O Rebel, Where Art Thou? Trait #5: Answer Avoidance

 As part of our ongoing commitment to great Wednesday content on our blogs, Melinda and I have another insightful post for you in our series on church rebels. Or actually Melinda wrote this one. All I did was cuss at the WordPress programmers who make formatting harder than it should be. But I like to think that still counts as a contribution on my part.



Answer avoidance 


A couple of years ago, I read something and decided maybe the way my religious tradition understood eschatology wasn’t the best possible exegesis of the texts.  So I “began a study” on eschatology, and by that of course I mean that I bought books, bookmarked internet articles, used up post-its  and a few pages in a few notebooks and compiled a list of questions.  And then explanatory questions.  And then a few more questions.  

And then I moved onto the next study.    

Rinse.  Repeat.

Thoughts for Rebels:  

Finish a study/book all the way through and develop an opinion on it.  
Sometimes, when I pause a book to “think about it,” I don’t come back to it, and then don’t come to a conclusion on the topic.  So finish something. And make a decision.  And then give grace to yourself… and to others.  I think part of the issue I have with saying “hey I believe this” is that what if tomorrow I wake up and something happens and I don’t believe this anymore?  The answer: just like there’s grace to have questions without answers,  there’s grace to arrive at an answer based on the evidence at my disposal, and then change my answer.  Find people who love answers but don’t know how to ask questions well and put yourself around them– sit next to them in church, join their small groups and invite them out for beers. They’ll push you toward answering your questions, and maybe they’ll learn something about asking some questions, too.  

Thoughts for leadership:

 Listen well.  If you’re not used to engaging questioners, it may be awkward at first.  Some of us are probably not all that used to really seeking answers.  When you have two people trying to figure something out for the first time, it’s bound to get awkward.  The way to meet that: listen well.  And where you step on each other’s toes, go back to square one and listen well again.  
We all want people to have informed belief systems. Figure out what your people are thinking about, and create space for study and discussion.  Rob Bell coming out with a new book you’re concerned your rebels will gravitate toward?  Pair one of them up with a teacher with a less heretical viewpoint, and ask the two of them to facilitate a discussion group.  This gives your rebel the motivation to keep studying and reach his answers, and gives you half a small group leader– win-win?


 Which issues do you have the most trouble arriving at clear opinions on? If you don’t struggle so much with questions, which issues are most frustrating for you when others won’t arrive at answers?

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12 Responses to O Rebel, Where Art Thou? Trait #5: Answer Avoidance

  1. Christie says:

    Excellent advice. I tend to be so comfortable with uncertainty, both/and, and all that is not quite black or white that I rarely put in the effort to determine a precise answer. I might need to do a little more of that.

  2. Erin says:

    Hell is a big one for me, and it’s super controversial. I cringed when I saw Francis Chan’s video about his new book “Erasing Hell”, he came off as condescending and it just made me want to read Bell’s book (or a better one on Christian Universalism since Bell’s wasn’t all that well researched and notated) all the more. What did I do? Didn’t pick up either book, read a bunch of blog posts about those books and moved on to the next thing.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Hmmm… just to tack on to that Hell issue, I bought Edward Fudge’s book “The Fire That Consumes” (the third edition which is evidently greatly expanded) so that I could figure out about Hell. Well, mostly I bought it because I like Edward so much and enjoy the way he writes. But I have not taken the book out of it’s shrink wrap yet. So if I ever get around to reading it, it will still be in nice, new condition. Or should I send it to you, David, since you are more likely to read it?

    But that leads me to what happens when I question. I have many questions, but I get overwhelmed by them and then just quit persuing them. Take the Hell question – I’ll get overwhelmed with all of the discussion that is going on WAY above my head that I don’t understand and I’ll shut down. If you ask me why I quit asking about it, I’ll shoot back, “does my knowledge of every detail of the afterlife have to be complete in order for me to do God’s work in my life today? No? Then leave me alone.” It might be true that I can work for God without knowing all of the answers, but it really means that I am overwhelmed with the people making arguments at PhD level when I am understanding the whole thing at about 9th grade level.

    I have two people I can go to on a regular basis with my questions. They don’t always have answers, but they seem to be able to point me in the direction of information that is more on my understanding level so that I don’t get so frustrated. I do have a Bachelor’s degree, so I’m not dumb, I guess. But I don’t have a degree in theology and I don’t know all of the lingo that scholars in that field use to poke at each other. I need lay persons terms at a low level.

    All of the sudden I can hear Chris Rock screaming, “do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”. :)

    • yeah… the questions can definitely get overwhelming. And the resources get incredibly dense. I find smart friends and make them do studies with me… which helps break things down… and actually holds me accountable to getting somewhere in my studies.

      Maybe someone should goad David into doing a hell series next?

  4. Good post, David.

    Interesting that 3 of the 4 comments are about Hell — I wouldn’t have gone that way with a comment (well, maybe I would have… I don’t know.) On the question of whether we settle on answers, I am one that tends to hang onto a question for a long time and keep coming back to it, tweaking my opinion, etc.

    On the Hell issue though, I’ve sort of settled on an answer and I think I need to write on it. (Here’s a link to my post where I say why: http://bit.ly/kvykVi ) But before you categorize me as someone that pushes opinions and doesn’t ask questions, realize that I’ve been dwelling on the Hell question for 27 years, and I’m just finally feeling sure enough in my opinion to share it.

    Erin – I read both the Chan and Bell books, don’t blame you for shelving the question.

    Carolyn – I’m guessing based on the title the Fudge’s book may have an annihilationist slant, which is sort of my opinion too. (If Lake of Fire is 2nd death, why do people assume lost souls live forever? Live forever while dead? Huh?) If I ever get around to writing my book on the topic (Reconciling Viewpoints: What About Hell?”), I intend to keep it use “lay person’s terms on a low level”: I don’t want to argue with the scholars, I want to put out a theory that anyone can understand.

    • Carolyn says:

      I wish I could tell you what Fudge’s book says, but I have no idea. I seem to remember from his daily emails (gracEmail – cute, huh?) that he does not believe in never-ending torment. But I don’t want to go too far out on a limb to vouch for his beliefs without really knowing.

    • I think any answer we come to is best held loosely… Read your post on hell and found it really interesting; it was something similar to the Cleese quote that got me first started on the potentiality for hell as other than “literal, eternal flames for people who didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer” or “absolutely non-existent.”
      I like where you arrived… and like Carolyn, it’s there in one of my stacks of books/bookmarks to wade through some day. I think you give a good overview and help frame the conversation well… would be quite interested in your reader-friendly book.

      • Thanks, Melinda. I agree with the “best held loosely” thought — after all, it’s theology we’re talking about, not salvation, know what I mean? (ie, we’re not saved by the details we believe, we’re saved by God’s grace in spite of the imperfections we have in our beliefs, our behaviors, etc.) Holding on tightly doesn’t improve our chances of being saved, it just increases our likelihood of acting judgmental.

        I really do need to write the book. I did write the outline a few months ago, and the basic ideas are all rattlin’ around in my head… nothin’ to it but to do it, right? Maybe I should do an abbreviated e-book first, then followup with the full paper version. In either case, I gotta get going on it!

      • Also… I should have said “good post, Melinda” — didn’t initially realize that it was you that wrote it instead of David.

        I keep the Cleese quote in my daytimer… reminds me that the world is waiting for an answer that makes sense.

  5. Pingback: Last Week’s Reading: on Female Popes, Anarchists, and Writers. « New Ways Forward

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