Blowing Up Evangelical Baggage – The Series (Jeremy Cushman)

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Welcome Jeremy Cushman to my blog today. He is the last weekly blogger in my series. I’m still keeping the series open but will have people on a less regular (probably monthly) basis.  I’ve enjoyed Jeremy’s seminary tweets, especially because went to seminary before twitter and often wonder what it would have been like to tweet the experience.  I love Jeremy’s take on the essentials vs. non-essentials and the slippery slope. Enjoy!

“It is the glory of God to conceal things,

but the glory of kings is to search things out.” – Proverbs 25:2

  In 2009, I had made the choice to continue attending a church whose pastor did not believe a really important doctrine, an “essential,” as another pastor of another church described it to me. When talking with a friend, I had confessed that I agreed with my pastor – that this “essential” doctrine wasn’t so essential. My friend told me, “What if you don’t go to heaven because of this?”

Doctrines are funny little things. They can bring communities together and reaffirm what is most important in the world. Or they can split apart families, leaving one or both sides saying about the other, “They’ve gone astray.” When I had made up my mind to stick with this pastor who didn’t believe in the “essential” doctrine (which, by the way, said absolutely nothing about Jesus), I was acting on what I believe to be most valuable to God: searching things out. “You’re walking on a slippery slope,” this other pastor told me, as if pushing people out of a church when Jesus welcomes everyone in wasn’t a slippery slope.

Instead of being encouraged to pursue the questions and doubts that I had – things that are actually much closer to faith than they are unbelief – I was cast out. No, no one ever told me I wasn’t welcome to their essentials-believing church, but they certainly expected me to agree with their doctrinal statements by the time I left. I knew that as long as I was reading books from “heretics” and being guided by my non-“essentials”-believing pastor, I would never be a true Christian in their eyes.

I’d be someone who lost their way.

Funny thing is, ever since I made up my mind in 2009, I have never, not even for a moment, felt lost. Sitting through religious studies classes at a liberal arts university was something I relished especially when we studied texts that seemed to undermine my faith in Jesus. I enjoyed those moments because no matter how unsettling they may have been, I always felt God’s presence.

I was always reminded that faith isn’t placed in doctrines and belief statements made up by a few pastors in a church with high walls. Faith is placed in God. And if there is any one place where God is, it is the place that society has deemed “dangerous.” This means, of course, that God is on the slippery slopes.

It is not as though I haven’t made mistakes; I’ve made plenty. But those mistakes had nothing to do with walking onto the “slippery slope.” They had everything to do with me making a choices driven by selfishness – choices that placed my needs and wants above anybody else’s. My mistakes were a matter of behavior, not belief. As far as beliefs are concerned, there was never a slippery slope. In fact, if anything, the path got a little straighter. What once was mud became dry ground – cool and refreshing to the touch, but firm and supportive for the walk.

The bags I had carried – bags filled with all the beliefs and ideas and books that I thought were “right,” “true,” and “doctrinally sound” – were left behind, opened and emptied in the mud. All I had with me was a bag of snacks and a walking stick, like a Hobbit returning to The Shire. The journey has still been difficult, but it has also been much easier. Now having completed my first year of seminary, I no longer resent all that had happened with that “essential” belief. Although it caused a lot of chaos at the time and, in a way, led to the closure of my church, I am glad that I chose the slippery slope.

I am glad because my journey would have been so different. I would have kept walking around in circles, coming across the same piles of mud again and again. I might have had the approval of the church with the high walls, but I wouldn’t have much of a faith. And I definitely would not have gone on to seminary. Beliefs are incredibly important, do not get me wrong. Yet when these beliefs cause us to act in the opposite way that God wants us to act, although we may feel like we’re defending the faith, we are, in actuality, becoming the kinds of people Jesus preached against most: hypocrites.

In my journey on the “slippery slope,” I have been befriended by people who love first and ask for belief statements never. Instead of condemning me to hell, they’re too busy removing all the hoops that others created to “weed out the weak.” And instead of warning me of dangerous ideas, they’re grabbing my hand saying, “Hold on tight.” In this community of “wayward” travelers, of “slippery slope” dwellers, I have found a home. As the above Proverb points out, God has hidden things and, like one giant Easter-egg hunt, wants us to find them.

God wants us to search things out.

God bless.

 

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Jeremy lives in Tigard, Oregon, where he attends George Fox Evangelical Seminary earning his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. When not watching Doctor Who or Sherlock, he writes about theology, faith, and biblical studies over at cushmanschronicles.com. And practically at any point of the day, he’ll be on Twitter as @JeremyCushman

  • brianleport

    Well stated, Jeremy. I’m glad you made the decision to adopt the posture you have. It is easy to forget that it is “faith seeking understanding” not “embrace dogma in order to have faith”.

    • Jeremy Cushman

      Thanks Brian. This reminds me of Paul’s words about Abraham and the law; how faith came first, not the law. In a similar sense, our faith comes before dogmas, doctrines, and communal statements. Yet when our communities emphasize the opposite, it gets easy to forget.