Q. How can more Christians be encouraged to give intelligent and serious thought to their faith instead of adhering to the oft quoted, “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it”?
I meet a lot of those “that settles it…” types on the other side of faith, after they’ve ditched it. Jeremiah uses the image of a bush planted alongside a river. As long as adequate water flows in the river, the bush blooms. If the water dries up, the bush dies. Then he speaks of desert plants that send roots down deep. We need to develop that deep-rooted faith. I think of all the seminars people attend in order to improve their careers, or the energy people expend following sports teams or popular music. My goodness, shouldn’t we devote the same energy to the most important issues of life? The resources are out there; we simply need the discipline to use them wisely.
Q. Discipline—not a very attractive word.
I once wrote a column, on my 25th wedding anniversary in fact, comparing mountain climbing to marriage. I live in Colorado, and recently completed a goal of climbing all 54 mountains higher than 14,000 feet (4300 meters). Mountain climbing sounds dramatic and exciting, and indeed it is—about 5 or 10 percent of the time. The drama occurs when you’re walking along a ledge with exposure on either side, or pulling yourself up to the summit, or dashing down a boulder field to avoid a lightning storm. By far most of the activity, though, involves putting one foot in front of another, again and again, over and over. When I reach about 13,000 feet of altitude the oxygen deficiency kicks in. I force myself to take 100 steps before a rest, then 50 steps, then 25 steps. And if I keep at it, plodding along, I’ll make it to the top. Virtually every human specialty is like that: think of the preparation Olympic athletes go through, and other sports figures, or great musicians. Sure, they have the excitement and the spotlight, but that represents a small percentage of their lives. Why should we expect anything different in the spiritual life? Much of it involves being faithful, developing disciplines, preparing for the few moments of true testing and usefulness.
Q. Why do you think so many Christians avoid a serious inquiry into their faith, preferring instead to simply accept the church’s teachings without question?
Laziness may play a factor. Fear does too. Many Christians are afraid to look too closely at their faith. Like Peter, they’re afraid to step out of the boat. And some churches encourage that kind of “I’ll do your thinking for you” as a form of control. That’s always dangerous. I read the other day that 153 times someone came up to Jesus with a question, and 147 of those times he responded with another question. A good model, wouldn’t you say?