Continuing a series on how to engage someone in a faith crisis. Today I am focusing on the importance of bracing for the long haul as a faith crisis can last years or a person could walk away and not return. This post will explore the issues that the evangelical Christian reaching out to a person in a faith crisis might have to deal with in the process. Plus why its necessary to remain engaged with someone and not walk away. This post will also explore why am I not an atheist? Especially due to Andrew White’s behavior which is discussed due to the topic of this post.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”
Hebrews 12:1 NIV
“Age winkles the body, quitting wrinkles the soul”
Please watch this video from The Thinking Atheist, there is a lot of atheist material I consumed in my faith crisis and over the course of time I am going to discuss it.
Over the past couple of Friday’s I’ve started to explore the following. How would you engage someone who has a faith crisis? What would you do or say? The modern evangelical church has done a horrific job engaging or listening to those who have walked away. I walked away but returned quite different. While I am conservative in many ways I also can’t be easily defined. So I write this as a means to explore what a person should do – if they choose to engage a family member, co-worker, friend, neighbor or someone else who has walked away. In the previous two Fridays I tackled the issues (I believe…) of the importance of growing thick skin, as well as the necessity of unconditional love. Today I am going to look at a faith crisis from the perspective again of an outsider in how a person should approach someone dealing with a faith crisis. In this perspective I believe its necessary to prepare for the long haul and to brace yourself for a situation that could drag out for years. How is a Christian going to act if the situation drags out long term, or if the person walks away never to return? I walked away from the Christian faith for 5 years and honestly I thought I would never return. I thought I was permanently finished.
Long Term Challenges
Like I hinted at above if a person is going to engage someone in a faith crisis they need to do so from a long term perspective. They need to engage with the mindset that this wont take a month, or longer. They need to realize that this can go on for a protracted amount of time. I firmly believe that if a Christian is going to engage someone in a faith crisis and thinks of it from the long term perspective they will be better prepared and more aware of the situation. They will be able to absorb blows, difficult questions and most important they will take the pressure off themselves. They will be better prepared to take on this issue in a more loving and kind way. A person doesn’t fall into a faith crisis overnight and nor do they get out of it overnight – if they get out of it. The person in a faith crisis is dealing with a lot of emotions, doubts, intellectual questions and issues. The person who bolted needs an exceptional amount of patience and love. They also need their space at times. Remember they are not a project…but someone to be unconditionally loved. A person doesn’t resolve issues like theistic evolution or the problem of evil overnight. Plus in all honesty some will not. But people need time to think, digest, and sort out the conflicting information. Its a challenging situation both for the person in a faith crisis and the person on the outside wanting to help.
Problems in Evangelicalism which are Barriers to a Person Wanting to Help…
One of the challenges to a faith crisis actually rests not on the person dealing with the doubt but those or that person trying to engage. That person trying to engage is going to be immersed in some cultural baggage that will make it more difficult for them to engage. What do I mean? Here are some examples…
- Many parts of evangelicalism are based more upon emotions and less on intellectualism. I would suggest to you that people like William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Alister McGrath and CS Lewis are the exceptions to the Christian culture and not the norm. Actually I think what makes individuals like McGrath and Lewis engage so well is that their roots are in atheism. They understand the culture and they also brought with them their intellectual capability to discuss difficult issues which many evangelicals lack. And I want to be clear that I am not trying to put evangelicals down. But many evangelicals are going to have a hard time dealing with a person in a faith crisis or someone who walked away because that person who bolted is more than likely dealing with intellectual and philosophical issues than many Christians are unprepared for or haven’t dealt with themselves. Plus issues like theistic evolution and the problem of evil are heavy, deep and intimidating for many people.
- Another issue I would suggest is how many evangelicals have been conditioned or trained by many ministries or churches in a very cheap way. For example…let me illustrate. I did Campus Crusade for Christ both at Fresno State and Marquette Milwaukee Metro. In Cru we were taught the “4 Spiritual Laws” by Bill Bright. I used to think highly of them and once thought them ingenious and helpful. Today I believe they actually cheapen the Gospel and reduce it to a formula which can short circuit evangelism and discipleship. When a person is trying to reach someone in a faith crisis and has been on a steady diet of evangelism teachings like the 4 Spiritual Laws they have effectively been neutered by the church. The evangelical church really needs a renaissance in both intellect and fresh ideas as many of these ideas don’t work or can be counter to the current problem set. In other words they are the by product of being recycled so frequently over the years.
- And to piggyback on the above bullet point I would suggest that many evangelicals have been taught and trained that faith is quick, easy, and simple. Some evangelicals almost have an “ADD” approach to faith where they expect heaven and earth to move in a few conversations. Their thinking can be..”well if after a couple of months this goes no where I am going to move on….” In reality that kind of approach will more than likely be useless for someone who may take a couple of years to work out theistic evolution, or the doubt that they are struggling with personally. Patience is key and its is often lost.
- Another point to raise is that there are many Christians who can be much more loyal to their tribe than to the greater Gospel message. For some Christians the greater Gospel message gets kicked to the curb and replaced with “will you come to my church…” and evangelism becomes nothing more than tribalism. When I was on the outside of the faith and Andrew White was inviting me to Redeemer Arlington which was Sovereign Grace there were times I honestly wondered….did Andrew White want me to know the Gospel, and the Lord? Or did he want me involved in Sovereign Grace? When I chewed on that issue I couldn’t give myself an answer. I really didn’t know. I had other Christians that also did the same thing. Tribalism is a major sin today that is not discussed.
I raise these points to say that the above issues will backfire on someone trying to reach out to someone in a faith crisis unless they are dealt with. Again I am not trying to be flippant…just up front.
What About Life? And Life Changes?
Okay…so I have explained, well I hope I explained how walking and reaching out to someone in a faith crisis is going to take time…maybe even years, if it happens at all. So what do you do? I mean a lot can change in 5 years. People change jobs, they relocate, they get married, they start families, they are dealing with aging parents, or raising kids. So what do you do? I’m going to propose something different, and I have a gut feeling that many evangelicals are going to dismiss what I am going to say. Again I am not trying to be flippant. The ultimate goal of the Christian life I believe is to worship God and many evangelicals have traded that for other idols. I touched on this a little bit in my Dark Knight post yesterday in hinting the issue of idolatry in evangelicalism. I am going to propose that evangelicals not turn so inward and withdraw…actually I would challenge them to remain engaged in a person during their faith crisis as their life changes. Am I telling the person changing jobs to not have that job be the main priority? No. Am I telling a 31 year old guy with 2 kids to kick his family to the curb so he can engage someone in a faith crisis? No. The family is important. I am calling people to find a balance. You see here is the problem and its something that I need to raise because the effects of withdrawing can be caustic if not spiritually fatal. When you engage someone closely for an extended period of time and get into their life and know them, and then if you decide to suddenly disengage, fracture, or betray the person..the effects on that other person can be traumatic, or at it contribute to their faith crisis or re-enforce it or make their atheism permanent. Should that be the fruit of a Christian? I ask this in all sincerity. Now in my faith crisis I think this is what was so beautiful about how both Scott Van Sweringen and James Crestwood engaged me. I mean consider….Scott Van Sweringen is a deeply busy man. He ran a project at a large Kansas City, Missouri Rescue Mission. He is a Church Elder at his church in Missouri. He’s married and deeply devoted to his wife and against all that was engaged in the adoption process. His hands were full, his time precious, and he was juggling a lot. He could have given me a reason to walk away or say, “Eagle…I want to devote myself entirely to my family…” And he could have…but he didn’t. He still chose to engage from Missouri, call me up, text, email me, etc… I was pretty stunned by how Scott did what he did. I could learn a thing or two from him when it comes to time management skills. Meanwhile then there is James Crestwood. James was busy with his job, his wife, and he was a father and was raising a child. Plus he had another kid on the way. And despite this craziness he still chose to engage and pursue with me many issues. Not just when he lived in Washington, D.C. but also from Salina, Kansas. So it important for a person to remain engaged for the long term. After all it also communicates your love, care, and compassion for a person.
Why am I not an Atheist?
Having explained the need for remaining engaged with someone in a faith crisis, the barriers that exist for the person immersed in the evangelical culture, and what to do when life changes I want to illustrate in closing out this post. In my faith crisis I opened up to and was deeply engaged by Andrew White. Andrew was a co-worker, and an Air Force Captain. He commended me for being honest about my faith crisis. He left notes at my desk encouraging me forward, sent me emails and texts imploring on me not to give up on God. He approached me about having lunches and dinners and kept pursuing me. We fought over Sovereign Grace and as I wrote earlier I often wondered at times if Andrew wanted me to return to the Lord or if in the end he was just peddling his Sovereign Grace church. I do think he cared but I also think he was stuck in the sin of tribalism, to the point of where he couldn’t see his own sin. Despite that he continued to pursue me both during a medical crisis and my father’s brain tumor. That said he also had a hard time with the questions I was asking him. He couldn’t deal with many of them and was either evasive or deferred them. My questions and attitude was harsh and difficult. I am not letting myself off the hook, I pounded him, and I am calling myself out on this issue as well. Remember I was up to my eyeballs in William Lobdell, Seth Andrews, Christopher Hitchens, Greta Christina and many hardcore evangelical atheists. I read, watched, and listened to it so much it heavily influenced my thinking. Hitch calls for clashing with religion and showing contempt and that is exactly what I did. I asked Andrew White hard questions about Calvinism/Reformed theology being nothing but determinism. I asked him about the problems in John Piper’s theology….remember you don’t touch the “Lord’s anointed,” and you don’t ask him how does the Neo-Calvinist/Reformed camp make the problem of evil worse due to the sovereignty being taught. The questions I had overwhelmed him and I never got to discuss Jonathan Edwards, Puritan theology, etc… with Andrew. Yet Andrew White in the end struggled with his faith. He couldn’t deal with the questions. So he did what I wrote about up above. He got deeply into my life then out of insecurity he fractured the relationship and in time focused on recruiting another co-worker to Redeemer Arlington. The fruit of Andrew White’s faith in my life could really should have been atheism. To be so hurt by someone professing how healthy their faith in the Lord is deeply disturbing. In the spirit of John Calvin did Andrew White want me to be the Michael Servetus of Arlington, Virginia? Yes I can’t be burned alive…as a public execution would be illegal in Arlington, but there are other ways to have a similar effect. I’m not trying to be trite or malign him in closing out this post The point I am trying to make is that to engage in someone and suddenly disengage is not something you do. I have to write in the spirit of being transparent this essay is most challenging to myself because I have crossed paths with a couple of people and I am realizing that this is going to be a long term issue and I am going to do what Andrew did in frustration or anger. Thus I’ve stopped reflected, and considered the big picture. There was a lot that Andrew White did The next two essays he is going to figure positively in them for what he did. Next week I will look at the issue of prayer. That will probably be the most intimate journal entry I will write here. Because I am going to be discussing the results of prayer, even Andrew White’s prayer.
I was listening to Celine Dion the other day and I was listening to this song “The Way It is” which I think deals with romantic love. That said I like a couple of other messages about not quitting. So with that I will leave and chew on something to write for Monday. I am glad I got today’s journal entry off my chest. Writing about atheism, my faith crisis, and reliving a difficult life experience is hard….but face it I must. You can’t run from your past..you must face it and deal with it. The best way forward is to step back and face yourself in the mirror.