Hello, Everyone! This post comes from one our favorite contributors, David Clark. He gets around the bloggernacle and apparently he gets around the larger theological universe, as well. I think you’ll enjoy this post. I know I did when I first read it.
The impetus for this post comes from a blog entry at Parchment and Pen: a theology blog. I encourage everyone to go and read the full blog entry. The blog is written by an evangelical Christian for evangelical Christians. However, in this blog entry if you just mentally replace all references to “Christian” with “Mormon” you get an insightful commentary on the state of our church with respect to intellectual crisis. I found this blog insightful for two reasons: 1) Evangelicals face many of the same problems we do; it’s alway nice to see that you are not alone and 2) his solution to the problem is in my opinion the right one as it goes beyond “innoculation” which has been discussed online recently (see the blog formerly known as a podcast called Mormon Matters).
In a nutshell what is the intellectual crisis facing evangelical churches?:
The majority of churches simply do not stimulate serious discussion concerning matters of theology. Most people do not find the church as a safe place to ask serious questions. In fact, most people are trained to fear any doubt, reserve questions, or to put away any sinful antagonistic feeling concerning any challenge that comes to the table.
Sounds very similar to complaints from some Mormons.
Another complaint sometimes heard is that church members and leaders either intentionally or unintentionally obscure doctrine and history.
The church, unfortunately, more often than not, is in the obscuring business. No, not intentionally, but it is true. We protect ourselves and those we love from any “false doctrine” that leads away from Christ by hiding the issue or give a quick sound-bite apologetic which obscures and belittles the arguments of any opposition.
Again, similar to complaints on our side of the fence. I do think his response, essentially yes it happens but with the best of intentions, is refreshingly honest and something we could all reflect on. He continues on giving a standard Mormon intellectual deconversion story (not his), but told from the standpoint of an evangelical Christian. Again, it’s sometimes nice to know that others are facing the same problems as we are.
His proposed solution is one that I think is the correct one for Mormons as well, at least in my opinion:
We need to welcome doubt and questions even at the deepest level. The church should be a safe place that people feel welcome when they are going through intellectual trials, not a place they run from.
In the long run I think this kind of attitude and structure will be more successful than attempting “innoculation.” Innoculation tries to be too smart by 1) trying to prevent problems before they start and 2) giving the smallest dose possible to prevent future problems. It would take solomonic wisdom along with the ability to see into the future for innoculation to work. I think it’s just better to admit that people are going to get sick and get the hospital ready for them. Treating the disease/sickness is dealing with a real person having a real problem, while innoculation deals with a theoretical problem that a person might have.
Of course I am all for prevention, but I think the proper metaphor here is proper diet and exercise, not innoculation. Proper diet and exercise is something strenuous and ongoing. Again quoting from the blog:
This includes critical engagement of what we already believe. The church should be facilitating this. This is simply discipleship 101. But the problem is, most of us don’t know how to critically engage issues ourselves. We have been trained to be scared.
I realize that expecting critical engagement of Mormon doctrine and history out of Sunday School puts me squarely in Fantasyland. But, this guy claims he is setting up these kinds of programs in evangelical churches. If the evangelicals can do this, can’t we?
The part of the entry which hit home the hardest was when he quotes a lady on another blog who has this to say:
It is easy (incredibly easy in fact) to find an advocate to lead one to reject the church and join the freedom of the secular world; it is hard, often well nigh impossible, to find an advocate to help one explore the hard questions of the faith.
If it’s hard for evangelicals, who outnumber Mormons probably 5 or 10 to 1 in the U.S., to find this kind of support then it’s harder still for Mormons.
I realize that this is probably just whining in vacuum but I wanted to put some questions to the readers. Do you find the situation he describes in evangelical Christianity similar to what you see in Mormonism? Is his suggestion of cutting the fluff and implementing instruction based on openness, hard questions, and critical inquiry possible or feasible? Finally, I want to put the same question to you that is at Parchment and Pen:
In the end, wouldn’t it be better to have someone reject the faith under your informed and intellectually honest education process, than to accept an obscured version of the faith that is predisposed to collapse?