First in series: Leave Bad Faith. Find Good Faith
I have always been pretty interested in social trends, SLIDE the ebbs and flows of culture, the ways that communities and countries change and evolve over time.
And I have been particularly intrigued by some of the shifts big picture culture wise we have experienced in America over the last 10-20 years.
SLIDE it kinda seems like a lot of attention has been given to some of the more negative trends And There are some things that are not super ideal, like a more divisive and siloed experience of life. We’re Less influenced or less inclined to trust new facts and information. Those things are not so great. But, there have been a ton of other things that I feel particularly encouraged about in terms of trends within wider American culture For me this feeling of encouragement starts with the increasing advocacy for marginalized people in our country. I just look at the me too movement and the growing awareness around issues of sexual misconduct. Although we still have a ways to go, I feel encouraged by how much has changed even over the last few months. I look at the Black lives matter movement - and the growing awareness in our country that not all lives have been treated as equal.
I just look at this last month in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, FL -- and it seems to me that, particularly among young people, there is just a great sense of social awareness and social action. Certainly more than I had when I was younger I think about how - According to a Global Web Index study - We have actually seen for the first time in over 50 years an increase in community involvement We had seen a decline each decade since the 60s in people’s participation in clubs, social groups, churches and other community fostering organizations. Until this decade, with the rise of things like crossfit and other fitness oriented clubs, social clubs, and sports clubs. We have now seen an increase of community involvement. We’ve seen an increase in the percentage of Americans who are going to college An increase in Americans who have access to healthcare. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen an increase in volunteerism. According to several studies done in the last couple years. People are more likely to be pursuing work and careers not just for financial reasons, but because of a desire for their work to matter. We’ve also seen a decrease in things like teen pregnancy, violent crimes, and unemployment. As a pastor, one thing I find interesting is that according to the pew research forum- that among people who identify as non-religious. They are more spiritually inclined than ever.
And as someone that is trying to be spiritual helpful to people, and trying to help people follow Jesus in their lives That all strikes me as quite encouraging as all of that seems to be lined up with the kind of life Jesus leads us into.
However, it is also true that religious identification and church attendance is at an all time low.
SLIDE Strange to me that I see all of these trends that are so Jesus-y, yet Americans are less likely to identify as Christian than ever.
And this trend of America becoming less “Christian”, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not lost on many Christian leaders, thinkers, and writers. I often come across an article, a book, a facebook post, or podcast, where Christian leaders are trying to understand this. And I can sum up the general Christian response to this social trend as “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK!”
There is a strong sense that Christianity is under siege by secular culture in America.
I think of the controversy over the starbucks cups around Christmas. One can only think that a coffee cup is a declaration of cultural war, if they are already primed and ready to think they will be under attack.
I have someone I am pretty close to that did not grow up in or around churches or Christian culture at all. And recently they, pretty much for the first time, found themselves in a setting surrounded by Christians who very firmly place themselves within Christian culture. And my friends impression of this group of Christians was just so on point. They told me that they understand that they might have different beliefs or opinions then themselves, that wasn’t particularly shocking. What was shocking was how persecuted and defensive they seem to feel. That this group which was almost entirely rich and white, legitimately talked and acted as if they were a persecuted and marginalized people because they were Christians.
After hearing my opening perspective on American culture you probably have guessed that I just don’t see it as the enemy of faith in Jesus.
Which I feel is only highlighted all the more when you look at places in the world today, like in parts of Central Asia, where Christians really are persecuted and have real things like violence and imprisonment to fear. My take is that there is actually something self indulgent about how American Christians see themselves as marginalized, rather than people who, even today, hold tremendous power and influence, it allows Christians to feel heroic in a way, not by making changes or moving forward, but by just holding our ground and staying the same.
You see, I would argue that wider secular culture is not to blame for the decreasing influence of Christianity on American culture.
So, what is?
I think it’s complex and not one single thing, but if I had to point to the largest contributing factor to why Americans are less likely to identify as Christian, I would point my finger at the people in American who do identify as Christian. When I look at the history of Christianity or when I talk people who like my friend are not religious, to me, it feel clear that the enemy of faith in Jesus is not secularism or other religions, It’s ugly versions of faith in Jesus.
There is actually a writer and Christian thinker named Brian McLaren SLIDE who argued this very point 15 years ago, when he wrote in his book “finding faith” SLIDE I don’t think the greatest enemy of monotheism is atheism, agnosticism, polytheism, dualism, or pantheism: It is bad monotheism, monotheism carried out in bad faith.
In short, the biggest threat to Christianity, to faith, to religion is... bad religion, religion carried out in bad faith.
What exactly do I mean when I say bad faith? Well, McLaren acutely describes this through a list of descriptors. 8 descriptors of Bad faith and 8 descriptors of Good faith
BAD FAITH DESCRIPTORS
Bad faith is based solely on unquestioned authority.
Accept it because I say so
Bad faith is based on pressure or coercion.
If you don’t want to burn in hell, you better jump on this boat
Bad faith takes advantage of people’s needs for belonging.
You want to connect here and find support & belonging. You are welcome, as long as you agree to with us on everything and act like we want you to act
Bad faith appeals to self-centeredness and base motives.
You’re okay -- it’s “those people over there” that are the problem
Bad faith is arrogant and unteachable.
I already have all the answers, and they fit in my pocket
Bad faith is dishonest.
What me, I have no doubts, no there is nothing about my life or behavior that I should change. I totally have it all together.
Bad faith is apathetic … if my faith produces no action, it cannot be good faith… Interestingly Sometimes this lack of action is covered by a surplus of talk … Sometimes people substitute the active life of faith with the fascinating lore of faith … Bad faith feels like a step backward…. faith that makes me less loving, mature, wise, alive, or responsible sounds to me like bad faith….This insight explains both why some people leave faith and others accept it; in either case, their move into or out of faith is perceived by them as a step UP. I have several friends who left faith, and found themselves to feel happier, freer, less full of shame for it. They talk about leaving faith as one of their most significant steps forward in life. Makes sense SLIDE GOOD FAITH DESCRIPTORS Good faith is humble, teachable, and inquisitive. How can we learn and grow if we if don’t ask questions or admit we don’t know everything Good faith is grateful. I am not here because I feel obligated to be here, I am here because I feel thankful for all I’ve experienced here Good faith is honest. I am not put together, I am not all ok, I have flaws and behaviors that are not ideal Good faith is communal. We learn and grow by doing life with other people who are not like us Good faith is active. It is lived out in the way we treat people, and in the causes and purposes we take up and fight for Good faith is persevering. It is something that can feed us for our whole lives, even through hardship, , it doesn’t just give us a fleeting feeling of passion for one brief season of life Good faith is relational. It is built on actual interaction and connection with God, not intellectual arguments about God Good faith feels like a step forward Meaning I am actually a healthier, more alive, more connected, more mature human being for it
Just take a second, and look at that list. Take a moment and think about what jumps out at you? What experiences of bad faith have you had? What experiences of good?
I am not sure about you, but for me that seems to capture really well almost all of my experiences of faith that left me feeling terrible, that left me feeling hurt, that left me feeling like faith wasn’t for me. And then it also seems to capture why today, following Jesus is the best and most life giving thing in the world to me.
Just to say for a second. I think we can live out bad faith as a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist, a Jew, or anything in between Bad faith finds its way into our lives all over the place, it doesn’t just have to be in churches
But it does strike me that these descriptors seem to totally capture what Jesus was all about
You know, Jesus didn’t rail against the wider culture of his day.
He didn’t declare a culture war against the Roman empire, his life and teachings were certainly subversive and counter cultural in many ways, but he never spent his energy being angry with the Greco Roman world around him.
In fact all of his statements directed at the wider culture were ones of, “You should pay taxes.” You should respect your politicians and pray for them.”
In part, he came to humanity to bring in and include a more diverse cultural representation than the single people group and culture it had been. No, those he railed against, those that he highlighted as the enemy of his message was not the wider secular culture, but rather the bad faith that had gained a strong hold in people like the pharisees.
The religious who had all the right answers, believed all the right things, but did it all in bad faith. I think of the way Jesus rebukes these pharisees in Matthew 23 I’ve shorten this a bit to highlight the ways Jesus’ anger was directed at the bad faith of the pharisees.
Matthew 23 (ESV) SLIDE 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others… 13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte (convert), and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves... 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. SLIDE Hmmm, Amen Jesus!
You know this weekend with Good Friday and today, Easter Sunday,
we celebrate that Jesus brought with himself into death all the iniquity of this world - all the ugly, painful, broken parts of life. All of our shortcomings, and weakness, the things we’ve done and regret, and all the evil done to us.
He took that all, and Easter morning he rose again. He brought new life, resurrected life. He took to death, the time I cheated on my timesheet at work, this dishonest act which I regret, he took to death the power that act has over me to say, I am less worthy, I am bad, and in turn he rose it to new life, speaking forgiveness and grace, killing the power that regret has to make me doubt my worthiness He took to death - The character flaw of mine to justify my behavior even when I hurt other people, He took to death the shame I feel about this, and the power it has to steal my sense of belonging and worthiness, and he raises me to new life experiencing the grace and help to not justify myself next time, but also knowing that I am loved and embraced regardless. And he took to death the time when I was told by a pastor that my doubt or lack of faith was to blame for why my prayer for help went unanswered. He took to death the hurt and shame that I felt, he took to death the lie that communicated about his love for me, he took to death the anger I felt towards that pastor, and in turn he brought new life. He brought me healing from my hurt, an outlet for my anger, truth to replace that lie. He brought me love, and belonging and worthiness.
I believe Jesus was and is bringing to death bad faith. In many ways, the whole reason he came to humanity and died and was raised again, was to destroy the Bad Faith that had developed in the religious people of that day like the pharisees in the passage we just read, and in turn make pursuing God and living in bad faith untenable with each other.
For in Jesus death and resurrection he removed from the whole equation any suggestion that we have to merit or earn God’s favor And instead he shows us God is a God of freedom, and healing, and love.
In Jesus’ death and resurrection, he ended the cycle of violence that demands we scapegoat others to save ourselves -- instead he willingly sacrifices himself and teaches us to do the same. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are invited to see that our path to life, our path to joy and purpose and belonging and acceptance is found in humility and surrender, it’s found in a laying down and dying to ourselves In Jesus’ death and resurrection we see a removal of power from the religious leaders and functionaries, meaning people no longer have to rely on those with high religious status to connect and interact with God, and can rather connect with the resurrected and living God directly In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see a siloed religion of a single people group being opened up and made available for all people, from all religious and cultural backgrounds.
In Jesus’ death and resurrection, he exposed the lies of overly-certain and overly-tidy theologies that hurt people, and invites us into real life -- which is not tidy and is often full of doubt, but can nonetheless be shot through with the presence of God -- because death doesn’t have to have the final word; there is resurrection!
So, here at BLV, our promise to you is that in everything we do, we will try to do it in good faith -- SLIDE in the good faith of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. This means that we will never rail against some enemy “out there”, or teach you how to defend your faith from the invading secular forces. We believe that the greatest threat to your experience of faith is not out there, but in here. We want to be a community that lives and breaths good faith. We want to give you the support and freedom and help to live a life that is like Jesus. That is... humble, teachable, and inquisitive. grateful. honest. communal. active. persevering. relational.
I think Jesus has some death and resurrection on the table for us today. Perhaps it’s the kind of death & resurrection I have experienced personally- over something we’ve done that we regret, or something about ourselves that provokes shame, or maybe healing for a hurt we’ve experienced
Or maybe Jesus wants to put to death any way that we either are living bad faith, or have been hurt by bad faith, And in turn he want to bring us to new life in good faith.