Secularism is advancing rapidly in our culture. Those expressing “no faith” are now the third largest religious group in our nation. Those in the 18-35 age bracket are checking out of church altogether. Evangelicals are generally not even holding our own children. Evangelicals are often marginalized from the broader cultural conversations, treated as fanatics, idiots, simpletons or crazies.
In the face of that missional challenge / opportunity, the evangelical church has grown increasingly insecure. Our insecurity is displayed in numerous ways: our chip-on-the-shoulder attitudes, endless programming, church franchising, and how-to/self-help teaching bias.
But even more subtly, under the surface, our insecurity with secular people shows up in our insistence on certainty in our thinking and discussions. We begin to twitch when conversations with far-from-God friends veer into ambiguity. Even though we trumpet authenticity in our core values, we get really nervous when friends in our own faith-family express authentic doubts or question God.
That’s why C. D. Baker’s 40 Loaves: Breaking Bread with Our Father Each Day (Waterbrook, 2009) is such a welcome resource. The book is organized around forty brief meditations, each prompted by a pressing, not-easily-answered question of faith: Why do I want Jesus in my life? Why am I afraid to read my Bible? Why do I get so angry with God? Why can’t I overcome sin in my life? Why am I so discontented? Why does grace make me uncomfortable? Why do I try so hard to fit in? Why can’t I relax around God? Why have I stopped dreaming? Each brief meditation is, appropriately, followed by more questions for consideration and a prayer.
Baker knows the power of question. “Most of us are reluctant to admit we have questions like these. Many of our church communities have led us to believe that certainty and confidence are proof of true spirituality. Bewilderment or – worse yet, doubt—is seen as a sign of weakness. Besides, questions disturb things…many of us feel the need to keep our questions to ourselves. Ironically, we even try keeping them from God.” But, “questions invite authenticity. Questions give us permission to wonder. Questions open the door for wisdom. Asking opens our eyes to ourselves. Asking opens our hearts to the Spirit.’
So, 40 Loaves is written primarily for “Christian strugglers”, those for whom faith never seems to come easy, who can’t stand formulaic religion or for whom “why?” is a part of most conversations. Baker writes in a conversational, non-academic style, using transparent personal stories and humor, which is very engaging. Thus, he invites the reader to consider the question themselves and enter the exploration.
One of the strengths of the book is the consistent reference point of the gospel. Questions are not allowed to stand on their own, in a self-contained, self-referential world in which presumptions circles back themselves. The question is placed next to the unchanging gospel and Biblical witness. But, that is done while respecting the value of the question and avoiding the sort of simplistic answers or intellectual sneering that so often shuts down discussion when such a question is introduced.
While he handles questions with deep grace, Baker is also unflinchingly honest about the root of many questions or doubts.
+Why do I get so angry with God? “Anger against God is no small matter; at its deepest level it is grounded in the false belief that God is not good.”
+Why am I afraid to read my Bible? “The Bible has been exploited as a weapon and a source of spiritual abuse…legalism so clouded my vision that the gospel had been obscured from view….handicapped by poor instruction, I couldn’t see God’s love.”
+Why am I so angry? “I’m afraid my anger is usually reserved for the cause of me…and all too often I believe in my self more than in truth. It’s when my anger is serving my purposes that it is ungodly. Too often I demand what I want…My pride drives me…Pride-driven disappointment is what leads to ungodly anger.”
+Why does God seem silent in my life? “God is not silent, but rather he offers his voice in ways I too often neglect.”
+Why does grace sometimes make me uncomfortable? “…in its unlimited, unfathomable, unmerited glory, grace is often not good news to control types, cynics or the self-righteous. It doesn’t affirm their worldviews.”
+Why am I stuck in the past? “…being stuck in the past is not a harmless state of mind. The past can become like a false god that isolates us, turns us inward and leaves us unsatisfied and fearful. The past can deny is the wholeness of our lives…. But we don’t need to stay stuck. If we need to remember something, why don’t we remember Jesus? Jesus is our Shepherd.”
While primarily aimed at helping Christians grow, 40 Loaves could also be very helpful for conversations with seekers or secular skeptics. It could help show that evangelicals are unafraid of tough questions and are honestly, even authentically engaged with faith that is still being formed. If we will deal with the questions our own faith raises, I suspect that we could more readily gain a place in the conversations where secularists ask their own questions about the validity of faith in Jesus.