I’ve started to notice a subtle shift in the atmosphere the last few years, and lately I think it’s starting to build momentum.
What am I talking about? Well, I think there’s a very strong undercurrent of Christians who are starting to question the status quo. Whether that’s asking questions about the traditional views of the afterlife, or the nature of God, or the atonement, or even the way we should relate to the Bible, pretty much everything that can be questioned is being reevaluated.
I think this is a pretty great thing, by the way.
I can understand that some evangelical pastors might be terrified at the idea of a more skeptical and discerning congregation in their pews, but this is not only necessary, it is inevitable.
Why has this phenomenon been growing? Mostly because of the internet, to be honest. In the same way that the invention of the printing press fueled the spread of the Gospel a few hundred years ago, the internet has revolutionized the spread of ideas and exponentially accelerated this new reformation of faith.
So, for example, without the internet it would take an entire generation, at least, for one new idea or differing perspective on the end times, or the character of God, or anything else, to spread across the landscape. But with the internet, ideas and questions about theology are not wide open and flying through the ether like flashes of lightning every few seconds.
Sure, not everyone responds to these new ideas with an open mind. Many want to hold tight to their doctrines and warn everyone not to be “deceived” by the “false teachers” and “heretics” that threaten to undermine decades of traditional theology. For a few, those warnings and that fear tactic actually works. But for a whole lot more people, those warnings are ignored. Instead of running from these new ideas in fear, they excitedly embrace these different perspectives, or at least take time to consider what others have to say.
Often, what happens is that people hear a new idea or concept that confirms something they’ve secretly believed or wondered about for years, but they were just too terrified to ask their pastor, or to say what they were thinking out loud – for fear of being shouted down, labeled a heretic, or asked to leave their church. (All of which are actual reactions that many of my friends online have experienced first-hand).
So, the internet has become a relatively safe place for people to investigate new theologies, entertain different theories, and ask all the questions they could never say out loud in church.
For example, I co-host a podcast called the Heretic Happy Hour. We came up with the name of the podcast as a joke. Mostly because all three of us who co-host the podcast have been called “heretic” or “false teacher” so many times it has lost all meaning. In fact, the terms really mean nothing other than: “You believe a few things that are different from my beliefs and therefore you are a heretic.” But what people fail to realize is that, while I might be their heretic, they are probably someone else’s heretic. In other words: Everyone is someone’s heretic.
Anyway, as part of our podcast, we host a private Facebook group for our listeners to freely post and share and question all the different theologies and doctrines they grew up with. What’s really fascinating is how many actual full-time pastors are in our group. Many of them will post things like: “I’ve got to preach a sermon this Sunday and no one at my church knows I’m a heretic.”
So, even while some people may appear to be towing the doctrinal line from the pulpit, many Christian pastors are secretly doubting some of their own church theology and they are wrestling with whether to come clean – and possibly lose their jobs – or continue to fake it every week – and slowly die inside because they realize they are leading people down a path that they themselves have already wandered away from.
Not everyone who questions their faith is winding up in the same spot. Some are abandoning Eternal Suffering to embrace Annihilationism, or Patristic Universalism. Still others are turning from Penal Substitionary Atonement theory to follow Christus Victor or Ransom Theory. And even more people are deciding to just chuck the entire Christian brand to simply follow Jesus in their actual lives.
To be fair, some are totally walking away from their faith, and from Jesus, completely. That’s sad to me. But at the same time, we’re running into people who have already left the faith years ago and who are now finding the faith to return to Christ, even if they still reject everything with the word “Christian” on it.
Some might say that this movement is dangerous, or misguided. For certain there are really no masterminds at the controls who are guiding the process or driving the message. This truly appears to be a genuine move of the Holy Spirit – at least to me.
Yes, there are a few authors and bloggers and teachers out there who are influencing this movement, whether they realize it or not. You probably know who they are without my dropping any names. But their names are not what’s important. What is really important is that the Holy Spirit is calling people out of religious mortification and into vibrant Christlikeness and the freedom of knowing God without fear or the control of institutions.
I’m not the only one to notice this, by the way. My friend Greg Boyd also affirmed this observation in our most recent conversation at his podcast.
This is truly a good thing, my friends. I’m just thrilled to see this movement unfolding before my eyes. I’m excited about a move of God that invites everyone and anyone to know Christ without religion, or politics, or doctrines, or fear or control.
A movement led by the Spirit of God, that no man or woman can get their hands on, is a beautiful and necessary thing.
It’s also inevitable. So, those who try to fight against it are trying to hold back the ocean with a feather.
Ready or not, here it comes.
Keith Giles is a former pastor who left the pulpit 11 years ago to start a church that gives away 100% of the offering to the poor in their community.
His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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