A couple of years ago, I was contracted to write a book which would be a part of a series targeted at skeptics. My subject matter was the church; the book’s title is The Church For Skeptics: A Conversation For Thinking People. The publishing biz is going through the same painful contractions the rest of the economy is experiencing. As a result, this book has had quite a journey on its way to being born.
The wait continues as the book’s story has taken a new, promising turn in recent weeks.
The book is not an apologetic (or worse, a diatribe) for the church. It affirms questions and struggle, because the truth is that all of us are skeptics of one stripe or another. Below is a brief excerpt from the book’s introduction that explains what I mean:
There are lots of us who are skeptical about the church, for lots of different reasons. Some of us have huge questions about the odd, toxic habits practiced by the churches to which we’ve belonged, attended or have seen in the media. Others among us need to investigate some things…or everything. We doubt. We have questions, and some of those questions may not have comfortable answers. Or easy ones. When it comes to the subject of the church, there are several main categories of skeptics:
- The “You’re not from `round these parts, cowboy” skeptic
At first glance, skepticism among the hard-core faithful – the people who seem to be at church every time the doors are open – would seem to be an oxymoron. But if you look a little closer, you’ll discover that some in this tribe nurture deep mistrust that is a perfect breeding ground for skeptic’s questions. They aim their rhetorical guns at those outside of the Christian faith as well as those from neighboring Christian faith communities who are…choose as many answers as apply) …more liberal than us …more conservative than us …don’t look like us …worship differently than us …aren’t us
- The burn unit skeptic
There are people who are skeptics because they’ve had their trust damaged or destroyed by someone (or a posse of someones) who has represented the church while engaging in slander, gossip, erroneous teaching, financial misconduct, hypocrisy, legalism, or through emotional, sexual or spiritual abuse. These skeptics ask questions like “How do they get away with it?” and “What’s the point of an institution that causes so much pain?”
- The Pepto Bismol skeptic
Some of us are skeptics because we have ingested a regular diet of bad news and worse images about the church from media and popular culture. The scandals, the criminal behavior, the tacky televangelists, the militant involvement in public politics and morality alike have left a lot of us with permanent indigestion. We have little interest in sampling anything the church offers from its all-you-can-eat toxic buffet. Pepto Bismol skeptics say things like “The church is a huge joke” or “Religious people are sleazebags, chuckleheads or nut cases.”
- The debate team skeptic
Unlike those whose skepticism toward the church has been formed primarily by negative media images, there are also thoughtful people who have spent time researching…and perhaps even once believing…Christianity’s claims. Their scientific, philosophical, archaeological and/or historical investigations have led them to the conclusion that the faith (and, perhaps, any faith) is devoid of truth or value. These skeptics ask, maybe with an indifferent shrug of their shoulders, maybe with open hostility in their eyes, why anyone would even bother with the church when all it does is perpetuate a Giant Lie. Though there’s a small percentage of skeptics who are rabidly committed to their own cynicism, most of us simply want to engage in some thoughtful conversation about our doubts, questions and observations about the church. We don’t want to be sold…or told. We want to be able to ask our questions without being judged because we’ve dared to ask them. We want our experiences and observations affirmed. We want to be respected. We absolutely don’t want to get fooled…again or ever. (All rights reserved, Michelle Van Loon)
Do these categories resonate with you? What would you add or change?