I grew up in a family where things were pretty black and white. There was right and there was wrong. Rules mattered. Grey areas didn’t really exist. I also grew up attending a variety of white, suburban, conservative, evangelical Christian churches. Growing up in this type of home and going to these types of churches helped form my feelings that I needed answers to all of life’s tough questions. Well, I felt that I basically needed answers to everything. Because there is always a right answer to every question and every one of life’s situations, right?. And the better you know your Bible, the more likely you are to know the right answers to every situation. I grew up believing (although I wouldn’t have said so at the time) that the reason you read your Bible, you memorize verses, and you listen to sermons is to arm yourself with the right answers to life’s problems and questions. That way, when a question in life arises, I’ll know the answer.
Yes, the Bible does provide answers and sermons should help with the application of the truths of Scripture. An outcome, however, of learning Scripture for the purpose of knowing all the right answers is that this perspective strongly affects one’s worldview, faith, and attitude — of oneself, towards others, and towards God. One’s faith is especially affected by this. If knowing the right answers is an indication of your faith, then the more right answers you know, the better Christian you are.
So what happens when life presents you with questions that the Bible just does not directly address? What happens when you realize that life is not as black and white as you thought?
The Bible is not as precise as we’d like it to be. The Bible does not provide an answer for every question, every scenario, every one of life’s many crises. And when your faith is highly intertwined with the sufficiency of your answers, then every time you lack an answer you experience a faith crisis. The greater the life crisis, the greater the faith crisis.
I have read a number of articles recently describing the fact that millennials are struggling growing up. 30 is supposedly the new 18. A lot of this seems to be because millennials lack coping skills. Parents have participated in what is being described as “helicopter parenting,” where parents drop in and help their children at any sign of a problem. The parents think they are protecting their children, but it is being shown that in the long run this does much more harm than good. This has led to millennials having higher levels of depression, feeling stuck, and lacking skills that help them through various life crises.
I personally believe that churches that promote knowledge-based faith end up with congregants with coping skills similar to millennials that have experienced helicopter parenting. When life presents them with a question that does not have a simple answer, they lack the type of faith that allows them to know how to live in that reality. This makes them feel that if they were a better Christian, they would not feel the way that they do. They clearly don’t have enough faith. If they did, they’d know how to respond, what to do. And most people in this scenario don’t want to admit they don’t know how to respond, or that they feel that their faith isn’t sufficient. If they admitted that, then they might not be seen as a good Christian. This encourages the response of putting on a smile and acting like everything is ok, but deep down these people are full of anxiety, fear, and feel desperately alone.
But faith isn’t knowing all the right answers. It’s ok not to know all the right answers. There’s a common type of Christianity out there right now that doesn’t say this. Incredibly popular pastors and Christian authors are promoting the idea that we can know all the right answers, and that if you are a good Christian you’ll know your stance on nearly every nuanced issue and doctrine. Are you a 6-day creationist? Are you a Calvinist or Arminian? What are your views on justification? on communion? on baptism? on church government? on women in ministry? on the rapture? on the millennial reign? on Bible translations? on psychology? on other denominations? on hymns vs. contemporary music? on pews vs. chairs?
Having to know the right answers breeds judgment. Having to be precise about every nuanced aspect of our faith undercuts much of what Christianity is about. The Bible is ambiguous. The Hebrew language in and of itself is an ambiguous language. Whole passages of Scripture seem to be intentionally ambiguous. People can act like every verse is simply black and white (and they do), but it just simply isn’t the case.
Faith is more than knowing the right answers. We don’t have to know the right answers to every situation in life, nor completely understand every jot and tittle in Scripture. But we can believe that God does know the right answers. That He is in control.
This does not mean that we ignore what the Bible says. It is still authoritative, and has much to say about how we live out our faith. We live our lives focused on our relationship with God, and in community with one another. We are in this together. We need each other.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”