absent. Never. The reason we often feel alone and abandoned by God is very simply that we fail to realize that we have *never experienced the true absence of God*. He has always been there. Those times we feel alone? They are the result of our nature and our tendency to turn from God, even we we don’t want to, or realize that we are doing so.

    God is so present with us that he is the very life source of our full existence and being. Think about that. Why then are we not more aware? The answer, I think, is much simpler than we might expect…and it has nothing to do with our “sinfulness”. Rather, it is because God is the foundation of our being, that he does his work at levels of depth in our person that do not often rise to consciousness. As Christians, we have a 2000 year history of saints and preachers, apostles and others who have told us of the glories of knowing God and how he can change ones life. We all want that. The mistake comes when we expect God’s work to be done on a conscious level. God is working to change us from the inside out. He does this in the profound depths of our being, transforming us inside first. Of course, the ultimate goal of sanctification (theosis) is the full conscious communion with God. Face to Face as it were. But that is for the future for the most part. After all, *something* must be different after the resurrection! We do NOT have it all now. There must be something to hope for in the future.

    So, though I sometimes doubt, even God’s existence, I remember that I am dust and that God is in me working in ways I cannot comprehend and I am comforted. I also remember that God is working in those for whom I pray as well. I rarely pray for anyone anymore for a short time. I pray for them for years. Some of them I will pray for until I or they die. I believe God is working. I believe not one word uttered in sincere prayer ever goes awry. I may never realize or see how it is answered, but that doesn’t matter. I trust the One who always answers and is always faithful to complete the work in us that he has begun in Jesus.

  • LorenHaas

    1. Christians, myself included.
    2. Discovering what a tangled botched-up mess the bible is when you actually study it in context. So much bible interpretation is based on a “convenient” understanding that by convention is not fairly examined.

  • Eric Kunkel

    To Jason, I would add this chiefly on prayer; Mostly I wrote about belief before. I am not sure I have half an answer, but I know that greater lights have discussed this for millennia. If God is a Person He can answers prayers as He will. We do not know what the greater good will be. But God would know this.

    http://www.philosophyonline.co.uk/oldsite/pages/irenaean.htm

    I think there are answers, albeit imperfect ones, as all answers to big, worthwhile questions like yours generally are. I think when we find imperfect answers (as imperfect people), that is sometimes a sign we are on least moving towards some kind of truths.

  • Eric Kunkel

    To LorenHaas,

    I have never found anything on Earth- Not in theory or praxis.

    - Not religious or scientific, not in business or interpersonal relationships that was not botched up and tangled.

    We are born into this world. When you witness a human birth, you think “what a mess!”

    I agree with you about convenient hermeneutical understandings being deconstructed. I hope people have time. I hope we can get an ap for that before it is too late.

  • Ann C.

    I lost the faith of my childhood a long time ago. Back then, I was a true believer and never questioned anything I was taught. My interest in Christianity was reignited when I watched the Bible mini series, especially the last few episodes. (Yes, I know many who are knowledgeable about the Bible questioned the producer’s artistic choices, but in my experience, readers generally are unsatisfied when their favorite books are dramatized). As an agnostic, the episodes I watched inspired me to dig in and do some reading in the fields of in biblical criticism and history.

    It has been an eye-opening experience. It was exciting to read that stories in the Bible that I haven’t believed in for years, such as the flood story and Adam and Eve, have been extensively researched, and that scholars propose explanations that make sense to me. Still, many Christians oppose cafeteria-style beliefs, and insist that if you don’t believe everything, you’re not really a Christian.

    Also, as much as I want to get to the truth, the thought crossed my mind that if Adam and Eve isn’t true, and that the Bible contains anachronisms and other errors, what else isn’t true. This led me to question some of the more important elements of the NT. Jesus’ message resonates with me and I believe in the historical Jesus, but can I still call myself a Christian if I question so much? In fact, after watching a documentary about how the Canon was developed, I wonder how much of the Bible is there as a result of politics as much as heavenly inspiration.

    Given everything we’ve learned about early Christianity as well as everything we now know about science, I wonder if it’s time for a post-modern addendum to the Bible.

  • MVH

    The christian church: that one of the organizations throughout human history that should have the greatest motivation to seek the good of humanity, furthering justice, mercy, truth, and reconciliation is so well characterized as self-protective bastion of of injustice, oppression, and division, and resorts to lies to maintain its position of power and privilege.

  • Anonymous

    1. Burnt. After years in splinter communities, I questioned our intellectual isolation and secrecy and was told I didn’t love others, wasn’t committed to the programs, and that I should keep my thoughts a secret when I left. There are so many self-ordained pastors out there going it alone. They don’t value peer accountability, licensure, ministry education, and have no intention to hear feedback when they have a calling from God to defend. I let them be my mentors for years. I was naive to trust them with so much.

    2. Calling in community. I feel a desire to serve God, but I don’t know where to go with it. What place would I honestly feel safe sending my friends to? What’s wrong with me that I can’t deal with the mess and the mystery like other people? My faith was so strong when things were simple. I dream about those days now, but if I am to keep going, it has to be different now.

  • Marshall

    Miracles might be one of my biggest concerns. I have a marine biology degree and have already found peace in the evolution vs creation arena. However when the stories of Jesus turning water into wine, raising Lazarus from the dead, all the healing he did, and perhaps even his physical resurrection, I’m not sure what to think. They’re pretty fantastical claims, and I’ve certainly never seen anything like that in life, and the best I can do is say “Well if someone actually did these things they’d probably be really famous, too”

    Someone else mentioned it below, but also the whole idea of people being called to differing things. For example if one person feels called to promote the evangelical view of creation, and another person feels called to promote evolution with a focus on God’s role, how can these mutually exclusive ideas both come from the same origin? I wonder if it’s not about the views themselves, but rather about the person heeding the call, but then I realize God is obviously smart enough to know that whenever two people with conflicting ideas meet, it causes division and if left untreated, conflict and hate.

    • Mike Blyth

      Though I no longer believe the biblical record, I never had a problem with miracles per se. After all, if there is a God as described, then it makes sense that he might do miracles. However, what bothered me was the miracles that don’t seem to fit … like virtually all the Sampson story, the ax head floating, and so on. The God of creation and love did *these* miracles?

  • Chuck Sigler

    What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian?

    I don’t see any obstacles in my life or the world around me that keep me “Christian;” that prevent me from walking away from an acknowledgement of the truth of Romans 10:9. After reading “More Than A Carpenter” by Josh McDowell, a defining moment or anchor to my life in Christ occurred over thirty years ago, when I wondered why the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ was necessary for my salvation. I believe God spoke to me (in my heart) saying: “There was no other way.” I wasn’t a student of Scripture at the time; I didn’t know about John 14:6. I didn’t remember being taught in CCD (Catholic Sunday School) that God could speak to you, so I was surprised to have such an experience. A second anchor to staying Christian has been my reading and study of Scripture as the Word of God. That has included reading through the Bible many times; reading dozens of books on issues related to Christianity (including two of Peter’s) and attending WTS. I just missed classes with Peter, graduating in 1994 with an MAR. I did study under Al Groves and Doug Green. Mike Kelly was a student when I was there.

    What are those roadblocks you keep running into?

    The confident declaration by some individuals that a perspective they disagree with isn’t “biblical”—sometimes even calling for their opponents to repent of their unbelief—even when their opponent has articulated a faith consistent with Scripture and the creeds; and declared a belief in the Bible as the Word of God. I think there can be different biblical perspectives within the larger body of Christ over a variety of theological issues. I suspect God has ordained it to be so because of our very human tendency to be sure of the “rightness” of our views and the corresponding “wrongness” of those who disagree with us. A related roadblock I see is the repeated failure of Christians to live out the oneness of the followers of Christ called for in John 17:22-23.

    What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep going at all?

    The issues I see that won’t go away (I don’t question why I keep going on in the face of them) are classics: the exclusivity of salvation claims in Christ; and the ongoing presence of sin and suffering. I believe there are answers to these issues, but I don’t think there are any truly satisfactory answers on this side of Christ coming again.

  • anonymousFollower

    1. fear that Jesus is not who the Bible says he is, that the Biblical claim Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan, is mistaken. Wrapped up with this fear is my desire to be right, to have figured it out better than the skeptics and agnostics. Not that I expect I have it all figured out correctly, but my pride wants to believe I got a few things right. Fear of ostracism is wrapped up with this too.

    2. Fear that on balance, Christianity has done more harm than good.

    I hope both fears are misplaced, but if only one of the two is misplaced, I’m ok with that.

    Help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

    • Anonymous

      I wonder about that, too, that my and possibly all Christianity has done more harm than good. But then again I know there is something bigger than me. I believe in Jesus…but not exactly sure what that means anymore.

      I can’t see ever not being a believer of some sort.

      However, my faith in the infallible truth of the scriptures has been utterly shaken and the OT/NT God disconnect is very hard to ignore.

  • rvs

    I have never disliked going to church more so than in the past five or ten years. I’ve never really enjoyed church, but I find myself at times actively disliking church. I validate those who go; indeed, I hope they are happy, but I think I need to redefine church (does watching Arrested Development for 6 hours count as church?), or figure out some way in which a church-like scenario makes sense. I write as a divorced man who really does not want to go to singles Bible study events, haha.

  • anonx

    I would have thought God should be more evidently active in our lives and the world generally.

    • bonniecasad

      Oh that this were true. Wouldn’t it make life so much easier?!

  • Beth

    Suffering is high on my list, too, but not just human suffering – the viciousness and brutality acted out in so many earthly creatures in my study of biology. Parasites, poisons, carnivorous teeth, predation, the two baby birds I found murdered by some animal on my sidewalk yesterday … all of which are part of a world God calls good. I know he doesn’t call it “perfect,” and I know there is great beauty in this earth, but sometimes it makes me wonder if His definition of “good” is not a lot like mine. Which begs the question – where did I get my definition of good, my gut-level sense of what is good? And if the Calvinists are right, and God defines goodness, so that even what strikes me as evil in His creation and in His actions in the Old Testament must therefore be named “good,” is this a God I can even relate to, let alone love?

    I have been encouraged by reading your alternative understanding of genocide in the OT, and by relaxing my understanding of inerrancy in Scripture. But as my faith shifts in these ways, there’s still the nagging question of whether I’m trying to fit God into my definition of good, whether I’m creating a God of my own understanding, a God who seems good to me, rather than worshiping the true God. How can I trust that the God I want to believe in is actually the God who exists? How can any of us be confident in our understanding of Him, when our readings of Scripture (and even of the Book of Creation) are so limited, when we all wear blinders? What if there is a God, but He’s not actually a God I would love or call good? Would He eventually change my understanding of goodness to match His, or would I decide He’s not worth following, not worth spending eternity with?

    • bonniecasad

      I completely understand these questions. I have so many of my own, and the journey I am on is not dedicated solely to an “Armenian vs. Calvinistic” God. When I say I have so many questions, really, at this point, I have to question everything. So I’m struck by the fact that as I read your comment I’m thinking of the Corinthians passage which gives a definition of love. And God is love. So God is all of those things. Isn’t that where we get our definition of “good?”
      Do I actually have an answer here? An actual answer?!

  • Robert Longman

    I won’t go into what I think of the replies below – that would spook people off. So I’ll just stick to me.

    I am very much a believer – it makes profound sense to me, even where it doesn’t for others. But where I have my problems is not with God, or even with Christians (who are to me just a subset of the group ‘people’). My problem, one that keeps coming back, is the ‘for me’ part of it. I have little doubt that people I know are resting with God, whatever that may be. My nagging doubt is whether *I* will. Not in the scared, ‘you’re going to hell’ mode. Just that when my time comes, while others do go on, *I* may not. I may not have been made to. As if my eyes will be shut, and that would be it, and that will fulfill why I was here.

    Intellectually my doubts are not really about God but about us. People. We have a self-destructive impulse, and it shows up in just about everything, in atheists and religionists, individually and collectively. But why? What brings that about? What does that say about the quality level of what Christians call ‘the created realm’? And why does evolution (as the process of change which functions in all of the ‘created’ realm) make us ever more proficient at doing evil? (Evil in the sense of malice, of being unloving and anti-loving toward each other.) In the end that doubt goes back in some way to the value or good-ness of the One who created us, whether that’s a god or a natural process. Disbelieving God because of it still leaves you with the process – if anything, that just makes it *more irresistably* ridiculous in that the process doesn’t love you and isn’t capable of altering its behavior out of love like the biblical God can. This has so many permutations. I just believe there are so many signs that are best explained by a God. The way love percolates up *through* it all tells me so, not really logically but it is in some way a sort of reasoning.

  • http://twitter.com/ST_U2 Stuart Blessman

    Probably a crushing spiritual apathy with a latent hostile frustration brought about by essentially feeling deceived by people telling me ‘truths’ that are nothing more than peyote dreams from the 19th century and early 20th. I’d use the term “burnt over” to describe my faith currently, and all that that entails.

    But also…what else is there? Non-Christian friends tell me to get away from the Christians I hang out with, but I really have no alternatives. What else is there?

  • http://kch.me/ silent0

    I recently left the faith. I won’t go into the full timeline of how I went from fervent believer to skeptic (and the bumps in-between). My reasons (in brief outline) are:

    - blatant internal contradicitons that cannot be resolved by an appeal to just “read it in context” or “consider the genre of the passage/book”…many of the most obvious contradictions are “solved” by apologetic sophistry and appeals to hypothetical details and knowledge outside of the text itself or they rely on interpreting one or more passages against their plain meaning so that there is no longer a contradiction. Even if these methods “work” the implications are troubling because it means that one must be an expert scholar or theologian in order to begin to make sense of the text and feel justified in believing it. A contradiction between two statements or ideas means that one has to be true and the other false, or both have to be false.

    - blatant external contradictions which demonstrate how the Bible was most probaly not written as an eternally authoritative book by a brilliant omnipotent author (the guy who supposedly invented DNA and other awesome things!), but instead as a series of writings that reflect the time and place in which it was created (Creation myths, age of the earth [sorry, don't see any gaps in that genealogy], Flood myth, ancient cosmology, bloody tribalism, females as property etc). These types of things didn’t bother the original audience, but they should bother us 21st century readers for both scientific and humanitarian moral reasons (though my own doubts & misgivings lean much more heavily on the scientific side). If God is responsible for putting this book together, wouldn’t he be painfully aware of its aging problem? Why not have a decent method to ‘update’ the text or provide new revelation if human beliefs were meant to ‘evolve’ over time? Again, we can talk about genre and intent of the authors here but that doesn’t resolve everything as neatly as people would like. How do you decide whether Genesis 1 or 2 should be interpreted poetically or allegorically? Should one or both be seen as reflecting real history? The theologians and scholars can debate these issues ad nauseum because at the end of the day the ‘flags’ in the text aren’t as clear as they could be and a judgement call (opinion, educated guess) *is* required for many problem passages (unless you want a simply appeal to authority like in the RCC system…which certainly does have its benefits).

    - intellectual problems with all of the proposed philosophical/metaphysical “proofs” for a divine creator. Not to mention the problem that these proofs, even if they could get one to theism, are still miles away from demonstrating that the Judeo-Christian God is this divine “uncaused first cause” behind the entire cosmos. For that one still must rely on the Bible and Christian tradition, both of which are problematic for establishing a justified set of beliefs (unless you start with the assumption that the Bible is trustworthy and reliable or that Christian tradition itself is authoritative/infallible). (I also have a big problem with the presuppositional stance that God’s existence is “self evident” to all humans)

    - finally, I was finding that many of the biggest problems (both the contradictions and also some of the broader philosophical ‘why suffering’, ‘why hell’ type q’s) in Scripture could be solved with that ultimate trump card…an appeal to faith (the belief that somewhere, somehow any and all problems and contradictions must be solved in the mind of God or with enough scholarly research/knowledge…we must have faith that a fully satisfying answer is out there and if we don’t have it in this lifetime we’ll have it in the next!). But, I reasoned that if God’s Inspired Word required such a trump card in order to even be feasible and avoid looking completely foolish, then I was in big trouble. Christianity says that I need to tell this message to all of my neighbors and speak its authoritative Truth to them. But, how can I do that with my Muslim, Hindu, Sikh etc neighbors when ultimately the basis of our faith rests on the same type of foundation? That foundation is: a priori belief in a “Holy Text” and trust in a messenger or messengers who provide that text (this belief can’t be properly justified with evidence, so we must always take it on faith…in this scenario faith isn’t just a humble trusting for our future souls and reliance on God for moral guidance, but the whole justification for our system of thought). How can I as a Christian tell my Muslim friend that they are wrong when according to the standard I am using, they could easily be just as right as me? (that is, if at the end of the day the evidence doesn’t really matter, we are left relying on our own subjective inner feeling of spiritual faith to ‘confirm’ the text and assure us of its Truth). The more I recognized how other religions mirrored Christianity, the more my waning faith broke down.

    A brief note – deciding to leave the faith is not an easy or simple path to take. It is not a ‘get out of jail free card’ in order to avoid any intellectual anxiety or personal responsibility. It comes with its own risks and repercussions…I’m talking about social and emotional changes, new intellectual challenges, and the daunting prospect of being forced to find a new identity for oneself apart from the familiar structure of Christianity. There is great comfort to having faith and believing that an all-powerful deity is on your side, watching out for you from high above. For me, life without God is not objectively “better,” but it is–at least for myself–much more honest and consistent based on the evidence and knowledge that I have. As hard as it was to “abandon” my faith, I want the discussions and thoughts I have about morality, purpose and motivation to to be grounded in reality–not in the realm of things which I now see as illusory and fanciful.

    • Mike Blyth

      I did post my own list but will give a big second to your entire explanation; it’s very close to my own.

    • toddh

      thanks for sharing that – especially the part about the risks and repercussions. I admire people who take their faith seriously enough to decide whether to truly believe it or abandon it, and can’t stand those people who just hang around for whatever reason and could care less.

    • ajginn

      Great post and it echoes so much of what I’ve experienced and considered. At the end of the day, the claims of Christianity do not stand up to close scrutiny. I tamped down this truth for decades because I was afraid to cause upheaval in my life and those around me. Eventually though, the move away from Christianity was an inevitability that happened despite my attempts to prevent it.

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      Your arrows hit home.

  • Life happens

    What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian?
    What IS “Christian” anyway? If it is “walking with the Lord” the way the people in my faith community believe that it is, then I’m not there anymore. Rallying around a set of core beliefs about Jesus and God and the Bible? I’ve experienced too much cognitive dissonance in the past few years to stay there. My concept of “Christian” has expanded quite a bit already, and as far as I can see, it is still moving outward. I wonder when the label “Christian” itself will become an obstacle. But for now, economic and social reasons keep me wearing it – the fear of loss of identity and loss of community.

    What are those road blocks you keep running into?
    As my attachment to having The Right Answers slowly became looser, the road blocks became much smaller. I felt an internal freedom not only to engage with information from all directions, but even more importantly – with my own life. Those two processes really went hand-in-hand. The journey toward becoming respectfully, honestly and compassionately aware and accepting of my own life has awakened in me a desire keep that space open, no matter the cost. God has become much, much bigger, and I suspect that is only going to continue.

    What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep going at all?

    “Going” as in “going to church?” People. It’s people. People who are highly defended about The Answers and who would be utterly stunned to learn that I am not. It takes a lot of effort to avoid those conversations sometimes. Also – this business of “Answers” – it seems to me that there is no real stopping point, anymore. When I started this journey, I thought I’d just take a deep breath and bravely jump to an answer that was further away – but still sort of “inside”. What I’m beginning to realize is that NOBODY KNOWS THE ANSWERS. It’s been both terrifying and freeing to admit this. But “Christian” started with Jesus, and some of the kindest and most generous people I know are identified with him. I have so much to learn by continuing to be in community with them. I need to be in community of some kind, and this is the community I know and am familiar with. But I am keeping my true self hidden for fear of being on the “outs” with nowhere else to go. What kind of community is that? I want the heritage, the security, the belonging – yet I’m secretly resentful that I need to keep so much of myself hidden in exchange for it. If I think about it too much, I realize that I’m trading a life lived out loud for approval and acceptance. That is the issue that won’t go away.

  • Derek

    This is probably a weird one but I often times watch a YT video entitled something along the lines of “walking in Japan” or “walking in Shanghai” which is essentially videos of random people walking up and down the busy streets and I start to think “wow, the vast majority of these people are utterly oblivious to Christianity – its seemingly totally irrelevant/non-existent to them…and they are going to hell” That’s tough.

    Other obstacles set in when I look up at the stars and think of the vastness of the (uni)verse and how our existence therefore seems to fit more snugly within a naturalistic-chance-based scenario; not to mention the possibility of life on the other billions and billions of potentially earth-like planets.

    Another problem for me is not so much miracles per se but rather that which is recorded in the Bible – why did God work his miraculous deeds against the backdrop of a cornucopia of other myths in a very superstitious, primitive world and chooses to be relatively silent in our modern, scientific world? In a world of iPods and iPads, categories of spiritual gifts and resurrections seem to be relics of our primitive past that have no place in our increasingly modern society.

    Like so many others, I also have difficulty reconciling Genesis with natural history (whats up with the dinosaurs!) and once you really study and speak of the natural world it almost becomes hard to talk of God because evoking God at that point almost seems to become sort of superfluous or redundant.

    Finally, on another note, I would just like to add that I think Dr. Enns’ aversion to apologetics is unjustified. In fact, I think there are good answers to almost every issue posted here in the comment section from apologists (but often times doubt is highly emotional and volitional). I certainly don’t think professional philosophers such as William Lane Craig give out cheap, ignorant answers so I fail to see who Dr. Enns has is mind exactly.

    …so yeah thanks for reading. Oh can I just briefly mention spiritual warfare? Folks, let’s not forget that if Christianity is true, we do wrestle with spiritual wickedness so please always be cognizant of this reality as you continue on your journey..or should I say battle? =)

  • http://twitter.com/Plenty_Awkward Sam Winslett

    A lot of the obstacles I have faced in my faith have to do with the sciences, primarily evolution and neuroscience.

    On its own, I have no problem with biological evolution (I happen to think John Walton makes a good point that Genesis isn’t supposed to be a science textbook). My main beef is with evolutionary psychology/sociobiology. Evidence does seem to be mounting that our ‘sinful desires’ aren’t the result of some ‘original sin’ by way of choice (whether by a literal A&E or some early humans representing them), but evolution selecting for traits helpful to reproduction and survival. If God creates through evolution, then wouldn’t this mean He created sin? This is a question I’ve wrestled with for a while now and still hold hope for, but it leaves me disconcerted regardless.

    With neuroscience, the issue is how we conceive of persons. Many neuroscientists are now claiming that humans are not conscious beings with souls, but essentially biological computers. That is, there is no such thing as free-will, consciousness, or the self; instead, “we” are just clockwork entities that operate by deterministic algorithms. It can be hard to believe in God when a growing number of the scientific community views the human person as a glorified toaster programmed to believe in God for survival. Leaves you wondering if maybe the ancient Hebrews just rationalized belief in God because it justified some prejudices and biases they had.

  • Tiffani Fussner Cappello

    The biggest challenge for me has been the personal psychological harm I have faced from fundamentalist “Christian” teachings. It took me a long time to realize that my religion was damaging me. I was anxiety ridden and plagued with a plethora of stress-related health disorders. Not being one to sit around and meekly surrender myself to “the will of God” (being sick), I decided to research and research I did. This was also motivated by the fact that nearly everyone around me (in my fundie isolationist world) was also suffering from anxiety and other stress related physical ailments. What I discovered was that the fear mongering, constant guilt, misogynist control, hatred of the outside world, judgementalism, self-degradation, etc that is promoted in fundamentalist circles was creating a fear-based theological mindset that was placing me under an extreme amount of psychological stress. This led to digestive and skin disorders, CFS, adrenal malfunction, ect. So I researched. I acknowledged. Then I fled.

    Realizing your faith is destroying you can cause a great deal of cognitive dissonance. It has been hard to hold on to God during all this. I had to come to the conclusion that evangelical Christianity has it all wrong. I had to look to Jesus and see that he came to set things straight and show us what God is really like.

    My story is much longer and more detailed than this, but over the course of the last 3 years I have transformed my life and become, in the eyes of most of my “friends”, a heretic. I had to give up certain doctrines that no longer made logical sense now that I had given up on forcefully mentally back filing all the difficult questions that hung back in the recesses of my mind. I had to deal with them. Life had left me know choice. Wrestle with the big questions or die (spiritually AND perhaps physically) were you are now.

    I could not longer believe in a God who torments people for all eternity in hell. I could no longer believe in biblical inerrancy. Did God really condone slavery, misogyny, and mass genocide? I saw clearly that fundamentalists are some of meanest, most selfish people on the face of the earth – and I had been one of them. I now understood the damage I had done to my children by applying “Christian” methods of child training.

    At times I have even questioned whether God even existed. But I remember times in my life when I had such clear and miraculous answers to prayers that I cannot deny he exists and he loves me. I remember those times and I keep clinging to the remnants of my faith. I hope to someday build a faith that does not deny logic, reason, common sense, and human compassion. I hope to know God better and discover that he is so much greater and loving than we ever imagined him to be.

    And I am no longer sick. No more migraines, massive food allergies, panic attacks, anxiety, and chronic depression. Now I have the freedom to question and to search for answers. I have found my way out of the darkness of fundamentalism and I am journeying towards a reasonable faith that does not destroy its adherents.

  • toddh

    For me it’s an issue of changing ways of understanding the Bible. I had been told for so long that it is God’s inerrant word, and then given certain ways of interpreting it. Those methods now seem shortsighted and wrong. It is very unsettling to see the human elements of scripture. That first hit me in the face after I sat down and looked at the four stories of Jesus’ resurrection. It was there in front of me the whole time, but I never saw it.

    After growing up in a system that treated the Bible as if it had one unified message and theology where everything fit together, it is now unsettling to see things differently. Lately I have been looking at doctrines of hell and the afterlife, and the idea of progressive revelation. It is surely possible that God has revealed more and more about the afterlife as time has gone on, but it also seems possible that these developments were mostly human innovations. If hell truly is a place of eternal suffering, why not start out Genesis 1 with that fact and then clearly tell everyone what they need to do to avoid going there?

  • http://funkydung.com/ Eric Williams

    My biggest stumbling blocks are God’s eternal nature, death, and empiricism. The first relates to my struggle to accept the notion of a living entity existing for all eternity, uncreated. How is that possible? On the other hand, why does anything exist at all? The second relates to my fear (which began when I was about 10) that life simply ends at death. The thought of just ceasing to exist terrifies me in ways I cannot adequately express in words. The third relates to how I am unnerved by the lack of falsifiable hypotheses in the realm of faith. We just have to take our holy men and theologians’ at their word. Nevertheless, I remain a Christian (Catholic, specifically), working out my salvation with fear and trembling.

  • Trevor

    However great the things I’ll list below bother me, I always return to Jesus, always cling to this small hope that God is out there, that God has come to us, that God has inaugurated a new mode of existence in the universe. Sometimes Jesus is all I have when it seems like there’s no church community, no theological interpretation where I can feel home in.

    * Like Sam Winslett below, evolutionary biology/psychology has made me question why exactly Jesus Had To Die, what sin really is, whether we even have souls that make us “human.” I have no problem accepting the fact of evolution alongside the inspired nature of scripture, but I think the deeper implications of recent scientific findings are really challenging the whole foundations of the Christian mindset, specifically on sin/redemption/atonement issues.

    * For me personally I’ve never actually experienced God (whatever that means) or definitively felt his presence in a way I can look back on and acknowledge the beyond-the-physical realm. It’s like Mother Teresa’s great silence that she endured for almost her entire adult ministry. I know ~logically~ there has to be Something out there (the whole multiverse theory/the universe is eternal arguments seem like a cop-out to me) but it’s hard when that Someone forever seems beyond.

    * Even if I had no intellectual doubts about God/how Christianity works or concerns about science and had intense, frequent spiritual connections with the creator and sustainer of the universe, the Church would still be a road block for me. I feel like most people just assume “doing church” involves going to a building for 1-2 hours a week and singing, listening to a pastor preach, and doing various activities together—when the whole being the visible Body of Christ on this planet involves inaugurating the New Creation, which seems often ignored in my experience. I just feel trapped in oppressive, uber-conservative environments and lost when I can’t find communities of Jesus-followers where there are no unacceptable questions.

    Like I said above, the last thread my faith hangs on is Jesus—the hope that this New Creation really can happen in individuals and in societies, a creation in which we disregard the selfish desires of our evolutionary past for a selfless, others-centered one.

    Thank YOU again Dr. Enns for creating an environment on your blog and in your books where it’s okay to ask the hard questions without fear of reprisal.

  • unkleE

    I don’t feel afraid to ask questions, and over time I’ve found many of them have been resolved. One of my most persistent questions used to relate to the Old Testament (evolution vs Adam & Eve, the OT killings and strange commands, whether the early OT was historical or not, etc). But I have been reading, thinking and praying to know the truth, and reading this blog and Denis Lamoureux, have helped confirm the conclusions I have come to. Other questions I am now at peace about include historical Jesus questions (his use of the word “gospel” vs ours, why we don’t “preach” the kingdom, etc), hell and why the NT writers seem to misquote the OT so often.

    But the biggest difficult question has always been why God has created a world where he allows so much suffering to occur. I guess I can understand why some suffering, but children who die in childbirth, 14,000 children dying every day from hunger, gross inequality between the rich west and the poor third world, natural disasters like the Asian tsunami, etc, seem more than God should have allowed. I think this would have been enough to lead me to stop believing except (1) there are very strong reasons to believe in God, and (2) without God we don’t have a moral standard to judge suffering as objectively evil.

    So those are my thoughts. Thanks for this blog.

    • Dan

      See I agree with your issue as well. Thats another issue I have. Only difference is that I struggle with strong reasons to beleive in God, and it does seem there are objective reason to see mmorality apart from a deity (Sam Harris view for instance)

      • unkleE

        Hi Dan, I don’t think this is the place to discuss – Peter is looking for input – but I think there are strong reasons to believe that unbelievers haven’t successfully answered, and I think Sam Harris’ morality fails. Why don’t you email me to discuss – find an address at my website?

  • Dan

    “What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying
    Christian?

    What are those road blocks you keep running into?

    What are those issues that won’t go away and make you
    wonder why you keep going at all?”

    1.
    The Bible: I accept the bible is not inerrant. But how do we retain it as revelation when
    at the same time admitting the horrible moral issues in the bible? How do we
    retain belief when the theology and religious development in the bible is clearly
    human in every way? To what do we have to rely on if anything that is “Christian”?
    Can we even rely on the historical resurrection when its account too has errors
    and discrepancies?

    2.
    Why Christianity given the above issues? What’s differentiates Christian from any other
    religions? Do they not all now hold “errant” views of their given holy books? Have
    developmental theologies? Can be explained as human development?

    3.
    Where are the answers? It seems we talk a lot about “living questions” but with no
    perceivable forthcoming answers. It seems to me that “live questions” is an
    excuse for “we don’t know, but we don’t want to be atheists either”. Is this
    not giving up? Aren’t atheists at least temporarily justified in their disbelief?
    Why are the non-believers foolish or arrogant for being skeptical and only
    accepting what can be proven?

  • Trent

    1. the historical Jesus (was Jesus the Son of God or a failed apocalyptic prophet?)
    - are the Gospel portraits generally accurate
    - is there sufficient evidence for belief in Jesus’ divinity
    - should such miraculous claims be disregarded prima facie
    - is resurrection possible (see personal identity, bodily constitution, etc.)

    2. the problems of evil (Earthly existence, hell, particularism of Christian revelation, divine hiddenness)

    • OrthoRocksDude

      Trent, you problems are part of what keeps me going. I have no trouble believing the new testament and I think it’s very historically plausible that Jesus claimed to be God and rose from the dead. I find the “failed apocalyptic prophet” stuff from Thom Stark and others to be too focused on certain passages of scripture and not others.

      As for the Old Testament, it does seem to be a mess. The divine atrocities, the historicity of so many biblical characters, the “all too human” aspects and on and on. I do hope that Enns does do a follow up asking what keeps us going. It’s nice to get our problems out there, but focusing on them in exclusion from the wonderful truths of Christianity can cause us to forget the big picture.

  • Anna

    (So good to see we are not alone with our questions!)

  • Anonymous

    My daughter’s brain tumor. Benign, but recurring, meaning surgery again in the future. Led to not just to anger and doubt, but to indifference. Why bother? Below that, the all too human behavior of Christians, from outright evil and hypocrisy to the plain inanity of many people I’ve met in churches. Last, but not least, the intellectual challenges of constructing a meaningful theology out of the rubble.

  • Matt

    “What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian?”

    Evil or deceptive Christian leaders who see buildings, position and power as more important than actual people.

    “What are those road blocks you keep running into?”

    Those who stay silent about their evil or protect them.

    “What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep going at all?”

    See above two.

    Why am I a believer? Because none of it is Jesus’ fault.

  • Didn’t Stay

    For me the obstacles became not something to get past and overcome,
    but rather my friend, a red flag warning me that maybe Christianity isn’t the
    best path to God. The biggest
    obstacle? The notion that a relationship
    with God requires having the right set of beliefs, believing things happened a
    certain way or else I’m condemned to eternity in hell. So I don’t believe anymore in staying
    Christian, and I am in fact no longer a Christian. That’s not to say I don’t
    trust God, I *do* trust God. And yes I do
    hold beliefs, I just no longer hold that I need to have a certain set of
    beliefs to be in relationship with God.
    The more important thing than right belief is right action. As even Jesus said, the commandments and the
    duty of man are summed up as follows, 1) love God, 2) love your neighbor, and
    doing the latter is doing the former.

    • Anna

      A big yes to the last 2 sentences here!

  • Lisa

    I have been so confused the past year. I once had a strong faith in God and Christ. I started to research in my homeschool how to teach science to my children. In that process I discovered that I was never a creationist but I believe in evolution. That I could believe in evolution, believe in God, and that other Christians felt the same as me, was awesome! So I started thinking about how much in the OT are stories passed down and I got to thinking about Jesus. I have struggled this past year with doubts that Jesus was really the son of God. Obviously there is evidence he was alive but I also read many other similar “Jesus” stories. Stories that were around before Jesus was born.
    I look around and wonder why there isn’t more than one way to heaven and if others feel so strongly about their religion and I think that they are wrong then why am I right?
    D

  • ajginn

    I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer this because after three decades of wrestling with these issues, I do not consider myself a Christian anymore. There are just too many unsolvable problems with Christianity for me.

    My two biggest obstacles that have proven impossible to overcome are the (1) problems posed by naturalism and the (2) philosophical incoherance of orthodox Christianity. I’m not sure which of these is more problematic for me. Evolution is a biggie and although you’ve done the best job anyone could do of trying to accommodate theism and evolution, Pete, I think the two worldviews are incompatible. Evolution poses too many threats to belief in a god, particularly a god who intervenes in His creation, not to mention it makes god a cruel god who uses death and violence to bring about change and adaptation. That god is completely at odds with the Judeo-Christian god. The grand scale of the universe (all recent empirical evidence points to it being infinite in size) makes the idea that humans are special completely laughable. Either that, or god is just messing with us. That makes him more Loki than Yahweh. I’m not interested in following a god like that.

    The philosophical problems posed by orthodox Christianity are just as difficult. What is the origin of sin? It certainly isn’t Genesis 3. Even if it was, god just set up Adam and Eve to fail and now all people suffer under a curse because of that act and only a select few will be saved from damnation? There’s nothing just about that. If man is supposedly created in god’s image, how can man’s view of what constitutes justice be so at odds with god’s? Who on earth except the devout theist would claim that 80 years of a supposed sinful life is deserving of eternal torture? It boggles my mind that the idea of hell still holds sway over so many and they attempt to justify that a good god can cast someone there that god himself made that way. And no one should try to argue to me that god didn’t make sinners the way they are. If he gives life and he can see all ends, he is responsible for the way people are. And what of the nonsensical view that god is supposedly so angry at our sin that he needs someone or something’s death in order to pacify himself? Why not just create every new human clean? If god is all-powerful he could do so, yet he does not. Instead he allows pain and death to reign over man and never seems to give any evidence that he even cares about anyone.

    RIchard Dawkins was correct when he stated that “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” There is no reason to believe in a god except that you just want to believe it. The evidence is all against Christianity being true. I’m not going to go into all the historical arguments that have blown away most of what constituted “evidence” for Christianity, but it’s all there too.

    I say all this as someone who was raised a devout evangelical for my entire life. I finally decided that I would be better off jettisoning all the stuff that seemed to be impossible and kill the congnitive dissonance caused by theism’s claims without evidence that contradict naturalism’s claims with evidence. I was right.

    • Jason

      In all honesty, do you have any cognitive dissonance being an atheist? If so, what is it and how to you deal with it?

      Jason

      • ajginn

        No Jason. Cognitive dissonance comes from holding to an idea or opinion even when there is overwhelming evidence that it is wrong. Mainly this is because admitting you are wrong costs you something. I held onto Christianity for years even though I no longer believed in it because admitting that I didn’t was going to require massive upheaval in my life.

        IMO, atheism and skepticism should be the default position for people. Most people adhere to the religion that is prevalent in their culture and what they were raised to believe. That was true in my case and it seems to be true in the vast majority of people I know. It doesn’t require faith to be an atheist, just an admission that the evidence for a god is insufficient, or rather, non-existent.

        • Jason

          Thanks for your reply ajginn.

          Jason

  • Marshall

    “You may have no one to talk to.” You have said it yourself. Reading blogs is all very well, but there should be an intellectual relationship in here somewhere to go along with a robust worship life.

    Also, and I suppose underlying the reluctance of many to get into an open discussion, the indispensable axiom that Christianity as understood/practiced in the modern age is the unique necessary “belief” for all persons, for all time. For that matter, the notion that “belief” is the beginning and the end of faith.

  • plectrophenax

    One of the biggest problems for me is the homophobia shown by some churches and individuals. I find this upsetting.

    I have never been a literalist, so I don’t worry about whether Adam and Eve is ‘true’, since it has a meaning for me apart from that.

    Similarly, the problem of evil has never really bothered me; I don’t know how to resolve it, but so what?

    I suppose my version of Christianity would strike some people as weird or incorrect, but again I can live with that. I feel relaxed really about being a Christian, and I enjoy the various debates with atheists, from whom I have learned a lot!

  • Nancy R.

    This is a common stumbling block: the idea that in order to be “saved,” it’s not enough that Jesus died, rose, and conquered death to redeem all humanity, but that we must also do the work of adhering to the right beliefs. As a former atheist, I remember the pain of wanting to return to the Christian faith of my childhood and finding it impossible. For years I believed that I was just incapable of having that faith. If I had died while in that state, would I now be roasting in hell?

    If a loving God wants to redeem all of creation, but is thwarted from doing so by our lack of faith, then people who turn people away from Christianity – Richard Dawkins by his arrogant belittling of faith, and Ken Ham by his insistence that the earth is just a few thousand years old – are succeeding in undoing the work of Christ.

    I can’t believe that Dawkins and Ham are stronger than Jesus, but I have yet to find an approach that can reconcile these contradictions.

  • AL

    The thing that keeps me going is the man born blind. He was totally stumped by the questions he was asked. He could not answer a single one. His only answer was “I once was blind but now I see”.

    For me, my life was totally transformed. My character and nature changed in indescribable ways. For me, it worked. And, those same principles continue to work.

    That being said, an atheist asked me “well, what if an atheist feels that works for them, or a Buddhist feels it works for them’”. Years ago , I would have argued with him. Now, I just say “well, if that’s the case, I can’t argue with that”.

    I don’t know if all roads lead to God, or as Bell says “love wins”. What I do know is that following Christ gives me comfort, meaning, and guidance. My life was a mess before Jesus, and now it is not. That’s about all I know. This will most likely lead me away from the evangelical church, not because I want to leave, but my views will not be accepted there.

  • Tim

    Having been raised Evangelical Fundamentalist, and now a regular follower of your and Scot McKnight’s blog, I have a number of issues I’ve been navigating.

    1) Scripture is a mess. The message-incident principle doesn’t seem to even begin to touch it. You have deep theological errancy and inconsistency. Herem ideology in the conquest passages, attributed directly to Yahweh’s command, in conflict with the theology of Jonah. The host of theological issues that come with the Law, given directly by Yahweh in the Old Testament. Including subjugation of women, institutionalization of slavery of foreigners in perpetuity, a warped treatment of female sexuality, etc. Then you move on to the New Testament, and you see different theological tensions arise. The Johannine works advocate a belief-centric, heavily sectarian, version of Christianity. The theology in Matthew and Luke more inclusive version seated in compassion, meekness, forgiveness, etc. – as not merely “fruits of the spirit”, but actual criteria for participating in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    2) The evolution of theological concepts in the Biblical text seems to mirror the times of the writers authoring them, making them seem “all too human.” Yahweh/El started out as a tribal deity of Abraham. One among many Gods. Then became the Chief Deity (as we’ve seen happen with Ba’al), then became the only deity – with only this last being perhaps a genuine innovation, but not uniquely so (the Egyptians went down this road as well). Then we have apocalypticism in the later OT and NT. Mirroring the same developments in apocalypticism of their times in neighboring nations and religions. And of course what you would like to take as true prophesy seems to dissolve only into ex eventu pseudoprophesy/resistance literature (e.g., Daniel) or simply unfulfilled pseudoprophesy/resistance literature (e.g., Revelations & the end of Daniel). Then we see Greek philosophy and surrounding cultural developments influencing the New Testament’s teachings. We see the “Logos” in John. We see mysticism in Mark. We see may of the same concepts and theology present in the Essene community and works such as the Book of Enoch represented in the gospels. And outside of the Levant and Greek/Roman Empires, we see some parallels between development in altruistic thought between Christianity and Buddhism.

    3) The Christian community, if assessed by “human” standards as a nice and beneficial institution can be arguably judged a success. As can some other religions. But as a community that is meant to reflect the light and wisdom of God, it is an abject failure. Sure, we all know of the historic atrocities committed by the Catholic Church, the theological justifications of torture and execution, the checkered moral history of the Papacy, the exploitative practices of the Church, the conflicts with science, etc. Granted the Catholic Church has modernized since then. Just as Judaism did long ago, and just as some versions of Islam (particularly in the US) are today. But what of those versions of Protestant Christianity that capture so many of the hearts and minds of devout Christians today? Evangelical Fundamentalism seems to rise to the top. But this form of Christianity thrives in ignorance of science and Biblical Scholarship. It entails tribalism and us vs. them thinking. An arrogant certitude and righteousness cloaked in false (or limited) humility, and denigration and dismissal as “depraved” and “foolish” of “the world” (meaning everyone who doesn’t think like them). This is what captures the heart for so many who profess to love Jesus? How is this even compatible with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t meekness supposed to be one such fruit? More than that, a criterion for participating in the Kingdom of Heaven? So where does that leave us? Some of the best versions of Christianity we see belong to the slim minority. What kind of movement is that? Is this what was Paul’s hope? Is this the movement Jesus had in mind when he started it 2,000 years ago? To many, including myself, it looks like just another religion. Why would it look any different?

    So those are my top issues I guess. What do you think?

    • ajginn

      Then we see Greek philosophy and surrounding cultural developments influencing the New Testament’s teachings.

      Yes, this is a big one and it’s amazing that orthodox Christianity has absorbed so much pagan thought. The entire notion of a soul, which descends directly from a Platonic dualistic view of man, is really taught nowhere in the early NT writings. Resurrection was a bodily event taught by Paul and demonstrated by Christ in the Synoptics. Heaven is not a place where your spirit goes when you die, it was a new heaven and earth restored to perfection. Jesus is a real, physical entity living somewhere right now. The Gospel of John, beloved by so many evangelicals today, is so full of Gnosticism and pagan dualism that it boggles the mind. The Christianity practiced today can’t possibly look like the Christianity of the first century.

      I think one of two things will happen within this century that will dispel the notions of a soul once and for all. Either neuroscience will finally provide answers as to how a consciousness can emerge from the complex neural network contained in the human cerebral cortex, or true AI will emerge and change what we think about what constitutes consciousness. Science will provide the way forward though, not theism.

    • bonniecasad

      Oh, boy. These thoughts didn’t help me much! It looks like you laid out all the facts against the Bibles worth. I had doubts about it, sure, but after reading your summary I’m not sure what’s left to believe in!
      (only a slight bit of sarcasm here ;)

  • glen

    I’ve been on a 7-year journey away from evangelicalism. At the start of this period, I was engaged in full-time missionary work for one of the world’s most prominent evangelical organizations. My doubts eventually grew to the point where I felt I had no choice but to leave my 11-year career, which i did about 5 years ago. It was a difficult transition.

    Many factors brought me to this point, but the primary one has been my understanding of the bible. I have always been a theology junkie, but for many years I stayed safe within the evangelical bubble. Slowly, though, I started immersing myself in the thoughts of those who dared not tow the party line – people like yourself and Kenton Sparks, to name just a couple. Thinkers who were still in the evangelical fold, but who were brave enough to point out that the traditional evangelical, literal approach to the bible is severely lacking.

    The more I read, the more I became convinced. However, while people like yourself, Sparks, and others I admire like Rachel Held Evans seem to have come to a level of peace about this issue and have found a new resting place in a different kind of faith, I have not yet been able to find that place. Allusions to the slippery slope drive me nuts, but in my case it is quite applicable. Once I lost my faith that the Bible is 100% correct in everything it affirms, I found myself questioning everything it affirms. It was so much easier when I could just turn a blind eye to the things that didn’t make sense. Once I allowed myself to give voice to my doubts, they multiplied. Though I understand that rethinking traditional interpretations of Genesis and Joshua (for example) doesn’t invalidate other elements of the faith, it often seems too convenient that we end up literally believing the parts of the bible that we like, and reinterpreting the parts we are uncomfortable with.

    I want to find a Christianity I can believe in, but the longer this journey takes, the more weary I get. If I’m being really honest, I’d probably have to admit that I’ve lost my faith. But I can’t bring myself to say that, this paragraph not withstanding. I’ve got a wife and 4 kids, and though my wife shares much of this journey with me, I feel like I owe it to them to hang on somehow. So I go to church and go through the motions, while believing little of it and resenting much of it. I’m not proud of this, but it’s where I am right now. Hopefully not forever…

    Not sure if you’re familiar with the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas; it looks at the different ways that people experience God – intellectually, through nature, worship, serving others, etc. I studied that book a couple times and found that I was very one-dimensional in my faith. Whereas most people are a mix of at least 2 or 3 pathways, I was basically intellectual and nothing else. It didn’t seem like a problem at the time, when I was so certain of what I believed. But when the intellectual legs started getting kicked out from underneath me, I had nothing else to stand on. And though I tried for awhile to find God in other ways, the questions consume me and keep me from fully entering in.

    • ajginn

      “I’ve got a wife and 4 kids, and though my wife shares much of this journey with me, I feel like I owe it to them to hang on somehow. So I go to church and go through the motions, while believing little of it and resenting much of it. I’m not proud of this, but it’s where I am right now. Hopefully not forever…”

      Glen, this sounds like the last fifteen years of my life. It’s tough supressing what you truly feel day after day, week after week, year after year, all for the benefit of others. Going to church and listening to simplistic answers that failed to tackle the difficult problems was distressing and exhausting. I even taught these same simplistic answers for years in numerous bible studies all the while being disgusted at myself for the hypocrisy in my own words. I was there for all the wrong reasons, living my life for the expectations of others instead of being true to myself. I’m very fortunate that my wife has followed a silmilar path to me over the past two years. It was only about six months ago that I was finally able to admit my atheism to her after nearly twenty years of marriage. Since then I feel refreshed and renewed freeing myself of a heavy burden that I’ve been carrying for so long.

      Five years ago I would have said I would be praying for you. Today I will only say that I hope and wish the best for you and that you would find peace in whatever way you can. Maybe that’s in Christianity or out of it. The only life we know for certain that we have is the one we are presently living. We should do whatever we can to get the most out of it while respecting the rights of others to do the same. Love, do good and live for the moment.

      • glen

        Yep, you nailed it. I’m very lucky… Though my wife’s doubts don’t extend quite as far as mine, she is well down the road. We’ve actually picked out a new church that at least comes closer to where we are at. The problem is our kids. At one end, we have two almost-teens who will be crushed if we leave our church. At the other end, we have two little ones who both have special needs and are a major handful. Our current church has a great special needs ministry and provides one on one helpers for them every week. The church we’d like to move to doesn’t have anything like that, and it seems like it would be hard to integrate these two into their kids program. So we continue to tread water, even though we decided long ago that this isn’t the right place for us.

    • John Carothers

      I was deeply touched by your comment, I’ve traveled that path myself. What brought me back was Hebrews 11. Our faith, when boiled down to it’s essence is exactly that, faith. In my life time I doubt science is going to conclusively prove or disprove the existence of God. The atheist and the believer arrive at their separate conclusions with an identical leap of faith.

      So today I do not pray for answers, I pray for faith. I love this letter by Rilke and thought I might share it with you….

      I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

      • glen

        Lots of wisdom in your response. I’m just so driven to find answers. In my head I want to embrace “not knowing”, but in my spirit I can’t seem to stop searching for answers. But the more I search, the more elusive they become…

    • MMarkley

      Glen,

      I have also been in a difficult intellectual/moral/emotional journey, and, like you, I have a wife and four children (in formative years). As a part of a pastoral team, sometimes I’ve thought — how long can I hang on in this role while struggling deeply with what I believe? I am slated to move in a few weeks and in some ways this gives me relief. But what will it be like when I move to a new community? I’m not sure yet.

      I have not read Sacred Pathways, but I wanted to say that I think the insight in your last paragraph is profound. Personally, I grew up in a small, charismatic, country church where there was great expectancy of God doing powerful things. We did experience healings on occasion, and insightful prophecies, and a sense of God’s presence, and these are reminders to me when engaged in a deep and sometimes discouraging intellectual struggle. While it may be hard, I encourage you to explore the other ways of encountering God and His Spirit and His work in the world (like nature, serving, and worship). I think this will not only broaden your search for truth but give greater perspective on the intellectual aspect of your journey.

      Blessings. I’d love to chat by email sometime.

      • glen

        Thanks for your comment. I hope your upcoming move lands you in a good place!

    • Anonymous please

      Glen, thank you so much for sharing this. I am a member of a large mission organization (in my case, I’m the wife) and can understand very well what you have shared. My journey has been very similar. I wanted to share more when I posted my reply yesterday but settled for something more generally vague for fear of disclosing too much. In addition to the normal anguish of questioning, followed by a bruising ride down the slippery slope, there are additional social and economic entanglements that complicate the whole thing. I don’t have an answer for that – I’m still “living the question” of it right now (as Rilke would say) but it is comforting nonetheless to know that somebody else is out there. My husband also shares the journey, but we don’t always ask the same questions at the same time. Ultimately it seems to be about allowing each other the space we need. But there is always the tension of wanting to be responsible and normal and stable for spouse and family – as well as fears for our own reputation and future. Believing little and resenting much – you said that very well. I know that there is no future in living like this, yet the alternative is still frightening enough to keep me there for the time-being.

      David Benner is an author I have come to appreciate very much. His own journey has been one of moving outward, far beyond the evangelical bubble. Soulful Spirituality, and Spirituality and the Awakening Self are his two most recent books. Moving into new ways of knowing and experiencing God beyond propositional truths has been so freeing and life-giving for me. Perhaps these books would be helpful for you as well.

      • glen

        I hear ya. It was terrifying to come to the conclusion that I had to leave the only career I’d ever had, with the responsibility of providing for my family, and a feeling of indebtedness to those who had financially supported us for more than a decade. Even after I’d made the transition, I still wasn’t prepared for the social ramifications of “coming clean” – and still to this day I haven’t fully done so, though some friends know more of my story than others. It’s all very scary. I hope you find a way through.

        • Anna

          Glen I hope it is of some comfort that there are MANY of us out here who understand!

    • peteenns

      I’m going to check out Thomas’s book, Thanks for your thoughts, Glen.

  • Bryan

    I have two obstacles: 1) How to resolve the historical-critical approach to the resurrection, i.e. is it just a literary device? Is this approach different from a HC approach to the OT? etc. 2) Unanswered prayers, i.e. how does God interact with us? The ancient understanding of ‘deserved tragedy’ doesn’t work, therefore, what do we do with our ‘sacred scriptures’?

    While seminary work was deeply engaging, it is also awfully alienating. There really is nobody to talk to in the church about the difficulties I now face.

    It was so much easier to believe the sixth grade version of Christianity through an evangelical slant and now I think, “I wish I wouldn’t think this way or that way because then I could fit into a group much easier.”

    • peteenns

      “Take me back to the carefree days of fundamentalism.” I’ve thought that more than once. The more you know, the harder the old paradigm becomes.

  • Jim S

    Jim S.

    What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian?

    1. The Hubble Deep Field. If we can see light generated from stars, galaxies and solar systems 13.5 billion light years away, and if there are 600 billion other galaxies out there in the universe, then how can I not believe that there must be some truth to the theory of evolution?

    2. The problem of evil – how can a good god allow all this suffering?

    What are those road blocks you keep running into?

    If God in essence is love and just, then by definition whatever god does is loving and just. Why, then, was it necessary for Jesus to die on a cross? The necessity of the atonement makes no sense. God could have satisfied his justice however he wanted – by fiat is he so chose – and it would have been both loving and just. He is, after all, supposed to be God. So why all the bloodshed? I personally now tend to think all the bloody background of the OT was just the jewish form of other ANE religious constructions.

    What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep going at all?

    Why did my 12 year old niece get cancer? Why did my friend’s 5 year old daughter get cancer? There is no reason for this.

  • another anonymous

    1. The Resurrection. Did it happen; how; why does Paul insist it is *necessary* for Christianity.

    2. Deep historical background. Yahweh starts off as the national god among other gods of an obscure, semi-nomadic Canaanite people. Flap of a butterflies’ wings, and would modern people be worshiping Baal or Asherah instead?

    3. How can it be fair to privilege certain group(s) of people with true revelation and leave the VAST MAJORITY of the world (much less the cosmos) in revelatory darkness? (Is fairness not an attribute of God? That’s a sucky God, IMHO.) (And this is only to stay in very theological terms, not addressing human-crafted inequality and oppression.)

    4. What’s a “soul”? And (please don’t laugh) does my dog have one? If not dogs, what about apes, Neanderthals, Homo erectus? Where do you draw the line? Does AI have a soul yet, or will it when programming becomes advanced enough?

    5. What gives the Bible any authority at all?

    • Susan Gerard

      another a., your question is not a laughable, so don’t be embarrassed about it. I recently asked a theologian about dolphins. Hominids, great apes, cetaceans, African Grey parrots, dogs, magpies, octopi… He said he was struggling with this and was writing a book on the problem.

    • peteenns

      Standard questions–and good one.

  • E

    My biggest fear…legitimately: what if the Calvinists are right – what if I’m just a chess piece in a giant game God is playing? What if He’s not really the loving, welcoming Father that Jesus portrays and instead just uses people to His own ends? What kind of God is that? Is that the God of the Bible? It sure seems like there is a mounting evidence of Scripture saying He is. I know what I prefer – the gracious Father in Luke 15 who longs for his sons to choose Him and provides every opportunity for them to. But am I making a god in my own image? Either way I know I’m a true disciple of Jesus. I’m just terribly afraid that I’m simply an object of mercy and so many others are simply an object of His wrath? Would He really ask us to love and serve even our enemies, but He himself have no plans to change their hearts through our love? Is prayer really only to change us? That doesn’t seem to be the case in Scripture…but again, what if the Reformed camp really has God figured out and all of my thoughts about developing a truly personal and growing relationship with the Father of Lights is wishful thinking? What if I have no choice? Am I but a pawn?

    • E

      Then again…maybe I’m just a control freak? But I’d like to think my love for others and genuine desire to see them experience God’s grace is the desire of His heart as well. Am I inclusive because He is or because I’ve been tainted by an inclusive culture?

    • peteenns

      You will know they are right by their fruit.

  • Anonymous Thomas

    I’ve struggled with the whole inerrancy thing, and I’ve
    found Dr. Enns’ work in “Inspiration and Incarnation” to be very
    helpful. I wish I had the freedom to explore the incarnational approach
    to scripture more freely in my church community, but alas, mine (and the
    evangelical church at large) holds to biblioatry (after all, God wrote a
    book!). Like many here, I get annoyed and frustrated and the
    simplistic head-in-the sand answers.
    At
    times I’ve struggled with theodicy. Evil was first birthed in heaven?
    Pre-Adamic natural disasters and animal predation? There really aren’t
    any great answers out there.

    Right
    now one of the biggest obstacles for me is how evangelical Christianity
    (at least around me) seems to resemble multilevel marketing. There’s a
    lot of branding, advertising, proselytizing, and rock star preaching.
    “Kingdom building” and “being on mission” seems to be all about growth
    and replication.

    Tim Keller has said that “Faith is ultimately not a virtue; it’s a gift.”
    For me that seems to be true. When I’ve gone through times of deep
    doubt and despair, I’ve had this sense that there’s not really anything
    in me that is holding on to God, but rather it’s Him holding on to me.

  • Jakeithus

    Personally, I’m not shaken by the big “intellectual challenges” such as the problem of pain or lack of natural evidence for God’s existence, which seems to be big issues for many other people. I’m mostly at peace with those.

    For me, it’s the nagging question that if I no longer live my life as a disciple of Jesus, would anything really change? I mean, besides the obvious loss of religious activities and expression, I’m just not sure what else about me would change. While I truly believe in the transformative power of the gospel, that doubt always exists, and as far as I can see, there is nothing I can do to remove it.

    The question of whether or not the gospel records are accurate is another hard question and big obstacle, and while it hasn’t been a massive challenge, it is the one area I could see creating more challenges than any other based on future discoveries.

  • wolfeevolution

    What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian?

    My challenges echo many already voiced here: the origin of evil, both human and natural, within an evolutionary framework; the nagging suspicion that we’re just making all this up and nobody’s actually up there listening; etc. I’m greatly comforted to have found fellow journeyers in blog communities like this and Scot McKnight’s (slash RJS’s) and in authors like Polkinghorne and Wright. May the Lord have mercy and guide us all.

    What are those road blocks you keep running into?

    The other day an atheist asked me why I believe, and I had a hard time sketching out a coherent response. This bothers me. I know why I’m still a believer — it has a lot to do with my upbringing, my vocational path, an abiding love for the Church, and the beauty I see in many of the core beliefs of the Christian faith — but when it comes to pulling everything I believe about the world into a single plausibility structure with Christ at the center, I’m lost.

    It’s not so much that I feel the need to be ready to give a neat bullet-point presentation of “the gospel” to somebody else (though honestly I wish I could), but rather that if I can’t do that, perhaps I don’t really know what I believe myself anymore. It seems that after I’ve conceded on inerrantism, embraced the messy humanity of the Biblical record, admitted the possibility of at least some miracles being less than literal, lost confidence in my own direct line to God, and incorporated elements of evolution, cognitive neuroscience, anthropology, history of religions, Biblical criticism, critical realism, etc. into my worldview, what’s left needs some reshaping in order to be coherent, positive (i.e., defined by what I do believe not by what I don’t) and at least somewhat in line with the historic teachings of the Church. At the moment this is perhaps my biggest “roadblock.”

    P.S. Despite Dr. Enns’s wise prohibition on cross-talk, I’d love book recommendations.

    • Mark Farmer

      Thank you for your story, wolfeevolution. Since you ask, among the books that have helped me are John Cobb’s Christ in a Pluralistic Age, Bruce Sanguin’s The Advance of Love: Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart, and Gordon Kaufman’s Jesus and Creativity.

    • Ann Gingrow Corbett

      Over on Dr. Enns’ Facebook page, someone recommended two books to a poster. I haven’t read either book, but both look interesting. One is “The Sage of Galilee” by David Flusser with Steven Notley, and the other is “The Meaning of Jesus” by NT Wright and Marcus Borg.

      Have you read either of these books? If so, what do you think about them?

      • wolfeevolution

        I am not widely read, but I have read the second of those books (approximately 6 yrs. ago now), and really appreciated it. As I recall, it’s a civil exchange between NT Wright and Marcus Borg over the historical Jesus, with Wright advocating a more traditional position and Borg taking a more liberal stance. I remember both of them making more convincing arguments at various points — for some reason I remember Wright’s argument for the virgin birth struck me as particularly weak, but Borg lost me in several other spots — but through it all what I most appreciated was seeing that these men could begin their debate project at the communion table (quite literally; see the book’s introduction) and confess deep faith in Christ even as their visions of Christ differed so greatly. It gave me hope that no matter where my journey takes me, perhaps there may be both a vibrant personal faith for my life as well as room at the table with others.

  • Anonymous Thomas

    I posted earlier, but I had a follow-up thought after talking to my wife and reading so many of these great comments. I noticed that many of us are posting anonymously, and I wondered how much of that is rooted in fear. I serve in leadership at a very well known conservative mega church. People close to me know the things that I struggle with, but overall I would prefer to conceal my identity in discussions like this (perhaps especially when posting on the controversial Peter Enns blog! GASP!). Isn’t that sad? That our churches are not places where, like Jacob, we can wrestle with God? I’m thankful for online discussions like this, but I do wish that our churches could be places where we work these things out. I won’t hold my breath.

    • peteenns

      GASP!

    • Matt Davis

      I know exactly what you mean. I read an article about a pastor who had doubts and expressed them to her congregation. The reaction? She was physically thrown out of her church and couldn’t even pick up her belongings until much later! The congregations, even though they may have known the pastor well for a long time, can still be extremely unforgiving and set in their ways at times. Christian love at its best, I’m afraid; I honestly despair for the human race when I see stories like this…

  • Caleb

    I also grew up in a Fundamentalist background and went to a very conservative Bible College. I have since come to accept the evidence for evolution and age of the earth. Although those are not main issues for me anymore, I do wonder about the millions of years of suffering required to lead to us humans. To quote Mark Twain, “Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; and anybody would perceive that the skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.” He got the figures wrong, but the basic point still stands.

    The biggest struggles for me at this point in my life are the humanness of Scripture and prayer. I struggle with the historical/archaeological errors in Scripture, the moral atrocities commanded by YHWH, and failed prophesies.

    I struggle with prayer because I don’t see it making a difference. I no longer feel God’s presence in my life. Why does answered prayer never seem to be verifiable or falsifiable? What about answered prayer and reports of miracles for non-Christians (or Christian groups that do not line up with my theology)? How do we know “answers to prayer” would not have happened anyway? If God heals through prayer why use doctors or medicine? I wish to feel God’s presence. At the same time I wonder what’s the difference between a hallucination which imparts the feeling of the divine presence and actually feeling the presence of God. I ask myself (as others have asked of me), “What would count at proof? What would be enough?” I honestly don’t know.

    I’m attracted to Jesus and want to follow him, but how well do the portraits of him in the New Testament actually represent the historical Jesus? On the other hand, I don’t know that I could cope accepting naturalism/materialism. What’s the point if when I die all my memories, knowledge, hopes, dreams, loves vanish into nothingness? It there a foundation for supra-cultural ethics apart from a transcendent deity of some kind? These perhaps as much as anything keep me from throwing in the towel.

    It tears me up to see how my struggles hurt those close to me. And based on questions I’ve raised before, those at the church I attend do not understand my struggles. Oh they would argue they understand my struggles, but the pat answers they give to my questions cause me to doubt they do. To be honest, I lack motivation to want to attend church because I don’t feel like I can relate to anyone there and because I no longer agree with various doctrinal positions held by that church. Family issues prevent me from just leaving to go to another church.

    • ajginn

      Why does answered prayer never seem to be verifiable or falsifiable?

      Hi Caleb. Several scientific, double-blind studies have been done on intercessory prayer and shown that there is no statistical difference between those prayed for and those who are not. Maybe God doesn’t want to show his hand, but the more likely answer is that intercessory prayer makes no difference.

      • wolfeevolution

        “Encouragement and suggestions are great, but I want to focus on voicing the obstacles and allowing them to just sit for a while–without the fearful need to resolve them right away. Don’t try to fix people.”

        …in either direction, please.

      • Caleb

        I am fully aware of those studies.

    • Jason

      Caleb,

      If I could vote “up” your comment 100 times over I would. Your last paragraph is what I’ve been going through for the past 3+ years (to a “T”).

      Jason

    • bonniecasad

      One of my main struggles is prayer, too. It feels so empty. I feel like God won’t necessarily answer anyway, so what’s the point?I pray with my kids at night “Keep us safe,” but it isn’t a guarantee! I don’t understand anymore.

    • peteenns

      Thanks for this, Caleb. Very thoughtful and sincere.

  • nanbush

    Obstacles: For me, the greatest challenge in remaining Christian is the gap between, say, Hubble photos showing the actual scope of Creation and the pinched vision of most churches and their members. I wonder, how can a constricted theology, Christian exclusivity, and an anthropoid view of God stand up against millions of galaxies, some of which just might contain other conscious entities with different narratives? The theology of sacrificial atonement stopped making sense to me years ago. The literal divinization of the post-Easter Jesus strikes me as projection and transference, out of fear of our responsibility to go and do as Jesus said we were to do; at the same time, it is too superficial and misses the point of what was happening. We’ve passed the buck. There are so many issues!
    But with all this goes the challenge of recognizing that great numbers of people–maybe all of us at some time or other–depend for their lives on clinging to the traditional rescuing Jesus; it’s essential to reconcile their legitimate need and vision with my own.

    Those road blocks you keep running into: Finding a church where I do not feel so alone, where I can worship without being slammed by alienating language. Finding a church where it’s possible to hear from the pulpit some of the scholarship known in seminaries for the past century and more. Finding a church that has open arms as well as a strong and compelling theology.

    What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep going at all? Major turn-offs: Christian adoration of empire and worldly power. Christian judgmentalism. Christian anti-intellectualism (even anti-literacy). Christian cruelty and exclusion. Yes, it’s not all Christians, and not confined solely here, but to me it’s worse when Christian. I am so tired of angry doctrine, and of people who get ugly when defending it, especially when theology has become politicized and anti-everything.
    What keeps me: Through it all, I have an abiding belief in the God of my understanding; it’s just that my understanding no longer meshes with the common modern interpretation of an Iron Age god. I deeply believe in the profundity and truth of Jesus’ sense of God, and of his vision of what we are supposed to do and become. Even though seen through a new lens, I love and teach the Bible. I trust the presence of God and Holy Spirit in discovering the legitimacy and holiness of a different way of thinking Christian.

    • Van

      Nanbush said, “…the greatest challenge in remaining Christian is the gap between, say, Hubble photos showing the actual scope of Creation and the pinched vision of most churches and their members.”

      Nanbush, you’ve just turned truth on its head. Talk about a “pinched vision” of the creation, it’s the non-Christians who, looking up at the universe with its unnumbered galaxies, constellations, etc., have concluded that it all happened by an accidental explosion and without an intelligent Creator. The universe and everything in it is incredibly complex and organized (the human body is a microcosm of the universe). Here’s a little something most evolutionists haven’t noticed — yet: The latest genome studies are proving to be an embarrassment to evolutionists. The human gene and DNA are so highly organized and ingenious (pun intended) that it is now beginning to be recognized that biological evolution is out of the question. A Mastermind had to put all this together. The evolutionary lie is slowly but surely being exposed for the preposterous myth that it has always been. And, guess what? It’s scientific discoveries that is doing it in. Stay tuned!

      • nanbush

        Did I say it was an accidental explosion?

      • peteenns

        I get a bit suspicious when someone claims to have some bit of knowledge that “most evolutionists haven’t noticed.” They may not have “noticed” it because it’s not true.

      • Klasie Kraalogies

        Van, nice mythology you are presenting here. Evolution is stronger than ever, than you very much. But in addition, it is the almost Soviet-style propagandist efforts such as what you display here that is another major turn-off for me. I recognize spin, especially BS-spin, when I see it, having grown up in South Africa during the apartheid years.

    • bonniecasad

      Thank you for taking the time to write all this out. I am right in line with you. Amazingly,I have found a church that is open, doesn’t demand conformity,but has a compelling theology. It took years of looking “rebellious” to those who were only watching me on my journey,not participating.

      And your issues that won’t go away- I have a friend who has turned to the neo-reformed way of thinking, and actually told me the other day that she only had one more question, about grace, and she read a book and no more questions! Imagine, *poof* it’s all figured out and settled.

      And your “what keeps me”- thank you for putting that into words. It resonates with me.

      • nanbush

        (Smile.) I’m glad you found that church. And yeah, *poof*–really?

      • peteenns

        Ah, the neoreformed–answers to questions no one is asking.

  • Alw

    LIFE weighs heavily. The exquisite beauty of my children’s faces. Seven billion stories being lived out, many tragic. Each one made up of a billion moments linked together like the strands of a spider’s web. And that’s just the people alive right now. 155,000 people die every day, according to iPhone Siri. 155,000 stories completed, innumerable precious moments extinguished (along with many not so precious moments). It is the complexity, absurdity, beauty that makes Christian exclusivism feel, at times, like an ill-fitting suit. For moral, philosophical, and theological reasons I left hell behind a long time ago, along with the idea of a historical first pair. But even with that out of the picture, I struggle to hold on to the notion that god is so offended by sin that he can’t forgive it but by the ‘shedding of blood’. I don’t require blood in order to forgive. Why does god? Am I nicer than he is?
    On the other hand, I have recently got to know an ex heroin addict who was, in a very tangible and observable way, rescued by god when he cried out to him. I don’t mean saved from hell in any reductionist sense. But saved from his own damaging behaviour. That, it seems to me, is more in line with what Jesus meant when he said things like ‘your faith has saved you, go in peace’. I continue to think that, for me at least, that when I doubt something about god it is just the beginning of a process of understanding that he was never like that in the first place. I remain hopeful that my questions and issues with this way of life in the Messiah are part of the way that I can know him more accurately.

    • Aceofspades25

      Your journey sounds very similar to my own. Just to point out, the ancient church never believed that God required Jesus to die in order to be able to forgive us. Rather, they saw the death of Jesus as something that operates on and changes us instead, enabling us to be transformed into God’s likeness.

      The eastern church still holds to this belief and many protestants that I know of have adopted the eastern way of understanding the atonement.

    • peteenns

      Life has a way of putting our questions in perspective, I think.

  • Daniel B.

    “You may be afraid of where it will all lead.”

    It led me to atheism. The case for the Christian faith is so paper thin, in fact, that it took a mere two years of research before I woke up and found that my faith had been lost.

    Since my deconversion I have found from talking with Christians who ask me about my journey that Christians are the LEAST likely to be familiar with contemporary scholarship, the LEAST likely to have studied the origins, authorship, composition and preservation of the Bible, the LEAST likely to be scientifically literate. In other words, the least likely to have engaged the very issues which directly led me to atheism.

    And thus it is no surprise to me why the Christian faith still exists. There are those who care enough about truth to engage the hard facts, those who deliberately deny reality in deference to their longstanding beliefs, and those in between who construct theological scaffoldings to compensate for the logical, historical, ethical and philosophical shortcomings of their faith.

    • Patrick Watters

      Dallas Willard would agree here for the most part I believe? Doubt and questioning can and should lead us closer to knowledge (head and heart), and therefore closer to God. Of course, there will always be choice and faith involved. Atheist arguments tend to center on “physical” knowledge, stopping short of metaphysical (spiritual) knowledge. We can deny the existence of something we can’t see or understand completely, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist on some level. True scientists (there have been many throughout history) do not stop at physical absolutes, but keep an open mind and heart to receive knowledge. Much of what philosophers expound us that “knowledge” that comes from experiencing something with body, mind and yes, spirit or soul. To be atheist requires us to deny the existence of human spirit and/soul. That just seems much too narrow or closed minded for my thinking?!

      • Daniel B.

        Except most atheists don’t deny those things. They simply don’t believe them. An absence of belief is not positive disaffirmation. Collpasing these distinctions is one of the most common missteps in these discussions.

        • Dan Ortiz

          technically then it is agnosticism not atheism… as atheism implies a positive statement. In other words, if you think theism is a positive claim of reality, then a-THEISM is also a positive claim of reality… just in direct contrast.

          • Daniel B.

            Where do people get this from? I suppose we should throw out all the nuance so we can speak simplistically? No. There are different points along the spectrum of atheism, just as there are with theism. Strong/hard/positive atheism is a positive claim; weak/soft/negative atheism is merely the absence of a belief: no claims are made either way.
            Regardless, we have no drifted far from the regime of relevance to the OP.

          • peteenns

            Daniel, and others, this is not the post for arguing one’s case one way or another. Steer clear of editorials that move outside of your own experience and that are aimed at winning an argument.

          • Patrick Watters

            Besides, Daniel has already told us Christians, we are LEAST X3 and so apparently incapable of intellectual argument anyway? Glad you’ve deconverted and found your absolute truth Daniel. I had to deconvert and reconvert through much searching and study over
            the past 40+ years, I’ve found there is much more I don’t know than what
            I do. I suspect one day you will be deconstructing yourself and your beliefs once again, let’s talk then. Or, are you just the “shill” on here to bait the unloving and antagonistic Jesus followers? };-)

      • http://twitter.com/AleisterHermit A Hermit

        I’d like to recommend Andre Comte-Sponville’s “Little book of Atheist Spirituality” to both Christians and atheists.

        (Reviewed on Patheos here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2008/10/the-little-book-of-atheist-spirituality/)

    • wkdkween

      Please, stereotyping here?

    • peteenns

      What about people familiar with all those things who still see themselves as Christian?

      • DragonF1re

        It’s sheer will power at this point for people like that. Like you.

    • Matt Davis

      I agree. What I want to know is what happened with that guy who wrote “The Case for Christ”… Lee Strobel. He was an atheist but became a Christian. He did all this research, then became a Christian – but usually atheists who have thoroughly researched their position will not be converted so this is very odd. Supposedly he found some evidence that convinced him, but what evidence is there? All the historical documents that are not biblical are devoid of miracles! And the “prophecies”, which may convince some people, have been debunked (some videos on Youtube explain everything there).

  • tedseeber

    My biggest obstacle is economic. There is a reason why immorality, no fault divorce, and libertine attitudes are prevalent in materialist societies- because it is profitable.

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      That’s an interesting one!

  • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

    I grew up expecting to hear from God. Expecting to hear God answer my prayers. But I live in a divine absence. In that I feel buoyed by stories like that of Mother Teresa, but I still wonder how I can call myself a Christ follower, and what it means to remain faithful even in the midst of the silence. Am I not listening? Does God not speak? How am I to respond?

  • Patrick Miller

    As a seminary student, I must say that my understanding of the Christian Faith has been challenged to say the least. When I entered Seminary 3 years ago, I thought that I was going to gain information that would help me better explain every thing about Christianity to everyone that I met. As I progressed in my studies, I began to see just how naive that thought was. The days were strenuous and lonely. After being exposed to the various criticisms used to evaluate the Scriptures, the unstable Archeological evidence, and studies in hermeneutics, I have questioned my faith more than once. The main reason that I stay connected to Christianity is not because of any argument or proof that I can offer on an academic level. Or, for that matter, what I hear in Church when I attend. The services to me are like acquiring a masters degree in Algebra, and then listening to someone recite multiplication tables every Sunday. No, the main reason that I believe there is a God, and that He has been made known through the Biblical Writings is because what I have seen in life. At 18 I was baptized on my mothers birthday, and was admitted into the Christian community. I made a proclamation that I had gained a “new life,” if you will. On that same day the very next year, I was in a car wreck. Not wearing my seatbelt and driving a little to fast for a 19 year old, I hydroplaned and hit a telephone pole. I spent the next three weeks in an Intensive Care Unit heavily medicated. Having suffered 4 deep internal contusions to the brain, I slowly rehabilitated over the next year both physically and emotionally. I find it a bit strange that I was granted the gift of life two times on my mothers birthday. The first a spiritual life, and the second the continuation of my physical. Speaking of my mother, I also saw something happen to her that I can not seem to find an answer to outside of divine intervention. She started to use cocaine after her mother died some two years later. After about a year of use, she had gone from 165 pounds to 95. Later on she told me she was using $150 worth of cocaine every three days. When I would come home and look at her, I saw someone who basically looked like a cold, grey corpse with veins pushing out of her skin. I knew it was only a matter of time before I saw her lowered 6 feet into the ground. However, she was soon arrested for cocaine charges twice, and put into a rehabilitation center. She “gave her life over to God” and after she got out, she began to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. When she went back to see the judge, he informed her that he was so impressed with her progress that he was going to reduce her two felony charges to misdemeanors that would be dismissed after she finished her probation. She now works as a full time nurse in a drug-rehabilitation center in Houston Texas. These memories, along with others, are what keep me in the Christian Faith. It is true that a cause-effect deterministic relationship can be explained as the reason for everything that I have experienced, but I think that it is far to simplistic to leave it at that. Though I still call myself a Christian, I do so very tentatively. Instead of trying to find the answer to all of the intellectual problems that the Christian religion is faced with, I now try and live out what I believe is the major theme of the Bible. The “halakah” or the way of life that is presented is one that is more concerned with how you walk with God and treat others as His image bearers than how much we know or understand about the deep mysterious of the universe.

    • peteenns

      Seminary students arrive with a few final questions they feel they need settled. After a semester they realize those questions weren’t all that interesting and have replaced them with a few more that will occupy them the rest of their lives. And for you, Patrick, you’ve left trying to know and trying to live. I think that is a profound insight I am working on myself.

  • http://twitter.com/landofozfam Katie O

    I am not an intellectual and probably don’t have any profound words to articulate my current struggle and doubt. Simply this: I struggle to believe that Jesus is real sometimes because I just feel such a mess inside…I feel the weight and entanglement of my (I don’t want to say sin, because I fear many people might not like that word)…of my issues. My struggles. I don’t see this transforming work of the Gospel in my life necessarily. Not for lack of desire. I do desire Jesus and seek him (at least I think I do? But then, when I don’t find him I don’t know what to do with that). I struggle with having confidence that it’s real…that God is actually present in me and working in my life….because sometimes I.just.don’t.see.it. I feel that constant woe that Paul expressed…”why do I do what I do not want to do? …rescue me from this body of death”. I feel broken and as if I cannot see if any work is being accomplished in me. Because if not, what’s the point? However, even in this oft-present doubt, I always feel drawn back into faith. And there are a few instances throughout my journey, while not intellectual, they are my anchors. They draw out of me a faith that doesn’t feel like it came from myself.

  • Juliette Kerr

    The flood story really bothers me. Noah as Adam 2.0 seems unnecessary. I am constantly asking myself, why flood? My second obstacle is when Christians claim to know God’s mind or the will of God. I feel we are constantly trying to explain His actions. I’ve read so many books about what God is doing in this situation or that situation, but do we really know? What I hold on to with white knuckles is that the Bible seems like a blueprint, a secret code for having a good and rewarding life. It is the Rosetta Stone, if you will, for the human race. And above that, I know God has worked in my life. To me, the Bible is like a “how to live for Dummies” book. I do not know how to function in a world without God, nor do I want to. I envision myself like a sparrow compared to Him. I embrace the Mystery of Him. I have to. Why are we here? Why are we on this blue marble floating in a black universe? i don’t know, but I trust it is for a reason. On my deathbed I will wonder, why flood, but it doesn’t really matter.

    • peteenns

      And what’s with water–at creation, the flood, the Red Sea….

    • Matt Davis

      “I do not know how to function in a world without God”

      Yes, you do. You function perfectly well in this world, and if there is a god, there’d be no way to tell. Science can test all sorts of things in the natural world, and never has a single supernatural event been proven to have occurred, so you are living in a world that no god ever plays around with. If a god exists, it’s just an observer.

      Also, geology disproves the flood, and evolution disproves genesis.

      • Nancy R.

        Matt – your reply reflects the notion (held by many Christians and atheists alike) that God only acts in supernatural ways. If you can prove that something resulted from a physical process, ergo, God is not involved. This ignores the belief (completely unprovable, of course) that God acts within natural, physical processes.

        And evolution does not “disprove” Genesis – it merely disproves a literal, simplistic reading of it.

  • Kale

    My biggest obstacle is other Christians. It seems that there
    are very few that are living a life of love.

  • Joy_F

    Pain, death and chaos. I guess that’s actually three. Pain and death I guess would be lumped into one though. Chaos in that sometimes I t just seems like everything is so random, like there I s no rhyme or reason to it all, and that there is no one “minding the universe” Pain and death because I can’t understand why things go badly.

    Both go into my too biggest trials – trying to control and fear. Fear that God is not good. That he wants me to suffer. Or that he just doesn’t care.

    Yet something just won’t give up hope. And that is why I stay.

    • peteenns

      Ah yes, control and fear–two sides of a coin. Control is an illusion driven by fear. I hear you. Loud and clear.

  • Jack

    This blog. It put all kinds of doubts in my head. I didn’t have such struggles before reading your work.

    • toddh

      Seems like there could be an easy solution for your problem…

    • peteenns

      Just know I didn’t invent these issues, Jack. The worms have been out of the can for a long long time. I’m trying to put them back—but we may need a different kind of can.

      • Jack

        You didn’t invent these issues Pete, but you sure know how to sow doubt in God and his word rather than encourage faith.

        You’ve robbed me of my peace.

        • Mark Farmer

          Can’t tell for sure, Jack, how much irony is in your comment. I’m thinking you think it’s okay to be robbed of peace…for awhile.

        • peteenns

          I’m sorry to hear you are struggling, Jack, but if you think about it more, *I* haven’t robbed you of anything. Laying blame on another for what is going on inside is not a healthy practice, in my opinion. But more importantly, I think I’ve only sown doubt in how you think about God and Scripture, which should not be confused for the real thing.

          I’m not blowing you off. I respect where you are. But your choice now is what steps will you take on your journey.

          • Jack

            Peter, who represents “the real thing”? It’s immensely arrogant to slam conservative scholars and evangelicals for asserting their positions dogmatically while you do the same thing. You want to dismantle the structure they built and replace it with your own. I thought I understood God more clearly before, now you have muddied the waters for me.

            Scripture is either true or it’s not. I’m not going to try to justify some middle ground so as to avoid the disdain of theological liberals and progressives, all the while attempting to hold to some kind of profession of faith. I’m not going to lay hold of that kind of Christianity.

          • peteenns

            Jack,I don’t “slam” evangelical scholars for being dogmatic. I slam them for saying things that are either wrong or highly suspect, but maintain those positions because they support inerrancy and other parts of the system. This quells fears momentarily, but can and often do lead to significant cognitive dissonance and spiritual crises. I am not replacing their structure with “my own” as if I am voicing privately held idiosyncratic views. I am critiquing weak evangelical apologetics.

          • Jack

            Pete, what you think is “highly suspect” may be very plausible. A system makes far more sense than a bunch of disparate and internally inconsistent propositions. If anything leads to spiritual crises, it’s instilling doubt in believers with regard to doctrinal orthodoxy.

          • SebZear

            Jack, a worldview that is consistent with an inconsistent world will be internally inconsistent.

          • Matt Davis

            Religion may be comforting, but that doesn’t make it true. Just remember that none of us truly knows the truth. I choose not to believe because none of it makes sense to me, and I first stated my disbelief when I was about 5 years old and never looked back. As a result, I don’t feel bad about it; I’m quite content. As others have said, religion can be a crutch but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the absolute truth. You can be perfectly happy with or without it! (Just as long as people don’t force their beliefs on anyone else, everything’s fine!)

          • prodigalthought

            Jack -

            I understand what you are saying. I went through major shifts in my theology a few years back when I began to read outside of my theological box (reformed & charismatic evangelical). I began engaging with not so much extremely harsh/liberal scholarship, but simply evangelicals that were willing to point out particular tensions & problems. They weren’t pointing it out to destroy faith, but rather to help people think of how to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of such challenges. It might have challenged our belief system, but only because that belief system needed to be re-arranged. God always promised he would shake the foundations so that the unshakable kingdom would remain (i.e. Heb 12:26-29).

            But here was the bigger problem I unearthed in my own life, and which I think is prevalent in much of evangelicalism. It is our epistemological foundation – how we know what we know (or how we think we know what we know). I believe that, if one gets down to a modernist epistemology, which is still predominant in much of American evangelicalsim, there is an insatiable appetite for empirical, verifiable, Cartesian-based knowledge. It’s controlled strongly by post-Enlightenment thinking and I really do believe this has greatly pervaded the church. However, there is one and one alone that is perfectly objective – God. But we are not. Not even close. Now, this does not mean that we cannot engage with truth. We can reasonably and adequately engage with God’s truth. But never can we approach it from some scientific observation. And if we keep acting as if we can, we will run over people in the name of ‘truth’ and we will form boxes that might seem stable at first glance, but are quite superficial.

            I’ve really appreciated an awareness of how this undergirded so much of my life (and can still very much do so, both theologically & practically). But it settles my heart knowing that I cannot & will not figure it all out. I’ve stopped overly obsessing by categorising everything as black or white, inerrant or errant, perfect or imperfect, true or false. Again, this does not mean we cannot engage with truth. It just keeps us a little more humble about who we are, especially noting the challenges that can arise in our theology & the world. Sometimes there needs to be space for mystery, for not-knowing. And it’s in our not knowing that we can know who God is as the infinite one. And thankfully by looking into the face of Christ we come to know God as best we can now.

            Blessings.

          • peteenns

            PT, this is beautifully put–and reflects very much where I am personally. Thanks for posting this. It is encouraging to me.

          • Jack

            PT, thanks. I know your intentions are good, but this is the same scrambled eggs I get from postmodernists.

          • prodigalthought

            Jack -

            Thanks for commenting back. I know it sounds too postmodernist. And I am aware that particular word causes much concern for many evangelicals.

            I might suggest that you read Jamie Smith’s book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism. Smith is a professor of philosophy & theology at Calvin College. So you can imagine that he is very strongly reformed evangelical. He is solid. I’m reading another book of his right now called Desiring the Kingdom.

            But what he argues in his book is that postmodernism is not the bogey monster we think it is. He (and I) would definitely see what is called ‘antirealism’ as problematic (it’s an over-the-top postmodern philosophy that denies that we can ever reasonably & adequately engage with truth/reality because we are only products of our environment). This is what most people think postmodernism is ALL about. But Smith argues for a more balanced postmodernism. He says that, while postmodernism might be the enemy of our post-Enlightenment modernism, it does not have to be seen as the enemy of the church. There are actually some healthy aspects to a balanced, practical postmodernism. He considers the thoughts of Derrida, Lyotard & Foucault and how we misunderstand some of what they were communicating.

            If you’d be interested in more thoughts from the book, see my article here.

            Blessings!

    • dave gorgone

      There is a risk by asking questions. It takes us out of the comfortable surroundings into a world that is amazing, terrifying, beautiful, harsh and worth the trip. I have been there myself, I felt the discomfort of doubt. It is also not anyone’s including Pete’s fault. Though I agree with Pete I still take it with a grain of salt as he is just as flawed as the rest of us. No offense Pete. He can correct me if I am wrong on this next part, but he wants to make sure the purity of the gospel and its’ truth. Others want to tear it down. Seek God during this time, but know something: 1) You may have to wait to get the answers you seek. 2) You may not like the answer. 3) God may remain silent.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    I’m so glad you asked this question(s). I’ve hit some of my lowest points when I tried to understand the Holy Spirit. I didn’t buy into cessasionist arguments, but then I had to figure out why I wasn’t experiencing the Holy Spirit in my life. It has been a long road where I’ve had to face so many doubts and fears about God and myself.

  • Cindy

    I was never saddled with evolution being in conflict with the stories of creation, the exclusivity of Christianity for salvation, or heartless providence to explain why bad things happen to good people. The answer to “where is God” in the midst of tragedy for me was always, “God is in the middle of it all offering comfort and love, weeping with those who mourn,” etc., etc. I can remember as a pastor giving essentially that answer to a woman struggling with the insane suffering of 9/11. She replied, “that is one worthless God.” I tried to assure her that she would come to appreciate the gift of God’s unflinching presence in the midst of suffering. Two years later my brother completed suicide. My mother asked her pastor, “Where was God while my son was swallowing ten times the lethal level of the medicines that were supposed to combat his mental illness.” Her pastor gave the cradling his head and comforting him answer. My mother answered, “That is one #%(*@%& worthless God.” This time I agreed with my mother, and was horrified at the number of times I gave that answer without fully comprehending the depth of despair that brought people to the question, or the hollowness of the answer.

  • pedantic pete

    Whatever people’s issues, they are rarely simply intellectual questions. Invariably there’s a strong unconscious, emotional dimension mixed in. Simply answering the question doesn’t necessarily deal with the problem.

  • Don

    This is not entirely a smartass comment: The best place to lose one’s religion is at a diocesan convention.

  • thirtysomething

    I had been somewhat unconcerned about my lack of enthusiasm for attending church for several years. Now my daughter is two years old and it hit me: I have to explain Christmas and Easter to her. And if I want her to believe in God, I have to mention him sometime. As I started thinking about what to say to her it occured to me that I don’t really believe the stories as literally true anymore, for a variety of reasons pretty well laid out in other people’s comments. And I don’t want to tell her anything that is not true. (I don’t even want to tell her about Santa Claus). But I also don’t want to turn all of the rituals in our calendar into meaningless times for getting presents and eating candy. I would like to find a way to have meaningful religious observances and holidays, as well as a day to day spiritual life. I still think there is something out there, but I don’t know where to look for it anymore.

    • peteenns

      In my experience, nothing makes us rethink our theology more than our children.

    • Matt Davis

      The absolute best thing to do with a child is to teach her about different religions and belief systems, and give her the choice to believe if she wants, or not. Indoctrination is wrong, but the religious right would probably say indoctrination of their way is the only way and anything else (even saying nothing) would be “indoctrination by Satan” to them…

      • thirtysomething

        That is an interesting point. Thanks. I think you are right that it is important to expose children to a wide variety of ideas. But I would still like to be able to tell her that I believe _____ because of ____, and that we celebrate these things because of ______ underlying meaning. These days I am trying to figure out how to fill in those blanks, and not finding it easy.

        Sometimes I am tempted to just send her to the Lutheran pre-school down the street and let them tell her the same stories I was raised with. But that would be taking the easy way out, and just kicking the can down the road a few years until she starts asking questions about what she has been taught.

        • Renshia

          Well, what about taking that one day and just make it about saying thanks.

          How would it make you feel, and how would it make your family and friends feel to know, that this time, this season it all about just saying thanks. I know that is kinda what we do, but it’s all with the pretense, why not just strip off all the baggage and just make that the reason for the season?

          What wrong with stripping away all the stories and making it about love and appreciation? Why does love and appreciation have to have an excuse? Why not make that your tradition? What could be a better reason for all holidays?

          You can always share the stories. This group does this for this reason and this one for that, if you choose too. Kids always ask questions and you can share the stories.

          So what would be wrong about making holidays just about showing love and appreciation to those who make life better?

    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Mark Erickson

      Find the nearest Unitarian church.

    • Friendly guy

      Great post. I’m an ex-Christian (there, I said it!), and I too sometimes wonder about what I should teach my children. Weirdly, my son, aged 7, has taken to reading a children’s bible regularly. I don’t discourage this – I don’t want to impose my belief system on him. I even helped him with his religous badge for Scouts.

  • Aristotle Socrates

    The biggest problems Christians have in respect to doubts is the natural

  • Aristotle Socrates

    THe biggest problem Christians have in respect to doubts is the natural tendency to want to understand his in accordance with our human understanding. Since when does God have to be understood by a corrupted and sinful man?

    • ajginn

      Thanks. That was helpful.

  • drcheard

    My biggest “intellectual” obstacle is “knowing too much” about the historical development of various doctrines, up to and including monotheism itself. Doctrinal evolution, not biological evolution. Being able to trace the historical genealogy of ideas can really dilute confidence in a spiritual genealogy for those same ideas.

    My biggest “spiritual” obstacle is probably the issue of divinely-sanctioned violence that you (Pete) have highlighted already on this blog. Living with the tension of an “Old Testament God” who routinely uses violence as an instrument and a “New Testament Jesus” who seems almost entirely pacifist — this makes it hard for me to advocate for the kind of “Bible-based” Christianity that I grew up with.

    • Tracy

      It might be helpful to listen to some of Greg Boyds teaching on this. helped me heaps regarding OT violence and that of Christ being the image of God.

      • peteenns

        Greg’s a good man and has thought about this a lot.

    • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

      How about the transformation of Jesus from “love your enemies” in Matthew to the earth-cursing God in Revelation? The mask comes off. Believe and love me or die. Thank God for all those loving options.

  • Bible Evolution

    the problem of evil

  • Jack

    My biggest obstacle to staying Christian is professing believers who teach that Scripture is mostly myth and metaphor, that human origins are evolutionary, and that Paul was mistaken.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LutheranChik Ellen Polzien

    I’m a Christian, and in fact I have a lay leadership role in my church, but one of my issues is the whole “Male Authority Figure Telling Us What’s What” paradigm — which is a problem I have with Buddhism, Islam, etc., as well. And although my own tradition’s theology provides a framework for understanding why we Christians aren’t always very Christlike, I am also at times troubled by my observation that Christians, flying the flag of the Church Militant, engage in some of the meanest, most hateful, most arrogant and most ignorant rhetoric and actions in our society…while at the same time I know non-believers who epitomize at least my understanding of Christlike values and treatment of other people. “By your fruits you shall know them”? Well, then a lot of us are in big trouble. Those are some of my 2 am ponderings.

  • Guest

    I think the biggest challenge out there is the number of Christians who are relatively content – content with the world as it is, content with their knowledge of God, content even though we are on a road of non-sustainability for so much life on this planet, and content that their questions are significant enough to only partially, or not at all be involved, in a community of faith. There are more churches than gas stations in many communities. But while we will go to a new restaurant at the drop of a hat, if we get out of kilter with our particular church, we will decrease involvement or not go at all. We will sing and pray about the glory and power of God. But then we prioritize God low on our schedules. The relative peace Christians have in our society while their brother and sister Christians are suffering is staggering sometimes. It is admirable in our nation when we rally together after hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados and provide relief. We will even do this for material needs in other countries. But Christians suffering internationally for their faith, Christians being purged from the Middle East, Christians who are homeless, Christians sitting alone in nursing homes, and Christians dying of hunger and basic needs seem to generate little concern or prayer. If someone knows me, I am not talking about our particular congregation. I am referring to all our churches together in this country.

  • Katie

    I don’t think my post made it through, so I’ll try again. For me I think the biggest right now is suffering. Not even my own, which I’ve more or less come to terms with, but at large. I can theologize all day long about it and quell the doubts for a while, but there is a big part of me that still has a hard time reconciling a loving and all-powerful God who deeply cares about people with the way the world actually works … children who are raped or murdered, poor villages that get wiped out by earthquakes or tidal waves, etc. Probably if I ever sat down and stared it in the face the other would be hell. I would really like to be a universalist, but I just don’t see it in scripture.

  • Aceofspades25

    The biggest problem for me is the problem of suffering. We know we can’t pin it on Adam, and even if we tried we still have to recognise that God created a world knowing it would entail suffering. He created people knowing that they would struggle with sin and consequences would follow.

    It is also far too anthropocentric to suggest that suffering is all about us (we are the cause for it and we are the ones affected by it). This clearly isn’t true when considering that suffering has existed for billions of years. The potential for suffering is baked into the very fabric of this universe.

    It is also too simplistic to state that suffering exists to teach us how to be moral. What about a deer caught in a forest fire in the woods? It dies an agonising death with no lesson to be learnt and no purpose to be served. It lives, it experiences excrutiating pain and then it lives no more. I am of the opinion that God cares about his creation and yet he seems so distant and removed from it – allowing it to suffer without interference.

    • NeedingMoreFacts

      I’ve struggled with this as well; just some thoughts:
      - At this point, suffering *is*. It exists, be it a result of evil within our hearts or from outside forces. If God is God, how can he let it go on?

      - What would He do to those who commit evil and cause suffering? Should he strike them down cold? Should God stick His hand down from the mighty throne and stop someone in the middle of an evil act? Some would say they’ve experienced the working hand of God, that a miracle occurred. Why not give that to everyone?

      - How is it that so many people have a problem with a jealous God, always citing the Old Testament yet want evil people struck down or punished like in the Old Testament?

      - Would there be any point in living if we had no control over our actions? I’ve often heard people say their flaws make them stronger, their unpleasant experiences/anguish make them who they are (think Facebook).

      These simply are thoughts, not arguing or supporting what you’ve said.

    • Susan Gerard

      Ace, I agree with you. What you call suffering, allow me to call evil. Natural evil, if you will. There are many who would say that this “natural evil” is good. Forest fires are good for the ecosystem. Their argument goes something like this: “My argument against God was that the
      universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just
      and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea
      of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I
      called it unjust?”
      - C.S. Lewis. Or, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the
      most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious
      than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” -St. Teresa Maybe it’s my lack of humility, but evil /= good. An honest philosopher will tell you that the problem of evil is the greatest with which we must wrestle.

  • http://atlantarofters.blogspot.com The Sanity Inspector

    As I grow older, I am more impressed by Ecclesiastes. I am drawn to the old king pacing his city walls, who has been completely disillusioned, but yet refuses to give way to cynicism.

    • Jerry Lynch

      The old king has become completely disillusioned with his existential experience of life, has apparently probed and tasted it all and found nothing truly lasting or good. The whole world is not enough to fill him; the hole remains. So in the end it once again becomes plain that only God can fill this hole and make life really worthwhile.
      Having been an alcoholic, I feel as if I lived this book.

  • Jason

    I was originally brought to your work because of my own hangups about how more literal readings of scripture didn’t seem to mesh with what we know about the world today (scientifically).

    As far as staying Christian, I’m not really sure where I stand anymore these days…… I feel like there is such amazing depth on some of the pages of scripture, only to turn to the next page and roll my eyes.

    If I really boil my struggles down to the bare minimum, I think some of my biggest obstacles to staying a Christian are listening to the voices (whether those voices are mine or someone elses) that say things like this:

    - You must believe this.
    - You can’t believe that.
    - If you believe that way, then this will happen, so be careful.
    - You can’t pick and choose.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Jason

    • Aristotle Socrates

      In other words your problem is that you have a problem when people say Christianity is the only way? I just want to clarify.

      • Jason

        Yes, that bothers me (even though I would call myself a Christ follower). But it bothers me on many levels:

        1) The statement “Christianity is the only way” comes off as a statement of fact, when “in fact”, we have no idea if it’s a “fact”. It’s actually a statement of faith or belief.

        2) Christianity has so many flavors, so which “Christianity” is the “only way”?

        3) Why is a religion (Christianity) or set of beliefs the “only way”? Why not “I believe Christ is the only way” or “I believe Buddha is the only way”?

        4) The “only way” to what? To have a relationship with God? To Heaven? To happiness? To what?

        So, yes! These days, this type of statement bothers me. It feels like someone is attempting to make a statement of fact to insight some sort of emotional response in me. After all, Jesus is not quoted as ever saying that “Christianity is the only way” (Christianity didn’t exist). He said: “I am the way to the father”. Those two statements are a world apart.

        The first statement: “Christianity is the only way”, makes me feel somewhat nauseous, whereas Jesus’ words: “I am the way” kind-a make me feel like: “Whooaaa, this dude means some serious business–what’s going on here”.

        Jason

  • Mary Raine

    “Knowing what you know, why do you keep believing?” Because for me, it’s not about believing – it’s a relationship with the living God who desires that I know him/her intimately. Yes, I struggle with understanding this relationship with God and that means I struggle with beliefs; but I stay because this relationship is worth the struggle and hence my relationship with other broken people, trying to understand and live out their relationship with God, is worth the challenge!

  • http://yourmesshismessage.wordpress.com/ Liana

    The literal interpretation of the Bible/belief in biblical inerrancy and the self-righteousness that usually accompanies it. In essence all Bible reading is selective, so it grates when people assume they’re above all that because they can find a direct quote somewhere to justify themselves.

    • thirtysomething

      This is exactly what gets to me. I was raised to believe that if there seems to be a conflict in the bible it just means that you don’t understand it well enough. My family is big into using concordances to compare Greek root words and try to reconcile these issues by diving into an extremely granular analysis. Funny enough, they manage to prove that some things mean the opposite of what they seem to mean, and others don’t, and also that women should stay home with the kids. As I grew up I realized that this just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t believe that the bible is full of hidden meanings that contradict what some passages so obviously say on their face.

      Plus, what use is it to focus on the nitty gritty of the epistles, where we know that we only have half of the story, because we don’t have the other end of the correspondence? Or worse, (which they do), compare Greek roots of the new testament to the Greek roots of the translation of the old testament that the King James is based on? Talk about a game of telephone.

      A couple of years ago I read The Five Books Of Moses: An Easy To Read Torah Translation by Sol Scharfstein. This is a translation of the torah into modern English (complete with measurements) by a Hebrew scholar which I highly recommend. It made so much more sense than the King James! And, it also made it obvious that this is an oral tradition of a nomadic tribe, not necessarily meant to be taken literally.

  • Marcy

    I’ve lived my whole life in the church, and what I have seen is that the church, the very idea of church, does not work. I’ve lived through both clergy and lay scandals, dysfunction, and political nonsense both at the local and the global level. Where is the transformation of lives? When is the church doing the work of Christ? It peeks through here and there, but only in rare cases and not as a matter of course. The church seems too much like the world.

    What keeps me going: I keep telling myself that Jesus didn’t much like the religious establishment either. I try to follow him, not his followers.

  • Rob McFarren

    At this point in my walk, the largest struggle that I have is a discord between experience and belief that being Christian is to be relational. With God and with others. Love precipitates relationship, and the promises of God we find are relational. What I struggle with at this point is the fact that relationship requires response and interaction by both parties, and a mutual understanding and valuing of each other in working through life’s doubts, joys, struggles, and callings. Even the idea of a Missio Dei (or the purposes/reign of God – his “redemptive work in the world”) rests on relationship.

    My struggle is the lack of experience to back up this relationship. Other Christians, particularly those who at one time were close or even family, are quick to discount questions or ideas that do not line up with their personal statement of faith, and so approach each interaction as if somehow I need “saving” from thinking something else (or just wrestling with the question or circumstances). True accepting, loving, faithful communities that welcome and grow together (even with discipline or rebuke) require trust and vulnerability – a “getting to know” the other person and understanding prior to being able to provide wise counsel. I struggle with not finding such a people who have accepted me in this journey together. Certainty is desired, not wrestling with a way forward. And so when I embrace doubt or uncertainty in various theology (like understanding multiple views of the atonement, etc. without having to believe one is right and all the others wrong) this excludes me as being a genuine participant in community. The belief is placed above the relationship. (It has happened time and again…too numerous to count).

    Even more, if it is about my personal relationship with Jesus, then there should be an active component of his speaking which I can experience. When this is expressed, I simply get cliches, platitudes, or the idea of praying more, reading the Bible more, or having more faith. Yet, a personal relationship requires personal interaction of some sort that is tangible and active…and not what I hope is the case (like overlooking signs of disinterest by someone simply because you have a middle school crush).

    What is interesting is that in spite of these struggles, the “why” for me is that faith has a grasp in the deeper parts of me that someone cannot just let go. What is the alternative to love and relationships? So in a way, my faith and trust in Jesus grows yet my discontent and struggle with statements of faith or belief is stripped away as false idols, while also knowing that somehow God’s revelation (then & now) comes through these exercises as well…some aspect of my life that gets a blending of reason, tradition, scripture, and experience that holds each skeptically yet hopefully that God Is and accounts can be reliable in spite of lack of experience. I know I don’t need to have it all figured out (accepting all or throwing everything away) yet where and how are the people of God doing this genuinely, without agenda. I once heard it said that you cannot fully know yourself without knowing God, or fully knowing God without knowing yourself. In a sense, I think this is the struggle AND the promise, yet I find that each community I have participated in has been more interested in “arriving” at a place than being a “journeying” community.

  • Timmy C

    it’s not the impossibilites that throw me. (Jesus as fully God and Man, The Trinity, etc) It’s the implausibilities. The work of de-implausifying Christianity can be a burden that makes me wonder sometimes, is disbelief itself more honest?

    The sheer number of things that need to be rethought or re-imagined to have a plausible Christianity. Heaven really isn’t a local Elysian fields-like sky-zone that Jesus literally ascended to– Hell isn’t really a barely renamed Tartarus below the earth. The Old Testament God really wasn’t pro-genocide or slavery, the Christians didn’t really believe in an immaterial soul that our brain science now seems to question. The Scripture really IS in some form God’s Word — a vehicle for God’s revelation, not just a slighty forced collection of religous-fictionalized-history…

    And God sometimes seems awfully, awfully implausibly quiet, absent or worse these days compared to the vision of a living God active in the world today.

    To be clear: I deeply, deeply believe in Jesus, Scripture as a unique revelation of Him and find the old Christian acrostic “Icthus” as the very core of my beliefs about the deepest reality — Jesus-Messiah-God’s-Son-Savior…

    But the biggest factor in my disbelief? The sheer mass of work involved in de-implausification of Christianity.

    • peteenns

      “Implausibility” is an important point, Timmy. Thanks for making it.

      • wolfeevolution

        Agreeing with Timmy and Dr. Enns, I also mentioned “plausibility structures” in my post below. Once we make each part of our faith plausible as Timmy enumerates, does what is left hold together as a plausible and coherent whole anymore?

  • Jerry Lynch

    Through all the bumps and potholes and detours of my journey in faith over fifty years, it was the seemingly ubiquitous and persistent scandalous attacks on the president and liberals over the past four years that took the greatest toll. A real spirit crusher. It appeared that if you weren’t a neocon, you weren’t Christian. And neocon meant that the Democrats weren’t a party but the enemy of God and decency, a fair even righteous target for the ugliest comments. Love was noticeably absent.
    I find politics one of the “entanglements” mentioned in Timothy. That the entire Church seems not only involved in politics but consummed by it, hearing from every quarter it is an essential part of our Christian duty to do so, throws into question the power or efficacy of the word. Or the understanding of it by all the denominations and sects. If the accepted statements of beliefs, creeds, and articles of faith do nothing to open the eyes of so many Christians, the Church may be our major temptation to a life hidden in Christ.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    I’d say one of the biggest obstacles is having someone as moderate as Peter Enns delete my comment and ask me to rewrite it, because I asked too many questions (I’m not even an atheist, I’m agnostic). I didn’t curse in it, I just piled on some questions and admitted I went through a lot of changes as a Christian and wound up agnostic. If Enns thinks his blog readers cannot handle that, then what ELSE can’t they handle?

    • Aceofspades25

      Peter, what are you trying to shelter us from?

    • peteenns

      I deleted Eds comment, as he full well knows because I explained it to him, because it was a very long apology for NOT remaining Xian, which is not the point of the post and what i asked commenters explicitly NOT to do.

    • Susan Gerard

      If this is one of your biggest obstacles, Ed, I’d say your faith was not significant to begin with.

      You’re being selfish. This was a post welcoming struggling Christians. You aren’t a struggling Christian. You’ve gone through the process and have come to your own conclusion. And you have a book about it. People are wounded; you’re trying to futhur open their wounds, for what reason? To save them? From what, something you don’t believe in? Save your comments for a thread titled “Why did you leave the faith?”

  • Matt Davis

    Every time some self-righteous “True Christian” says he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it makes me think he’s schizophrenic. How does he know the voice he’s hearing in his head isn’t his own mind talking to itself? The same applies to people who think God told them what sofa to buy, and things like that. Like a deity would waste time on a trivial matter like that! Also, that phrase is just used so these people can pretend Christianity isn’t a religion when it is… they say it’s a relationship instead so that they can join in when people say how much they hate organised religion. If people didn’t say that, there’d be no reason for them to deny Christianity’s status as a religion.

  • dave gorgone

    Hello Pete, If this doesn’t fit this thread I apologize. I found your books helpful and has helped restore my faith, but it has caused some troubling questions for me:

    1) Have we begun to overcomplicate Genius is and the old testament? Are we better off having this new perspective?

    2) Because of this new view I am having a hard time understanding how I am to see scripture in lite of this. How am I to see Jesus, sin or the gospels? How does this impact my faith and walk? How am I to distinguish what is to be seen as metaphor and what isn’t?

    3) Can you recommend anyone I can read to further understand this? I have Sparks and Lemoreux lined up.

    • Susan Gerard

      Dave, I do think these topics will be dealt with. Keep watching.

    • Cheryl

      The book that started to turn it all around for me is “Discovering the God Imagination” by Jonathan Brink. Available on Kindle. The book has a website and FB page, too. Amazing insights, totally broke the Bible open for me. I now experience God and the Cross in a whole new light.

      (Posting as guest because I can never remember my Disqus password, and trying to retrieve it always causes me to lose my post.)

  • anon

    What a great, thought provoking group of comments.

    I grew up in a mainline church and left that church when I was about 30. I joined a very conservative evangelical church. It held the following: inerrant Bible, literal word for word Bible, must be born again, etc. Basically fundamentalist. I did well there for a few years but developed many emotional issues. The OCD of my childhood showed back up. I had chronic anxiety.

    Reading led to thinking. Thinking led to questions. Questions led to cognitive dissonance.

    I left this church rather abruptly and I’m pretty certain that they think I went off the deep end. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t stand to sit there any longer.

    Went to a Lutheran church, I love it. I still have questions. Same thing. The more I question, the deeper it goes. In the past few weeks I have wondered if I even still believe. I mostly question the atrocities of the Bible, the misogyny, prayer, and control. A coworker once told me that it was their thought that a lot of religion was man made to control people. It’s been rolling around in my head..a lot. I have imagined a world where there is no God and life just kept happening. I’ve been reading stories of former Christians and it’s all too familiar.

    Yet I’m still here. So thankful that even having thrown out some stuff (inerrant scripture, hell, “born again theology”, end times, etc…I still want to be a follower of Jesus. It just doesn’t look like the rule based judgmental Christian I used to know…if that makes sense. Thankful my church makes it easy. Truthfully, I’d make as good of a unitarian as I would a Lutheran or a borderline agnostic.

    So what keeps me believing? I honestly don’t know…perhaps the realization that I do not have it all figured out….

    • anon

      A post script: almost 2 years after leaving a fundamental/evangelical church, my OCD is in retreat…anxiety is way better…I credit shedding needless guilt/shame…running…friends…and a few beers when needed. I was far too moralistic, judgmental, and missed 12 years of my life that could have been spent with friends. My advice is to run far and fast from churches who teach that mental health issues are from “sin.”

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    This post pushes me into corners I often push myself.

    If I cut myself off at two, here goes: (1) The whole gospel narrative appears so utterly absurd and irrelevant to the everyday stuff of life that I find myself at times hard-pressed to give it any thought at all. (2) The person I was, am now, and am becoming doesn’t at all seem to me to be a very good “fit” in any Christian community. Forever feeling like “a fish out of water.”

  • Teena Stewart

    Wow. Timely blog post. I’m a pastor’s wife and an author and am working on a book manuscript right now entitled. Boxing with God. It’s all about giving Christians permission to express those tough questions. The things that shake my faith most is silence from God when I am crying out for deliverance and seeing innocents killed or abused in horrific ways when it seems God could have intervened.

  • Patricia McMinn

    I remember having a professor at Portland State who criticized the church sign out front that said something like “are your arms too short to box with God”, My prof criticized the absurdity of that statement being Jewish. He said, for one- God doesn’t box and he made another statement but don’t remember what that was. I say God wrestles but doesn’t box.

    God does intervene but sometimes we don’t recognize it. So many more could have died but didn’t in 911. Why were there schedules changed and circumstances rearranged etc.?

  • The Doubting Christian

    I’m having difficulty believing in a personal God, when all the workings of the universe seem to point to systems that take care of themselves. Why should the God of the universe take such an intense interest in humanity?

    In a similar vein, why should suffering be a necessary mechanism of our creation (i.e., evolution)? Struggle and death are necessary for organisms to evolve. Why? And in light of this, is God good? Again, this kind of points me in the deist direction — a God who sets everything up but is quite indifferent to what happens afterward.

    Then I feel like, if Christianity really had a hold on the Truth, wouldn’t Christians be more united, more accepting, less egotistical? I struggle to see that Christians have anything different — any special enlightenment — than what the rest of the world has.

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