When the new blog site launched a week ago I decided to start off with five of my favorite posts from each of the first five years of the blog. And then someone asked me: why just the first five? Why not the more recent four? And I replied: I don’t know – I didn’t think about it! But now I have and have decided: why not?
So here is number six of five favorite posts, this one from 2017. It’s more of a personal topic, but it’s one that I know a lot of you can resonate with: the struggle involved in moving from being a person of faith to becoming an agnostic.
I started feeling the tug toward agnosticism sometime during my Ph.D. program. I remember clearly a particular moment, and it was, somewhat ironically, while I was serving as the pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church.
Even though I was incredibly busy at the time (I was taking a full load of graduate seminars, preparing to take my PhD exams, serving as a Teaching Assistant for a class taught by Bruce Metzger, AND serving as the pastor of the church) I enjoyed the ministry very much. Well, parts of the ministry. I have never enjoyed transition rituals very much: baptisms, weddings, funerals, and the like. And of course, pastoring a church involves doing such things. And I wasn’t thrilled with visiting the sick – I was a bit out of my depth on that one. But I did very much enjoy interactions with the people I worked within the church, and I especially liked preaching nearly every week.
I remember thinking at the time, though, that being actively engaged in the church was “saving my faith.” I had the strong sense that if I didn’t have to stand in front of a congregation every week to direct worship, say prayers, preach sermons, and so on, that I would probably be moving away from my faith. With people depending on me and looking up to me, I really couldn’t afford to think seriously about whether I still believed all this or not. I had to believe it. It wasn’t that I was being hypocritical. It’s that I knew I was putting off some serious thinking about issues that were central to my life and being.
When I stopped pastoring the church (it was only a one year gig), my mind was freed up to think deeper and deeper about my faith, and I started wondering if I could keep on believing.
One of the major issues for me will be the topic of later posts: I was wondering – the most basic question of all — whether I could really believe there was any kind of God who was active in the world or not.
As I began to wonder, I felt the pull of certain forces …
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