This is Part 2 in a series on leaving progressive Christianity by Dave Stovall, worship leader and former lead singer of Wavorly and band member of Audio Adrenaline. He describes how his journey into progressive Christianity left him dissatisfied and how he found the road to a more sustainable, faithful faith. Here’s Part 1 and Part 3 and Part 4 and Part 5 and Part 6.
So there I was, a young college student figuring out life and sitting in my old home church watching Left Behind 1. I’m not exactly sure how I ended up there or on the front row, but alas there I was. My church planned a whole night around this movie. We were Baptists; so of course there was a potluck including about seven different forms of mac ‘n’ cheese (all of them fantastic).
I watched the movie with everyone and honestly tried to keep from physically cringing. It wasn’t just the mediocre acting (sorry if you like these movies) or production (my distaste for bad art with the Christian label on it could be a whole different series of articles). It was the theology and growing feeling that I was the only one in the church gymnasium that night that thought the Bible didn’t clearly teach the theology that the book and movie series were based upon.
I knew the people around me were taking in the story as a literal look at how the end will happen. I felt sick. I bet I was visibly sweating. People probably thought it was just the potluck sweats, but it was my thinking that I wasn’t like “these people”—these “simple-minded people.” It makes me sad now to say that I even had those thoughts, but I really did.
I wondered if anyone else cared to know if there was more to this faith than what our preacher was telling us.
I wanted to know if the Christians in this church had any idea that this spiritual “pool” we were swimming in had a deep end. Or cared to know if the depths of knowledge and wisdom of God that would satisfy our souls as well as our intellects could be found? Did the average Christian even have an intellect that needed satisfying? At the time, I really didn’t think so. But I knew by this point that I did.
I said some harsh things about my old home church in Part 1 of this series and also in the paragraph before this one. But you know what? My first church was also where my love for God began to grow. It was where I made my first friends. I had a ton of fun growing up there. We spent real time together back then. The leadership put on silly plays and costume parties and all sorts of things seemingly just to be together.
All of that worked with me up to a certain point (or age), and then it just wasn’t enough.
The reason I mention this is I really want you to see and understand how I went from feeling, “I’m one of you” to, “Something’s wrong with me, can you help?” to, “I am nothing like you; in fact, I’m actually way smarter than you.”
So before I attended this potluck and Left Behind night, I had been trying to find the theology or traditions that had worked their way into the church like bad yeast. Well, the first one I found, almost by accident, was the premillennial dispensationalist view of the end times. That’s fancy talk for the Left Behind view of the end or, as I like to refer to it, the Kirk Cameron Eschatology.
I want to explain something that will hopefully make this next section as unoffensive as it can be. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone’s personal beliefs. I learned from my current church to put biblical truths in three buckets to help with disagreements within our religion, and I’ve found these three categories super helpful for peaceful conversations.
1. Essential truths: Things essential to our salvation. This includes beliefs like Jesus being the Son of God, the fact that Jesus literally died and literally rose again. Stuff like that. By all means, let’s argue these points.
2. Important truths: This bucket encompasses issues in the Bible where you will find a range of beliefs, but all still fall under the umbrella of Christianity, meaning we can still behave like family even when disagreeing over these issues. They are important for living a faithful life but are not essentials for one’s salvation. This bucket would include views on baptism, gender roles in the church, beliefs on the nature of salvation, etc. These views will affect how you live out your faith, but disagreeing on them doesn’t fundamentally determine your eternal stance with God.
3. Personal beliefs: This would include things like alcohol, secular music, rated-R movies, and—in my opinion—your eschatology (belief about the end times). Because of grey area and/or silence on these issues in the Bible, these things are left up to the believer and their conscience before the Lord in deciding if they will do or believe these things.
If you find these categories helpful, here’s a free ebook that explains them in more detail.
In my experience, as I’m sure you can probably relate, people tend to get hung up over arguing about personal bucket things and end up wasting each other’s time and giving Christians a bad rep with the watching world.
Because there is a lot of ambiguity in Scripture about the end times, and end-times theories which hinge on some grey-area verses, I believe our differing views on the end are actually personal bucket beliefs. Your belief on this doesn’t determine whether you are a true follower of Christ. A person’s end times beliefs aren’t good reason to get in a theological fight or to make judgments about a person’s salvation. And hiding behind, “Well, I just like to talk about these things” all the while pulling people into heated discussions still counts as a theological fight (yeah, I see you).
That being said, my personal belief is that the view that all Christians will be raptured off the face of the planet before things get really bad just isn’t how I interpret the verses about the end. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong and I’m right. But because I was taught very strongly that this view was the only right view for real Christians, it caused another crack in my foundation when I couldn’t find clear evidence in Scripture to support the idea.
I was just confused as I read through Revelation for the first time by myself and didn’t find a single reference to a rapture. I was actually blown away. I thought surely it would be in the book about the end, but it wasn’t in there — much like the sinner’s prayer. All I could find was a reference in 1 Thessalonians about meeting Jesus in the air, along with the believers who have died before us, and being with him forever. Again, I started to wonder how much of this stuff was just decided on by some high-up leader and taught to the masses with confidence. I was totally freaked out. I once was unquestioningly secure in my faith and now I could only see the flaws.
The church used to be a beautiful and pure thing in my mind. Now it was something like a facade covering up a giant pyramid scheme.
I’m hoping by now you’re seeing the trend. The questioning, the unrest, the wondering how no one else feels or thinks this way, and the eventual landing place of thinking I’m better than these simple-minded…Christians. It’s pretty easy to see the spiritual car wreck I was heading toward, but it was impossible for me to see at the time behind the wheel speeding around the curve. People even tried to warn me, but it wouldn’t stop me. By this point I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be defined by the word “evangelical” anymore.
That word had come to mean something different to me. It didn’t mean traditional Protestant Christian who affirms the authority and historicity of the Bible. It meant Bible-thumping, Republican, gay-hating, straight-laced, no fun, judgmental, K-LOVE listening, borderline-prosperity-gospel hypocrite. Truthfully, those were the kind of Christians I was surrounded by.
What would have helped
It would have helped if I had met a genuine person during this time that said, “Hey, I get it. Sometimes this stuff is hard to believe. Some days I have doubts and questions. Other days, I’m on fire for the Lord. That’s just kind of how it goes. Mountains and valleys. But when you’re His, He is with you through it all.” That’s what I would say to my 20-something year old, doubting self. “Hang in there, kid. This too shall pass.”
“Some days I have doubts and questions. Other days, I’m on fire for the Lord. That’s just kind of how it goes.”
It did pass. But before it did, I had a lot of ground to cover and because I had been burned before when being open about this stuff, I pretty much faced it alone…until I started a band with four of my best friends and started touring the country.
We called ourselves Freshmen15 after the weight we all put on during our first year in college. We were a pop-punk Christian band on fire for the Lord and we had two missions:
1. To show the world that following Christ wasn’t boring (you could be fun and be a Christian), and
2. To not be disingenuous like the other cookie-cutter Christian bands we had played with.
So we bought an old church van (well, my super supportive parents did) and we hit the road. What an amazing time. One of the perks was getting to meet different Christians from all over the country. Our southern culture looked a lot different than the west coast and even the Christian culture in Nashville. That’s where we met the first person that genuinely loved God, cared about people, but also drank alcohol (gasp!) and even sometimes…cussed (BIGGER GASP!). Next up in this series: The Three Unforgivable Sins — Drinking, Smoking, and Cussing.
Side notes and encouragement:
I hope you’ve taken the time to read through Part 1 of this series. It described my super conservative Christian upbringing and my first crisis of faith colliding to make the perfect recipe for a season of deconstruction.
This may sound weird, but I believe crises of faith can be wonderful things. I probably said that just to use the word crises. What a wonderful word. Crises. Anyways, a crisis of faith may not feel wonderful when you’re in one, but afterwards you can experience rewards of stronger faith and deeper peace which completely outweigh the temporary suffering you had to endure to get through. I’m sure everyone in Heaven thinks of earthly suffering and trials as tiny blips compared to the stretch of eternity before them now.
I wouldn’t say my crisis was the thing that led me down the wrong path. I believe it was the fact that my church didn’t really know what to do with me during that time. But honestly, how could they? How could someone lead me down a path they’d never taken? We can only take others as far as we ourselves have gone.
So if you are in a crisis of faith right now, I have a word for you:
Hang in there, kid. This too shall pass. There is a light at the end of this tunnel, and it is even warmer and brighter than you could ever imagine. Keep moving forward.
To be continued. . . .