There is some core teaching I’ll go hard with, but there is plenty that is either negotiable, mysterious or just plain incomprehensible. That would have scared me when I was 20.
As my kids get older they ask me questions that I once knew the answers to, but now am not so sure about. That’s difficult because at their stage in life and faith they need fairly black and white answers and I see shades of grey far more easily. I refuse to give them trite answers to complex questions.
It was nice to be certain and assured of my responses and a part of me would like to go back there, but 52 years of life has left me with plenty of questions that aren’t easily resolved. In fact if I weren’t a Christian today then I doubt I’d have much chance of finding my way to faith. I seriously doubt you could put me in an Alpha course and have me pop out the other side convinced and converted.
That said I know the ‘reasons for faith’ and I could present them to you. Plenty of them have strong currency, but I subscribed to them when I wanted to believe. I ‘bought’ them when I was growing up in a Christian community. I think now I’d try to poke holes in them and I’d find a flaw in every piece of reasoning and use that to hold all belief systems at arms length.
I’m a natural skeptic and questioner, so things I just took as ‘gospel’ earlier in my life I have been revisiting and asking ‘what do I think now?’ And that’s a trickier question when you get paid money to be (at least somewhat) sure of things and to lead people to a strong place in faith.
What its helped me grasp is that there are few people out there just waiting to be intellectually convinced of faith (sorry ‘Case for Christ’ fans). I became a Christian largely because the ‘data made sense’ – the ‘numbers added up’ and I couldn’t refute the evidence (but I was also unconsciously being strongly formed by the Christian community I was in). It was the Josh McDowell / apologetics era, but much of what I took on board then is still valuable in holding a reasonable faith.
However in a world where there are so many competing ideas I don’t think people are chasing a ‘reasonable faith’. I don’t think many people are waiting for someone to hit them with a killer argument for the gospel.
Rather I sense that the difference will be encounters with God that have undeniable potency – prophetic insights, experiences with the divine that send chills down the spine – inexplicable love and grace. If faith is all down to logic and reason then I think we are fighting a losing battle.
But because my faith has been formed in a community, where I have experienced God repeatedly and also heard stories of his actions, I have a much harder time when it comes to letting go of my belief system. I would have to deny or re-interpret so much of my life experience.
As I’ve pondered how we approach evangelism in this climate it has led me to consider that the keys will be the supernatural experiences / divine encounters that give people a context in which to consider the ‘evidence’. I’ve begun praying for people more – and telling them I’m praying for them. It certainly opens up conversation and allows for God to do his thing. In that context there has been opportunity to speak of how I see the world – of how I see Jesus.
I’m sure there is still a place for well formed apologetics, but it seems that for every answer there is an equal and opposite response. I don’t really know how to do it, but reclaiming a faith that is more spine chillingly supernatural may just be a foothold in a slippery world.