I am doing a virtual Bible study through one of my favorite blogs (yes, I have a lot of favorite blogs, but this was like my 'gateway blog,' the one that started my adoption/big family blog obsession), Nihao Y'all. We are actually doing more of a book club, and reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.
I have read a lot of books on Christianity in the last two years. Some have been helpful, and some have actually caused my faith to retreat a bit. Not because what they say isn't true, but because the cultural divide is so big that I feel like I don't fit in the world that the book creates. Does that make sense? I think I am just not part of the demographic that the author had in mind: I am not from a strict Christian home, I am not a conservative Republican, I don't attend a mega-church, and I am still not sure of all the lingo (what is this being "convicted" business? what is an "altar call"? Why do I have to "have a heart" for Jesus or for children or for fundraising, instead of just liking/loving these things?)
Keller's book, in contrast, made me feel right at home. He is a New Yorker (maybe not born and raised, but he is the lead pastor at a church in Manhattan), he is very logical with his approach, and his lingo tends to be more, what can I call it, mainstream or at least what I am used to. He addressed every cynical, doubtful thought I've ever had instead of assuming I am past them already. He does not dumb things down: his book is full of references not just from C.S. Lewis (the Christian go-to intellectual) but quotes theologians, philosophers and critics (he mentions Derrida, Stanley Fish, and Foucault!) that fall outside the realm of most contemporary Christian books I've read.
What I have found most interesting so far is that Keller points out the category into which I think I partly fit: the "young Christian" (I don't know if I am exactly young, but go with me here…). Keller explains that religiosity has changed significantly over recent decades:
three generations ago, most people inherited rather than chose their religious faith. The great majority of people belonged to one of the historic, mainline Protestant churches or the Roman Catholic Church. Today, however, the now-dubbed "old-line" Protestant churches or cultural, inherited faith are aging and losing members rapidly
As these churches shrink, some people become non-religious, following a secular, humanistic outlook, while an equally increasing number of people find their way to a new kind of church, one that "expects members to have a conversion experience." The people who attend these churches do not fit neatly into the category of liberal Democrat or conservative Republican:
the new fast-spreading multiethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than Democrats have been
Now, I don't know how much time I spend thinking about sexual ethics, but this social justice part really jumped off the page for me. Yes! To me, this is what Jesus is all about. His total radical focus on the poor, the misfits, the lepers. THAT is what made me want to be a Christian: when I saw what the missionaries who took care of Nicholas were doing in China: serving, using their lives for God instead of for nicer kitchens and Disney cruises (and I'm indicting myself here, because we have spent our time and money on those very things), I wanted my life to be about that.
Francis Chan's Crazy Love and David Platt's Radical won me over. I want to be THAT kind of Christian. Not the sitting in a pew, judging others type of Christian.
Now it has taken me some time -- and I am not quite there yet -- to make the leap from that desire to the belief that a man named Jesus had to die on the cross so that I, a sinner due to Eve's original sin, will have eternal life with the Father…but I am working on it.
Reading the Gospels is helping me get there.
Attending an awesome, multicultural, contemporary, accepting church is helping me get there.
Meeting awesome friends in the adoption community is helping me get there.
And just plain prayer is helping me get there.
I still fight doubt and cynicism every day, every moment actually. But, as Keller says, today's faith calls us to use doubt as a tool for a deeper understanding of Spirit. I like that. If God is big enough to encompass my questions and my doubts, then I might have found a soft place for my searching to rest.