Questing with Integrity – Embracing Doubt, Curiosity, and Sometimes “Heresy”

We’ve discussed how my early binary worldview failed to account for the complexities of reality, and the general malaise I felt about my evangelical perspective when I truly began to pursue God and His Truth. The result was a sort of elegant integrity that reduced the burden of the rest of the world, leaving it squarely where God intends: on the cross.

This has all been very philosophical, but as C.S. Lewis once said…

Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason,
because bad philosophy must be answered.

So with that in mind, let’s pause for a moment and look at this word: integrity.

Integrity: More than Being Holy

Most of us think of integrity the same way we think of character. Bill Hybels’ Who You Are When No One’s Looking greatly defines character in a mere title, and we would usually describe integrity in a similar way.

We see integrity as being good at all times. Indeed, the first definition of integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”

But ask a naval officer or astronaut about integrity, and the second definition has far more significance. When a ship’s hull or a spacewalker’s suit loses integrity, it’s not a question of morality. It is the state of being whole and undivided.

This is where “when no one’s looking” begins to glimpse true integrity. It implies one’s character can best be seen outside the spotlight when you think you can get away with whatever you’re doing. This assumes a lack of integrity.

Incidentally, I believe this is why James 4:17 exists: to deny something we know is to deny part of ourselves. It is the introduction of division into oneself. It is missing the mark by choice, which invalidates integrity.

Biblically speaking, Ephesians 4:15 depicts what I see as the Christian ideal of integrity. In it, Paul exhorts us to alētheuō de agapē which is commonly translated as “speak the truth in love”. However, the concept of alētheia borrows from Greek philosophy, referring to truth and disclosure in general, not merely spoken truth. If truth itself could be a verb in the English language, this would better represent the concept of alētheia. It is a mindset, an attitude toward life.

To truth in love would be to live a life of love in undivided honesty. There’s another word I used around Christmas to describe this: authenticity. That means no faking it. Love or anything else. Be whole and undivided. Truth your life.

Questions with Integrity

When I went to prison and wrestled with the hard questions, I had to face them with integrity. I never had before. That meant I had to ask questions, knowing and accepting that (1) I might not find answers, and (2) I might not like the answers I find. I had to be authentic.

Today, I still uncover hard questions. Today, I still lack answers. But in truth, I cannot have all of them, and I must accept that.

So I continue to question everything. You might even say I judge everything (see 1 Corinthians 2:15). And I often find myself at odds with mainstream evangelical attitudes. Or the attitudes of my friends, family, or church.

This isn’t division; I still respect others and do not project my attitudes on them. If asked, I’ll give an honest opinion, but I do not actively promote my ideology it within my realms of influence. Because my ideology does not demand it.

I still promote the Gospel. I still share the love of Jesus. But I don’t think it’s my place to condemn the homosexual or staunch Calvinist. My peace, my integrity, does not require that of me.

It only requires I engage with the world around me in an authentic manner. And that’s something I feel the church needs far more of.

Hell’s Heretics

Let’s make this philosophical mindset practical to theology.

What is hell? Do I know?

It’s kind of an important question. We can describe hell, using the imagery (read symbolism) Jesus uses. We can speak to some if its attributes and purpose. But we don’t actually know where or what it is. We infer from what the Bible teaches, but it’s still only an inference.

And I’m not 100% convinced an unending torture dungeon of literal fire and pain aligns perfectly with what I see in the Bible or what I see in the character of the cross. I see enough symbolic language to think there’s plenty of room for other possibilities.

I’m just a no-name blogger. I can say that I don’t have the answers.

If a pastor like Rob Bell wonders such things aloud, though, or dares to print his ponderings, mainstream evangelicals condemn him as a heretic. Why? Because he wasn’t sure? Because he saw room for other possibilities, which even he acknowledged could be incorrect?

Are we so threatened by questions that we label uncertainty as heresy?

The fascinating part about this is its influence on modern evangelism. When I tell unbelieving friends that I believe the Bible doesn’t clearly depict a place of unending torture for them, it actually removes a barrier between them and Christianity. They could never serve such a sadistic God, even if He were real, they said.

A century ago, a brimstone message might have scared someone to the altar. In today’s world, it scares them away. Yet we remain dogmatic about something that many theologians have legitimate concerns about. We’re back to the binary world: there are those who agree with us and the hellbound.

Open to Questions

This disgusts me. And it’s not limited to hell.

Take Greg Boyd’s ideas about God’s interaction with possibilities and free will. He posits a possible difference, and he’s a heretic to almost everyone but his own church (who doesn’t agree, but thinks that’s okay).

Even here, we believe a number of “heresies”:

  1. Women can lead within the church.
  2. Most “worldly” sexuality is fair game with your spouse.
  3. A man can admire a woman without lust.

Yet it’s relatively safe, within our readership, to express such views. Many of our readers share them, so it’s an echo chamber in a sense.

But we should all be willing to say, “That’s a good question, and I don’t truly know the answer.”

Recognizing Compromise

Let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting we compromise our convictions. There is such a thing as heresy, and the Bible is very clear about how we should handle it. But let’s be clear about what’s not heresy:

  • Questioning is not heresy.
  • Doubt is not heresy.
  • Debating is not heresy.
  • Unbelief is not heresy.
  • Reconsidering is not heresy.
  • Lacking answers is not heresy.
  • Leaving room for plausible alternatives when traditional ideas fall short is not heresy.

These are all healthy things. In fact, you’d only have to have a cursory reading of the Psalms to encounter every one of these. This is not a compromise of integrity or conviction. This is an authentic, intellectually honest form of faith that most non-Christians would find refreshing.

It’s far better to wrestle with these sorts of things than to blindly accept what someone else tells us.

Weeks ago, when I first began this series, I asked some questions about this change of perspective.

Am I now backsliding?
Is it a question of lost discipline or carnal influence?

I don’t believe this is apostasy, though I don’t doubt many of my friends would think otherwise. Instead, I believe this is just the next iteration of my faith.

Incrementally overcoming ignorance is the hallmark of humanity.

That means asking questions.

That means lacking answers.

That means having faith.

For it to be honest faith — alētheia faith — I must at least be sure I’m facing the questions and acknowledging the lack of answers. To hold to my faith, then, is authentic. And, I believe, mature.

Series Navigation<< Elegant Integrity – a Complex Cosmos and an Infinite God

Originally posted 2017-05-29 08:00:16.

About Phil (251 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.