Ted Grimsrud—November 2, 2022
I will be posting a series of short essays where I will reflect on some of the main questions I have had about the world I live in and Christian faith’s relationship to it. These questions indeed are concerned with “the faith”—that is, the Christianity I have been immersed in for my entire adult life. They reflect a great deal of the doubt and critical stance I now have toward my received Christianity. So, they are about “questioning the faith.” Ultimately, though, my reflections will be more affirmative than simply challenging things. These questions, and my reflections on them, my attempts to answer them, are expressions of a faith that sees questioning as a core component. That is, I will present the fruit of living with a “questioning faith.” The reflections are from a standpoint of a person with faith. Going back to when I was 17 years old, I have never actually questioned whether to have faith or not; it is always about the shape of that faith.
Somehow, for my entire life I have always loved to ask questions, to try to understand. My initial attraction to Christianity arose out a desire to understand life, to try to find the truth. I have come to think of “understanding” and “truth” quite differently than I did when I was a teen-ager. Still, that quest I embarked on over 50 years ago remains at the center of my life. I expect my forthcoming blog posts to be elements of the ongoing journey.
Liberated by Francis Schaeffer
A turning point in my faith—and my life—came when I was 21 years old. At that moment (Summer 1975), I started attending a new church. I still accepted most of what I had been taught in the theologically very conservative Baptist church I had joined after my conversion four years earlier. In my new church, I almost immediately joined a book study group engaging Francis Schaeffer, an American living in Europe who was becoming known as “the evangelist for intellectuals.” Like many others, I found Schaeffer to be a formative influence in moving away from fundamentalism.
In my case, I rather quickly moved past Schaeffer and have never really stopped moving. As I learned later, Schaffer had been deeply immersed in the world of fundamentalism during the heyday of the famous fundamentalist/modernist conflicts that were probably their most bitter and consequential in Schaeffer’s own Presbyterian tradition. He ultimately became a victim of the battle himself and moved to Europe in part to separate himself from the faith-traumatizing struggles. But he never actually moved much in his own theology and ended his life as a key player in the emergence of the politically focused Christian Right in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Continue reading “Questioning faith: Blogging through key convictions [Questioning faith #1]“
Ted Grimsrud—January 9, 2021
At some point when I was a child, perhaps seven or eight years old, I learned about the difference between a person called an “optimist” and one called a “pessimist.” Whoever explained this to me—it was probably one of my older sisters—used my mother as an example of an optimist. I didn’t really understand what I was being told very well, but from that time on I looked at my mom a bit differently. I hoped I could be like her.
It may be that my entire theological project—emphasizing peace, arguing for restorative as opposed to retributive justice, understanding salvation in terms of God’s mercy—has followed from the sense that I wanted to be an optimist too. I don’t really have a theory for why some people are optimists and others are not. I probably was inclined to be optimistic about life even before I learned what the word meant, saw it exemplified by my mother, and decided I wanted to affirm that approach. Still, I’d like to believe it is at least partly something we can choose, and that it is more compatible with the gospel to choose to be optimistic about life than not to.
At some point, about the time I finished college, I began to believe strongly in the importance of seeking social change—to oppose war and injustice and to try to move things in a peaceable direction. This belief especially took the shape for me of working in Christian communities and of researching and writing what I came to call “peace theology.” I tend to think that such work probably needs to rest on an optimism about life—we can change things, we can live peaceably, at least somewhat.
Continue reading “Hope and the embrace of our imperfect present [Theological memoir #8]”
Ted Grimsrud—July 29, 2019
When, at the age of 17, I decided to become a Christian, the main motivation that I remember was that I wanted to know the truth. I realize now that that was more an emotional than intellectual motive. It took me some time, though, to discern the nature of this “truth” that I sought. From the start, I did not focus on finding a secure resting place nearly so much as on understanding more and more. As it turns out, of course, a quest for truth-as-understanding never ends.
Glimmers of uncertainty
The first lessons I learned on this quest had to do with Christianity being the one true faith. I didn’t have objections to that notion; I really did want to be part of the truth faith and if there was only one I was okay with that. However, I did not instinctively gravitate toward Christianity because of exclusive truth claims; I just didn’t know there were different notions of “true religion.”
At some point I did learn that indeed, the truthfulness of Christianity is contested. At first, I learned that from Christian exclusivists who insisted that their version of Christianity was the only true faith in contrast to other versions. They did inform me, though, that theirs were not the only views (even if the other views were wrong). I have mentioned Francis Schaeffer, the “evangelist to intellectuals,” as an important thinker for me at that time. Schaeffer taught me about the “Christian” notion of absolute and exclusive Truth.
I remember a couple of moments that opened my eyes a little. A mentor of mine in the small non-denominational church I had recently joined talked with me about end-times theology. He introduced me to what he presented as the two main options: “dispensational” and “covenant” theologies. These were new terms for me, but I was clearly in the dispensational camp (though I had thought it was simply the only true view; it was kind of like going through life and only later on learning that one speaks in “prose”—you’d been doing it all along but never had a word for it). The stunning moment came when my friend told me that in fact most Christians followed the covenant view. Whoa! This was the first time I realized that what I had been taught was not the only viewpoint, not even the majority viewpoint. That realization was an important step in coming to realize that my quest for understanding truth actually meant that things were pretty wide open. I didn’t simply have to accept the one view I was taught. As it turned out, I soon realized that I no longer wanted to accept the dispensational perspective as truthful. Continue reading “How reading Hans-Georg Gadamer prepared me for heartbreak (Theological memoir #3)”