Saturday, August 15, 2009

Paradigm Crash

Just thought I'd get these passages of the book up on the blog... to me, these words of Siljander's really resonate with the orientation of our cohort:

- excerpts from pgs 16-19, A Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark Siljander


We chatted for a few minutes, and then he got to the point: if I didn't mind his asking, as a follower of Jesus, what was my strategy in relation to other people in my travels around the world? I replied without hesitation: it was to convert them to the Christian faith. He nodded thoughtfully, then asked a deceptively simple question: "And why is that?"

I was taken aback. Why would he ask such an elementary question? "Well," I began, "of course, converting people to the Christian faith is the basis of Jesus's teachings. It's our duty as Christians. It's...what we do. You know this, Doug." Silence. "I mean, it's in the Bible."

"Really." He paused and fixed me with his gaze. "Would you name one verse?"

Now I was baffled. Was he serious? This was first-grade Sunday school stuff! "Doug, come on. What are you driving at?"

"No, really," he pressed gently. "Go ahead. Just one."

Okay, I thought, if you insist. Let's see ... And a moment later I was stunned to realize that I could not bring a single verse to mind -- not one. I felt humiliated.


After Doug left, I began combing through the Bible, determined to find the answer, and I continued to comb, not for an evening or a week but for a solid year. I searched the entire New Testament high and low, looking for personal vindication, until I finally arrived at the disturbing conclusion that it simply wasn't there. The strategy of converting people to Christianity, a strategy that I had so fervently held as a God-given, biblically based mandate, was never mentioned in the Bible -- not once.


... Following Jesus, according to Jesus's own disciples, was not a matter of religion; it was about the revelation of God's truth as conveyed by Jesus's influence on the human heart. As I continued poring over the text, I came to an inescapable conclusion: the teacher from Nazareth never intended to start a religion. What he was creating was a movement, a relational revolution of the human heart.

So where did this leave Christianity? Where did it leave me? I thought of myself as a devout Christian--but what did that really mean? Was it an illusion? Had I been brainwashed? I felt a victim of my culture, heir to a long tradition of assertions by countless articles and books, teachers and preachers, about truths they all insisted were in my holy book. I had accepted what I had heard.

An even more unsettling thought occurred to me: if I had been misguided on this critical strategic point of my faith, were there other areas where I was just as misinformed? Was my personal mission in life based on erroneous information? Was my faith based in truth--or was it a blind faith? All at once my belief system felt incredibly fragile. It was as if the ground I stood on was crumbling under my feet. As devastating as it had been to lose my reelection campaign, this was worse.

I thought of the phrase "paradigm shift," which had been coined by social scientist Thomas Kuhn in the 1960s and was just starting to enter popular usage at the time. But the term seemed to pale next to the intensity of the experience. This was not a paradigm shift. This was a paradigm crash.


Yard said...

I agree Adam. I think many of us have had a paradigm crash.

Though "conversion" has never been a term I've been comfortable with, the devil's advocate side of me (in this case may we call it God's advocate? - hehe, j/k) wants to say this:

When Jesus says: I'm the way, the truth, and the life, doesn't that get pretty close to what we could call a distinct reference to being more than just a good human teacher? If not, what else could we take this to mean?

And if he was only a great teacher, how does atonement still play a part?

zride17 said...


I had the same discussion with my friend Randy a few months ago. I'm not sure that my understanding of that verse hasn't been completely built up around the context of sermons, bible studies, and books that use it as a "take it or leave it" kind of statement about Christianity's claims of exclusivity.

The next question that was brought up in my mind was, "What does 'comes to the Father' mean?" I always understood it in terms of salvation, but in now seems to make more sense to me in terms of a relationship with the creator, which seems to be the crux of the book excerpts posted above.

As for atonement, I tend to question the idea of justice when humans are judged for reacting to things placed in their perceptions, by God, if one believes that God created all things. That was a messy sentence, but I'm not sure how to word it better. If I told my son not to eat chocolate, and then put him in a room filled with chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch, I would understand if he got confused at times and at some of the chocolate. I would not feel justified in destroying him or torturing him for breaking that rule. I don't think it would be just to crucify his sister either.

Now I'm probably committing some fallacies of argument, and I'm ready to be put in my place. Please be gentle. Love you.