A Facebook friend asked me to participate in a blog discussion about salvation, especially as it concerns the death of Jesus. I decided to offer first, a personal account of my return to Christian faith as an adult. I followed up later with my opinions about the significance of Jesus’ death. Here is the first installment:
I came to Christian faith as an adult, after many years of drifting around spiritually. I had experienced deep peace, and the presence of God in church, as a kid in Catholic school. I was an altar boy and for a time had considered the priesthood, but that all fell away as I reached my teenage years.
Returning to church as an adult was unnerving, because I felt that there was so much going on in the worship service, even as I tended to approach the truth claims of Christianity with cynicism. I remember discussing with a Catholic friend my qualms about receiving communion, since I didn’t believe that the bread and wine changed into Jesus’ body and blood. She said, “Well, obviously something happens, doesn’t it?” And I had to admit this was true, and so I began receiving communion again as an adult – looking forward to it each week – and then twice a week, attending a Wednesday noon healing service also – which was an hour drive from my home.
After a few years I went to college and then to seminary. By this time I was in my forties and it was both very difficult and exhilarating to be immersed in intensive study of subjects that I had only dabbled in previously. Among other things in college, I studied the Bible, biblical languages, and philosophy. In seminary I pursued theology, especially systematics.
All the way up until about midway through seminary I remained divided between my experience of the mysteries of faith and my intellectual understanding. Mostly, as I look back, this was due to the fact that I received the gifts of the Spirit at the Eucharist without questioning them. But my intellectual understanding was limited by philosophical pre-conceptions – and because I thought of myself as a pretty open-minded guy – I was mostly oblivious to my errors in thinking.
In two specific ways I think I was limited. First, without consciously being aware of it at the time, I was firmly committed to A. J. Ayer’s verification principle, which posits that for a question or statement to have meaning it had to be capable of being proved to be true.
Second, I had a view of history that was shaped largely by Hegel. This perspective assumes that each successive movement (or era) in history resolves the contradictions and errors of the previous era.
As I worked my way through the actual history of the various Christian doctrines, I became more familiar with conversations that have been going on within the Church (and between other convictional communities) since the beginning. These discussions – categorized generally as epistemology, ontology, soteriology, sanctification, theodicy, and eschatology – require the student to challenge him/herself to painful exposure (the original purpose of the Socratic dialogues) to one’s own tendency for self-deception.
Finally, I was helped immensely by Ludwig Wittgenstein, himself an eccentric Christian, who completely changed his mind on his understanding of the nature of philosophical (and moral) problems. Eventually, he began to see these as errors in the use of language – grammatical mistakes, rather than actual philosophical problems – in which the human mind persists in imagining a difficulty when the problem is simply a mistake in how one considers the evidence. He used a drawing, which I found very helpful. It is a rabbit/duck and it is either one depending on how you look at it.