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Being Christian and asking questions

To be a Christian never means that we turn off our brains.

Yme Woensdregt

Some people say that Christians shouldn't question their faith. They claim that our faith was revealed to us, and our only choice is to believe fully what we have been told. If we have doubts, then we're just not trying hard enough. Believers who ask questions are treated as if they were second–class Christians, as if we don't have enough faith.

If there is a conflict between what the Bible says and what modern science tells us, the most extreme form of this attitude suggests that we must believe the Bible and ignore what modern knowledge has learned. If there is any conflict at all, it is to be resolved in favour of the Bible, understood in its most literal way.

Creationists, for example, say that Genesis explains that the world was created in six days, and God rested on the seventh. According to them, any other way of explaining how this universe came into existence is unfaithful. In particular, evolutionary science must be resisted everywhere.

Another example is the teaching that Jesus was born of a virgin. Even if it doesn't make sense intellectually (and it doesn't), you must accept it by faith.

It won't come as a surprise that they consider all other religions to be false, since God has only been revealed to the world in one way. If you don't accept this version of the truth, they say, you will be condemned to an eternity of fierce punishment.

And it goes on and on. These people tell us that their version of the truth is the only way to understand it. They're sorry it's so hard, but they are telling it in love so that we may change our ways, and believe as they do. When we do that, then we will be saved.

It will come as no surprise that I disagree. To be a Christian never means that we turn off our brains. Truth is truth, no matter where it may come from. Science and theology, and all the other avenues of inquiry, have the potential to lead us to truth.

Being a Christian has to do with learning to understand what is important and significant in life. Brian McLaren puts it this way his marvellous book, "Generous Orthodoxy": "To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed and mounted on the wall. It is rather to be in a loving community of people who are seeking the truth on the road of mission, and who have been launched on the quest by Jesus, who, with us, guides us still."

To be a Christian, first of all, is to "be in a loving community of people". Christian is communal through and through. The Bible knows nothing of solitary Christians. "No man is an island," says the great poet John Donne. We live and work together, seeking to "love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and also to love our neighbours as ourselves," as the great commandment puts it. It's not just me and God. It's you and me and you and you and you and God and you. To be Christian is to be in community with others.

Secondly, to be Christian is to be in a community of people "who are seeking the truth". We are always on the way. Life is not static and fixed. Christian life is dynamic and ongoing. We continue to grow in our knowledge and in the way we live out our faithful lives on earth.

Christians are always seeking to discern where God is active in the world today. We add our own voices to the testimony of those who have gone before us. We ask questions and seek new ways of telling the truth as we discern it.

One of my favourite ways of talking about Christian faith is that "Christian faith is not about finding the answer. It's about learning to ask the right questions." It's a journey. It's a process of growing and learning and changing and evolving. We are on a pilgrimage through life, walking with others, humbly seeking the truth wherever we may find it.

As we do so, asking questions is a necessary and critical part of how we live. When we ask questions, we continue to learn and grow. When we ask questions, we imply that others have answers that we may not be aware of. We live together with others who know something of the truth. When we ask questions, we open ourselves again to the mystery of life, and seek to embrace truth and compassion wherever we find it.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook