Alright, confession time.
As I recently boarded a plane to Italy, I began reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code…
I know, I know. As a pre-teen evangelical, I promised myself I would never commit the cardinal sin of reading such a blasphemous book. But I mistakenly thought it was set in Rome (not Paris), so I gave it a shot.
Here’s a quote I found quite interesting from the book’s nerdy but awesome (Tom Hanks, ya’ll) protagonist, Robert Langdon:
“[E]very faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith—acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove.”
Wow. That’s some deep stuff—some philosophy that hits hard against my need to always be right.
My experience with church has been this: I was raised as a PK, so I had to be “on” all the time. Even running in the halls as a kid would result in an intervention from the deacons, and with my every move being so scrutinized, I felt more like a Kardashian than the son of a clergyman.
I’ve always loved the Lord, but I was more than happy to head off to my liberal arts university (albeit, Christian) for some time away from the dry religious season of a rough last semester in high school. Hurt too many times, I needed some distance from the family of God.
But at school, after some space to heal, I got plugged in again at a local church and eventually found myself participating in an accountability group and leading a weekly small group in my dorm. I learned that church was more about “doing life with people” and less about performing the letter of the Law flawlessly.
And yet, there still remained the question of doctrine. At my university, I was challenged to look outside my box and ask big questions about my faith. Often this left me more frustrated than I felt I could stand. With so many interpretative differences inside the church, how could I know what to choose to believe? Eventually, I basically adopted a stance Socrates would have been proud of: admitting I ultimately know nothing.
One thing I do know is this: knowing Jesus is so much more about humility than knowing all the answers.
But still answers are important because in the south, I live in a society soaked in the Christian subculture, and I occasionally find myself at odds with it. I am still frustrated at gender bias in the global church. I think Pentecostals focus too much on prosperity, but I think Calvinists focus too much on suffering. I hate how the Church responded the recent World Vision debacle, and I cringe every time I hear someone equate Phil Robertson’s crude comments from last December with “the Gospel.” I think we all talk about “feeding the poor” too much because none of us actually do it. I hate interdenominational spats and heated theological Twitter battles over unresolvable issues.
And I honestly don’t care whether you went to see God’s Not Dead or Noah at the movies or what you thought about it.
But I’m not actually angry at the Church. I just often find myself out of place—too progressive for the Church and too conservative for the world.
Visiting the Roman Colosseum this week, I thought long and hard about the suffering of Christians slaughtered in this ancient arena.
For them, the Church was their lives. It was definitely not a place where you had to have the right answers or pretend you believed everything you are supposed to believe.
For these early believers, church was a place to meet Jesus—the ultimate truth—often through the community of others who also risked their lives to tell of the goodness of God.
No offense to Rome, but after seeing the grandeur of the Vatican, I began thinking about what Jesus—the man who scolded the religious so often—would think about the production we’ve made church.
I think he would turn the temple tables of our insistence to be right, our theological debates that never get anywhere, our hurtful intolerance for one another, and the false idols we have fabricated and propagated.
Then he would turn the table back over, break out some bread and wine, and invite those who don’t have it all figured out to have a seat. In place of religious dogma, he would teach us the message of Ephesians 4:3—finding peace from all life’s questions by choosing to live in unity with our brothers.
There in his sweet company, the disillusioned Church wouldn’t care so much about being right anymore.
Marshall is currently backpacking all across Europe (the lucky guy), having spent the semester abroad on the same trip I went on last year. Read more from him on his blog, The Train of His Robe.