For me, one of the biggest problems facing the faith today is a lack of integrity. I’m not talking about the total lack of integrity in the pedophile priest scandals, although that is clearly a major problem. And I’m not implying that we are all a bunch of liars trying to trick people into believing in Jesus. But I do think we are, by and large, lacking intellectual integrity in our faith. In other words we make claims about the faith that are not intellectually honest either because we choose to ignore a particular problem or set of facts or because we pretend that the other side (usually sides) of the issue doesn’t exist. This type of integrity is incredibly important when it comes to sharing the Gospel, particularly in an age of information when anyone can see for themselves when we bury our heads in the sand or ignore the different voices of Scripture. We can and must engage the complexities of the faith. God didn’t give us a brain by accident. He intended us to use it for His glory. Doing so is an act of worship.
Now, obviously there are doctrines that will never completely satisfy our reason: Trinity, incarnation, virgin birth, even the existence of God. But this is not an excuse to ignore or out right deny the “facts” when they are staring us in the face.
You see this most clearly in the never ending “debate” between science and religion and in particular, of course, evolution. We feel comfortable accepting the theory of gravity even though the Bible doesn’t affirm it (see Jesus walking on water or Jesus ascending to heaven), but we are repulsed by evolution despite the monumental amount of scientific evidence supporting it. Even though the idea of 6 day creationism is an entirely new idea that the church has never held until past century or so (see Augustine – The Literal Interpretation of Genesis among others), we have convinced ourselves that it is damnable to believe otherwise. In fact we have gone to great lengths to create an alternative church history to support a “literal” reading of Genesis. We are left then with either being labled a “heretic” or making a convoluted argument for an unnecessary 6 day creationism that breaks all the known laws of the universe and thus makes the Author of those laws a liar.
We also lack integrity when we talk about the centerpiece of faith: Jesus. Perhaps more than anything else in our faith, Jesus has become so twisted and customized that He is barely recognizable when we actually take the time to read the entirety of the gospels instead of a few cherry picked passages. He has, in short, been largely reduced to two different personages: “Jesus the conqueror” who demands obedience and will one day destroy everything in His path or “warm fuzzy Jesus” who doesn’t really care what you believe or how you live your life so long as you will sit by the campfire and sing kumbaya with the rest of the world. The truth, as it so often is, is somewhere in between. Despite our best wishes, or even our most heart felt beliefs we see not just these two images of Jesus in New Testament, but several more as well. And if we really want to be serious about our faith then we have to acknowledge and wrestle with the reality that as part of the Triune Godhead Christ was involved in all of that messy Old Testament “stuff” too.
Like Jesus Himself, the Gospel He proclaimed has been hijacked and transformed beyond recognition. It, like Jesus, has largely been reduced to one message (getting to heaven) with two options (everybody or just a few). Once again, like Jesus Himself, the Gospels can be used to support either side. But if we want to know the full power of the Gospel we again have to acknowledge and wrestle with the diversity of its voice. The same Gospel that calls us to love our enemies and eat with sinners also tells us that Jesus came to divide brother against brother and separate the sheep from the goats.
Let me stop for a moment and be clear. I’m am not advocating one position over another. (Except in the case of evolution) In fact, I think that it is this very division between “camps” that perpetuates the problem. Whatever claim you make people automatically put you in the “conservative” or “liberal” camp, or “fundamentalist” or “heretic”. There really is no listening to a sustained argument. Once the first statements are made we decide for the person where they belong. But the faith, like most things in life, isn’t nearly that easy. As one of my college professors used to say “The answer isn’t always “A” or “B”. Often times it’s “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D”.” This isn’t an argument for some form of “postmodern relativism”. It’s an acknowledgement of the truth. There’s nothing simple about the God we worship or the Gospel we proclaim. If we are to have any integrity in our presentation of the Gospel and be faithful to its calling then we must be open and honest about the diversity and complexity that lies within it.
I think this refusal, or perhaps inability, to deal with the complexity of the faith comes primarily from 2 places: fear and laziness. It should come as no surprise that we fear what we do not understand. This is often what prompts our refusal to acknowledge and engage other voices. But there is another form of fear that seems to very pervasive as well, the fear that God or the faith will somehow be disproved through our engagement with “the other side.” For some reason we feel the need to defend God from the world, as if God and the Gospel aren’t strong enough to stand up to the Richard Dawkinses of the world without our help. This stems, no doubt from the unspoken assumption that faith is fundamentally about proving something or agreeing to a set of doctrines. It’s not. God has done just fine for Himself long before we walked this earth and He will continue to survive without us and our defense of Him. The Gospel, despite our constant fear of it losing its “relevance” in the modern world, has managed to survive two thousands years of “modern worlds” while still maintaining it’s relevance. We can had should engage the world around us without fear that we or God will somehow be “proven wrong.”
Finally, I think that is our laziness as much as our fear that contributes to the intellectual dishonesty of our faith. Even if we do not fear the critiques of the outside world, we often don’t engage either our faith or the world around us enough to know what those critiques may be. There is no Christianity without discipleship and that discipleship requires hard work. This doesn’t mean that we are all called to be systematic theologians but it does mean that we have a responsibility to know and articulate the story of faith, and when we come to a place where we don’t know how to respond to a problem when need to develop the humility to ask someone more spiritually mature than ourselves or, God forbid, admit that we don’t know the answer. It’s hard work and it will take time, but as the old cliche goes, the best things always do.
The point is this: the God we serve and the Gospel we proclaim are beautifully diverse. It’s not easy, but God has given us the tools to wrestle with this diversity; not “solve it”, but wrestle with it. Yes this diversity leads to tension, but that’s not always a bad thing. We must learn to live in that tension if we are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with integrity.