Reading back through this post is really interesting. In many ways it was a culmination of a lot of the thinking I’d been doing since moving on from ministry in The Salvation Army. I think it may have even grown out of our experience of church life over the four or five years after that movement too, as we spent time amongst many who seemed to be very certain about so many things.
One thing that leaps off the page is where I wrote about a move away from statements of faith or doctrine defining what it meant to be a Christians, towards embracing the kind of values that marked a follower of Jeus, and as such, a community orientated around that concept of follower-ship. This was clearly important, as over the next few years I (along with dear friends), would start to develop some values we felt a community should exhibit if it was serious about this whole faith thing.
What I was reacting against, I think, were the type of doctrine statements that I had grown up with, been enrolled to as a junior and senior ‘soldier’, and then ordained as a minister to keep and promote. Theses statements are, in a way, incredibly helpful, as they attempt to define and articulate what our faith actually means. They provide us with a sense of unity and certainty, an idea of what you need to believe to be in. But the they’re also deeply flawed, in that what they attempt to explain is, by its very nature, inexplicable.
Words cannot properly convey the mystery that we’re engaging with – although this shouldn’t ever stop us from trying to make sense of it all. In a way words in doctrine statements can end up limiting our imagination, restraining us rather than liberating and empowering us. They can make us think that we’ve got it all figured out, when perhaps we’re only just beginning. They can even begin to tell God what God can and can’t be or do – a seemingly ridiculous concept!
I don’t want to advocate a world in which we can’t talk about this stuff, in fact, I’d want to be part of a community where the constant exploration of these ideas would be at the centre. A place informed by the past experiences of our brothers and sisters over the centuries and united with our own, where together we constantly reinterpret our faith to make sense of our past, present and future. This calls for a much more serious engagement with ideas, a rejection of a culture in which you’re told what to believe – or more likely, what not to.
Imagine a community which embraced diversity of ideas, where we all learned from each other, recognising that we are all theologians, not just the experts or professionals.
I’m still excited by this concept, and find myself drawn deeper into faith by embracing this uncertainty and listening to different voices. If God’s image is in each of us, don’t we each have something unique to contribute that would be sorely missed if not shared?
So, for me, belief is a tentative thing, and yet somewhere that I find great comfort. Belief helps me make sense of what I see, feel and think. It inspires and transforms me, leading me, I hope, to be a better husband, father, son, brother and friend.
Belief cannot be simply summed up by neat sound bites – and that excites me. Complexity is a beautiful thing, and yet at heart of it all lies the most simple of steps – that of deciding that it’s worth exploring after all.
When we take that first step…well, who knows where it might lead.