Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church

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Defensiveness Is Not A Virtue

The Modern age has been good to Christians.

Modernity has, for the most part, been very hospitable to Christianity. It emphasized things like the scientific method, objectivity, logic, and absolute truth. Christianity has a lot to offer a world that thinks this way. Apologists from C.S. Lewis to Josh McDowell have used these concepts to argue for the existence of God, the validity of the Bible, and the uniqueness of Christianity. Many Christians have been equipped through the works of these and others to be able to defend their faith if they should ever be called on to do so.

My generation was born and raised as society was going through a shift from modernism to postmodernism. Our teachers and parents, concerned about the rejection of absolute truth, taught us apologetics from an early age. We know how to respond to the toughest of questions, what the weaknesses are in postmodern thinking, and why atheism takes more faith than Christianity.

In many ways, this is good. I’m certainly not speaking against studying, against logic, or against using our brain. But it has now caused a different problem in the church: We’ve become a church full of defensive people.

1 Peter 3:15 is often cited to prove why it is “necessary” for every Christian to know what, and why, they believe and be ready to give “a defense” for their faith. While it was never said explicitly (at least not to me as I grew up), it was implied that those who didn’t study and prepare to defend their faith were disobeying God.

We have acted as if our faith is on trial in a courtroom, and we are all defense lawyers.

We act like the Bible is on trialHere’s the main problem: 1 Peter 3:15 is not talking about giving intellectual or legal arguments for Christian beliefs. 1 Peter was written to a group of Christians that was going through intense persecution by Nero. By saying “Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you,” Peter wasn’t saying “Be ready to give evidence for why Christianity is true.” He was saying, “Be ready to let people know why you still have hope and joy in the midst of persecution!”

By focusing on on defending propositions about faith instead of sharing why our faith gives us hope, we have created a culture of Christians who are always on guard and easily offended by what they perceive to be attacks on truth. Perhaps I see this more as a blogger (certainly, the internet seems to magnify what are sometimes smaller flaws in culture), but I think that it’s something we all need to be careful of.

God does not need us to be His defense lawyers.

And when we act like He does, we inadvertently cause pain and harm to the Body of Christ. We try to explain away the concerns of those who are asking genuine questions without being willing to sit with them in the tension.

Sometimes “I don’t know” is the best answer.

We hurt Christian unity when we automatically assume that anyone who has a different perspective from us is promoting dangerous ideas, without first being willing to ask questions and have a conversation.

Jesus said we would be known by our love.

We do the world a great disservice when we act like Christianity has nothing to offer a postmodern generation. Sometimes winning a person over to Christ is not done by explaining the truth (or defending the concept of truth), but showing the truth through our works of faith.

Defensiveness is not a virtue.

I speak to myself as much as you. As a former competitive debater, I know how to use logic to rip others’ arguments to shreds. But the Jesus I find in the Bible didn’t do that. Jesus was humble, not defensive. And according to 1 Peter 3:15, that’s the attitude we need to have when we share the reason for our hope–with gentleness and respect.


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What Nobody Told Me (On Changing Opinions)

Nobody told me my views needed to change.

I used to think I knew everything. Of course, I knew I didn’t know everything, but I thought I pretty much had all the important stuff down. Stuff like God and the Bible. Stuff like the purpose of government and what criteria was important in choosing who got my vote. Stuff like what a godly dating relationship should look like, which denominations followed the Bible and which didn’t, and how to tell whether someone was really a Christian or just a “nominal” one.

This was not (solely) the fault of the ones who taught me as I grew up. I was an incredibly black-and-white person who, once she thought she had figured something out, was pretty closed off to considering the idea that she might be wrong. And I grew up in a Christian sub-culture than tended to reinforce that closed-mindedness. Now, I was told that just because someone might vote for democrats or baptize infants didn’t mean they weren’t a Christian. But it never occurred to me that people might do these things after much thinking, prayer, and reading of the Bible.

I left for college among a chorus of voices telling me to stand strong for the faith, not to let liberal professors sway me, and not to check my brains at the door.

Thank God I met people who opened my eyes to how limited my views were.

People like Trisha and Elizabeth and Stephanie (who were Catholic! Horrors!), people like Josh (who was Anglican), people like Preston (who was southern bapto-angli…what?). Through Preston’s blog, I “met” other people online who continued to challenge my thinking. People like Rachel Held Evans. People like Elizabeth Esther. People like Dianna Anderson (who is a feminist! More horrors!).

I owe so much to these people. They exposed me to other viewpoints. They helped me to realize just how closed-minded I really was, how I was viewing a world full of colors in only two shades: black and white. They showed me how to see people as individuals who had stories, not just collections of ideas. They showed me how many things I once thought were essential really weren’t, how to hold my views loosely, and how to live in the tension of embracing “I don’t know.”

Nobody told me how scary watching my own views change would be.

A lot of my views have changed over the last couple of years. I used to be solidly complementarian, now I identify as egalitarian. I no longer consider myself a calvinist (though I don’t identify as arminian, either). I used to think that Genesis explicitly taught that the world was created in 6 literal 24-hour days. Now I’m not quite so sure (even though I still tend toward that view). I recently accepted the fact that it’s probably accurate to call myself a feminist. And even in the areas where I haven’t really changed my views (I still pretty strongly identify as a libertarian, for example), I’ve started to actually recognize, and even identify with, some of the rationale for other viewpoints.

And sometimes, this scares me.

I sometimes wonder whether I’m failing to stay strong. I wonder if maybe I was right all along, and am allowing myself to be influenced by “unChristian” voices. Sometimes, when I feel most vulnerable, these new ideas feel like something foreign is inside my body, inside my head (this may sound strange to many of you, but I’m the type of person who experiences non-physical things physically). Sometimes, these new ideas feel like unwelcome parasites. I occasionally find myself wanting to bang my head against the wall and yell “Get out!”. Or drink some nasty herbal concoction that purges parasites from the system. Or whatever it is you would do to get rid of ideas that may or may not signal that you haven’t been a strong enough believer.

Nobody told me God would be here.

I’ve always viewed God in very black-and-white terms. God is this; He isn’t that. The idea of God being mysterious was just another way to say, “We don’t know yet.” It’s not until recently that I’ve discovered a God who reveals Himself differently to people depending on where they are, who purposefully keeps some things hidden, who asks us to walk by faith and not by sight.

I’ve discovered that God is not in my boxes. He’s not in my logical syllogisms. He’s not in my systems of categorization, not in my labels, not in my certainty.

I still believe in truth, but I’m starting to realize that God is often found in the gray spaces where the truth isn’t obvious.

Since nobody told me, I’m here to tell you: your specific beliefs don’t define if you have a relationship with God. There’s a good chance your views will change. It will be scary, but God is there.

We truly walk by faith, not by sight.