A Good Faith Crisis
A faith crisis isn't always a bad thing. It can have some very positive and surprising results.
While it's true that a faith crisis can be scary, and can result in the loss of faith, it doesn't always. On the contrary, rethinking what you believe as a result of a faith crisis can be the catalyst to significant growth and a deeper Christian experience. I can think of three ways that a faith crisis can be a good thing.
1. A Healthier Faith
The word toxic is used a lot today. There are toxic substances, toxic waste, and toxic relationships, just to name a few. Something becomes toxic when it’s been poisoned to such a degree that it can be debilitating or deadly. Can Christianity be toxic? Sadly, yes. Certain expressions of Christianity can be toxic, and believers caught within them are wise to deconstruct. For example, some versions of Christianity are characterized by hostility, anger, and judgmentalism. Consider the painful words Mark Karris heard at a men’s conference:
The famous Pentecostal giant, T. F. Tenney, was the guest speaker. As he railed about the need for holiness codes for the church, he shouted a line I will never forget. Talking about Christians smoking cigarettes, screaming at the top of his lungs, he proclaimed, “If they are smokin’ now, they will be smokin’ later!” The whole crowd was energetically and excitedly cheering and yelling, “Amen! Praise God! Praise the Lord!!” It was as if time stood still. I just started weeping. With tears down my face, I thought to myself, “How could these people celebrate and jump up for joy that fellow brothers and sisters who smoke cigarettes will be going to Hell and be tortured for eternity?” The dissonance in that moment was something I never forgot. And, it was in that precise moment I knew that whatever was going on here, was not of love, and was a tribe I could never call home again. In that day, the seeds of deconstruction were sown.1
Mark’s experience is not an isolated one. I've spoken with dozens of Christians who tell similar stories. And for them, their experiences also sowed “the seeds of deconstruction.” It’s not always a harsh version of Christianity that pushes believers out of the faith. For some, it’s the relationship between the church and politics. Sadly, some Christians, on both sides of the political aisle, have sold Jesus out for raw political power. Others have become disillusioned because of an authoritarian leadership style that was spiritually abusive. Recently some of evangelicalism’s most well-known leaders have been removed from their roles in ministry over allegations of spiritual abuse.2 Without question there are toxic expressions of the faith that need to be deconstructed, and doing so can result in a healthier and more biblical faith.
2. A Genuine Faith
It’s sometimes said that God has no grandchildren, which is shorthand for the claim that to have a relationship with God, each person must individually choose to become his child. No one gets into the family of God because of the faith of their parents. I take that to be a solid biblical truth. To have a relationship with God, each of us needs to take responsibility for our own rebellion and trust in Jesus as the one who paid for our sins. Becoming a Christian is much more than simply believing the right things. After all, even the demons have good theology (see James 2:19). Saving faith involves personally submitting to Jesus as Lord and intending to follow him. That’s what the Bible means when it says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). In turn, that means each believer is responsible to learn what it is that their Lord wants from them. Each of us has a duty to study Scripture to learn how God wants us to live. In saying this, I am not advocating for an individualistic, “anything goes” approach to the Bible. We are to be like the Bereans, who examined Scripture daily to discover truth (Acts 17:11). God expects us to think hard about his Word, do our best to understand what it teaches, and then live it out. In doing so, our faith becomes more genuine than when we merely uncritically accept the dogma that has been handed down to us.
3 A Truer Faith
When speaking on the importance of truth, My friend Sean often asks audiences to close their eyes and point in the direction they think is north. Then, with their hands still extended, I ask people to open their eyes. Inevitably, people point in nearly every direction possible, which often elicits laughter from the audience (without fail, someone always points straight up). People quickly understand that truth matters when we travel. If you are in Texas, for instance, and trying to go north to Oklahoma, you could end up in New Mexico, Louisiana, or Mexico if you have faulty directions. But if you have a GPS, which puts you in touch with reality, you can navigate to your destination smoothly. Here’s the key idea: truth has consequences. This is the case for driving, and it is also the case for faith. It was a bit disappointing to discover that our cherished views of Christmas were probably wrong. Admittedly, being wrong about the minor details of the Christmas story is pretty inconsequential. But many other beliefs we hold are very consequential. For instance, what is true love? If we don’t understand the nature of love, how can we properly love God and love our neighbors? If we don’t understand truth, then how can we rightly worship God in truth (John 4:24)? Views we hold about the proper use of money, the nature of spiritual gifts, the character of God, and God’s design for marriage have big implications for how we live. A faith crisis can spur us to embrace true beliefs and shed false ones so we can live a more truthful faith.
Faith Crisis or Faith Opportunity?
It's true that a faith crisis can be the prelude to the loss of faith. But it can also be the very thing that causes a person to develop a healthier, more authentic, and truer faith. A helpful resource on how to rethink one's faith in a way that hopefully leads to a healthier, more authentic, and truer faith is my book, Set Adrift.
1. Mark Karris, Religious Refugees, Quoir, (2020)