November’s post comes to us courtesy of Brandon Brown, who writes of himself: I am a District Licensed Pastor, serving in the Hendersonville Church of the Nazarene as the volunteer Discipleship Pastor. I have almost completed the course of study at NBC and have an undergrad in Bible from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN and have been in the greater Nashville area for over thirty years. My wife Christi (who is infinitely smarter than I) and I have been married for 24 years and have dogs and cats we adore as well as nieces and nephews; we are also caregivers for Christi’s parents. I have a day job as an engineer for a technology company and enjoy almost any music but especially jazz (and NOT country), film, TV, books, cars, and many more things I can learn about.
I was raised by wolves. Academics, actually, but from outside it may have seemed like wolves. My brother and I were pushed to think for ourselves and work things out. Direct answers were not the specialty of our home and I thank God for that fact because it helped shape my interaction with our world and culture to be one of curiosity. While we were not given answers directly, we were exposed to a plethora of information and ideas. We also observed the way our parents interacted with those around them and it gave us a profound understanding of the value of each and every human being we encountered in life. (Not that I have been a good example of that at all times.) My mother demonstrated deep faith while my father was not a man of faith. However, we were allowed to work out our faith ourselves. Ours was a home in which questions were welcomed even when answers were wanting. We were never asked to quit asking questions or to just accept things as they were.
The Church should be like my experience growing up. A safe place to ask questions, express doubts, challenge the status quo, and learn from one another. Will there be silly questions or inappropriate questions asked? Of course; but those questions can be dealt with by mature members without causing embarrassment or pain to the questioner. There is a young man in the church in which I am serving who likes to ask questions. I embrace his asking and enjoy the conversations we have about those questions. A conversation may start like “So, the atonement, let’s talk about that. What is penal substitutionary atonement? We don’t really like that one do we?” or “Postmodernism… is that how I think? I like the idea that truth does not equal fact, can we discuss that?” Honestly, I can’t always answer his questions and I believe it is alright that I sometimes must say that I really don’t know the answer or even how to begin answering.
Somewhere along the line, the Church began to equate questions and doubt with unbelief. So the former were treated as things to be ignored, converted, or eradicated. The unity of love began to be supplanted by a uniformity of ideologies which included those of a social, cultural, and even political nature. Jesus in the Gospel of John says; “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35 NRSV). Jesus doesn’t say that his disciples will be known by the way they talk, look, or vote but by the way they love. When we love with the love exemplified by Jesus, we allow people to ask tough, uncomfortable, and even doubtful questions. The Church seeking to create disciples who pray daily for the Kingdom come here and now is one who knows that faith and doubt can coexist because doubt is not equal to unbelief.
Back to being raised by wolves. I wonder if we take the analogy of sheep too far at times. I fully agree that we are sheep led by the Good Shepherd but maybe in our local community we can be wolves living in a pack radically following Jesus with just a tinge of danger. The danger of being willing to ask questions, entertain questions, and answer doubt with understanding rather than apologetics. Maybe, just maybe, we should be wolves raising peculiar people willing to upend our world with the radical discipleship of love. In the end, it is not our philosophy, sociology, or politics that matter; it is our love.