Statement of purpose
by Steve Douglas
The direct target of this blog is primarily the intellectual or otherwise thoughtful Christian. Indirectly I have in my sights the average Christian and, eventually, the interested agnostic. I don’t expect either of the latter to get much from this blog itself, but what I’ve seen is that intellectual Christians holding water for a decidedly unreasonable form of our religion confirm and shore up the ignorance of the more average Christian, and that both of these hurt the cause of our being salt and light for those who are seeking God or sharing our goals of good stewardship of the earth and our future.
One of the chief intents of this blog is to get Christians to analyze their positions and to step outside the Christian bubble formed around them by their faith communities so they can identify shortcomings in their subjectively acquired and affirmed beliefs. It’s a call for a sanity check.
Unfortunately, both typical committed atheists and conservative Christians will mistake anyone standing in between those groups for someone standing on the other side. But reality sees no distinction between atheists and Christians: it barrels along through whatever stands there, and I take it as a responsibility (maybe even a calling) to see that Christians don’t take it for granted that they are the ones waiting on the station platform instead of standing perilously on the tracks.
The Christian faith lays many stumbling blocks before the would-be believer. It’s not easy to believe the gospel for several reasons, e.g. the unattractive requirements to submit to God and deny oneself. Unbelievers don’t need any more obstacles than are inextricably embedded in the gospel itself. As someone familiar with academia, I am well aware that the “life of the mind” type of unbeliever is the most keenly aware of those difficulties and the most likely to decline a closer look at the faith because of them. Yeah, some have already made up their minds and, barring some miraculous experience, will not look any closer; I have no intention of surrendering the balance of them to separation from God, just because they are using their God-given faculties of reason and rejecting Christianity because of false beliefs attributed to the faith at large. As Augustine put it,
If [non-Christians] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?
If you were going to have heart surgery and you were given the opportunity to choose your doctor from a line-up of surgeons, would you choose one of those who look and speak as though they graduated from a respectable medical school or the one standing there with a clown suit on, blowing his klaxon horn and silently guffawing at the monkey on his shoulder? I daresay I know who I’d choose. Only if he were the last one there and I were in a crisis situation would I submit myself to the clown’s care. I’m here to rub the makeup off the Christian, to remove the red nose and oversized shoes, to send the monkey on its way, and to teach the clown how to showcase his actual expertise.
Will people choose the Christian “doctor”? Heck if I know; we still wear brightly colored clothing and talk sorta strange – there are some idiosyncrasies in the Christian faith that are inherent and cannot, should not, be removed. In the end, it really is the Holy Spirit working through our relationships that usually brings home the gospel to the heart of the unbeliever, but this sometimes cannot take place until after we have “become all things to all men, so that by all means [we] might save some.” One of those “things” I am seeking to become is an intellectually circumspect Christian, and my target group of “all men” is the academic type whose common sense screams for him to reject the gospel of the clown as he would a disreputable scientist’s research.
If apology (in the classical sense) were not important, Paul needn’t have bothered with his sermon on Mars Hill. He could have railed like the Fundamentalist, “All your gods are imaginary! Turn or burn!” Instead, he made a conscious choice not only to show Christianity as apprehendable by reason but even to present it as not wholly incompatible with a pagan religion, or at least to accentuate the points of commonality. Contrary to the accusations sometimes leveled against me, I am not a compromiser: I love the truth too much to make concessions to lies just because it makes Christianity seem more palatable. But before I write off unbelievers as hard-hearted or “vessels of destruction”, I will make darn sure that I have examined whether all the stumbling blocks lying in their way are necessary stumbling blocks.
As I expressed at the onset, it’s as likely as not that this approach will fail to impact the non-academic directly. But I am altogether unwilling to stand there and tell an educated, thoughtful unbeliever that he has to swallow a camel when he only has to open wide enough for a Shetland pony. I want to remove all unnecessary obstacles between the sick and their remedy. I trust God will take them from there. I think it’s easier to meet needs and draw the non-academician to faith because they more readily see their need; reaching the lost who don’t know they’re lost is a harder job with fewer results, but for some Christians who feel called, there is no option to ignore the work. Add to this the necessity to educate and “undeceive” other Christians so that they don’t continue to propagate incorrect beliefs that are turnoffs to unbelievers, and I’ve got my work cut out for me. That’s why I am spending time critiquing creationism for example, which I honestly believe to be an unnecessary hindrance to the educated.
My pursuit is not to justify Christianity to anyone, because intellectual assent does not bring anyone into relationship with God. In the end, the intellectual doesn’t come to surrender himself to God in a way significantly different than the more average Joe. But I look to instances such as the conversion of C.S. Lewis and recognize that some seekers really do have show-stopping intellectual misgivings that are based in misunderstandings, the removal of which frees the mind from any offense so that one might well mollify one’s conscience without scandalizing the mind.
This blog is geared toward that front of the battle. It’s not as though I really have a stadium full of readers or anything; I’m just one guy trying to figure some things out and inviting interested parties to come along, contribute, and hopefully learn something, too. I don’t expect perceptions of Christianity to be solved through a small band of lone ranger ambassadors to the Dark Side like myself and my visitors. For one thing, it’s no good trying to change the perception of Christendom’s critics so that they stop assuming that our religion as a whole embraces inaccurate beliefs about reality while the fact remains that most of Christendom does embraces inaccurate beliefs about reality! That’s a task, but somebody’s gotta give it a shot.
I’m convinced it’s worth the effort. The ethics Christ taught and expected from his followers are shared by most people of conscience and good will. And although we may share baseline concerns with unbelievers, I would love for as many as possible to experience the peace I have had in surrendering myself to my God and submitting myself to His Fatherhood.