Sunday, June 10, 2018

Going Deeper

It has been almost two years since I retired from fulltime pastoral ministry, and people still ask me, “How do you like retirement?” My answer is always the same: “I love it!” I love the freedom to explore theological and philosophical matters more deeply.

When I was a fulltime pastor I had to be cautious about what I preached and wrote. That is why very few pastors are prophets – and vice versa. I always weighed the impact of what I said and wrote upon my parishioners and my church. My main concern was “growing the church.”  Theologically that meant reiterating the basics of the Christian faith.

Now someone else can feed the sheep, and I can delve into areas that were too risky to explore before. I can venture into unexplored territory without having to worry about the safety of those following me. I feel the need to ground my faith more firmly on truth. These days it is more important to me to believe what is true, rather than what is PC (politically correct) or EC (evangelically correct.)

So I explored nonduality, and didn’t worry about colleagues accusing me of pantheism or mysticism. My book Experiencing God Directly came out of that experience. I studied atheism, and ended up writing a book praising the New Atheism (Thank God for Atheists.) I propose that God is using the New Atheists as his prophets to speak to his recalcitrant church. That is not popular with religious folks, who tend to think of atheists as the enemy.

Most recently I finished researching and writing a book on the resurrection of Jesus, entitled The Evolution of Easter: How the Historical Jesus Became the Risen Christ. I explore how the story of Easter changed over the course of the first one hundred years of the Christian church. 

I trace the development of the story of the resurrection of Jesus from the early experiences of the apostles to the final writing of the gospels decades later. In the process I read gospels that never made it into the New Testament. In short I dug into earliest Christian history until I hit bedrock. Then I put what I learned into a book.

The questions I ask are too risky for some people to consider. The truths I uncover are unsettling to those trying to keep their childhood religion intact. But I am more interested in what is true than what is safe. I live by Socrates’ maxim:  The unexamined life is not worth living. I let nothing about my religion go unexamined. I am willing to throw any sacred cows into the fire.

In my book Thank God for Atheists I examine the basic premise of theism: Is there really a God?  In my book The Evolution of Easter, I examine the foundational event of Christianity: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? These are dangerous questions. Most Christians will not seriously consider them, for fear of losing their faith.

In the end I have come through this examination of Christianity with a stronger, but more nuanced, faith. In some ways I have become the unconventional thinker that I scorned during my conservative days. In other ways I have become the person of faith I wanted to be in my younger days. In the end I prefer unconventional truth to conventional wisdom. Dangerous truth is always better than prepackaged orthodoxy.

Now I preach with more conviction because what I preach has been tested. I invite you to travel this path. But I warn you, it isn’t easy or popular. As Jesus said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” But it is worth it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I have never felt closer to God than I do now. After all the years of believing what I was told and not thinking for myself it has been just amazing to finally experience true spiritual growth. I have said this before but it truly is better to know the God you experience, than to try and experience the God you think you already know. God bless you brother.