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Faith Unsettled


Jul 8 2014
Pushing beyond the easy-believism of evangelicalism.

Jen Pollock Michel

Like a lot of writers, I read about the writing life. (A little bit of company is welcome in the solitary stretches of time.) In her book on writing, Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood suggests, "Writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it." Atwood confirms that writers write less of what they know—and more of what they don't.

At a panel discussion at the Festival of Faith and Writing this past spring, Dave Harrity, author of Making Manifest: On Faith, Creativity, and the Kingdom at Hand, suggested that nearly every writer of faith is a doubting Thomas. It's as if we must thrust our hands (our pens) into the mysteries—if ever we are to believe.

But maybe believing doesn't ever come easy to any of us. Maybe faith is always difficult terrain to travel, no matter how many easy-believisms we're handed for stability. One such maxim, like a crutch for a limp, was frequently proposed for support by the pastors of a church my husband and I used to attend: God's Word says it. I believe it. That settles it.

I've grown to hate this phrase. I don't hate it so much for what it says—because it's true that our lives must conform to God's standards for obedience. But I guess I hate it for what it leaves out: the struggle between the periods. A phrase like that makes me feel as if I'm doing something wrong when God speaks and I'm reluctant and fearful, when I believe and it settles very little. Faith, at least as I live it (and as I see it lived in Scripture), feels a little more like a vigorously shaken pop can than a placid countryside pond.

And maybe that's why you read here at Her.meneutics. You're hungry for something more than platitudes and empty pieties. You want the Bible—and culture—rigorously examined. And maybe you read because you're a doubter, and sometimes it's nice to keep company.

Three writers here at Her.meneutics have recently published books that, as we see them, linger in the troubled space between the periods—between God's Word says it and I believe it and that settles it. I've written a book on desire called Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith (IVP). (You may have already read my essay published earlier this month about the central thesis of my book: "Jesus Never Said, 'Be True to Yourself'"). Michelle Van Loon has written a book about regret called If Only: Letting Go of Regret (Beacon Hill Press), and Marlena Graves has written a book about wilderness experiences called A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press). We hope these books serve the readers of Her.meneutics, the broader church—and even the doubters among us.

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