Community Is Crucial

A few weeks ago I posted about friendship, claiming that “who you are when nobody’s looking” isn’t necessarily the truest testimony to who you are.

I want to riff on that a bit today, in conversation with my Open Letter to New Testament Intro Students. In short, community is crucial for keeping hold of your faith when your faith is challenged.

The context within which a dearly held conviction is challenged, and the way that faith is depicted in relationship to that challenge, can make all the difference in whether that challenge leads to a lost faith or a reconfigured and strengthened faith.

Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In response to my open letter, several commenters voiced their concern that critical reconfiguration of what the Bible is and what it says do not happen more in the church. And I think there is something tremendously important about this call. Yes, we have to handle the issues carefully and not unduly disturb the faithful.

But here’s the problem with pretending that the Bible is something it is not: if the context of faith depicts the Bible, or science, or belief in one way, and then a student enters a non-faith environment and discovers that the Bible or science or belief are entirely different it creates an apparently clear choice. Either stay with the faith and reject the learning or hold fast to the learning and reject the faith.

The reason why NT Intro destroys people’s faith in college is because the community of faith has not been forthright about what the Bible actually is, and so the student is confronted with a choice between belief or knowledge.

In general, communities help create and perpetuate systems of plausibility. This can be a bad thing or a good thing, depending on the truth and benefits of how the group is perceiving and articulating reality.

If Christianity is true, then the calling of the church is to articulate, and demonstrate, a coming reality that is often not visible to human eyes: Jesus is the enthroned and coming Lord. We need community to keep making that reality real, to help us be renewed by the transforming of our minds, by the conversion of our imaginations.

This means that when we’re struggling, we need the community. If we leave it, we are placing ourselves on an interpretive grid where this true reality is not accounted for in the interpretation of the world. And its unbelievability can quickly become unplausibility, and the faith withers.

It is precisely because context is crucial for wrestling with faith-challenging issues that I think it is a seminary professor’s duty to deal with all the difficult issues in class. The fact that Christians, in a Christian setting, while confessing Christ as Lord, can acknowledge these things is, itself, tonic against the notion that certain realities about the Bible or history tear apart the very fabric of Christian faith.

In the film Gods and Generals, Stonewall Jackson utters this provocative line to a dying man who confesses to unbelief: “Well then, I will believe for the both of us.”

When we’re struggling, we need people to believe for us. We need people to carry our belief when it cannot carry itself. We need ourselves to be infused with the gift of faith that comes from the participation in the body of Christ. And we need to know that our struggles can be Christian struggles, modes of living and doubting that honor the Christ whose faith saves us.

8 thoughts on “Community Is Crucial”

  1. “In short, community is crucial for keeping hold of your faith when your faith is challenged.”

    I attended a Restoration Movement/Christian Church liberal arts college that challenged me to reevaluate the Bible, faith, and Christ. It gave me the ears to hear so to speak, and provided for me the truest and most intimate community I’ve experienced in my whole life.

    Now, many years removed from that college experience, I live, service and worship with a community of believers that doesn’t trust in the same ways of knowing and nor attempts to embody this new Life found in Christ in the same ways my community before did.

    Spoken plainly, if you reject naive realism or even hint at wanting to philosophically move past Modern Rationalism, you’ve taken your first steps on the slippery slope to Liberalism, Emergence, and heterodoxy.

    I cannot simply reject that which I know to be true but neither do I wish to reject my faith community. Daniel, what wisdom might you impart when the faith community itself is what is withering your faith?

    1. I’d say that it would be wise for you to have a community of people with whom you can continue to have more theologically sophisticated engagements about things. That is to say, keep up connections either with friends or internet communities or books or whatever that keep you remembering that there is a Christianity beyond naive realism.

  2. Daniel – this is a beautiful post. It hits on a number of things I’ve been thinking about lately but haven’t found words yet to articulate. When they do finally bubble to the surface in tangible form, I’ll share.

  3. On more than one occasion this year I said to the congregation I pastor-ed from the pulpit, “I run up against a lot of criticism. Critiques on the Bible, my beliefs about God, and beliefs about the church. They cause me to doubt. To be honest, the reason this body is so important to me is that sometimes you have to believe for me.”

    There is something about “getting lost” in a community and allowing them to carry your belief when it’s just too heavy for you to carry alone (vague LOTR reference) that is invaluable to Christianity. Great post.

  4. “The reason why NT Intro destroys people‚Äôs faith in college is because the community of faith has not been forthright about what the Bible actually is…”

    AMEN!

    The Church is somewhat schizophrenic in this area. On the one hand, they are glad when a young member goes off to a Christian college or Bible school. They demand that their pastors are seminary-educated and then fight against everything that pastor preaches that doesn’t conform to their already-held beliefs. So, we want learned pastors, we just don’t want them changing how we feel about things we already believe and have staked our beliefs on. I’ve never understood how or why people turn their brains off in the Church.

  5. Ideally, yes. Sadly for me, no.

    Your post makes me long for more, something real, but then I get to wake up and go work, teach, and participate in a community that runs completely counter to this. (probably a big run-on sentence)

  6. Maybe the situation should be put like this: that our community is bigger than the Christian community (certainly our local one). Even non-Christians have come up with considerations that can give better ways of understanding Christian things. There is no alternative but to get engaged with all sorts of things in all sorts of ways.

  7. There’s a third alternative when faced with the conflict between what the Bible actually says and what preachers say that it says. I kept reading, and hung on in the church, till I found a way to reconcile the two. Fortunately I’m in a pretty liberal church, or I couldn’t have done it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.