I have no use for fear-based faith anymore.
Oh, I used to, for sure. I’d make up all kinds of rules about which things were safe and which music I definitely didn’t listen to (and which I would listen to but not purchase…) Am I allowed to watch Smurfs? Read Harry Potter? I’m not knocking discernment in media consumption, but I wasn’t doing it to be discerning, I was doing it to be good. It all gave me this illusion that I could make myself acceptable and keep myself that way.
The phrase seems like a punchline to a bad joke: fear-based faith. An obvious oxymoron. But it’s so common (or perhaps just in my little evangelical subculture?) that I sometimes forget how absurd it is.
Fear-based faith starts with the assumption that we’re doing okay, so long as nobody screws it up. I mean, yeah, everyone is a sinner, but we have our sin problem managed right now with our quiet times and our praise choruses. But it’s important not to let “wolves in sheep’s clothing” into our midst. That guy who has some doctrine that doesn’t square with our reading of scripture? We won’t read his books—they might lead us into error. The group from the church with some questionable theology? We definitely won’t sing a word of their music, regardless of the actual content, for fear their views will infect our relatively healthy space.
The problem, of course, is the premise: we are not “relatively healthy” and, aside from the Bible itself, there is no material that meets the inerrancy criterion. We’re all a mess, and any music or books or teaching or anything that isn’t the Bible is going to be from human origin, and whoever that human is… they’re a mess, too. So we end up drawing these arbitrary lines around whose doctrine is “too far” and whose is “close enough” and it’s all completely incoherent.
I cannot hold any human author/artist/theologen to the standard of inerrancy. To do so is to put them in the place of God, so… idolatry.
In the preface to Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water, Sarah Zarr makes this point:
Strangely, as much as I heard the word secular as a label on things that should be avoided by good Christians, I don’t ever remember hearing the word sacred as its opposite. Instead, I heard the words clean and safe. to describe what was not deemed worldly. Clean and safe. How puny those words are. What a pitiful reduction of the grandeur of the created world and its inhabitants. What a sad commentary on the church’s understanding of the God of the universe.
We were never meant for clean and safe. We were meant for sacred. Sometimes sacred overlaps with clean and safe, often not.
So rather than clean and safe (or from a source that is without error), might I propose true, noble, lovely, pure, admirable, excellent, right, and good? Does it direct me to the God who is without error?
I am over “fear of contamination” as a justification for any choice I make.
This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.