Friday, December 28, 2018

Taking a break from church

In this article, Maxwell makes some good points. That said:

i) Losing confidence in Christianity ought to erode confidence in values generally. Indeed, the logical link between faith and value is a reason to maintain commitment to Christianity. 

ii) Especially if you're passing through a season of doubt, I wouldn't recommend reading divergent views on theodicy, since that will be disorienting at a time when your faith is already disoriented. Stick with something reliable, like Why Is There Evil in the World (and So Much of It?) by Greg Welty. Also, Leibniz and Plantinga are too cerebral for most laymen. 

iii) There's a difference between doubt and loss of faith. 

iv) As for taking a break from church when you suffer a crisis of faith, that raises a number of questions:

It depends on part on whether you're suffering from emotional doubt or intellectual doubt. I don't see how intellectual doubt is a reason to resent the company of other Christians.

By contrast, since emotional doubt involves a sense of alienation from God, that's more likely to alienate you from a sense of fellowship with other Christians. 

v) It also depends on the kind of church you attend. If it's a smaller church where everyone knows each other, then it may be too demanding to maintain the chipper facade. Sometimes we just want to be let alone. And that's more the case for introverts. 

Large churches provide more personal space for anonymity, where you can retain some aspects of worship without having to make small talk. It allows you to maintain some distance or calibrate your degree of involvement. 

I think some aspects of Christian worship, like good Christian music and architecture, can be sustaining even if you're spiritually alienated or at low ebb. The text, music, and aesthetics can still speak to you.  

vi) If someone is merely suffering from intellectual doubt, I see no reason to avoid church or Christian community. How are you better off on the outside? It's not hypocritical to attend church even if you lose your faith. Sometimes attendance is a statement of hope rather than faith. Waiting for the clouds to clear. Even if they never clear, you need to stay on the trail. The forest is not your friend. If you leave the trail, you are bound to be lost–in every sense of the word. Morally, spiritually, intellectually. In this life and the next. 

vii) Even a pastor shouldn't automatically step down if he suffers a crisis of faith. That's something he should try to work through. Perseverance is about forging ahead during the worst times. 

Admittedly, the demands of pastoral ministry can be exhausting if a pastor is in crisis. And there comes a point where it may be necessary to step down if loss of faith continues. 

viii) Apostates typically suffer from the childish illusion that intellectual honesty is an absolute virtue. Which fails to appreciate the fact that atheism can never be a genuine alternative. What are you leaving Christianity for? Nothing good or better is waiting for you if you turn your back on Christianity. Walking in the twilight of doubt is still incomparable better than walking in the darkness of a grim, godless existence. And if you think atheism isn't hopeless, you're fooling yourself.

Many apostates romanticize apostasy and act as though making a clean break is an improvement. But if you wish to see intellectual dishonesty on display, watch apostates rationalize atheism. There's no merit in taking responsibility outside the only paradigm that makes responsibility meaningful. That's just egotism masking nihilism. The problem is not lack of intellectual honesty regarding Christianity but atheism. There is no duty to be an atheist. 

ix) You ought to have Christian friends outside of church. Even if you take a break from church, that doesn't mean you abandon Christian community altogether. Your faith should always be larger than church attendance. In a sense, your faith should always be independent of church attendance. If you pass through the valley of the shadow of doubt or loss of faith, you ought to have Christian friends outside of church you can fall back on–for basic emotional and intellectual companionship. Where you don't have to play pretend. 


  1. //The problem is not lack of intellectual honesty regarding Christianity but atheism. There is no duty to be an atheist. //

    Steve, did you mean to type, "There is no duty to be an [honest] atheist"?

  2. Good points, Steve. I think taking a break from church for more than a Sunday (perhaps) is a bad idea.

  3. ix) is a significant point even for those who don't have some kind of doubt about the tenets of the Christian faith in general but believe the church they are attending has developed unhealthy cultic tendencies. Having a social life with believers outside of formal, registered churches can be one of the ways you can begin to discern if your church may be veering off in a bad direction. Of course Steve knows I'm speaking at any but an abstract or theoretical level on that issue. :) I was fortunate that I maintained friendships with Christians who had no association with Mars Hill and worked for a Christian organization that had no ties to it during the time that I was part of Mars Hill. I think that providentially gave me occasions to see that my regular church home had begun to move into some dangerously errant directions in ways I could not have if I had made that local church my entire social life the way so many had.