“The scholar never fully knows in advance where his line of thought will lead him. For the Christian to undertake scholarship is to undertake a course of action that may lead him into the painful process of revising his actual Christian commitments, sorting through his beliefs, and discarding some from a position where they can any longer function as control. It may, indeed, even lead him to a point where his authentic commitment has undergone change. We are profoundly historical creatures.”
(Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion, 2nd Edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984, 1999 Reprint, pp. 96 and 97. [my apologies for the patriarchal language])
If you don’t know who Nicholas Wolterstorff is, let us all pause for a moment to personally welcome you to the twenty-first century and the world of high-octane contemporary Christian thought (click here). And I like it when smart people agree with me (or I with them, whatever).
Stretching your mind may lead you to revise what you believe.
Wolterstorff is talking about Christian scholarship, but his comment holds for all Christians who undertake a serious and honest study of their faith, the world around them, and how in heaven’s name the two can get along.
Some of us (show of hands, please) are more apt to explore our faith than think of ways of preserving it. Our intellectual exploration is unavoidably wrapped up in our own spiritual growth. The two work together. Our minds may challenge our faith, but to do the latter without the former is unthinkable—like asking a carpenter to stop using nails and screws.
Sometimes thinking clearly and deeply changes what you believe, and that does not make baby Jesus cry. Neither does it cue the seventh trumpet of judgment or kick over the seventh bowl of God’s wrath in the Book of Revelation.
Some of us are just made that way. And God can handle it.
Maybe the process of change Wolterstorff describes isn’t the big problem the church has to avoid at all costs. Maybe it helps the church.
Maybe changing our minds on some things—even on points where our “authentic commitment undergoes change”—is part of what it means to be a thinking Christian.
And maybe it would help a lot if our churches understood that and supported those of us who are wired this way as a needed presence in the church.
Maybe there’s more to this Christianity business than making sure we don’t wander off of the beach blanket.
That’s what Wolterstorff thinks, anyway. I wouldn’t mess with him if I were you.
[Comments are moderated so please be patient until they appear. It can take me several hours or even a day before I can get to them. It all depends on my Netflix schedule.]
***This post last appeared in July 2016. I attempt my own merger of faith and thought are The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014), The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne, 2016), Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker 2005/2015) and The Evolution of Adam (Baker, 2012).***