Why I Stayed: Reflections on Virtue in the Wasteland's "Before You Leave" Series
Part One: Origins
On a recent two part episode of the show we discussed the trend of "de-conversion" primarily from evangelical circles into more progressive camps. The interest, for me, began with discussions about Jen Hatmaker and Jordan Peterson. Hatmaker, as she came out as LGBTQ+ inclusive was rejected by some as no longer Christian. All I had heard was that she left the church, when I listened to her I realized that she was not leaving the church at all, but expanding beyond the confines of conservative evangelicalism. Similarly, Jordan Peterson who has become a darling on the right, was introduced to me as a "non-Christian", but reading him allowed me to see for myself that he identifies with the Christian tradition, but he employs exegetical patterns of the Bible reminiscent of Higher Criticism and is thus considered a "wise pagan".
As I left confines that were once comfortable to me, I began to encounter similar "liberal" thought across the church spectrum. While I came into the faith because I was allowed to ask unflinchingly difficult questions, it seemed that once I got inserted behind certain doors I was told that such questioning was off limits. I had found Lutheranism as a respite from Evangelical America but found that much of the Missouri Synod traded its birth right for the slop of becoming cultural warriors. Not that all are, of course. Most everyone I knew personally from my old church remain close to me, but larger powers were at play and I had the luxury of finding a new local church to set up roots.
All this to say, I like asking questions. It's not a sign of doubt, but of a faith working itself out. As a committed and worshipping Christian I often wonder about the following things, amongst others. Let me highlight that if I knew my position on these things, and they were in conflict with the church, I would either keep them quietly or discuss them in house. It's not a good look to come out with your thumb to your nose, and so I present these things as legitimate questions that I have, and if others do too, let me know. If others think they have answers, please share them in the spirit of Christian love.
*Hell, as is commonly understood, in the medieval sense of a place of torture, by fire, somewhere “below”. Judgement is a theme in the Bible, and with that would come punishment. Point taken. It seems like the whole vibe of Jesus is opposed to having most of the worlds population over time burning in eternal damnation.
* The "inerrancy" of the Bible. I am not sure of a particular Lutheran approach to Scripture that goes much beyond recognizing that it brings us Jesus. The Reformed talk about these things (inerrancy, infallibility) but I might question them the same way I question the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, I don’t question that something mysterious and divine is taking place, I am uncomfortable with the philosophical language we have imported. I believe the Bible is inspired, God’s Word, and other less troublesome (and more biblical) terms)
* How can a group founded on love continue to harass the LGBTQ+ community? While the discussion over affirming or non-affirming is a live one, we can certainly move beyond something that seems more akin to midcentury anti-semitism and racism than a theological position.
* Shouldn't pacifism and radical inclusion be a larger part of the Christian ethos, being that these seem to be the clearest things Jesus taught about? I’m not arguing for a full fledged ideology based on these, but might these communities teach us something?
I can honestly tell you that I have no good answer to these questions- I have no desire to try and win friends and influence people, or to look cutting edge or "radical" or whatever terms might be used for people who can't seem to land in one place. I no longer work for an LCMS institution, and while my stay there was not disingenuous, I no longer have anything demanding unwavering theological loyalty beyond the teachings of Jesus. And this has afforded me time to think, and reflect on why people sometimes change their minds, or feel the need to draw the circle of Christianity ever closer. I am generally curious, and having spent much of the past few months reading the various "4 Views" books on theological issues I have a greater appreciation for the breadth of the church in allowing for various perspectives.
And so we did a two part series on people adjusting their faith, or leaving it, or coming back to it with a different relationship to it than before and listed the reasons why researchers suggest people are leaving the church. And then to play "Re"-constructionist to some de-constructivism, we laid down the reasons that we still stay. In the coming weeks I will be considering the idea of an "Eschatology of Hope" through the reasons people leave, and why I stayed.
* I have just finished three different book projects and am working on two more at the present (see this space and 1517.org for more info). Thus, my occasional writing takes a back seat to published projects. But follow me on Twitter at @dan_vanvoorhis for all the latest
Dr. van Voorhis is a speaker, author, and professor. He received his PhD in History in 2008 from the University of St. Andrews and taught for 10 years at Concordia University, Irvine as well as serving as the chair of the department and assistant dean. He has since moved to work with 1517 The Legacy Project with the Virtue in the Wasteland podcast and his own writing projects including Monsters: Addiction, Hope. Ex-Girlfriends and Other Dangerous Things, the forthcoming Johann Arndt: A Prophet of Lutheran Pietism, the Saint and Sinner devotional on the Psalms and has contributed to various projects. You can find him on twitter @dan_vanvoorhis at danvanvoorhis.com and at the flagship, Virtueinthewasteland.com.