As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working toward a Seminary degree. The Londen Institute For Evangelism (LIFE), with whom I’d originally enrolled, merged with Hope International University not long ago (the merger was announced in January). Just last week Hope International gave us a list of options that we can choose from based on our educational goals.
THE LOST GOSPELS
Built into me is this inner need to dig deeper into course materials than what is required. I don’t want to be the type of person who blindly accepts the agenda of another person or group of people. What I mean by this is that I want to hear all sides of an argument and not be dismissive towards materials that others before me have decided to ignore. I want to know why decisions were made as they were, and then I still want to hear the thoughts of “the other side”. For example, when learning about the canonization of scripture, I want to know why the books included in the Bible were chosen, but I also want to know why others were not. And I want to read those books that were not chosen.
This applies directly to the Church History course I began in October of last year. The two books that were assigned to me by LIFE were supplemented by several books I found on my own. Amongst other authors, I found it interesting and enlightening to read the work of Elaine Pagels. Ms. Pagels, who is a professor at Princeton University and received her PhD from Harvard, goes into depth on the Lost Gospels. I’ve read criticism of Ms. Pagels online, but it seems to me that such is unjustified. Where critics have said, “Ms. Pagels can’t be a Christian because she believes x, y or z”, I’ve found that she never actually tells us what she personally believes. Rather, she merely does her best to objectively present all sides. I appreciate this, and also enjoy her writing style. If you’d like to educate yourself on topics you’ll likely never hear in church, head to your nearest Barnes and Noble and pick up any of Elaine’s books. I’d suggest starting with Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. Not only does it present the Gospel that is attributed to Thomas (and written a bit before the book of John) it also dives into a lot of church history. This may sound boring, but if you’ve an interest in the early days of Christianity this book is an easy , informative read.
I’ve also read most of the Nag Hammadi Library and will complete what I haven’t read soon. These books are also referred to as Gnostic Scriptures and pre-date the canonization of scripture as we know it today.
AND NOW FOR A DISCLAIMER
What is it about humans that causes many of us to so easily jump to conclusions? I’ve mentioned the things I’ve just written about to others and am usually cautioned about heading down the wrong path. What part of the paragraphs I’ve written above indicate that I’m ready to turn away from “traditional” Christianity and embrace gnosticism or some other form of religious belief? I’m simply the type of person who wants to know WHY I believe what I believe. I have to admit, I kind of look down on those who choose not to do so. I feel we owe it to the society in which we live to be educated Christians. Is it wrong of me to do look down on those who don’t agree with that? Absolutely. I know it is. This is just an admission on my part.
I remember when I was in the midst of my rebellious years of porn production… I approached various Pastors and asked them a list of tough questions. I really wanted answers, but not a single one of them could assist with such answers, nor could they refer me to someone who could. In the year and a half since surrendering my life to God I’ve gone out and found the answers to nearly every question I used to ask. It appears to me that the Seminary training obtained by the ministers I approached didn’t extend beyond the pre-determined agenda or yoke of teaching that their schools had established. In this time of questioning, I think it’s a mistake not to prepare our religious leaders to address the questions the world asks of us. It’s frustrating to those who don’t believe when circular reasoning is used to answer their questions. If a person does not yet believe the Bible, the Bible can’t be used to prove anything. That’s like me writing a book declaring myself the Messiah, and when asked for proof, pointing to the book I’ve written. There is an enormous wealth of outside proof to the things we believe as Christians, and it’s time more of us educate ourselves about such information.
And that, my friends, is what fuels my desire to hear all sides. Just a few days ago I had an all-day email conversation with a man who produces porn. He kept sending me messages about how I needed to educate and enlighten myself on certain aspects of Christianity. His attitude seemed to be that he had some “secret knowledge” that I as a Christian did not possess. I enjoyed receiving his challenges and kept asking for clarification as to what he wanted me to know about. All the while I had a pretty good idea of the direction he was headed. When he finally sent me the “killer” questions I referred him to names I’d mentioned earlier in our conversation… the names of authors I’ve read that discuss the very issues he thought would spiritually “slay” me. I then elaborated on the very points he made to me. In other words, I was prepared for his arguments. I’ve read and studied them. Recently. The questions he asked of me were the types of questions I used to ask of religious leaders and receive no answers.
I guess the “disclaimer” I’d like to put out is that those of you who consistently read the things I write are likely going to witness controversial topics discussed on this website. It may be easy to assume that I’m confusing myself and heading down a wrong spiritual path. Please, don’t worry. Wouldn’t you agree that a faith that can’t stand up to questioning is not a very good faith at all? I’m in the process of learning, and that process is likely to take years. Or the rest of my life. This blog is just me thinking out loud. Feel free to join in the discussion.