Faith Lies: 7 Incomplete Ideas That Hijack Faith and How to See Beyond Them is for people noticing the cracks in the foundation of their faith as well as those who feel they have been hurt or discarded by a God or a faith that just does not make sense.
Faith lies are those seemingly required religious ideas or spiritual beliefs that are often confusing and rarely helpful.
LIE 1 The Bible is the Literal Word of God The Bible is not the written record of God’s dictation. God was most certainly the inspiration for the Bible, but not the medium. People were the medium—they did the storytelling, the writing, the selecting, and the interpretation that resulted in the Bible. The Bible is not God’s Bill of Rights and Constitution. Rather, it is a divinely inspired story of progression that should open things up rather than constrict and regulate.
LIE 2 God is Angry and Doesn’t Like MeEspecially When I Sin Instead of perceiving God as a loving parent, many of us understand God as a cosmic scorekeeper, intent on our purification. Understanding God as a loving parent not only requires a reframing of our perception of God but also invites us to see each other and ourselves as beloved children.
LIE 3 The Devil is God’s Counterpart This is the bad idea that the Bible presents a continuous, consistent narrative about the devil. It simply does not. Moreover, when we string together what we actually havedisparate statements about satan made by different people, from different places, languages, cultures, and timeswe arrive at the strange notion that there is a “good” god who is responsible for the “good” things in our lives and a “bad” god (satan) who handles the “bad” stuff.
LIE 4 I Am Supposed to Protect and Defend God and My Faith There are real tensions and conflicts around the globe today that are built on the notion that as people of faith, one of our jobs is to defend our faith or our God. Rather than settling for a god who needs our protection, we can follow the powerfully divine thread of moving “beyond the tribe” that is found throughout the Bible.
LIE 5 There is One Right Way to Believe and One Right Way to Behave One of the root lies of fundamentalismin all faithsis the notion that true faith is defined by believing the right things and acting the right way. Isn’t it more likely that we are all part of a diverse creation that flows from a God that cannot be contained by any one belief or behavior?
LIE 6 Faith is a Private Matter Much like whom we voted for in the last election or how much money we make, people have wrongfully accepted the idea that faith is a private matter and not to be shared with others. The spiritual life has always been a communal life. We require others to undertake our journey, and others need us, too.
LIE 7 Real Faith is Blind Belief The idea that true faith has no doubts or questions creates a powerless and impotent faith that discourages critical thinking and fosters the ridiculous assumption that science and faith are unrelated. Real faith actually requires doubt, criticism, and exploration in order to change us—let alone change the world.
While the loud voices at the margins adamantly declare faith either completely irrelevant or capable of being contained in one narrow ideology, most people get lost in the mix, feeling no certainty or comfort in either direction. Faith Lies deconstructs the terrible notion that faithlessness and fundamentalism are our only options.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
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About the Author
Rev. Dr. Darrell Smith is a teacher, writer, and an aspiring integral theologian who has served in the Methodist church since 1999. He also serves as a director of C3—a non-profit organization committed to conversations and connections that serve people and the common good. Darrell’s exploration—and at times protest—of religion and spirituality has led him to homeless shelters, prisons, refugee ghettos, and recovery groups as well as universities, temples, synagogues, and mosques.
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The Bible Is Only The Literal Word of God
If it is true that the road to the future lies in the past, it is also true that when the past has been lost or neglected there is no certain future. ... When the past is lost, as it now is in our Western world, there is nothing left to focus on except the self.
— Robert Webber
This may seem like a strange place to start, but if our goal is to come out from under the limiting lies of our faith, we must recognize that most of those misunderstandings begin in how we view, understand, and interpret the Bible. In fact, the work of removing lies from our faith necessarily involves the Bible. While it is not the only source of truth, it is a source with which we should constantly interact — and let me tell you, we humans have certainly interacted with the Bible! Millions of books have been written about the Bible. Each year, the Bible is the focus of movies, Discovery and History Channel specials, miniseries, debates, conferences, classes, essays, articles, and more sermons than we could ever count.
People who trace their faith to any part of the Judeo-Christian scriptures have literally been arguing about what the scriptures were since before they were even scriptures. In acknowledgment of that reality, let me be clear as to my purpose in confronting this lie. It is not my intention or belief that the argument should cease. The argument — that is, the thoughtful debate over the scriptures and wrestling with the text — is a good and necessary part of our faith whether we identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or none of the above. If anything, the conversation about the Bible should continue to expand — exploring different ideas and hearing from different voices.
It is also necessary to state, without reservation, that it is not my desire to bring low the Bible. Quite to the contrary, I believe that we should pore over the Bible and pour our lives into its story. The collected texts that comprise the Bible convey transformative truths that are applicable to every human life. What actually decreases the power and relevance of the Bible is when we insist it is only one thing — the literal dictates of God. Nevertheless, the point of this chapter will not be to offer the one "correct" view of the Bible and how it should be understood. In truth, I don't accept that there is one right way to understand the Bible. Rather, the point of exposing this lie is to remove the limitations we have placed on the Bible by declaring it to be only the literal word of God. If it were only the literal word of God, there would only be one way to understand it — literally.
My final disclaimer before we begin is to point out that this chapter will represent a 50,000-foot view of the ongoing conversation about the Bible. Were we to really delve into this topic in detail, it would consume this book and many more volumes. The good news is that there are loads of resources on this topic available to us all. There are many thoughtful scholars today, such as N.T. Wright, Ellen Davis, and Peter Enns, writing much more extensively on what the Bible is than I will accomplish in this chapter.
In spite of the summary nature of this chapter, I remember what it was like to have the curtain pulled back on the Bible. I realize that the peeling back of layers and seeming dissection of the Bible can cause anxiety and confusion. Accordingly, I invite you to hold on to these truths and trust that they will remain intact throughout our exploration.
1. The Bible is a gift of God through which God speaks to us.
2. The Bible is full of truth and informs our lives.
3. The Bible is of central importance to our faith.
It is my hope that these truths will provide comfort and peace for our journey. I hope that you will trust that it is not my intention to denigrate the Bible in any way. My hope is that we will loosen our grasp on the Bible and thereby allow it to flourish in our lives and in our world. I have learned the hard way that a tight grip on the Bible — seeing it only as the literal dictates of God — is actually a primary source of its denigration.
One of my first jobs after my wife, Stacy, and I were married was working for my brother-in-law in the home-building business. When I went to work for my brother-in-law, my thought was that we would spend a lot of time wearing ties, sitting in a nice office, looking at blueprints — like Mr. Brady on The Brady Bunch.
I was so wrong.
My brother-in-law had just started out on his own as a custom homebuilder, and I was his first employee. I quickly learned that meant we were going to be doing a lot of the work ourselves — no office, no blueprints, no ties. We were hands-on. And when I say "we," I mean my brother-in-law — he was the skilled one; I was a construction idiot. My job consisted of loading tools, unloading tools, sweeping, cleaning, asking questions, and apologizing for whatever I messed up that day.
One day early in my tenure, my brother-in-law put me with the painters on a remodeling project he had been working. My assignment was to help the painters prepare the interior of the home for painting. That meant we were to move the homeowners' possessions and furniture out of harm's way and tape things off with plastic. I soon found myself in the living room of the home with one of the painters, trying to empty a closet of its contents so that the interior of the closet could be sprayed with paint. The closet was packed full of stuff and — like most closets — had a top shelf where long-forgotten things had been stacked for years.
I am a tall guy. I was able to reach the top shelf and take things down without any problem. The painter I was assisting was much shorter but was not going to be outworked by the construction idiot. As we emptied the closet and only the items on the top shelf remained, he would stand on his tiptoes or jump and reach until he could barely nudge something off the shelf so it would fall and he could catch it. We took a few turns like this. I would reach in and grab something off the top shelf. While I was storing that item safely away from the painting area, he would tiptoe, stretch, and jump to knock something off the top shelf and then catch it as it fell. That was his way of getting things down, and I was not going to question him.
After a few turns, I turned around to see him jumping to nudge a stack of items — trying to get them to fall into his arms. As they fell, the item on the top of the stack caught my eye right before it caught him in the head. I recognized it as a doorstop. At this point, you may be thinking, What the heck is a doorstop? Quite simply, it is a heavy object that people place in front of doors to keep them open. In this particular home, the doorstop was a brick that had been swaddled in a needlepoint cozy. It didn't look like a brick. It looked like a little rectangular pillow.
As it fell, I reached for it and exclaimed, "Watch out!" but it was too late. The cozied-brick tagged him right in the forehead and down he went — along with the stack of stuff he was trying catch. Since I know the painter is okay at the end of this story, I can tell you now it was hilarious. Seriously, you could not script a better pratfall. Dick Van Dyke, John Ritter, Will Ferrell, eat your hearts out — this guy dropped like a comedic champ.
Trying not to laugh, I asked, "Are you okay?" I began to pull off the items that had fallen on him as he rolled around, expressing his genuine surprise and displeasure. As I reached for the doorstop, he grabbed it away from me.
With his head in one hand and the brick in the other, he looked up at me, raised the brick and said, "What is this?!"
Realizing that if I told him it was a doorstop it might not compute, I said, "It's a brick."
His eyes widened in surprise. "A brick!?"
I was trying so hard not to laugh that I froze. As if he didn't believe
me and thought it was some kind of cruel joke, he said it again, "A brick!?" Then came the philosophical question that will haunt me the rest of my days. He looked at me with sincere bewilderment and shouted, "Why a brick?!"
Why a brick? His question contained all of his confusion, anger, and pain. Why would someone craft a needlepoint cozy for a brick? Why would they store that camouflaged brick on the top shelf of a closet? What the heck is the matter with you people? My painting counterpart could not understand at all. He had never seen such a pretty doorstop and never imagined that a brick would be waiting for him at the top of that closet. I tried my best to explain the concept of a brick for a doorstop and why people would put it in a cozy to make the brick pretty and keep it from scratching up the floors, but to my newly-concussed friend, I may as well have been speaking a foreign language. He didn't get it at all. His lifetime experience — his culture and context — had not yet introduced him to a needlepoint-covered brick. To him, it was a completely foreign concept. Why a brick? Indeed.
Is the Bible a Brick?
I cannot imagine a better metaphor to describe our relationship with the Bible. Many of us understand the culture and context of the Bible about as well as the painter understood why someone would wrap a brick in needlepoint.
For much of my life, I kept my Bible safely stored on the top shelf of the closet — out of sight, out of use, out of mind. And in the rare occasion that I would get it down, I couldn't understand most of it. There have been countless times when I have stretched and jumped in order to grasp the Bible, only to have it thump me in the forehead and leave me wondering, "Why a brick?"
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever felt confident that you had the Bible under control — that you understood what was going on — only to end up confused, hurt, and unable to defend or apply the Bible to your situation? My guess is that everyone who has ever opened a Bible can identify with such an experience. In fact, I believe that most of us identify with the biblical "brick to the head" so much that we cope with the pain in one of two ways — either by leaving the Bible on the shelf, where it is irrelevant, or by attempting to take the Bible literally.
Some of us leave the brick up on the shelf because we believe it to be inconsistent, inapplicable, and useless. Much like the homeowners had decided long ago that the actual brick doorstop was no longer needed, we store the Bible and forget about it. We just don't need it. Coming to such a conclusion may have even involved using a ladder to get the brick down. We dismantle it — remove the needlepoint cozy and prove that it is just a brick. We dismiss the notion that it could be anything else — it's a brick, nothing more, nothing less. It's not needed. It's irrelevant.
Some of us leave the brick up on the shelf because we believe it to be beyond us. It is "Holy" after all, right? It is not to be questioned. It is — dare I say it? — infallible. It is to be accepted as the truth, and that's it. Perhaps we have tried to understand it, but it didn't go well. Now we see it sitting up on the shelf. Remember the last time we reached for it? Ouch. We remember the headache and decide to just leave it up high on the shelf. We "take it on faith" and assume that even though we don't understand it, that must be the way it is supposed to be.
Whether we find ourselves leaving the Bible on a high shelf out of faith and reverence or because we find it irrelevant and useless, neither response is helpful. There have certainly been times when I was most comfortable leaving the Bible up on its shelf. I didn't want to wrestle with it. Seeing contradictions within the Bible or ideas with which I did not agree made me uncomfortable. It made me feel as though my faith was weak. If I were a true believer, I wouldn't have to ask questions, and I wouldn't have doubts, right? So in those moments, I would hide my questions and doubts behind the idea that the Bible was the literal word of God. It is not to be analyzed. It is not to be contextualized. It just is, and that's it.
There have also been times in my journey when something in the Bible bothered me so much that I couldn't help but tear it apart and ultimately dismiss it as useless. We can all identify with dismissing parts of the Bible, right? Think about how much you enjoy bacon (Deut. 14:8) ... or a cheeseburger (Deut. 14:21) ... or heaven forbid, a bacon-cheeseburger. Do you really care if someone plants two different kinds of seed in their field (Deut. 22:9)? How many Christians have tried to cope with the Bible by assuming that the troublesome bits are only in the Hebrew scriptures — what most people call the "Old Testament" — and end up dismissing three-quarters of the story? In the "New Testament," Jesus teaches that to look on another person with lust in our heart is adultery (Matt. 5:27-30). Yikes! Five chapters into the "New Testament," I get slammed with the understanding that I have committed adultery simply because of my thoughts? It would seem that the troublesome bits of the Bible are not constricted to the "Old Testament."
Have you ever heard of the Jefferson Bible? Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States, created his own version of the Bible. Following his time in office, one of the things Jefferson did was use a razor to cut out the parts of the Bible he thought relevant and paste them into another book he titled, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Jefferson precisely removed the miracles of Jesus and anything deemed supernatural in order to create a concise collection of the teachings of Jesus. Before we all judge President Jefferson too harshly, let's take a look in the mirror. We do this. We omit the parts of the Bible that trouble us and cling to the parts that encourage us. The only difference between Jefferson and us is that we have neither the time, the patience, nor the discipline to sit down and actually make our own Bible. But the truth is that those of us who engage the Bible in any way have our self-published internal versions — they exist in our heads and our hearts. For some of us, these versions of our favorite parts that omit the troublesome bits exist high on a shelf in the closet. For others, we interact with them daily and use them to frame our lives.
Fight, Flight, or Freeze
As I matured (read: got old), I realized that I would respond to the problematic questions of the Bible in one of three ways. Sometimes I would fight. I would declare that the Bible is the literal word of God and it is not to be trifled with. I would say things like "I take my Bible straight" or "The Bible says it. I believe it — that's it." Sometimes I would flee. I would recognize the contradictions and discomfort that the stories and the teachings of the Bible contained and distance myself from them — saying things like, "These are just the primitive stories of a primitive people," or "Jesus makes the Old Testament irrelevant." And sometimes I would freeze. I would find myself unsure of what was right or what I thought. In such cases, I was a Bible chameleon. If people who "took their Bible straight" surrounded me, I would try to blend in with them. If I found myself with people who dismantled and dismissed the Bible, I would mimic them. Either way, just like a kid in front of T-Rex at Jurassic Park, I was hoping that if I just held still, no one would notice me and recognize that I had no idea what to think.
When the Bible is a cozy-covered brick for which we have no cultural or contextual understanding, each of these three responses — fight, flight, or freeze — makes perfect sense. There are issues and ideas represented in the Bible with which we passionately identify. In such cases, we find it advantageous — if not easy — to fight and treat the Bible as the literal word of God. We rail against abortion or capital punishment, declaring the biblical principle of life and quote, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the LORD" (Rom. 12:19).4 During such times, we leave the Bible high upon its shelf in the closet — where it can be detached, literal, and without nuance. It's easier to make our arguments that way.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Faith Lies"
Copyright © 2018 Darrell Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Disarming 1
That Which We Call a Lie by Any Other Name… 5
Well-Meaning Ideas 9
A Small, Tragic Example 14
Come On In, the Water is Fine 17
Lie 1 The Bible Is Only the Literal Word of God 19
Quare Lateres? 21
Is the Bible A Brick? 23
Fight, Flight, or Freeze 26
For the Times We Fight for Literalism 28
For the Times We Flee from Irrelevance 39
For the Times We Freeze in Ignorance 44
There's No Such Tiling as "The Right Way" 45
Be at Peace 47
Lie 2 God Is Angry and Doesn't like Me-Especially When I Sin 51
A Sad Foundation 52
A Convicted Button Pusher 54
Jesus, Friend of Button Pushers 57
The Half-Truth 60
The Incomplete Idea 62
So What? 64
Proclaiming Favor 68
The Whole Truth 71
Here Comes a Lion, Father 73
Justification and Adoption 75
My Father and Your Father 76
If My Bad Behavior Didn't Nail Jesus to the Cross, Then What Did? 78
Dirt + Breath 80
I AM… What are you? 84
Lie 3 The Devil Is God's Counterpart 87
God Versus Satan… Wait, Who Is Satan? 90
Get Behind Me, Satan! 103
Ask the Wrong Question, Expect the Wrong Answer 107
So What? 109
Lie 4 I Arm Supposed to Protect and Defend God and My Faith 113
Topographical Obstruction 123
To Whom Am I Listening? 128
How Should I Listen? 130
A Side of Freedom Fries, Please 137
What Am I Hearing? 140
Tolerate, Climb, or Perch 143
Lie 5 There Is One Right Way to Believe and One Right Way to Behave 147
Crushing Certainty 152
The Never-Ending Awakening 157
The Myth of the Singular Precedent 162
The Context of Faith 164
The Filing System 166
Lie 6 Faith Is a Private Matter 173
A Personal Relationship 175
We Come from Community 177
We Need Community 182
Community Needs Us 187
Community Is Not Optional 190
So What? 192
Lie 7 Real Faith Is Blind Belief 195
The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways 198
If You Just Believe 201
Let's Get Critical 203
Separating the Fairy-Tale from the Faith 207
A People Named Wrestle 211
So What? 213
The Faith of Galileo 214
The Difference Between Belief and Value 221
Living Outside the Lies 225
Spoiler Alert: There Is No Easter Bunny 227
Where the Freedom of the Lord Is, There Is Spirit 230
Important Words Ideas 232
A Rohr-ing Epilogue 235
Suggested Reading by Chapter 245
Sources Consulted 251
About the Author 259