by Sam Stoddard
It has been said that faith is a journey and not a destination. While the intention of this sentiment is true, the language of it can be misleading. Allow me to clarify my intentions concerning it. When I use this axiom, I do not, in any way, mean to suggest that there are no solid Truths (capital T), immutable realities, or absolute transcendent realities that can, and must, be arrived at. As a Christ follower, I proclaim and affirm the truth of the scriptures, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the core tenants of the faith laid out in the Apostle’s Creed. I believe these to be immutably and absolutely True.
That established, let us now move on to the topic at hand: the Christian faith and the necessary evolution into maturity. As stated above, Christianity is a relentless inclined footpath, a scorched Arizona highway stretching out into the heart of the horizon like an arrow, or a scroll that never ceases to unravel. Acknowledging the harsh and beautiful realities of the world is the first step towards becoming a more mature and well-rounded Christian.
However, to conjure up the image of a mature Christian, we must logically assume the existence of its opposite – an immature Christian. Thus, my thesis: On the road of the Christian faith, I posit that there are three types of Christians that arise when confronted with doubt and suffering on the road of faith; The Evolving Man, The Static Man, and the Regressing Man. I will now explain each of these in some depth.
The Regressing Man.
You will often see this individual towards the start of the road, walking backward towards you, their face bloody and bruised, and dropping building blocks as they go along. This person is knowingly retreating from the goal, from the finish, with no real intention of resuming progress forward. The living embodiment of this idea is the deconstructing Christian. This is a Christ follower who has, typically, experienced a good deal of wounding, usually at the hands of the static Christian, social injustice, or the broader world. These are, usually, extremely sensitive and kind people who’s lack of maturity and spiritual evolution have cost them dearly.
It must be said, however, that many cases of deconstruction can be blamed, at least in part, on a significant lack of support and discipleship in their most dire moments from evolving, mature Christians. I myself have lost many friends to deconstruction and the number one reason I hear from so many ex-Christians is that their doubts were mischaracterized as sin, their fears were minimized, and their struggles were discounted. It has quite honestly become a decent bet to say that a large portion of the fault for the deluge of millennials exiting the church can be laid at the church’s feet.
Now, the church is not solely to blame for the immature Christian’s exodus from Truth, not at all, but rather it is the phenomenon of deconstructionists pulling others down with them. Rarely have I seen regressing Christians regress alone. There has, recently, sprung up a carnival on the side of the road that welcomes frail doubters in, assures them of their doubts validity, and entrenches them in what has begun to be called, “The Messy Middle.” A void of moral catharsis and ambiguity that soothes and blinds all who enter it. It feels good to these waylaid Christians to forget their questions, forget their doubts, and to reside comfortably in the “beauty” of “the mystery.” To them, absolute truth and concrete certainties are oppressive, close minded, and bigoted. They are trapped in a hypocritical paradox of blind searching. Thus, a Static Christian is born.
The Static Man.
This is perhaps the most dangerous persona to possess as a Christian. Imagine as you walk down the road you begin to notice people standing in the medians and on the shoulders looking down at the ground motionless and silent. Their hands are thrust in their pockets, their gaze locked and sleepy, and their breathing shallow and unbothered. You have just encountered the Static Man. This is the Christian who has swallowed the silent poison of pride and hubris and has said to themselves, “I don’t need to keep walking, for I know what lies at the end of the road. I know what this is all about. I have the answers. I’ve made it.”
This is the rigid fundamentalist or the “enlightened” progressive of our day. This is the pastor who has stopped seeking discernment or the student who has stopped attending teachings. Why? Because they believe they have found the answers and no one is permitted to question or rebuke them.
Doubt is a foreign idea to this spiritually static ideologue and a percieved sign of weakness. That is not to say that doubt does not linger in the shadowy basement of their minds, for it surely does, but rather that they have buried doubt so deeply down that it never has a chance to arise and be dealt with in a healthy way. If it should stay buried and unknown than the static man will have not foundation to withstand suffering.
You see, whenever the static man is assaulted by the winds of suffering and the hot rains evil, he shall discover, to the detriment of his faith, that he lacks a foundation and sturdy walls. His pride and empty self-assurance will act as blinder on a horse. Pain, evil, and suffering have a way of juking your masterfully built walls, your cathedrals of intellect, and your oaks of strength. There must be something more, something deeper, to the static man in order for him to get moving again along the road – to evolve. And this brings me to my final persona.
The Evolving Man.
This pilgrim is doing just that, following, implying consistent movement forward after the goal. The evolving Christian is one who carries him/herself in a manner that brings forth the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), who perseveres in Christ during times of physical, mental, and emotional struggle (James 1:2-4), and who acts in humility in all interactions (1 Peter 5:6-7, Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 4:2), to name a few. Is all of this to say that the Evolving Christian doesn’t doubt or falter? Of course not! Allow me to quote Pastor Tim Keller,
“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts…Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself…” – Timothy Keller
You see, doubt is an unavoidable phenomenon in the faith. It is natural and healthy, if handled properly. The mark of a mature, evolving Christian is to confront these doubts honestly, seek wise counsel from others in the Church, and plead with the Lord for wisdom. It may take years, it may take hours. However, the mature Christian seeks to cure their doubt with Truth and refuses to let it fester unanswered. The pursuit of Truth implies that you must hack through the jungles of Untruth in order to achieve your aims.
Similarly, when confronted with suffering, which is commonly an instigator for doubt, the mature Christian unavoidably finds their strength in God alone, not on any works of human strength or resolve on their part. To crush and break a mature Christian is to expose their inherent weakness while simultaneously revealing their dependency of Christ’s all-sufficient strength.