Here’s a great thought from my friend Phil Drysdale:There is nothing wrong with engaging with spirituality at that level. For many that is all they need and want.
But know that for those of us that have moved forward we are unlikely to start moving backwards again. That’s not the trajectory of our path. Your plea for us to return to your absolutes is not likely to do much more than cause you more frustration and pain. And I can say with all honesty that is the last thing we want for you.
If certainty is what you seek, enjoy your certainty. There are even many out there seeking certainty and they may be all ears to your answers. But we are not those people.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. -Matt 10:28, NKJV
How often I’ve heard the above passage used to prop up the idea that it is healthy to transmit to others, and have in ourselves, a terror and fear of God based upon His ability to torment us in hell forever. However, it’s crystal clear, without even deconstructing the idea that Gehenna equals the modern version of hell, that this is not what is being said.
Remember, the context in which Jesus said this is that He is commissioning His disciples to go and preach the kingdom to hostile individuals who will seek to imprison and kill them. Jesus’ solution? Don’t be afraid of them, because what they can do to you is quite limited compared to what God could do.
So, it seems simple enough, right? Be more afraid of God than people, right?
Read what follows:
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. -Matt 10:29-31, NKJV
The point Jesus is making is that if you’re going to be afraid of someone, it should be the one who could do you far greater harm than any human could. However, this one is moved even by the death of a sparrow, which men imbue with little value, and yet He loves us far more deeply than He does the sparrow, as He’s has taken the time to number the hairs of your head. So if the death of a sparrow moves Him, how much more would harm coming to His children move Him! Therefore, though God is the only one capable of doing us true harm, He would never dream of it, and the conclusion of this passage used to encourage fear is actually “do NOT fear”!
So I say again what I’ve said ten thousand times before: any doctrine that encourages us to fear a God of wrath and retribution, violence and vengeance, is anti-Christ and the opposite of Gospel.
I have titled this piece as I have because I see a common theme of freedom all around the world: ordinary believers from all faiths, denominations and cultures are realising that God is simply available to all who call on Him, and He releases them into the freedom to serve Him as He calls them, and not according to the whims, doctrines and dogmas of other humans.
I wrote, in an article I published a few weeks ago, about how I am ministering in a group for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the back of that article, then, I present here an extract from the book Crisis of Conscience, by Raymond Franz, a man who for sixty years was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and who for the final nine years of that time was one of the Governing Body (the ‘GB’), the supreme council of that religion.
In his book, Ray Franz describes in detail much of the way in which the GB works, and he also describes the ‘witch-hunt’ and inquisition that led to his dismissal from the GB, and eventually his ‘disfellowshipping’ from the Jehovah’s Witnesses entirely. I mention this in order to give context, because what Mr. Franz speaks of here describes perfectly the freedom one feels when one emerges from under the domination of man-made religion and the need to please men in accordance with their doctrines. In my previous article, I talked about people I had met in the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community who are now living free in the Spirit. I would say that in fact complete freedom in the Spirit is not really possible until one has shaken off that need to please men; this shedding of the need to follow the ‘doctrines of men’ (Mt 15:9) is what my friends in that group have progressed to, and this is what this extract speaks of. Note also the parallels with dealing with Religious antagonists of any persuasion – especially the ‘judging adversely one’s standing with God’. Heaven’s gatekeepers at work again!
Over to Ray Franz:
The mind which renounces, once and forever, a futile hope, has its compensation in ever growing calm. I have found that saying true in my own case. I know that it has proved true in the case of many others.
Whatever the initial distress— a distress that sometimes follows the demeaning experience of being interrogated by men who, in effect, strip one of human dignity, make the weight of their authority felt, and presume to judge adversely one’s standing with God— however torn one may feel inside, afterward there does come a distinct feeling of relief, of peace.
It is not just knowing that one is finally outside the reach of such men, no longer subject to their ecclesiastical scrutiny and pressure. Truth, and the refusal to compromise truth, brings freedom in other fine and wonderful ways. The more responsibly one makes use of that freedom, the finer the benefits. The greatest freedom enjoyed is that of being able to serve God and his Son— as well as serve for the good of all persons— untrammelled by the dictates of imperfect men. There is freedom to serve according to the dictates of one’s own conscience, according to the motivation of one’s own heart. The sense of having a great burden lifted off, the lightening of a heavy load, comes with that freedom.
If genuinely appreciated, this gives one the desire to do, not less, but more in service to the Ones giving that freedom.
– Franz, Raymond. Crisis of Conscience: The story of the struggle between loyalty to God and loyalty to one’s religion. (pp. 453-454). NuLife Press. Kindle Edition.
I think that’s absolutely brilliant and, like I said, people from all faith walks are finding this freedom today all over the world. It makes no difference whether they are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Evangelicals, whatever; God is doing this.
What’s even more remarkable is that Ray Franz had this epiphany some decades ago. God was moving in the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses even back then.
Ponder and digest, for there is great freedom in this.
I have come to realise over the last few days that all of the writers of the various books of the Bible were at different Stages of Faith. Just like us, they were all at different places in their walk with God, and some of them were possibly even at less ‘mature’ stages than we are.
This is visible easily in St. Paul’s writings, as his maturity and emphasis changes with the chronology as well as with his target audience (hint: Paul’s books are not placed in the Bible in chronological order, but in order of content!).
Not only were they as writerspersonally at different stages of faith, but the cultures they lived in were also at different stages of evolution regarding their concept of God.
So, the guys in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) were not long out of Pagan child-sacrifice culture, whereas those who had returned out of exile in Babylon, hundreds of years later, were very different in their regard for God and His ways.
In the New Testament, the view changes even more decisively with Jesus’s ‘perfect revelation’ of what God is like. “Now we have seen Him”, was John’s implication in John 1:18.
I find this quite fascinating, and it is all very much worth bearing in mind as you read the words written by these people so long ago, and remember that you too are on a similar journey.
But your experiences and learning will be different from theirs – and that’s ok. Amongst other things, the Bible is about an evolving arc of discovery of Who God is, and what He’s like. And it’s perfectly ok – a good idea, even, sometimes – to read it with that in mind.
Great little nugget from my friend Dave Carringer:
I’m not ‘accepted’, nor am I ‘forgiven’. I’ve never been separated from my Source. No surveillance film is being taken of my life. I was never judged by a ‘higher power’. I was judged and condemned by my own alienated mindset, because of the alienated mindsets passed down from other men. I’m totally (and forever) over all that now. I’m free to love and be loved. I’m One. With you. And I know it. That’s really all that matters. Nothing can change that.
I remember waking up on May 1st to hear about the first ‘Black Buck‘ Vulcan raid on Stanley, the longest bombing raid in history at the time, and realising later that it had forced the Argentine leadership to dedicate their Mirage III jets to defending the mainland, rather than sending them out over the Falklands.
I remember the late Brian Hanrahan‘s immortal words about Harrier tactical strikes from the aircraft carriers, “I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out, and I counted them all back”.
I remember Colonel ‘H’ Jones winning the posthumous VC for his actions in saving many of his men from being killed, by leading a charge to destroy an Argentinian machine-gun nest and at the cost of his own life.
I remember HMS Sheffield being hit by an Exocet ASM and being lost the next day. I remember the first British pilot casualty, Lt. Nick Taylor, being shot down and killed over Goose Green on 4th May, after which they stopped using the Sea Harrier for strike missions, instead saving them for air superiority, a role in which they excelled. I remember that the British Pilots destroyed many Argentine aircraft without a single loss to Argentine aircraft in air-to-air combat.
I remember after the War, visiting HMS Plymouth, actually in Plymouth harbour, and seeing the place where her own depth charges had exploded on her decks after being hit.
I remember the heroic actions of L/Cdr Ian Stanley and his Wessex helicopter crew, rescuing the occupants of two crashed British helicopters on the Fortuna Glacier, South Georgia, in appalling weather and near-dark conditions in what was, after all, the late autumn/early winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I have seen that actual helicopter in the Fleet Air Arm Museum, which isn’t far from where I live.
I remember HMS Conqueror torpedoing the Argentine light cruiser ‘General Belgrano‘, and being grateful that she hadn’t got in amongst the much lighter ships of the British Task Force, despite the endless armchair pontifications of the journalists long after the event.
I am a military historian; there is so much more I remember… while today’s world goes about its business and most people have forgotten that ten-week War on the other side of the planet, rest assured I will never forget that War and the people who lost their lives on both sides.
Please note that this is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek piece which uses humour to get across the ideas I have. As you will see from my comments later in the article, I am not in any way trying to paint certain ‘Grey People’ as the ‘enemy’; they are not. In this context, they are simply people who are getting in the way of a conversation I’m trying to have with someone else 🙂
Most of my regular readers will be aware of my ongoing personal struggles in coping with certain ‘Grey People‘ who are far too serious and always want to argue and debate things theological, when their victims don’t actually want to do so. It’s especially bad when they want to argue others, as well as themselves, out of the Good News I share. I’ve had to work out methods of staying sane while still treating them with respect and all the while being conscious of the ‘Silent Listeners‘; those hundreds, if not thousands, of people who read articles, posts and comments without anyone knowing they are there. I also want to continue the conversation I was having with my friend, with whom I am discussing the things of Grace, before the Grey Person decided to muscle in uninvited on that conversation. And I am also aware that although the Grey Person is usually hostile, still they too are someone who needs to realise the full scope of God’s Grace in their lives.
So this present essay is about a strategy I have evolved over the last few months in order to cope with the Grey People, especially when they jump in on an already existing conversation in order to spoil things. But first, some background to set the scene. It’s a bit geeky, but I think the analogies I raise should make sense 😉
There is a board wargame called ‘Federation Commander‘, which is a simulation of tactical starship combat set in the Star Trek universe, and which I used to play often. I’m afraid I must admit to holding a dubious claim-to-fame in that I am the most-published British writer in terms of tactical articles for the game, in the various magazines and other items associated with the game system, for example, in the ‘Tactics Manual’, which you can look at here.
Well! Fame at last!*
One such article in the Tactics Manual was my piece on ‘Tractor Beams’. For those unfamiliar with the idea, a tractor beam is a system, fitted to most starships in the game, which is kind of a powerful magnetic force beam used, amongst other things, to grab hold of objects in space, including other starships. Think of them as a sort of space tow-rope, and you won’t go far wrong. My article in the Tactics Manual is generally regarded, amongst players of the game, as being the definitive treatise on their use.
Don’t worry. There is a reason for all this preamble! 😀
One of the tactics that you can use a tractor beam for is simply to grab, or ‘anchor’, an enemy ship. You would usually want to do this in order to restrict his mobility, say for example so that he can’t run away from incoming missiles or torpedoes. Or maybe you grab him so you can stop him in space while you send over boarding parties to attempt to capture his ship. This is very much like how crews in the Age of Sail used to throw grappling hooks across to another ship, so as to prevent them getting away.
I take it you’re getting the picture. Tractor beams. And this idea of the restriction of mobility is the main reason for me using tractors as my analogy today.
Right, so, to the analogy. This following description will no doubt be familiar to many of my readers! (Please bear in mind that I do not count these people as ‘enemy’; I am simply using the analogy of a space battle involving tractor beams).
When engaging in discussion with the Grey People, they are usually, if not always, of serious demeanour. Any attempts at levity, or engaging as a real person, is ignored. Everything is totally, and I mean totally, serious. No ‘lols’, no smiley faces, no emoticons. No consideration for your own learning, your personality, your interests, no consideration for the time you have walked with the Lord, and the assumption that you have never read any of the Bible is taken as axiomatic (as evidenced by their excessive use of proof-texts). Remember, they have seen you online trying to ‘lead people astray’; very often they have jumped into the conversation you’re having with your friend because they decided they needed to step in ‘in the Name of the Lord’, in order to correct your ‘error’.
No, it’s all very serious and heavy going. There is no lightness or freedom, and the whole thing has to be conducted according to their assumed rule-set, including Biblical infallibility. The terrain for the battle – and let’s face it: it is essentially a battle! – has already been chosen (by them, unilaterally of course) and that ground centres in that dance around the Bible, or at least their interpretation of it. So they try to restrict your freedom of movement in the discussion, and they want to grapple you and pull you back down into the mire that their shipwrecks are embedded in, which is exactly what you escaped from when you began your deconstruction journey. And you don’t want to go back there. And you don’t want the conversation to go into that rut, either.
Now, that sounds to me a lot like being caught in a Tractor Beam 😉 If the ‘conversation’ has got to that level, then you’re being held in a place where you can’t avoid the missiles and torpedoes, and you have been slowed to their speed so they can engage you effectively!
The answer to anything like this, where your antagonist is trying to dictate the terms of the engagement, is to exercise your ability to refuse those terms, and instead fight on your own terms.
So, here are the tactics I have being using for the last few months in that regard! Remember, in the vast majority of cases, these people have jumped into a conversation which is not theirs, but they have decided to make it theirs and to correct everyone’s point of view until they line up with their own – just like a Pharisee.
Firstly, you don’t need to accept every offer of battle that is issued. If you want to leave the thrown gauntlet on the ground, then yes, leave it right there and walk away. You’re never going to get within tractor range if you refuse the battle in the first place.
The vast majority of times, I simply ignore the Grey Pharisee and write as if he’s not there. I carry on talking to the person I was originally talking to. Usually, the Grey person gets fed up with being ignored and moves on. If they don’t, there’s always the ‘block’ button, which on Facebook has the added advantage that they won’t be able to see or recover anything they have posted in response to your thread that they jumped in on uninvited in the first place.
Should you decide for whatever reason to engage, though, read on for further tactical insight 😉
Secondly,remember that they are trying to tractor you so that you can’t move, so that you have to fight the battle on their terms, and in the place of their choosing. For example, and this is the most common occurrence, they may try to engage in a proof-text slinging match. “Ah, but, the Bible says…” In other words, they want to choose the ‘terrain’, the location for the battle that holds more advantages for them than it does for you, at least in their perception. They will have their proof-text torpedoes lined up and ready to go. But if we don’t let them tractor us, then the torpedoes will miss. This, of course, is because your view of the meaning of their carefully-arranged Bible texts will be completely different from theirs, and you can simply let their texts go over your head. So, in order to avoid being tractored like this, don’t get roped in to a Scripture battle. Don’t slow down to their speed, where they can tractor you and draw you in. Keep your speed up and stay out of range of their tractors by refusing to engage on their terms. He wants to drag you down into the nitty-gritty of microscopic interpretation of Bible texts, and that should be avoided; all he can do is to watch you fly past his entrenched position, fast and free!
Nothing is lost in refusing to argue with Grey People on their own terrain. They are not going to change their minds anyway; for myself, having once been entrenched in that same position, it took fifteen years away from Church and a major move of the Spirit in my life to boost me out of that mire. However, the benefit of refusing to engage at the level desired/required by the Grey People actually shows the invisible listeners that there is far more to life than heavy theology, especially in the day-to-day living of our lives. Sure, the depth and intensity of study is there for those who wish to indulge in it – many of my blog articles reflect the depths to which I myself study certain ideas on occasion – but for most people, including the Silent Listeners, the heavy theology is of no concern to them. They just want to get on with life, and quite right too.
Thirdly, You can also keep your speed up by not getting bogged down in deep discussion. In other words, keep it light and flippant.
As someone who is living in the joy and freedom of the Children of God (Rom 8:21), you will likely have a far more light-hearted view on life and death than your antagonist. To re-quote G. K. Chesterton, whom I quoted in a recent article,
“…pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”
So, to use your flippancy and levity is not only your strength, but it is also a tool that the other guy cannot, and indeed dare not, use because he’s afraid he’ll be seen as not taking his ‘weighty matters’ seriously enough! Flippancy is always, and I do mean always, met with grey, dull admonitions that ‘one should not take the things of God lightly’ **. But when you are free, you can do nothing else but to take things lightly. I mean, sure, we still take life seriously. Our responsibilites for work, care for others and for ourselves, still exist. We still need to insure our cars and pay the bills. And if you see someone suffering, of course you go and help them.
But the way in which we take life seriously is completely different from the way in which Grey People take life seriously. According to the Grey People, life is all about ‘keeping short accounts with god’, making sure we don’t ‘stray from his ways’, and following the Law to the letter, on pain of (guess what) hell-fire. And you can understand why they take at least that latter seriously, lol 😀 But to the person who lives life constantly under Grace, life is simply there for living, walking with Jesus every day, and having a light and free unconcern with the ideas of ‘sin’ and ‘judgement’ and all that dull, serious stuff. The consciousness of ‘sin’ does not even enter in to the life of someone under Grace, or if it does, it holds very little weight. And so we walk free of the preoccupation with ‘sin’ that so many Christians walk under. It’s sad, because they have been set free from ‘sin’, but they neither live nor behave as if that’s true for them, probably because they don’t realise it.
As an aside, here’s an example of the kind of levity I use. This was in reply to someone who wanted to see all my research on a particular subject, just so he could criticise it***:
“Nope. Not going there, and you can think what you like about my motivations for that. I tried to answer your initial question at a level anyone can understand, graciously and simply – not realising your question was a trap to suck people in to an argument. I don’t have to attend every battle I am invited to, and I choose not to on this occasion. Find someone else to fight; I’m going for my breakfast”.
I’m happy to report that my disengagement was successful; no further hostile action was received from that contributor 😉
Fourthly, don’t let him close the range. Another reason to not let ourselves get tractored is because once that tractor is locked on, it means that the battle could well get very dirty, very quickly! Here at point-blank range – tractors can only be used at very short ranges, so don’t even get close enough – is where it can get mean. Skip over points raised by your opponent which are designed to hook you and pull you in – things like personal insults, inflammatory statements, things that push your buttons. If you react in the way they want you to, then that’s their tractor beam established. In practical terms, this can simply involve just counting to ten before typing a reply. Do I really want to answer that question? Will anything be gained by reacting to that taunt or barb? Refuse any invitation to close the range into a close and dirty knife fight (another tactical article I have had published in the game literature 😉 )
At the end of the day, I am perfectly secure in who I am, in what I am, and in Whom I believe. Nothing they can say can ever change that. They can quote Bible verses at me all they like; they can tell me I am damned and they can give me a whole list of Bible-based threats, but they cannot change what I know I know, and they cannot take away from me that I know He Who has given me that knowledge (2Tim 1:12). I am secure. My emphasis is therefore not to try to bolster my own position, but to encourage and help others to reach a similar position themselves in their faith walk. And dirty fighting does nothing to further that end.
Fifthly, Talk about Jesus and what He has been doing with you and saying to you. Against your personal testimony of your walk with Jesus, the only answer they can possibly reply with is that you are being ‘deceived’ by ‘some other spirit’; of course, this is passive-aggressive speak for ‘It’s the devil telling you this stuff’. That’s the only kind of two-dimensional, binary ‘thinking’ (although it’s not really thinking, it’s more like parroting) that Grey People can come up with.
Naturally, that retort implies that God is not allowed to speak to anyone outside of their own personal paradigm, whatever that is for them themselves – usually it relates to their particular interpretation of the Bible. But remember that the Bible is not what Christians are supposed to be gathering around; it’s actually Jesus that should form the centre of our discussions. And so, what you are doing here, by talking about Jesus, is to bring the focus back to the beauty and loveliness, gentleness, strength, wisdom and above all Love of your Best Friend and Saviour. Talk about Jesus and you won’t go far wrong.
I would put in a caveat at this point, though. When I say to talk about what He has been doing with you and saying to you, I think we need to take Jesus’s advice and be careful not to ‘throw your pearls before swine’; that we should not ‘give dogs what is sacred’ (Mt 7:6). What His point was here is that what is valuable to you – things Jesus has given you – will often not be valuable to others, especially those who are already in antagonistic frame of mind towards you. They trample underfoot that which is precious, simply because they do not realise the value of what has been given to them. In the same way that a pig in her sty would not appreciate being given pearls, because she doesn’t understand – how could she; she’s an animal! – how valuable they are (even though she can’t eat them!), in the same way you will find that your gems of light that Jesus has given you hold no value to these people, and so they will discard them as worthless because they simply don’t understand.
And so, don’t give these people the really precious stuff. Exercise your wisdom in keeping the ‘Secret of the Lord‘, because not everything that is good and precious is for general distribution. Remember also that sometimes their whole intention is not so much to correct your thinking, but more simply to judge you and your beliefs according to their framework. So your pearls really would be wasted on your antagonist – and their judgment may well feel like they are trying to tear you to pieces! (again, Mt 7:6). Therefore, choose from your store of wisdom carefully 🙂
Sixthly, and this is about the Grey People themselves, remember that it is best if we ‘no longer know anyone according to the flesh’ (2Cor 5:16), in other words, we need to appreciate not just the way things look on the surface but also that which is going on in the spiritual and emotional realm. While I have so far written about these Grey People as if they are all the same, although this is understandable because their responses are usually rubber-stamped replies based on bog-standard Evangelical doctrine, actually, they are not the same. God loves these people just as much as He loves you and I. Apart from certain doctrinal assumptions, we don’t really know where these guys are coming from. Now, I know that the prime focus of our endeavours is to bless the person we are really speaking to; the person we were discussing things with before we were so rudely interrupted 😉 And also the ‘Silent Listeners’, of course. But even with the Pharisees – the ancient equivalent of today’s Grey People – Jesus only had a go at them because He loved even them. He wanted to bring them into the blessings of His Kingdom – the freedom, grace and wholeness of knowing Him – and we need to remember that all the roastings He gave the Pharisees of His day were intended to help them ‘see the light’, as it were. He did it for me, after all. And so, while our focus is not really on our antagonists, we still need to remember that we don’t know their story, we don’t know where they have come from, and we don’t know what they are fighting in their personal lives. For that reason, we need to exercise Grace in our dealings with them. So, as in my second point above, don’t let him get his tractor lock on you, because that’s when things can get dirty!
By exercising this kind of wisdom, we can keep our conversations – at least as far as it lies with us – wholesome and full of Grace. For more on this, see this article.
Finally, remember that ‘winning’ is not what it’s about. While I have used the analogy of a battle, I want to restate that the Grey People are not the enemy. Most of the time, it’s just a matter of discussing the points you are talking about with your original conversation partner; the fact that the Greys are trying to interrupt and muscle in over your shoulder is not really relevant. A battle avoided is a battle won.
Peace and Grace to you!
Header picture depicts a Galaxy-class Starship from Star Trek – The Next Generation, holding a small spacecraft in its tractor beam.
*For virtually my whole life, I have been passionately interested in many subjects, down to a level of detail that generally only the Aspergic usually go to. From all these subjects, the relevant ones in this case are Star Trek, science fiction, military history and wargames. I have had a lifelong passion for these things, which is why they come easily to me as parts of the analogy used in this article.
**This is also usually closely related to the ‘warning’ that ‘God cannot be mocked’. What this really means is that they still can’t cope with your levity, and they have also suffered a catastrophic sense of humour failure. These are the people who say ‘ho. ho. ho. god has a sense of humour ahahaha’ but with total deadpan expressions on their faces. God in fact has the ability to laugh at himself. Remember that in any kind of totalitarian rule, whether that be political or religious, the sense of humour is always the first thing to go, replaced by ‘approved’ humour only, which is a contradiction in terms. For the record, God can indeed be mocked; it happened to Jesus during His earthly life (e.g. Luke 16:14; Luke 22:63, Mt 9:24, Mt 27:31) . But that’s not really what they are talking about here; they are more likely feeling mocked themselves, (even if you are not actually doing so) and they are projecting that onto their Big Brother god who is definitely going to get you after school. What they really mean is ‘Don’t mock me. Or I’ll get god onto you’. 😉
***Also failing to appreciate that for your everyday Joe, ‘research’ just means watching YouTube videos made by people who already agree with him. For me, though, research means to me far, far more than a simple Google search; one of my degrees is by research, which involved a whole lot of hard, hard work involving years of study, reading and practical laboratory work. A little research from me, in my fields of expertise, is worth a lifetime of ‘research’ for anyone armed just with Google
I read a comment recently by one of my online friends, Ken Nichols, whose insight I have shared before on my blog (just one example is here). This passage expresses my own walk so closely, although of course there are differences. But it’s interested to see how the Spirit has brought us both to a similar place, completely independently, because She is the One Who orchestrates all that kind of thing so perfectly.
Ken is a writer who can clearly express his thoughts and communicate them effectively. I wish I could express myself like this! In this piece, Ken explains how the foundation of his faith moved successfully from dependence on the Bible to dependence on Jesus. In a way, this piece follows on from my own essay that I published last time, giving a real-life example of how the emphasis changes as we mature in the faith.
Over to Ken:
The following is a comment I wrote in a conversation I am having in a religious FB group. The person I am addressing has actually been very kind and open (though not necessarily receptive) to hearing my “heretical” ideas. We’ve been discussing now for going on a week. Here I present the basic “reason” why I now believe as I do. I think it’s a good summary and so I decided to post it here. If you have or are experiencing a similar path, I hope this helps you to know you are not alone.
“The fundamental problem that keeps us at odds is how we determine what truth is. You prefer a very concrete OBJECTIVE view of truth that you can point to as an authority, which gives you a feeling a stability (certainty?), at least on the basic tenets of your faith.
I used to seek for truth in that fashion myself. I’ve combed through scripture verse by verse for MANY years. That’s how I was taught to do it. It would take my pastor MONTHS just to get through ONE book of the Bible. Detailed exposition and hermeneutics were what I cut my teeth on as a young man. I considered myself an amateur apologist, and would defend the Bible at every turn. At one point when “bulletin boards” were the primary online communications tool, I took up the challenge of an atheist who put out a list of 100 biblical contradictions and inaccuracies. I answered EVERY SINGLE ONE. I know all the things we do to “prove” the Bible is a unified whole, written by one author, scientifically sound, etc., etc, etc. I was God’s warrior on the front lines. After I got a family I didn’t do quite so much of that, but the Bible was still certainly MY source of truth, and I considered that very few people, including some other pastors I sat under, knew as much as I did about it.
But, and I won’t go into detail here, eventually that whole system stopped working for me. I came to a point in my life about ten years ago when I honestly asked God “Is this all there is?” (in regards to being a Christian). That’s when things began to shift.
Now I no longer hold to the idea of objective, provable truth as the most important, or even necessary thing, when it comes to my faith. Our “objective” truth seeking is really a search for CERTAINTY, which I have learned is actually the ANTITHESIS of true faith. Faith doesn’t KNOW, it HOPES.. Faith doesn’t PROVE, it TRUSTS. I now follow what everyone else REALLY follows, but most don’t admit it: subjective truth.
So, I can never PROVE to you that what I believe is “authoritatively” correct. It isn’t. And I can’t even tell you, honestly, that you SHOULD believe as I do. I think what I have found has freed me in ways I haven’t even learned to express and brought me to a place of love and peace in my life that I had not previously known, but that’s all MY experience. I can’t tell you what YOUR journey is going to be, or even SHOULD be. I can only share what I have found. That’s why I expressed shock that some of the “conclusions” I have come to are the same as some learned theologians whom I had never read (well, maybe a quote here and there). Does that prove I’m right? No. But it does show me I’m not the only one who has walked this path.
So, I don’t believe that God is love MERELY because it’s written in a book, but because I have EXPERIENCED God’s love for me. The Bible is a nice CONFIRMATION of what I have experienced, but it does not provide the PROOF of it. There IS no proof.
I know, I know, deceptive spirits and the fluidity of emotions and blah, blah, blah, ad infinitum. In the west we have been taught to put aside our feelings and gut instincts and only seek OBJECTIVE (i.e. BOOK) truth. But, guess what? Jesus was a mystic prophet, and He didn’t live by the scriptures, but by the Spirit’s leading. He invites us to live AS He lived, not just read about it and believe it. But to LIVE it out. You can see how in His life, Jesus had moments of doubt about whether He could really go through with what He knew was coming. He was following the Spirit in TRUST (putting His life — even that He knew would end —in His Father’s hands), knowing that whatever would happen would ultimately be for the good, because the Father is good.
I’m doing the same.
You warned me that I should be careful as these things inform my “eternal destiny”. Ultimately, that is an argument based in fear. Fear of “getting it wrong” is a strong deterrent from ever straying from the pre-programmed path that our religion (Christianity) expects us to take. “Be careful. You don’t want to end up in the bad place.” is, in the end, the ultimate roadblock for anyone seeking for MORE SPIRIT in their spiritual lives. It keeps us “safely” within the bonds of certainty while denying us the ability to actually GROW spiritually (“At least I know I’m going to heaven, even if I feel like crap about my faith here on earth.”).
I’m no longer concerned with my “eternal destiny” because I believe that God isn’t leaving that ultimately up to us. That He’s not expecting US to “figure it out” when it comes to how to move safely into the next phase of existence. In other words, I believe that “God’s got this”. There’s PLENTY of evidence of such to be found in scripture. But, ultimately, it’s since taking this on board (a period of deconstruction that took several years), that I have such peace now. I’m no longer afraid of being wrong. And I couldn’t go back to worrying about that now even if i wanted to (and who would?). I’m NOT my own “savior” (decider of my destiny). I’ve found what I REALLY needed to know was that I didn’t NEED to “do something” to be right with God. That He’s just waiting for us to “come to our senses” like the prodigal and come to Him and take a chance on His mercy, only to discover that “everything I have is yours”. Always has been. And that continues on into whatever comes next.
So, bottom line, my faith (no, trust, I prefer that word) in a good God that I have EXPERIENCED, is my “standard” for truth. I find SO much confirmation of this truth in scripture (in many verses I thought I knew EXACTLY what they meant — having been taught and teaching them myself for many years). It’s like reading a brand new book now. I have become, as Jesus was, a mystic who’s faith was INTERNAL, not external to Him.
We here in the West are honestly afraid of that way of living. But I can only tell you that it is the most freeing and wonderful way of “being” that I have experienced in my time here on earth. I pray that someday the Spirit takes you on a similar journey, and not so your “eternal destiny” is secure, but because I want you to live the best life ever (as I believe I am). But your journey is your own. Nobody could have “convinced” me to take what I believe now on board. It had to come “ORGANICALLY”. At the beginning I even FOUGHT against it with all my apologetic Bible knowledge at hand. But eventually I had to give in to the Spirit because deep in my heart I “woke up” to how right this felt. “Deep calls out to deep” is not just a pretty verse. It’s true. When you know it, you know it, and nobody can change that. But as I said, it was more like it happened TO me then that I did anything.
The only thing I did was to ask God if there was more and in that asking, admit maybe I didn’t know all that I thought I did. I became open to being taught again, and not just about the minutiae of the faith, but the “big picture”. I became “uncertain” and I am so glad I did, because it has completely transformed my life.”
– Ken Nichols, shared here with his kind permission
One of my online friends posted the other day this interesting little nugget:
“The Bible says.”
So what? What does Jesus say?
I can find Bible verses to support slavery and genocide. If someone comes at me with “The Bible says”, I say, who cares what the Bible says?
What does Jesus say?
And I have to say I fully agree with him.
So many times nowadays, I actually feel like saying to people, like, look mate, I actually don’t care ‘what the Bible says’, because a) what Jesus says is more important, b) it’s not a Rulebook anyway, and c) who’s to say what the Bible really ‘says’? 40,000+ denominations tells me that no-one really knows exactly ‘what the Bible says’ anyway!
It also got me thinking along other lines too.
You see, I’m also noticing that, in our efforts to show Fundamentalists that actually our ideas are ‘Biblical’ (in that, like most things, you can find justification for them in the Bible), we are finding that the Bible is once again becoming the set of Rules by which we who have discovered Grace are trying to make our points to the legalists. And that has to be counterproductive. Even the Rulebook itself says that if it is law, then it is no longer Grace (Rom 11:6). To coin an analogy from Sun-Tzu, we are therefore picking the wrong terrain for our battles, and falling back into the trap of fighting on the ground of their choice.
You see, it is nowadays apparent that no longer do people sit and talk about Jesus; we sit and talk about the Bible instead. It’s as if the Bible is what we now have in common, rather than being one in Christ. The focus is the Bible. And so the focus is all wrong.
I mean, really, when a believer is firmly established in his faith, in a lot of ways the Bible can actually take more of a back seat, although this will of course vary from person to person. The Bible is no longer our primary source of ‘things from God’ or ‘knowledge of God’; instead, that Source is Jesus. In fact, it should ideally have been Him all along. This is why it is important to cultivate, in the new believer as well as the old, a total reliance on Jesus rather than shifting the focus to the Bible.
And so it’s time I stopped pretending that I hold the Bible in the same esteem that others do. When beginning a conversation with other believers, there’s almost this ‘dance’ where everyone agrees to agree that the Bible is where it’s all at, and they (tacitly or overtly) agree to have their discussions using that as an axiom. Well, I’m not going to do that any more.
Sure, I still love reading my Bible, at least when I can tune out the grey, dusty voices of the Legalists, who have tainted the Scriptures with their deadly interpretations. (There’s that point again: interpretation!) But, for me, the Bible is no longer the primary source of my knowledge of God. In fact, it’s even broader than that. In this stage of my faith walk, I am finding that I no longer need/depend on others’ ideas, nor affirmation of my own ideas, by listening to more teaching. Sure, I find interesting ideas which I feel free to hold or to discard as I see fit. Sometimes I post things by other people because they express what I wanted to say so much better than I could have done. But I am finding that more and more I am hearing, and listening to, the Voice of the Master, and learning so much directly from Him. This sort of thing gives the Legalists apoplexy, because they can’t stand it that some of us have a Relationship with Jesus outside of the Bible. ‘Dangerous’, they call it. A ‘slippery slope‘. Well if they want to stay in their ruts, that’s fine with me. But out here in the deep ocean, where there is no bottom and I rely entirely on God to keep me afloat, out here is where the real faith is. They sing about it in their song ‘Oceans‘, and I still find that song profound because it reflects my own experience. But in reality, and ironically, those who should be boldest – those who claim to have a solidity of faith undergirded by the Bible and their claim of a relationship with Jesus – they are the ones who are the most afraid to venture out ‘where no-one has gone before’, into the deep waters of bottomless faith.
Keith Giles puts it like this:
“Do you know anyone that constantly claims, “That’s not Biblical” to everything they don’t agree with?
“Yeah, just ignore them.
“Some say we cannot trust the Holy Spirit to guide us, and that’s why we need a Book. But I have never gone to the Book when I have needed wisdom or guidance. I have always gone to my knees, and listened.
“The idea that we can trust a Book more than the Holy Spirit is actually an idea that is refuted by the same Book.
“Can we get it wrong if we follow the Spirit? Of course. And you don’t have to look very hard to see a few thousand years of people getting it wrong by following the Book, either.
“Our capacity to “get it wrong” is unlimited. But, I would argue, we have a much better chance of getting it right if we learn to discern the voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit which leads us into all Truth and provides wisdom and insight directly from God’s heart to our own.
” ‘If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of the Lord who gives generously to all.’ – James 1:5 [Notice it doesn’t say, ‘Let him search in the Book…’]
“What God did a few thousand years ago is comforting, but I am concerned that many of us may be missing what new and exciting thing God may want to do in our life TODAY if we keep holding on to those stories of what God did back then.
“Don’t fear to trust the Holy Spirit and to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.”
– Keith Giles
Brilliant. I couldn’t have put it better.
Someone asked the other day what part the Bible played in my life nowadays. Here’s my reply:
“It used to play a big part. But now I have moved on to solid food. I have stopped trying to ‘prove’ things from the Scripture for others; I have stopped trying to convince grey people that the Bible is multi-interpretable, and I have stopped trying to show arguments from a Scriptural point of view for the benefit of those who still treat it as a Rulebook.
“I have had it with people using a 4,000yr old (in places) book to make Jesus irrelevant in today’s world, because they have to stick to the Rules laid down essentially by Moses the Prat. I no longer hold to their viewpoints, so there is no point in pretending that I still do, even to show them things from their own Rulebook.
“I now listen only to the One Whom I trust above all others, and occasionally I will pick up ideas or prompts from people who also hear His voice. Here is the problem that is the root of all Fundie Christian problems: that God is no longer trusted enough to be allowed to speak to His people. The idea that God will never contradict Scripture is not only contradicted in Scripture itself, but it is also a non-Scriptural idea held up, incorrectly, as a ‘Biblical ‘principle’.
“I am sick of judgemental people who place their own judgements above those of God. So, there we are. Bible firmly in its place”.
Of course, the problem with ‘demoting’ the Bible in ‘discussions’ with grey people is that what I say is always going to be reduced in value because I apparently don’t hold the Bible in the same esteem as they do. But since there has already been a sort-of breakdown in communication in that we are interpreting the same Bible in different ways, then that very difference of opinion reduces my credibility in their eyes anyway. Which isn’t really my problem, of course, and each of us has to follow the Spirit both in our lives and in hearing what God is saying to us, either through the Bible or through other channels.
But I do hold the Bible in high esteem, of course, and when I speak of ‘putting it in its place’ I mean that it should be restored to its rightful place. In other words, it is a book – a very special book, but a book nonetheless – which is full of insight, wisdom, amazing stories, and also some not-so-good stuff too. Its primary function is to point us to Jesus. Sure, that’s not its only function, but it’s the Bible’s primary function (Jn 5:39). If we fail to let the Bible point us to Jesus, then it has failed in its primary task. No, the ‘rightful’ place of the Bible is to be very firmly removed from the throne of people’s lives – where many believers have placed it – and to allow Jesus back onto that throne. The Trinity is ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’; these days it seems that many modern believers have replaced this with ‘Father, Son and Holy Bible’. In other words, the problem is with the people, not the Bible; they are using it incorrectly and elevating it to a position it was never intended to occupy.
And as an addendum to this, I would say that my ‘relationship’ with the Bible has come full circle. I began reading the Bible when I was about seven years old. Didn’t get very far. My secondary school was a Public School which was set up in 1812 for the education of the sons of Methodist ministers, so I was educated in a Christian background and Scripture was a part of daily study.
At the age of 18, on July 12th, 1980, I began my actual walk with Jesus, responding to an ‘altar call’ at a tent crusade (actually God propelled me to the front!), and it was just what I needed. My life changed from that point onwards and I was increasingly conscious of Jesus at my side, and saw His influence in my life on a daily basis. Over the following years, I got to know the Bible inside-out, walked with Jesus, and also with others; although the emphasis was on both Bible and Jesus, gradually, as with all these things, the Real Thing is supplanted by the written accounts of it. That said, though, I did not lose sight of my first Love, Jesus Himself. I had had such an experience of God, as a young Christian, that no amount of Pharisaical layering of rules and other baggage on top of that Relationship could ever snuff it out entirely. And so when I entered my ‘dark night of the soul‘ in 1999, its main function was to allow me to rid myself of all the baggage and to walk free.
Once that process was complete to Father’s satisfaction, the subsequent encounter I had with God was new, powerful, real and unexpected*, but still rooted in my already existing Relationship with Him. It was just like I’d never been away. And one of the fruits of that long period of change was that I no longer relied as much on the Bible. One of the things that God had pruned away, so to speak, in that time, was the emphasis on Scripture and He replaced it with a far more emphatic emphasis on Jesus and my Relationship with Him.
Interestingly, my knowledge and memory of Bible verses was still intact. I can still recite whole sections of Scripture should I need to do so. But the Bible very much takes a back seat as I simply walk freely in the Spirit.
There are some people I know who never read the Bible, but are in a strong Relationship with Jesus. For them, the Bible just turns them off, and detracts from the Person of Jesus.
Fundies might say, well, how can you know Jesus apart from the Bible?
Well that’s a very silly question when you think about it. Most of what I know about, say, my friend in my aircraft owners’ group, I know because I have sat and talked with him, flown with him, talked to his wife, and all that. He’s my friend. He has never had a book written about him (although his dad has an autobiography, but that’s a different story!). It’s the same with Jesus. Jesus exists outside of the Bible; yes we can learn more about Him fromthe Bible, and read of others’ experiences with Him fromthe Bible, but you can only really get to know Him by actually meeting Him and spending time with Him.
What Fundagelicalism has purveyed for many decades now is a cheap bait-and-switch imitation. Come to Jesus! And here’s how: read the Book! Bait = Jesus. Switch = Book. It’s funny too but Jesus actually turns this around and helps people to get to know Him despite the best efforts of the Fundies who, really, don’t trust the Spirit at all, and want to do all His speaking for Him, usually by quoting Bible verses.
In other words, the emphasis has shifted from the real to the hypothetical, and from the Living to the written. “And … you refuse to come to Me to have Life” (Jn 5:39).
It’s sad that those of us rediscovering the primacy of Jesus are labelled as heretics, by the very ones whose concept of Jesus is based mainly in book knowledge, and experiential knowledge is counted as being from ‘deceiving spirits’. And conversations with such of these Grey People always degenerate into, again, that ridiculous dance around the authority of the Bible and its extent in determining how well we can know God. It’s posturing, and it’s pathetic. Tell me: Who is best placed to talk about what they know of Jesus: those who read about Him or those who actually know Him personally, not just from a book? Is the former not much more than a case of the ‘blind leading the blind’?
This emphasis on the Bible is exemplified in conversations with Evangelicals, where most of the time there is a tacit assumption that the authority/inerrancy/infallibility/etc. of the Bible is unquestioned and already accepted. But the assumption that those who are at a different place in their walk will accept that premise is not going to produce a good conversation, and it will always degenerate again into discussions about the Bible. You see the problem? Any time we want to talk about God, or Jesus, or the Spirit, we end up talking about what ‘the Bible says’ about Them rather than what is our personal experience of Them. This of, course, may be because those arguing with people who have a real Relationship with Jesus don’t have one themselves, and so they really don’t know the One about Whom they are talking. But that’s never my judgment call to make.
And so, this dependence on the Bible means that God isn’t allowed to speak to His people, in any way He wants to, any more. He’s only allowed to use the Bible and what it says in there.
Well, try telling Him that! He’s bypassing all that by just doing what He wants all over the world, irrespective of what people’s Bibles tell them He should be doing.
All around the world, people are finding new freedom in Christ; in Christ, not the Bible. In fact, modern ‘understanding’ of the Bible has been thoroughly polluted by nasty and erroneous doctrines and ideas from Evangelicalism, which have been espoused for so long that they are now accepted as ‘normal’. I mention a few of these doctrines in this post. As I hinted above, I now find it hard to read the Bible profitably because of all the years and layers of dusty, dry legalism and bad exegesis (interpretation of Scripture) caused by many long years under the thrall of those doctrines. Like it would be for a former member of a cult, the old interpretations and taught meanings – based on ideas of humans (Mt 15:9; Mk 7:7) – are what come to the fore as I read certain passages, and as such these verses have been poisoned for me. I feel quite badly done by about that, actually, like I have been robbed of all the fruit and glory of those passages. I am, however, fortunate in listening to teachers like Don Keathley and Francois du Toit, whose love of the Scriptures is not only infectious but also their teaching is wholesome, and you can tell.
But I want to finish this essay on a positive note. My aim is always the encouragement of my readers!
I must say I do get the impression that, for those who have the hearts to receive it, the Grace message of Jesus is the thing they have been looking for all their lives. Some of us were sidetracked into rule-keeping. Some of us were snatched away as soon as we heard the message and met Jesus for the first time. And to be fair, some of us in fact neededto enter through the path of legalism, because only by seeing its hopelessness could we even begin to look for something more.
But once our eyes were opened to Grace, oh! the wonder! Oh, the freedom! For some of us, detoxification was needed. For others, straight in to Grace with no messing about. But however we got here, God has His hand on us, and He will never let us go! So, while the Bible, when interpreted by the Spirit of Truth, is useful, remember it is not God; it never has been and it never will be. No matter what your reverence for it, and I am sure that reverence is not misplaced, make sure that the Spirit – Whom God has poured into our hearts – is always the One Who has the last word. Then you will be hearing directly from God Himself.
Grace and Peace to you.
*Facebook post from February, 2014: “What a morning. First time voluntarily in a church for fifteen years, and getting thoroughly zapped by God: weeping, laughing, complete acceptance, forgiveness. Wow, wow, wow! Going again tonight hehe 😉 “
Here is another collection of bite-sized wisdom quotes. I apologise that about half of them are by some dodgy-sounding character called ‘Me’; he appears to have been on a bit of a roll this last couple of weeks 😉
“The cross doesn’t mean you can be forgiven. The cross means you areforgiven. That was always the Father’s heart toward you from the beginning of time. God is not mad at you. God does not count your sins against you. So be reconciled. That’s the Gospel”.
– Jacob M. Wright
“I’m sure if God had wanted you to know about that [usually an enquiry about ‘sexual sin’ on someone’s part], He’d have already told you about it. And how presumptuous to believe that, although God has known all along, all of a sudden because *we* know, we have to do something about it on God’s ‘behalf’. That’s pathetic”.
“You don’t need a book for a relationship but it’s painfully obvious you need one for a religion”
– Barry Smith
“Religion’s problem is that it doesn’t trust God to be reliable enough to speak to people Himself”
“Radical grace lets you live life like everything is rigged in your favor. It’s that good”.
– Don Keathley
“And you make a positive difference just by being you. The contribution you make is not entirely your responsibility; it’s God working through you too. Just relax and live; don’t worry that what you do with your life won’t be enough”.
“That’s what happens when you know the book but not the author…”
– John Plummer
“You need to get rebellious against the fear that bullies you”
– Catherine Toon
“Religion is the ultimate in gold-plating”
“Sometimes, in the absence of [clear teaching], you have to spell it out for the hard of thinking.”
“I’ve always have said, life is tough enough, why on earth would we need a supreme being to make it harder for us? Is he not father? I would never do [something horrible] to my child, why would God?”
– Simon Wilson
” ‘Ah, but you only get unconditional love if you…. [insert religious requirement of choice]’. Looks as if someone’s tried to redefine ‘unconditional’, and others haven’t noticed it happening”
“To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination”
– Adm. Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek – Picard
“2,000ft up in the air is not a naturally tenable position for the best part of a ton of metal, wood, fuel and flesh, except under certain well-defined conditions. In general terms, the Pilot’s job is to make sure that those conditions apply for the whole flight 😉 ”
“There is a big difference between turning your back on God, and turning your back on religion. Turning your back on God is like a fish being in the ocean and trying to turn his back on water. Turning your back on manmade religion is like a fish on dry land flopping back into the water”.
– Wendy Francisco