On the confusion and hurt that can be caused by superficial faith…

Faith 1

I was at lunch last week with one of the leaders of our church, and he playfully asked “Are we doing something wrong at River City?”

“Probably” I joked back, “but which thing in particular are you talking about?”

“I talk to so many people in our church who struggle with the idea of faith. This is unusual for me, as I grew up in a church where everyone seemed certain of their faith… Do you think there is something we should be doing differently to help people with their faith?”

I thought for a moment on this important question, and quickly came up with two hypothesis.

First, I told him that I don’t think this is a unique dilemma for our church. I talk to a lot of people about faith (including a lot of people outside of our specific community), and I find that a large majority of them struggle and wrestle with their faith to some degree. There are the exceptions of course – those who find faith to be something that they are able to lock onto quite easily – and I am happy for them. But it doesn’t change the fact that the unseen, invisible nature of faith leads to a myriad of challenges for most everyone else. I see the fact that people in our community talk openly about their faith struggle as a sign of encouragement. It means that there is enough authenticity to say out loud where they really are, as opposed to having to project a false image of having it all together.

My second thought was one that, while I think I’ve believed this for some time, was one that I had not quite verbalized before. It is what led me to flesh this out some more on the blog.

The high number of conversations I’ve had with people who struggle with faith (and in this post I am talking about Christians who struggle with their faith, though I would imagine this applies to a much wider audience as well), and even those who have “walked away from the faith” (an oft quoted phrase that I am not particularly crazy about) has led me to this conviction: I don’t think its actually faith that most of these people are struggling with or even walking away from — instead, I think its a superficial, shallow, incomplete version of faith that they picked up somewhere along the way.

There’s a big difference between these two. When a person experiences the type of authentic, powerful substantial faith that is described in the Bible, it is very compelling. But when a person instead experiences shallow, superficial forms of faith it feels like a counterfeit. And that is what tends to create a lot of confusion, angst, and even agony.

There are probably many more versions of shallow, superficial faith than the ones that I am about to list. But as I reviewed some of the conversations I’ve had with those who are struggling or even leaving the faith, I pretty quickly came up with 4 common forms of what I’d label shallow or superficial perspectives on faith.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as to what other ones should be on this list. I’ll do a post on each of these this week, but here is the list that came to me of some of the more common and shallow forms of faith. These seem to be too often presented as poor substitutes for the real thing:

  1. A view that does not allow for doubt to co-exist with growing/real faith
  2. A view of faith that is pitted or contrasted against thinking/intellect
  3. Talking about faith as it if it is a magic formula to get God to do what you want/need
  4. Presenting faith as an exclusively internal reality that has no impact on our external actions and responsibilities

9 responses to “On the confusion and hurt that can be caused by superficial faith…”

  1. I think another is a corollary to #3, which is when our external circumstances (pain, suffering, evil, etc.) are no longer aligning with our internal ideology. And because many of our structures in the American church are didactic and short change dialogue, we have folks who “walk away” because they couldn’t just “talk it out.”

  2. Good word Andy. I agree – I have seen people try to exercise “great” faith to remove a source of suffering in their lives, and when God doesn’t respond to their pleas their faith is shaken badly. It’s hard to grab onto in the moment, but sometimes great faith means leaning on God in the midst of the suffering, even if God chooses not to remove it for whatever reason…

  3. […] the last post I made the case that the faith that many people are struggling with or even walking away from is […]

  4. […] the first post I made the case that the faith that many people are struggling with or even walking away from is […]

  5. […] the first post I made the case that the faith that many people are struggling with or even walking away from is […]

  6. […] shallow and even potentially harmful. That’s what I tried to do in this short, 4-post series (intro, 1, 2, and 3 are […]

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