Which kind(s) of skeptic are you?

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?

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4 thoughts on “Which kind(s) of skeptic are you?”

  1. Maybe this falls under your first category… I know some folks who can’t seem to find a community of believers who want to celebrate and see God’s work. They keep finding churches that are more like social clubs. When they start to talk about real miracles they’ve seen in their lives, the “churchy” people don’t know what to do with it, they’d be more comfortable talking about the Bears or the weather.

    Are they just not finding the right church? Do they have unreasonable expectations? At any rate, they end up getting most of their teaching from tv, or online. But I think they’re missing the beauty of being part of the body.

  2. Julie –

    Are those who “opt out” of these social clubs really missing the beauty of being part of the body? If those social club churches aren’t functioning as a biblical body, then maybe those who’ve left these churches aren’t really missing much of anything at all. They’re never going to find what they’re looking for in these social organizations named “church”.

    I agree with you that they’re missing the beauty of being a part of a local body – but what are they to do? Some would contend that they stick it out at the Christian Social Club and try to spark change, but I think there’s only so much one or two people can do. Often, these “on fire” folks are branded as problems, agitators or trouble-makers in their congregations.

    What are your thoughts? Where are these people to do?

  3. Well, it seems like there has to be at least *one* decent body meeting somewhere near their town…

    Why can’t they find it? I agree that the social club scene is a waste of time and heart. I think what they’ve also found is churches that are active, but not in the ways they’d like. They don’t agree on everything, and they can’t agree to disagree.

    Sometimes I think they are looking for a place filled with like-minded people. Which I understand, but also think to be somewhere where everyone thinks exactly the same as you is missing something, too.

    Maybe there’s work we need to do with God before He’ll show us the community of believers we’re looking for? I don’t know… Seems like there’s some kind of hang-up, and so I wonder about that. So maybe that individual work is happening with the teaching from the tv?

    Hey! I thought you were going to answer MY question! 🙂

  4. I did – with another question! 🙂

    I’m convinced we’re in a time of transition (re-formation) in the evangelical world. I wonder if what you describe is part of this process.

    The truth is that finding a church is a hard process, especially for some of those who’ve been marginalized by others. Your friendship may be the only church some of those people can handle right now.

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