12/14/2013 | Share this article: View CommentsBy William Cheriegate ~
I have always been a skeptic, I have not always been a good student. When I became a Christian, I joined in with a thankful heart. I was deeply touched by the love of God and the welcoming by the christian family. It happened at a good Baptist church with a loving pastor. I experienced good friendships and started growing in my christian faith. I never really wondered about theology.
A few years later I had a spiritual experience and eventually joined a more charismatic church down the street. I started feeling more connected with God and his people. The theology was more Pentecostal than before but, again, I never worried much about it. More good friendships developed, one of them led to marriage. Then the children were born.
Early on I used to read a few books now and then which tickled my early theological curiosity, but it wasn't until around the year 2000 that I started wondering about the faith I had been in for many years. Most of the experiences had been helpful, some profound. But there was something which had been bugging me for awhile, something wasn't quite right with the story I had been told. Something wasn't making sense. I never really doubted the genuine reality of my personal experiences, how it changed my life and profoundly touched my heart, still, there was something nagging within.
So I embarked on a journey of discovery, a journey of understanding. I bought my first 600-page theological book, started waking up at 5am, and jumped in.
These very long and deep books eventually brought me back to the Gospels, I read and re-read the four canonical Gospels from beginning to end, again and again. That's when that sense of something not being quite right became even more apparent. There was a problem with the story of Jesus I had been told, and it was beginning to unravel.
I had already been traveling down the historical/theological road from the 20th Century backwards to the 1st Century, stopping by all the major events since the story of Jesus. I was trying to remove the peels of Christianity one by one to find out what was at the center of it all. The first revealing clue was by the master Christian historian and world-renown author N.T. Wright. In his writings I was finally introduced to the Jesus of history as opposed to the Jesus of my Christianity. I started living in that 1st Century, hoping to grasp the words of Jesus as if two thousand years of history and Christian theology did not yet exist.
Among many other things I learned about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. I understood that the warnings of Jesus and the many parables actually had that destruction in mind. So rather than seeing Jesus speaking to a generation in the 20th Century, I begun to first see Jesus speaking to the generation of the 1st Century. Now it was beginning to make some sense.
Personal Revelation #1:
The end of all things Jesus spoke about was not the end of the world as we know it, but the end of their world. When Jerusalem fell, their world imploded. The warnings of Jesus had that destruction in mind.
I then began to notice that the Jesus presented in the first three gospels and the Jesus presented in the book of John seemed very different. Later I learned that Mark was indeed the first gospel, that 90% of it was used by Matthew then 50% of it by Luke. Years had passed from the real accounts when the gospel were written so that when John was eventually composed it was far removed from the actual stories.
Personal Revelation #2:
There is a vast difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The Kingdom of God Jesus initially spoke about ended up becoming Christianity, not later in history but within the New Testament itself.
Whatever we may think of the apostle Paul, he seems to have shaped what eventually became Christianity a lot more than Jesus, though popular Christianity eventually re-interpreted Paul through the lens of Reformed Theology down to our day. What goes on today as the Good News has a lot more to do with popular theological understandings of Paul than the Jesus of history.
Personal Revelation #3:
There was a growth of Christology, from the future to the past. Son of Man at Second Coming, Enthroned as Lord at Resurrection, Adopted as Christ at Baptism, Savior at Conception, Incarnated God-man at Incarnation. Pre-existent God before Creation.
Eventually I realized that the Evangelical theology we have inherited was but one of the voices in the Seminaries, mixed in with various flavors of Reformed, Pentecostal and other traditions. There were other very important traditions though not as popular.
Personal Revelation #4:
There are various flavors of Christianity, from Fundamentalism to Liberalism. Correspondingly, there are various theories of the Atonement from Penal Substitution to Moral Influence.
So I then began re-reading the Old Testament and actually started paying very close attention to the stories, as an outsider. I was now noticing not just the inside of Noah's ark, for example, but the catastrophe outside. I began to wonder what God was doing during the 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Why He seemed so angry so often. I began noticing the carnage, the number of people God had killed. Why they were so obsessed with blood. There are dozens and dozens of stories found in the Jewish Testament which, if made into 10-minute videos, would leave the believer gasping for air. I wondered how many truly realized these concepts of God from the Bronze Age. I also realized that the horrors of the Old Testament could not be reconciled with the main thrust of the message of the historical Jesus found in the New Testament.
Personal Revelation #5:
The Hebrew Bible is not a book of theology but the odyssey of a people, the images of God therein were shaped by the believers themselves.
So I began to re-imagine the concept of God as I had originally understood, both from the Christian church and culture at large. I learned about the roots of the Jewish writings and the corresponding cultures of its early years in Mesopotamia. The compilation of the Jewish Testament was far from being just a complex narrative of events from Genesis on, but scholarship had previously revealed a much different construction of these books, which of course is not as welcomed in Evangelical circles.
Personal Revelation #6:
God begun evolving from human ideas originating 14,000 years ago and didn't become the one God of Monotheism until about 600 years before Christ. The Bible is not a divine product but the product of two ancient communities, biblical Israel and early Christianity.
Eventually my slippery road led me face to face with modern-day atheists like Christopher Hitchens, author of the now infamous book "God is Not Great". I have watched innumerable hours of his YouTube debates with the most famous christian apologists of our day. Few local evangelical pastors have been Seminary-trained, most just go to a Bible College. But the major apologists, I thought, these top of the world professionals surely would have the best answers.
Personal Revelation #7:
The arguments from Christian apologists seemed no longer convincing and far from satisfying, I was surprised and at times embarrassed by their responses.
There came over time, slowly, when I could no longer just believe the platitudes, the promises, the requirements, the contradictions, the corruption and the sheer theater of our favorite doctrine and traditions. Yes we are living in post-modern times, yes the meta-narratives are being deconstructed, yes we now live in a post-Christian era. I'm not motivated or influenced by this, my journey has been a personal theological journey trying to make sense of it all, it's a journey of others as well, people who are experiencing a sort of de-conversion.
" All I've been trying is to slowly crawl out of the roots of my indoctrination which kept me from straying too far from established boundaries, my own struggles against a growing cynicism and skepticism, an uncomfortable splinter of doubt just beneath the skin that was becoming more difficult to ignore ... My end-goal is simply to find the truth. I stopped assuming and broke the chain of inherited belief through reason, curiosity and common sense. I began thinking for myself. "
It's been an arduous but amazing trip down theology lane. I've gone from Arminianism to Reformed to Pentecostal to Charismatic to Cults and World Religions, all the way down to Early Nicene Fathers to Palestine and the Roman occupation. Then all the way further down to the beginning of recorded human history and the evolution of Canaanite Polytheism ... I'm tired ... but I'm happy.
If you want a more detailed video version from a similar traveler you can search for Evid3nc3 on YouTube. His conclusions are not the same as mine but the journey is close enough, and he happens to be a master video communicator. And yes, I do feel like a tired lion in a den of Daniels.
John Shelby Spong:
"Suppose we change our God definition, suppose we take God out of the sky and strip God of the supernatural power, which we have created and placed upon this divine being. And suppose we begin to think of God as the presence at the very heart of life.
If God is the source of life, as I believe God is, then God is present in all living things; in you, and in me, in all created order. And if God is the source of life, then the only way you worship God is by living, giving life away, sharing it fully.
If God is the source of love, which I believe God is, then the only way you can worship God is by loving, not by being right, but by loving, by loving wastefully.
Let the water of God fill every crack in every creature, to abundance, never wondering if the cracks deserve this love.
If God is the Ground of All Being, as I believe God is, then the only way you and I can worship is by having the courage to be all that we can be, in the infinite variety of our humanity. Everyone has something to offer in our own way, nobody else can offer what you have to offer. And the only way you can worship God is by daring to be all that you can be, never being bound by fears of yesterday."
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