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Without Fear And Trembling

April 22, 2009

James McGrath of Exploring our Matrix has a few ideas that aren’t generally appreciated by some of the more conservative members of the evangelical church. One of the commenters on his blog recently dobbed him in to his pastor. McGrath doesn’t make much of the condescension implied (“If you don’t stop writing such silly things, lad, I might just have to contact your parents!”) but he wasn’t worried. His pastor knows and understands McGrath’s thinking already.

McGrath suggests that the slogan for his adult Sunday School class should be “Come work out your salvation without fear and trembling.” He continues:

I do think that there is a genuine and appropriate fear and trembling involved in exploring life’s most important questions. But that is fear before God and personal acknowledgement of the seriousness of the matter. But too often, one’s fear and trembling when “working out their salvation” is fear of recrimination, fear of ostracization, fear of other people and their opinion.

Such concerns often lead doubts to be denied publicly, perhaps even denied to ourselves. In such circumstances, being a Christian often becomes a matter of appearance, of pretending to be more certain than one really is, or simply refusing to ask certain kinds of questions. I often think that, if I had had to work out my salvation while pretending in this way lest I find myself in conflict with those around me, it might well have led to hypocrisy and, in the end, to a loss of faith. For I am persuaded that intellectual and spiritual dishonesty is much more toxic to faith than honest questioning, historical criticism, academic investigation, or anything else that fundamentalists find threatening and at odds with a genuine Christian faith.

It’s a sad fact of church life that we have to be quiet about the things we think. We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve had to think twice about saying something because the argument that would ensue is just not worth the effort.

Yet if we can’t work through the bigger issues of life in church, where can we go? If we’re too scared to ask genuine questions how can we ever really learn?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Steven Carr permalink
    April 22, 2009 11:06 am

    Question the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth or Judas or Thomas and see what Christians think of you…

  2. Cameron permalink
    April 24, 2009 8:58 am

    Thanks for your comment, Steve.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head—if you have genuine questions about such things it can be very difficult to ask them without risking rejection by your friends.

    I have had my salvation questioned a number of times because I have asked fairly fundamental questions at the very basis of our faith. I don’t worry about it that much any more, but it did force me to realise that I am saved by the grace of God and by the work of his son, not by my assent to a set of intellectual propositions.

  3. April 24, 2009 8:06 pm

    If anyone is interested, I comment here on my “outing” Dr McGrath.

  4. April 27, 2009 3:52 pm

    It looks like I missed some interesting happenings in the blogosphere while I was gone. I’m off to catch up. 🙂

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