Lean Not On Your Own Understanding: The Fear of Thinking in Fundamentalism

If you have ever questioned what you were taught by conservative churches, I am sure you experienced a certain amount of fear and trepidation in doing so. This fear is built into the conservative Christian culture and is constantly reinforced by dire warnings to not stray from the truth because, if you do, God will be angry and you will be in great danger of eternal punishment in hell fire.

The threat of hell is very powerful to those who believe in hell. And, admittedly, if this threat were true it would cause any person significant concern about the dangers of questioning their beliefs. But I think the threats and warnings are no more valid than the conservative beliefs being questioned, even though the warnings supposedly have ‘scriptural’ support from the Bible itself.

A favorite proof-text often used to enforce warnings against questioning fundamentalist beliefs and to keep adherents on the straight and narrow is: ‘Lean not on your own understanding.’

Lean Not on Your Own Understanding!

Proverbs 3 says:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

This passage comes from the book of Proverbs—a book of wisdom for living a successful life. We discover from chapter 1 that this section is advice from a father, presumably Solomon, to his son. It deals primarily with choosing wisdom rather than making foolish choices as so many young men do. There is actually a great deal of good advice here for a young son subject to the attractions of falling in with his companions’ risky and self-destructive pursuits.

The father gives examples:

My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood, let’s ambush some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot”

My son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths.

Again the father says:

Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words.

The father does sometimes urge his son to remember his words and commandments:

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

The father summarizes his counsel to his son:

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.

Who can argue with this? Choose wisdom and understanding; preserve sound judgment and discretion—nothing wrong with that. But is this the message conservative believers try to convey when using this passage to warn people against questioning their conservative beliefs?

I don’t think so.

Lean Not on Your Own Understanding but on Our Understanding and Tradition Instead!

Do not question equals do not think

When conservative believers warn their members to ‘lean not on their own understanding’, are they saying to choose wisdom instead of self-destructive behavior? No, they are not. What they mean is to not question beliefs and doctrines such as angry god, biblical inerrancy, punishment in burning hell, legalism, anti-evolution, homophobia, and a host of other specific beliefs that are ‘God’s truth’ taught in the Bible.

They lift this phrase completely out of its context and make it into a command of God against questioning doctrines and rules we have been taught. The insinuation is we should not lean on our understanding but God’s. Or we should not lean on our understanding but the Bible.

But actually, these doctrines and rules are NOT ‘God’s own truths’ taught in the Bible but interpretations developed over time and passed down to generations of fundamentalist-evangelical believers. They have little to do with choosing wisdom in life over self-destructive patterns, but are instead about having ‘faith’ in a specific network of doctrinal beliefs—beliefs that cannot be questioned due to the extreme peril of ‘doubting‘ God’s true word (as understood by ‘us’).

‘It is dangerous to question or to think for ourselves, so we should not lean on our own understanding but on the understanding of our religious group and tradition. Questioning means thinking—thinking for ourselves; and we should not do that. We should accept the thinking of those who came before us and decided for all time what is true.’

So…

‘Do not question’ = ‘Do not think’

The lesson is: lean not on your understanding but ours‘Do not doubt; do not question; do not think; this is very dangerous behavior and should be avoided. God demands blind faith and mindlessness and will be angry and burn us in hell forever for entertaining our own thoughts, understanding, and reason.’

But I disagree. I do not think God wants blind faith and mindlessness. Doubting, questioning, and thinking are proper and healthy activities. Otherwise, our faith is not our faith at all—it is someone else’s faith.

As I mentioned above, this type of use of passages–even phrases–lifted out of context and treated as an independent propositional truth from God. Some people use a LOT of proof-texts, but this method is invalid. We will talk about that next time.

***

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92 Responses to Lean Not On Your Own Understanding: The Fear of Thinking in Fundamentalism

  1. tonycutty says:

    This is great, Tim. I am currently writing a bog post entitled ‘Fear Leads to the Dark Side’. Yoda was so roght: Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. You can see it in the way the fear rules those who are suffering.

    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been thinking about your post. And here is my concern with your entire theory which seems to be completely based upon evolution. You first of all reject all of the Apostle Paul’s writings based on the premise that he could not be a purveyor of truth since he believed in Adam and Eve and a young earth. Using your same reasoning you would of course have to reject anything and anyone that disagrees with any of your own thinking, which makes you no different than fundamentalist Christian that you speak of here.

    The man Saul of Tarsus was probably the only Scholar of the Jewish Scriptures who joined the believers of his day and who taught based on that knowledge. He as did the other disciples believed so fervently the Old Testament scriptures and in the fulfillment of the prophecies contained there in that he and each of them with the possible exception of John died for not rejection what they believed from them, as did Jesus I might add.

    You ask me to refute their teaching and accept the teaching of mostly men who did not even believe in Jesus let alone the scriptures because you say that evolution is a proven science. Many on this blog have not entirely agreed with you on this point I might add. Yes I think that critical thinking is necessary in order to discover truth about anything, but I have and am choosing to base my critical thinking on scripture, and therefore I am placing my faith in scripture and Jesus who claimed to be God in human flesh over evolutionary science which is so far not proven to be the source of human life and Spirit.

    Now as to thinking like the Fundamentalist, I do not; because they often do what you have done and they reject or ignore certain portions of scripture. In fact Peter would say. To you, them, and to me that many of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand and that many twist them to their own destruction (2Peter 3:15&16). This is a warning that I think that we all should consider. Thanks for hearing me out Jerry Parks

    Liked by 1 person

    • tonycutty says:

      Jerry, interestingly there were actually some Pharisees in the early Church; like Saul/Paul, they would have been scholarly men, and would have taught using that knowledge too. I think it’s in Acts 15, at the Council of Jerusalem, where they are mentioned.

      Liked by 1 person

    • newtonfinn says:

      Jerry, do you believe that belief itself is the key to salvation, that the concepts one accepts are the most important things to God? If so, how do you interpret the sheep and goats parable found in Matthew 25:31-46? My interpretation of this teaching, which for me is a key to interpreting so many others, is that the most important thing to God are our acts of love, empathy, and compassion. Such acts, even when done–no, especially when done–for their own sake, out of simple human sympathy and the recognition that “there but for the grace of God go I”–are of ultimate significance for our salvation, not whether we thought in certain ways or believed certain things while doing them. Which is not to say that thoughts and beliefs about God and life are not important in their own way. I suspect that this point about what matters most to God is the line of demarcation between those on the left and the right of the religious divide that runs through many faith traditions, and thank you for highlighting this issue.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      Don’t we all rely ultimately on our own understanding. People will often use intimidation or bullying to try to influence us to follow their understanding.

      Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jerry, I agree with you that not everyone in this community agrees with me on evolution–which is a good thing; I cannot learn anything if I only interact with people who agree with me. And, further, if any two believers agree on every religious issue then at least one of them is not thinking. So I thank you for sharing.

      So I cannot agree with your statement, “Using your same reasoning you would of course have to reject anything and anyone that disagrees with any of your own thinking, which makes you no different than fundamentalist Christian that you speak of here.”

      It sounds as though you approach the Bible as being inerrant, which I think distorts what the Bible is: “I have and am choosing to base my critical thinking on scripture.” As for Paul, I admire him greatly. I think he shares a lot insight with us that we would not otherwise know; but I don’t think his letters to his churches are inerrant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        Tim, evolution was the theory derived by Charles Darwin because it was consistent with a wide range of observations made by him and others. In recent years, it has been possible to test his theory using what we have learned about DNA. As far as I am aware, Darwin’s theory had passed this test with flying colors.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, this is my firm impression as well. Genetics seems to have confirmed Darwin for the most part and is even more comprehensive in its demonstration of evolution.

          Like

    • Chas says:

      attesc, If you put all your trust in scripture, then it will bring you down, because, being the words of men, it contains contradictions and inaccuracies and these will ultimately cause you to turn away from God.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas, thanks for the comment, the way I see it, if I don’t trust scripture I have no foundation on which to stand. In other words I can make up my own god and you can make up yours, Ivan do what some do and claim that I am a god. I can worship Mother Earth. The scriptures are the only reason a site like Jesus without baggage can exist, without them there is no Jesus with or without baggage. If in your mind scripture is contradictory and not reliable then you really have no basis on which to prove anything to anyone else. I put my trust in Scripture as the source of the Holy Spirits revelation of truth to me. You apparently believe in Jesus, and He said that He would send us another counselor who would led us into all truth. The very implication of that promise is that there are contradictory arguments going on in our understanding of God. So it should come as no surprise that some think the Bible to be contradictory, because they have not yet been led into much truth much less all truth.

        One thing that you may want to consider that Jesus said is this: Matthew 12:32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

        So do you believe that these are men’s words or Jesus words? The scripture tells you they are Jesus’ words, but men can tell you they are not. Who do you believe. You see all words are men’s words unless God decided to convey to us His word through chosen vessels. Think about it.

        My trust is in the God who chose to reveal Himself through His word who He tells us created everything that has been created, and that word is Jesus. The word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

        Tell me just what have you put your trust in that is not of man?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Chas says:

          attesc, The words that you have quoted are the words of a man and so hold no threat with which to try to intimidate me. God allowed some men to believe that they were His words, and different men to incorporate them into the canon of scripture. Because He is God, He has been able to reveal Himself through those words, even though they are the words of men, because He inspires the hearer/reader, when, or if, He chooses to do so. My trust is in God alone, not in man.

          Liked by 1 person

        • newtonfinn says:

          I’m not sure I got the reply you mentioned above but let me respond to this comment. For 36 years, I made my living as a lawyer involved, for the most part, in public interest litigation. In all that time, I never encountered a witness or a written document that was not unclear or ambiguous in some respect, and many of both were actually contradictory in places. That is simply part of the human condition. Even when my own words were being transcribed by a court reporter as I spoke them, they were often garbled or inaccurate. One time I recall with a smile is when I told the judge that I was late to court because I was suffering from gout, and the court reporter put in the record that I was delayed because I was talking in the hallway to Mr. Gout. Unless God micromanaged the writing of scripture, in which case he seems to have done a poor job in eliminating doubt and confusion over many passages, I think that we must view the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, in the same way I viewed witnesses or legal documents or court transcripts. The gist of the matter is there in most cases, the essential thrust is usually apparent, but you’ve got to take a lot of the evidence with a grain of salt and do some close reading between the lines. If one thing seems incontrovertible to me, it’s that God did not desire to spoon-feed us the truth but rather put us on a lifelong quest to decipher it as best we can,.

          Liked by 1 person

          • This is very helpful to me Newton…

            …I think this is related to why so often we have controversies where spiritual, mature Christians can hold seemingly opposite interpretations of things that seem so crucial they think of each other (and treat each other) as heretics: why would God allow this strife? Why not say to one “bless you, you are right about this!” and the other “repent child, you are wrong here!” But this almost never happens. Instead we have to hold the contradictions and we have to learn to live together in controversy…

            …I have come to recognize that God’s priority is relationships, and these in love, AND that these controversies are yet another aspect of life, one of the unfairnesses, that God uses as a foil to encourage us to grow in love: with God, and with each other. We resolve these controversies by coming together with God’s Spirit and working out the most loving responses, even if this means “holding the tension.” BUT this is NOT what the ego wants: the ego wants to be *right*, more than it wants to be in loving relationship, and overcoming ourselves in this way, is very much a dying to our self, our own egos that are often petty to a cruel degree…

            …I have decided to err on the side of love rather than judgment, because this is the example I see modeled by Jesus. This is not to say that I close my eyes to reality, nor the inconsistencies of myself and others, but I am more patient with people, and I realize that I more often than not do not have the complete understanding of another and their situations (or even myself and my own), and this causes me to respond more cautiously, with a deep awareness of my own brokenness, AND an overwhelming drive respond in the most loving way I can it leads me to something that has become a bit of a motto with me:

            “Abandon yourself to God (who has your back) and when in doubt, do the kind thing.”

            God’s prioity is Love rather than Judgment, and we know this because Jesus came and deals with our crap (*my crap*), the consequences of which I could not deal with and survive the experience. In sending Jesus, in forgiving us, God is saying “I would rather have a relationship with you than to be *right* – I will make up the gap.” This is what we are called to do with others, and there is no thing more difficult thing in life than this, I have found: forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, the on-going relentless grind this can beel, the abrasive in our lives that can shape us into creatures of incedible beauty, but can also reduce us to a pitiable condition. How risky is this? How risky is life, and freedom, and *especially* love! We are never so, much like God than when we risk ourselves to love the underloved and unlovely persons, even ourselves.

            Liked by 2 people

  3. Ken says:

    Extricating ones self from this mindset, programmed into us since childhood, is easier said than done. God is not an automaton; nor am I. I’m done being made to feel guilty for my questioning, which brings me closer to God, in whose image I am made.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Grace Vega says:

    Traci — though you would appreciate this explanation of how fundamentalist Christians support the idea that we aren’t to think critically about anything related to the Christian faith.

    On Aug 14, 2017 6:01 AM, “Jesus Without Baggage” wrote:

    > jesuswithoutbaggage posted: “If you have ever questioned what you were > taught by conservative churches, I am sure you experienced a certain amount > of fear and trepidation in doing so. This fear is built into the > conservative Christian culture and is constantly reinforced by dire warn” >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. fiddlrts says:

    Outstanding post. As a former Fundie, this is EXACTLY what is taught and what is thrown in one’s face any time a sacred cow is questioned.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Lean Not On Your Own Understanding: The Fear of Thinking in Fundamentalism | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  7. Paz says:

    So much of our knowledge about God and understanding of Jesus message can be found by looking deeply within ourselves and by examining how we treat others.
    Love always

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Lilly says:

    I still sometimes feel a guilt-like twinge when I post here. I just have to override it by assuring myself that’s normal for someone who’s been through what a lot of us have. Interesting to read some of the online reviews of this blog about how it’s satanic, blah-blah-blah, from people who’ve been brainwashed to not ask questions. Not only do they have the right to feel that way, they apparently feel the need to guilt others who use their brains to ask questions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Lilly, you are right; they do have a right to feel that way but guilting others for thinking and disagreeing is not the way to go. By the way, can you send a link on the online views you mention? I would really appreciate it.

      Like

  9. Charlotte Robertson says:

    This Sunday in church a visiting minister actually said that if there was anyone who looked at the Bible and questioned stuff he or she should STOP THAT RIGHT HERE AND NOW!! We had to believe EVERYTHING without questioning…. sigh…. And our little congregation just lapped it up. I sometimes feel I am on a different planet.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. quadratus says:

    The way I’ve mainly heard ‘lean not on your own understanding’ used as a proof-text is in response to folks questioning their present circumstances (a’ la Job). Often accompanied with the Jeremiah 29:11 favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Tim, a couple of years ago I read a neat little book entitled “The Sin of Certainty.” It definitely fits into this conversation. It’s an easy read and by a former fundamentalist. It hits the whole idea of certainty and no questioning and no asking really hard – as it should. A faith that can’t embrace questioning and doubt is a pretty weak faith frankly. How many times do we see great men of faith question and doubt. When we read Psalm 88, we see the psalmist question God pretty severely. Lamentations is full this as well. Some of the prophets get angry with God.

    The biggest point of all of this is why someone would just accept, without question, anything that is said about the Bible, just because they said so and they claimed to be some kind of expert. It’s no different than how some people just lap up what their favored politician says – regardless of what is being said. I never understood that kind of blind and ignorant faith in a person. Faith is a gift from God and we respond with trust in God. But that doesn’t mean that we automatically put our trust in the people who supposedly represent God without using a little bit of discernment and wisdom in which we can ask if what is being taught sounds like something that Jesus would preach or live out? That’s a start anyway. We can then ask – does this sound reasonable given the circumstances, or is what is being preached sound like a power play and a way to control a person for someone else’s benefit. I have found these to be good starting places for discerning church leaders, secular leaders, and politicians.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Luther, you are right that: “A faith that can’t embrace questioning and doubt is a pretty weak faith frankly.” I know many people who questioned and arrived at a stronger faith; on the other hand I have known those so attached to their weak faith that when they finally do question it they lose ALL there faith–often their old faith was built as a house of cards so that when one card fell the entire structure collapsed.

      I assume you refer to Peter Enn’s ‘Sin of Certainty’. I have it in my stack to read, but I have read a number of his other books and recommend them highly.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. newtonfinn says:

    Tim, this is probably not the appropriate place for this suggestion, because it doesn’t directly concern free thinking and fundamentalism, but I know you’ll go with the flow and consider it, as you always graciously do when off-point comments are made on your blog. Jesus Without Baggage is the epitome of a forum that embraces open and honest commentary while avoiding the harshness and polarization that has infected so many others, both secular and religious. We all owe you an immense debt of gratitude for the demeanor and tone that sets this blog apart from the pack. So, in that spirit, let me urge you to take up a really hot button topic in one of your upcoming posts: the increasingly open warfare between alt-right groups and Antifa groups, a simmering conflict recently brought to a tragic and bloody head in Charlottesville. I know you have addressed the violence/nonviolence issue on numerous occasions, but what about reopening the discussion with special emphases on the Jewish Prophetic Tradition, Jesus’ impassioned denunciation of the rich and powerful, and, of course, the cleansing of the temple? I, myself, am struggling to re-examine my positions and beliefs in light of these escalating tensions, both national and global, and there would be no better place than Jesus Without Baggage to engage with others who are similarly struggling with how Jesus’ words and actions relate to our current cultural wars as they move from cold to hot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      In regard to protests, they will always be more effective if kept non-violent. Ghandi was a good example of this and won independence for India from the British Empire in that way (however, that independence led to partition into India and Pakistan because of religious intolerance and violence was used widely on both sides). In regard the recent protests in Virginia, those protesting against the ultra-right lost the moral high ground when they too became involved in the violence.

      Liked by 1 person

      • newtonfinn says:

        Chas, these are precisely the kinds of issues into which I would like to dive deeper. Did you know, for example, that the boycotts led by Gandhi caused substantial loss of employment in England and, according to some, the starvation of English children? I’m providing a link to a piece about Reinhold Niebuhr’s take on this complex subject of nonviolent resistance. While I am not in agreement with Niebuhr, especially with his thinking toward the end of his career, he does provide food for thought and a touchstone for continuing dialogue.

        http://www.colorado.edu/ReligiousStudies/chernus/Niebuhr.htm

        Liked by 1 person

        • Chas says:

          Newton, yes, I was aware that the boycotts led by Gandhi led to some severe problems in UK. He visited Manchester and spoke to the representatives of those in the weaving trade who were suffering. Earlier generations in the same industry suffered because of the civil war in USA, which deprived the cotton mills of raw cotton picked by slaves. Nevertheless, the workers supported the North in ending slavery and even sent a letter of congratulation to Abraham Lincoln afterwards.

          Liked by 2 people

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, I very much agree that non-violent protests are always the way to go–and they are perhaps the most effective tool available. It is true that India underwent a violent partition afterwards, but I don’t think it was the fault of the protests but based on other issues.

            Like

          • Chas says:

            Tim, yes, much of the problem in the partition of India started from the politicians, from all sides.

            Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Hi Newton, just letting you know that I just read the article you linked on Niebuhr. It was an interesting article; thanks for sharing it.

          Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, first thanks for your kind words about comment sections of the blog. Early on I tried to cultivate such an environment and had a number of regular commenters who fully supported it (and still do). I am very pleased with the way discussion occurs here.

      I have only recently become aware of Antifa groups; I have now read a bit about them but not enough to have a solid idea of who they are and what they are about. My firsts response to them is that violence is not appropriate for either conservative or liberal groups or individuals. I believe in protest and advocacy–but not violence, vandalism, or destruction of property.

      I think Jesus teaches his followers against violence, so I think any kind of violence is wrong for believers; I was a pacifist during the Vietnam War for this reason and would not serve.

      You mention “emphases on the Jewish Prophetic Tradition, Jesus’ impassioned denunciation of the rich and powerful, and, of course, the cleansing of the temple.” A number of the prophets, along with Jesus, did indeed denounce the rich and powerful, which I think we believers should do as well when needed. In my opinion, the kingdom of God is a constant source of opposition to power and greed (Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!); but it is not violent.

      Now I would not participate in a ‘cleansing of the temple’ event, but I am not Jesus. However, while some people point to that event as violent I disagree. Art often shows Jesus beating the businessmen with the cords, but the Bible does not say he did that–it says he drove out the livestock, which is the appropriate use of the cords. Jesus demonstrated against trade in the temple courts and disrupted business, but we need not assume that he injured anyone or destroyed their property.

      I will give some thought to your suggestion for an article on the Antifa and such, but I am not sure when that might be. In the meantime, you might be interested in my article on the cleansing of the temple at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/does-the-cleansing-of-the-temple-show-jesus-violence-i-dont-think-so/.

      Thanks for bringing up this important point!

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, this is to let you know that the discussion post you suggested regarding violence and politics is scheduled for September 11.

      Like

  13. Paz says:

    I guess to respond in Jesus words and actions in any form of conflict, one must be BEFORE ready to respond in Christ’s way with a certain amount of wisdom and/or humbleness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Paz, I agree! I think we must absorb Jesus’ guidance on these things ahead of time to be better prepared for an appropriate response.

      Like

  14. As one who has long tended to “think thoughts (and ask questions) I shouldn’t,” I’ve always been eyed with suspicion by my fellow consevative believers. The fear of these is palpable among Evangelicals and it is seen as tantamount to rebellion (against God and God’s anointed leaders)…

    …As a profoundly sensitive and morally serious perfectionist, I was once tormented by several double-binds**, and especially one regarding humility. These were seriously debilitating thought-traps I had accumulated over my years with Christ, and after I had dared (out of desperation***) to question God about these, God’s Spirit gently reassured me that I *always* had the right to question what I was taught and what I understand to be “God’s will,” BECAUSE God would not peanalize me for looking-at and evaluating-the-performance of my moral compass.

    **My “Humility double-bind…”

    0) On the authority of God:
    1) You must be a humble person before God and others, or you hurt God (sin).
    2 ) Any conscious attempt to be a humble person (or examine oneself eith regard to humiltiy) is in fact an example of (sinful) pride.

    For this to be a double-bind, #1 and #2 must be obeyed at the same time. BUT the fact the both are mutually exclusive is not immediately obvious, and the impossibility of the situation cannot be questioned by the authority of #0 (authority of God) which has an existential degree of threat over the bound. What freed me of this bind, and all others, was the fact assurance that God would never put God’s moral creatures into such a “no-win” situation, and is God over any other authority that might take the place of #0 (such as a pastor or teacher), therefore I am declared morally free to question and evaluate anything so that I can be the best and mentally healthiest person possible.

    ***The desperation arose as the point where I no longer cared about Heaven or Hell: I was at the point where I had written-off Heaven and actually asked God to dispose of me in Hell. I have been at this point uncounted times in my walk with Jesus. God has never answered my prayer to be discarded as I asked, rather has answered more and more clearly that I am held closely and valued for the person God created me.

    I cannot adequately explain the degree of relief this has given me in the last sixteen years.

    Meanwhile, knowing I would be proceeding into difficult and dangerous “places” with my gender issues, I asked God to bind me to God’s altar so I could not jump off of it and run away from God when things became overwhelming: I know I lack strength and wisdom to remain true to God, and my only hope is for God to hold tighter to me: such has been like the swaddling of an infant, and has held me secure when everything seemed hopeless.

    And among other good things, I am now a “recovering perfectionist.”

    Blessings & Joy!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Chas says:

      Brettany, it seems to me that your point 1) should maybe read: ‘we need to have humility in front of God (only), or we will hurt ourselves’. You seem to be doing fine, because this humility is to do what God has told you to do, and your comments on other posts confirm that you are doing that. This also negates point 2), since you need not examine yourself on this, just do what you are told to do. Neither do you lack other types of humility, since you acknowledge that you cannot overcome your past problems on your own, but need God’s help

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Brettany, I agree with you; the fear of questioning is palpable among Evangelicals. And I think it particularly misguided to be accused of rebellion against God’s anointed leaders. How did they come to receive this ‘anointing’ and authority? Perhaps we are anointed too.

      I really like your description of your humility double-bind and its impossible tension, but what I love even more is your conclusion: “What freed me of this bind, and all others, was the fact assurance that God would never put God’s moral creatures into such a “no-win” situation, and is God over any other authority that might take the place of #0 (such as a pastor or teacher), therefore I am declared morally free to question and evaluate anything so that I can be the best and mentally healthiest person possible.”

      You have had quite a journey and seem to be doing quite well with it!

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Charlotte Robertson says:

    Wow Brettany, I had never heard of ‘double binds’ or any binds for that matter. I am just trying to understand all the thoughts that were imposed on fundamentalist Christians. By other people. We can learn a lot from the Jews, who are always looking at the scriptures from every possible side without feeling it is a sin to do so. I am not talking about fundamentalist Jews here, ofcourse. On a lighter note: Have you read my book? It is called ‘Humility and How I Achieved It.’

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Nick says:

    i left a comment on your contact info page. But i saw this was more recent so figured id post here as well. Tim you are the only one who has made me feel the love God has for me without condition. But,whatever it is, is still worry about conditional salvation. I am but dust to the Lord and i worry i want to believe this simply because as a human I dont want to believe God would send anyone to an eternity of punishment for 100 years of sin. Ive always thought God can do anything. And matching that with his love denying His eternal gift of salvation doesnt mean condemnation but simply annihilationism. A ceased existence. Though it is not suffering it would be of our own free will not to take the gift but he would not condemn us for it. when i became a believer recently i came with questions, as i read more of the bible and prayed for wisdom those lingering questions still persisted. “why would God let us suffer for eternity” “why would God make someone with a biological disposition to be gay and then condemn him?” “why would God born a pharoah in egypt only to use him as an example knowing his only destiny to be a heardened heart and an, assumably, eternity in hell?” But on the other side of those questions are these “do i want to believe this simply because i dont want to acknowledge Gods punishment for those who disobey”,”is my human reasoning leading me astray from what is true about Gods righteousness and the way he deals with sin?”, “am i being blasphemous to even consider questioning gods judgement and what he sees fit as punishment for the unjust?”. Either side of the coin im still afraid. What I do know in my heart is there is a God, that he does love me, and that if attonement is necessary ONLY our Lord Jesus Yashua Christ can pay the way to our salvation. What i dont know is what plagues my mind with fear,guilt,anxiety and worry. I just want peace and though the Lord has been working wonders in my physical and mental health i still worry about my inadequacy. Either way i cut it im worried im relying on human capacity to understand the will of God over God himself. Be it from the fundementalist or from my questioning there of of their doctrines of legalism and conditional salvation. May I ask if you’ve had this doubt on your journey, has the Lord given you any reassurance or testimony to speak of in favor of such things,how do you deal with doubt?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Nick, I am glad I have helped you feel the love God has for you without condition. But I also understand the residual fear and doubt; many of us have grown up to constant warnings about an angry god who some feel is harsh, easily offended by us, and is vindictive. I think these are harmful beliefs but they have been drilled into us and are very powerful.

      Further, I don’t believe the Bible teaches punishment after death. You might be interested in the resource page on hell on the blog; it contains articles by myself and others explaining why punishment in hell is not even a biblical concept. https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/hell/

      I am a hopeful universalist–I think God may yet bring every single person to reconciliation–but I have questions about whether God will force someone’s free will. For example, if God does not allow domination of others in the afterlife, and there are those who cannot tolerate the restriction on dominating others, perhaps God gives them the choice of annihilation; but it will be their choice.

      Here I must agree with Charlotte, you do not seem to be a person who is trying to find a way around God; you seem to be very genuine in your desire to be for and with God.

      You state: “What i dont know is what plagues my mind with fear, guilt, anxiety and worry. I just want peace and though the Lord has been working wonders in my physical and mental health i still worry about my inadequacy. Either way i cut it im worried im relying on human capacity to understand the will of God over God himself.” I understand this too–it is part of the fundamentalist model of fear. But keep in mind that if you are concerned about your capacity to understand the will of God, it is not better to adopt someone else’s understanding of God even if they claim to know all about it; it is just their opinion and interpretation passed down from one generation to another.

      You ask if I had any fear and doubt. Yes, I did–big time. I wrote about it here. It is in three parts and the resolution is most important, but you might wish to read all three segments:
      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/about-tim-chastain/my-spiritual-crisis/

      By the way, I apologize for the delay. I was unexpectedly without my computer for over a week and discovered both your posts (here and in Contact) when I got it back.

      Please let me know if any of this helps, and let me know if I might be of further help.

      Like

  17. Charlotte Robertson says:

    Tim, I know Nick asks you the question and not me, but I feel so for Nick and his worries. We all have them. But then I remember the text : Seek and you shall find. And Nick so obviously seeks with all his heart. Is God not more faithful to us than we can ever be to Him? Would God want any of us, who want to know Him, say that we are not good enough? Is that Love? Just a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Hey guys, I apologize for the delay in reading your comments. I was unexpectedly without my computer for more than a week.

    Like

  19. Paz says:

    Welcome back Tim! Thanks for the replies and positive feedback 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Peter S says:

    Hello, I’ve come across your blog and find many of the articles really interesting and they do present a different take on Christianity than evangelical fundamentalism. However, may I ask what do we do with church history? Church history seems to be filled with very conservative theology especially concerning eternal torment and other harsh doctrines. How do we account for the fact that God allowed so many (perhaps the majority) of Christians to believe these types of doctrines for so long?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Peter, I am glad you have found the blog interesting.

      You raise a good point about the status of various doctrines in church history. I would begin by saying that early church writers were not at all unified on most doctrines, including hell; in fact some were universalists. Theological reflection and teaching was quite open and quite varied, with major schools disagreeing on a number of issues and this has continued down to today. Even though it might seem that there is strong general historical consensus on most doctrinal beliefs–there is not.

      A couple of things happened though that reduced that openness somewhat. Around 300 AD there was a strong (and ultimately successful) move by Alexandria to oppose certain ideas of some valid Christian teachers. Joining together with the Roman Empire for the first time, Alexandria was able to condemn and exclude countless numbers of genuine believers from the ‘official’ Empire-approved church–because they disagreed on a speculative doctrine. And these were not the only believers who were condemned and excluded for having differing views.

      However, doctrine was still not uniform and never has been. Church history simply does not provide a consistent, agreed-upon body of beliefs, even though some fundamentalists/evangelicals seem certain that they have custody of the one true body of doctrinal truth as opposed to everyone else. As to why God ‘allowed’ conservatives to believe these things, I think it is the nature of conservatism to hold onto received ideas even in the face of opposing thought.

      I don’t know if this helps any, but feel free to continue the conversation.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, I would suggest that it would be impossible to provide a consistent, agreed-upon set of beliefs, because of the contradictory views represented by the wide range of writers in the canon of scripture. This is why there has been division at a seemingly ever-increasing rate in the church. The rate was lower in the past when the Roman church forbade access to the bible for non-clergy, so that the official views of the church could not be challenged. As soon as more widespread discussion of the bible started to take place, disagreements, resulting in divisions, took hold.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Good point, Chas. You are right in that the very writers of the New Testament had differing thoughts and focuses on issues, but I think this is the way it ought to be. We learn of the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God but with little elaboration on all the details. In the end, though, it is the broad picture, not the details, that are most important.

          Like

      • If one removes their “Christian goggles” for a bit to consider the Bible as simply a book, it would be difficult for the evolution of society and God’s interaction with it to go unnoticed. God deals with us as individuals, but also as families, tribes, societies and humanity as a whole: at times, God treats each of these levels as-if they were an individual. As a parent, I could not help but notice how God early in history, God dealt with humanity as a parent would with a young child, focusing-in on individuals, families, tribes and societies in order to help them to a fuller understanding of God, BUT ALSO a more loving, healthy approach to life. Early-on there are strict rules and a strong connection between cause and effect. As the child grow, the rules relax as they become exposed to (and must cope with) the increasing complexities and paradoxes within themselves and life. Always, there is a move from external things/rules/motivations/survival toward the internal things/concepts/motivations/love. Early-on, we are having to learn something of self-control in ways that only a child can grasp. Later as we have grown, we have these things internalized and we are in a better position to move from the letter of the law to the spirit. Does everyone make it to adulthood? No, and neither has every grouping of humanity, and there is a LOT of stumbling, but more and more we know that love & relationship (and these imply, even require inclusion) are the ends to which God uses our experiences (as individuals all the way up to societies).

        We as individuals are in the “school of our lifetime,” and so also is everyone on earth with us. It takes a single lifetime for a single person to grow, but it appears to require millennia for societies, and humanity to grow.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Brettany, I think you are right. As a people we have continued to learn more about God’s character throughout history, with the teaching of Jesus being the most significant push forward. As a society we are still learning and growing.

          Like

        • Chas says:

          Brettany, thank you for that perceptive comment. I had never looked at the OT compared with the NT in the broad terms that you have, and so have missed this child-like/adult-like contrast.

          Liked by 1 person

        • newtonfinn says:

          So true. And I have a feeling that humanity is in for a growth spurt (painful as parts of that process are) as material crises force us to seek spiritual support and direction.

          Liked by 1 person

          • There is a theory of societal development called Spiral Dynamics that dovetails with this part of the thread.

            Here is a link to an (lengthy) overview. Sadly, I haven’t found a brief overview that doesn’t somehow make this theory sound kitsch-y or “New Age-y.” Nevertheless, I think it has quite a lot of merit, and it has been applied to real-world-problems with success.

            Like

    • newtonfinn says:

      Peter, the older I get (and I’m now pushing 70), the less I find myself interested in church history and tradition and the more I find myself immersed in the experience of Abba as my companion, guide, and strength, and in trying to absorb the core teachings of the historical Jesus, as best I can glean them from scholarship, reflection, and intuition. Increasingly, I feel a disconnect between Christianity as it evolved as an institution and my personal religious experience and growing intimacy with what I believe to be Jesus’ heart and mind. Albert Schweitzer advised us to seek connection with Jesus will-to-will, not striving to think in the same terms he thought (obviously historically conditioned, because he was fully incarnate), but rather to love and desire the same things Jesus loved and desired for our brothers and sisters and ourselves, and, as Schweitzer further pushed it (correctly IMHO), for all living things and all creation. God’s part, if any, in how Christian history and tradition unfolded after Jesus’ death and resurrection remains a mystery to me, but I refuse to be unduly troubled by it. I’m fairly certain that we are not here to figure out God, as if we could, but rather are intended to relate to him, lean upon him, and learn from him, as a child interacts with a loving parent. That is the atmosphere in which Jesus Without Baggage allows us to breathe and ventilate. All sorts of questions and concerns about Christianity are explored and opened for lively discussion, but always under the gaze of Abba and in accord with what I have come to recognize as the personality and character of Jesus. I encourage you to do what I have done and continue to bring your issues to this gracious table.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I am very much this way too Newton.

        Liked by 2 people

        • newtonfinn says:

          Just wanted to say, Brettany, that I really benefit from reading your comments. There are many voices on Jesus Without Baggage who are struggling to speak truth (as best we can ascertain it) with one another in the loving and creative spirit of Jesus. I imagine He had some very interesting conversations with His small group of followers, of which there are intimations in Scripture. In talking with one another here, we are following Him.

          Liked by 2 people

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Newton, you have a lot of good thoughts here. I really like your statement: “the older I get (and I’m now pushing 70), the less I find myself interested in church history and tradition and the more I find myself immersed in the experience of Abba as my companion, guide, and strength, and in trying to absorb the core teachings of the historical Jesus, as best I can glean them from scholarship, reflection, and intuition.”

        I am much the same way. I am interested in church history but not cowed by it.

        Also: “I’m fairly certain that we are not here to figure out God, as if we could, but rather are intended to relate to him, lean upon him, and learn from him, as a child interacts with a loving parent.” Good stuff!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Newton, re: Abba – I think of God this way also, very frequently, and also Amma. It’s encouraging to me to see someone else do this also.

        Liked by 2 people

  21. Peter S says:

    Thank you all for your replies. I agree that it would be difficult to extract a specific set of doctrines from early church history and that there was a certain diversity of doctrine. I guess I was just hoping that there were certain teachers in the early church that expressed some of the same opinions as those expressed on this blog. Most of the leaders from the early church (especially the early church fathers) that I know about seem to always have a very legalistic mindset and always seem to be telling their followers that they are on the verge of going to hell not to mention their very harsh views on women and Jews. Nevertheless, as you all have said, we do not know what everyone taught in the early days of the church and I’m sure there was as much diversity in thought as there is today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Chas says:

      Peter, I think we can be certain that the doctrine(s) that survived and were adopted by the church were the ones that God wished to survive and so fulfil His/Her purposes.

      Like

  22. Pingback: How Proof-texting is Ineffective and Disrespects the Bible | Jesus Without Baggage

  23. Nick says:

    I finally remembered to check back in. Im thankful for your reply. I still worry and im praying to get rid of it. In my heart your words really speak to me and resonate with “the person of faith” i want to be myself. I too am wary of saying im a christian because of the connotation attatched to its religious piety of followers. And im FAR from piety to even speak in condemnation of others. I like to think worst case scenario hell is a place to put those who cannot or dont want to be reconciled with God to rest. In short i think at worst hell is about annihilationism. I hear all the time “God is merciful BUT he is a righteous judge” as if they are mutually exclusive terms. Ive seen through my mother what unconditional love is and she,even as an imperfect human, would NEVER want me to be tortured forever even if i wronged her as much as i have in my teenage years. I mean even if we as humans have condemned cruel and unusual punishment against civil human rights how could a perfect God even speculate such?! Ive come to learn alot in my search, like how sheol and hades (grave) and gehenna (a burning trash pit) was translated into hell and how the idea of eternal concious torment was forced on the church through violence in the hellenistic era. And even more so what we have been taught to picture of hell comes from Dantes “the devine comedy” and how the idea of an *inherent* immortal soul is actually a pagan belief which was adopted by the church like many holidays were. But i also share your hopeful optimism of universal salvation. I really enjoy your blog and i pray you keep it up. For people like me who come to faith and then feel they arent good enough or even scared away from strict fundamentalist. Or when cant reconcile some of the scripture with a loving god, passed down by man and his erroneous thinking. I like the qoute from plato “God made man in His image and we returned the favor”. I like to think legalism, punishment in which the offender must suffer, and the idea of an angry God is a reflection of what some WANT God to be instead of what he truly is. He is love. and if my mother taught me anything true love is not cruel or controlling. Most of all one passage in the bible strikes me as i read your blog (and forgive my paraphrasing) “if man is wicked but knows how to give his child good things how much more will God give to those who will ask?” or in other words, as i prayed for wisdom and understanding would God REALLY have guided me to your blog and others that seem to back up what i was feeling in my heart? I dont think God would decieve me by leading me astray. I still have doubts and worries but im working on those,and your blog really helps a lot. Dont listen to anyone who condemns you for speaking what you know as truth. Ive found often those who scream heresy are the ones in the very act. When I hear a sermon i ask myself “is it preaching about love or fear of God”. Fear does no good to reconcile people with God. I know this is a long post but please keep up this blog! thank you so much for everything you do. I love you brother for continuing to teach. God bless.

    Nick

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Nick, your comment contains so many good things! It seems to me that you are well along in your journey away from the baggage of conservative Christianity. I don’t think it is unusual that you still have some fear and doubt, but I think it will lessen as time goes on and you become more confident in the things you are discovering.

      You said: “I hear all the time “God is merciful BUT he is a righteous judge” as if they are mutually exclusive terms.” I hear this so often! It is part of the fabric of the misguided theory of penal substitutionary atonement that ‘God is righteous and MUST punish sin!’, meaning that God has no choice but to burn people in hell unless they toe the line. Where does this come from? The bible doesn’t teach it. Actually it is from John Calvin just around 500 years ago, and it is a harmful doctrine that causes great damage to people.

      It sounds to me that you are very informed about the biblical facts regarding the idea of ‘punishment in hell’. That in itself is a great step away from the baggage of fundamentalism. With that, a lot of the fear begins to go away. I agree with you that God is love.

      I am glad you find the blog helpful and hope you continue to do so. Thanks for the kind words!

      Like

  24. Nick says:

    P.s. Im not sure if people here are familiar with him but i feel that there is a similar consensus with a preacher named Brennan Manning. He is also great at speaking of Gods grace and unconditional love and headbutting what ive come to consider “the harsh doctrines of the new pharisees”. Definitely worth checking out! Much love to all of you family!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Nick, I was previously unfamiliar with Brennan Manning but I did a little bit of reading on him. Thanks for bring him to our attention!

      Like

  25. Nick says:

    No problem! Also i was wondering if maybe you could do some research and do a blog about sexuality. From my understanding the anti-sex mantra,along with the eternal torment in hell, came from gnosticism. Im sure many christians have been psychologically abused by this idea that sex is inherently a sin when sexual laws of the old testament, unfortunately, had more to do with treating the women as property and violations of said property right. Im not sure if youve already written on sexuality but if not i thing it would be a great topic as its one even mature christians fear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Nick, I have not written specifically on the idea that sex is inherently a sin; and I would have to refresh my memory on how this relates to Gnosticism. However, I have written a good bit on gays and the church and against the claim that being gay is sin. I have collected articles on that topic by myself and others here.
      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/gays-and-the-church/

      In addition, in the future I will address the harmful beliefs of Christian patriarchy, fundamentalist purity culture, and how they relate to the oppression of women and the sexual abuse of women and girls. I hope this is of interest to you.

      Like

  26. Nick says:

    Most everything you write is of interest of me brother! you desire the truth and dont simply take what is told by the traditions of men. I think its a blessing and a curse that God bestows healthy skepticism especially in means of theology and christian fundamentalism. Im looking forward towards your articles and hope you consider writing about the sexual purity movement. As i believe sex was a gift of God and denying it not only denies his gifts to us but mentally traumatizes many adolescents and many who marry with ideas about sex being a sin. It reminds me of a quote i once heard ” growing up in Houston Texas i learned two things. God loves me and im going to hell. and that sex is a disgusting sin and i should save it for someone i love” hahah. And im with you on the horribly unloving stances towards gay people. Im semi well versed in the hermenuetics of what was actually being forbidden and it was not being gay. It was about temple prostitution, idolatry and in the case of sodom and gommora it had to due with their in-hospitality, rape, pederasty, etc. Even IF being gay was a sin, which i dont believe it is, no gay christian will go to hell for being gay as i would for being an adulterous lying muderer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Nick, we seem to have wide area of agreement here. And I do plan to write about the fundamentalist sexual purity culture as well as their dating culture; it is very harmful to young people. However, it will likely be early next years when I do that series.

      You state that: “Im semi well versed in the hermeneutics of what was actually being forbidden and it was not being gay. It was about temple prostitution, idolatry and in the case of sodom and gommora it had to due with their in-hospitality, rape, pederasty, etc.” Indeed, it seems that you are well informed on the contexts of these passages used to condemn LGBT people.

      Thanks for your kind words that most of what I write is of interest to you. I am glad you find my posts interesting.

      Like

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