The Struggle of the Seminarian (thoughts on cynicism and faith)

I used to be that happy-go-lucky church goer. I didn’t question things, I believed whatever I heard from the pulpit or the front of the classroom. I believed in God and thought that faith was enough. I might not understand it, but that’s ok. Maybe we aren’t supposed to. That was my way of thinking about a whole bunch of theology related things. 

As I progressed through college, I started to wonder if maybe it might be helpful to have a little more knowledge. It wasn’t that my college didn’t offer that knowledge, it’s just that I basically almost failed Old Testament class and spent a lot of New Testament class giggling with new friends.

So, I decided to do what any knowledgeable Christian does: go to seminary. 

Even still, I went to seminary for a program that was much more focused on heart knowledge (because I do still think when it comes to our faith, that is what matters). We learned church history and about the desert fathers and knowledge about spiritual direction, the spiritual journey, and how to walk with people in these ways. But the “knowledge” part I was seeking, the “head” knowledge, happened in theology class.

I needed to take these classes; I think we all do. We all need to have a basic foundation for our faith. We need to be able to explain why we believe this whole God thing. Christian education is incredibly important. 

But here is what happened. I read books about my faith. The Bible became my textbook. I sat in class with very smart people who could tell you all the years of historical events and what the greek word for ___ is or what Paul really meant when he said “women should wear headcoverings.” And this was so great. But as we start obtaining this knowledge, as we learn to think critically, it is really hard not to get critical.

Sarah Bessey said it best: I try to think critically without giving myself over to a critical heart.”

In the years of seminary and since graduating, I’ve found myself having a really hard time not “thinking critically” (read: judging) most pastors, speakers, authors, or anyone talking about faith.

I went to the Hillsong United concert this past Monday, and it was absolutely fabulous. I was hesitant, because they are another fairly hipster worship band (and I really struggle with judging hipster pastors. Like really struggle. But seriously, ankle boots?! Is that necessary, men? I digress.) But one of them said something that felt like a knife to the chest: “If you are here looking for something to criticize, you will find it.”

WOAH. SHOOT. DANGIT.

I do need to say, thinking critically (in its purest form) is valuable and necessary. My eyes were opened to things in seminary that I may never have become aware of if I wasn’t being taught to think critically. Like the day I realized I can be a Christ follower and a feminist. There was a moment in a theology class where my jaw dropped and the scales came off my eyes and it’s changed everything about how I live. (Too long and dramatic to write about here, but feel free to ask me about it. Maybe a blog for another day.)

The problem is when our critical thinking blackens our heart with cynicism and criticism. This is helpful to no one. It is not the result God wants from us reading and studying His Word. So if this is happening to you, take a step back and get recalibrated.

I find myself having thoughts like this:

Pastor: “We are born with a God-sized hole in our hearts.”

Me: “What shape is a God sized hole? A circle? A triangle? Star?” so.much.snark.

The reality of that statement? We need God. My sass and judgment is just an abundantly clear picture of my need for Him.

I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the one who makes church not fun for the people I am around, I don’t want to be questioning everything all the time, I don’t want my eyes to get stuck in a “rolled” position.

We learn about Him so that we can better share His story. So that we can defend the Gospel in a way that is convincing. In a world where people want to find every reason not to believe and follow Him, we need to be able to make a case.

But we also need to be able to make a case with our lives. The state of our hearts speaks louder for the legitimacy of our faith than our words do.

One of the songs that Hillsong United sings has a line that says this:

Burn in me your desire, a passion worthy of Your name 

That is what I want now. As a seminary graduate, I have a lot of the knowledge (or at least what I retained). At some point, there is only so much to learn. But there are unlimited experiences of our Creator available to us. We have pages and pages of His love letters to us, alive and active, ready to change us. This happens when we read it with an open heart for what He has to say to us today. I want to have a passion worthy of His name. I want to live a life full of love and kindness. I want my life to be worthy of being attached to His name.

This is one of those blog posts that I know my friends will quote back at me when I am falling prey to my temptation to judge or criticize. But that is why I write it, because I honestly do want to get better. The Lord doesn’t reveal our brokenness to us so we can just claim it (“I’m Kallie, and I’m a judgmental seminary grad!”), He gently taps us on the shoulder and says, Ok, it’s been long enough, dear. Let’s move on from this now.

Because here is the real thing, friends: Of what benefit to the Kingdom is my cynicism? If we are talking Kingdom of darkness verses Kingdom of light – who is benefitted by my judgmental heart? There is no benefit, no eternal value, in my hardhearted cynicism towards God’s people.

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “Who or what is winning in your life right now?” I never, ever, ever want my answer to that to be the king of darkness. I hate him so much. He is the literal worst.

I always want Jesus to be winning in my life. Because He has won it all for me, and the least I can do is try to represent Him well. I don’t want cynicism to rule in my life. I want JOY, kindness, courage, and faith to be the ingredients that define me.

Sarah Bessey, one of my fave authors, has walked a similar road. She wrote these beautiful words, that I will leave you with today:

“I want to practice faithfulness, and practice kindness, I want to fill my ears with the repetitions of wide-eyes and open hands, and innocent fun, holy laughter. I want to practice, with intention, joy. I won’t desecrate beauty with cynicism anymore, I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath.” Read more here.

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One of those twenty-somethings trying to find my way through this silly world. I write to process, and sometimes send those thoughts out into the void. Passionate about Jesus and people and bringing those two together. Living in and loving Denver. Working with college students, who are the coolest. Seeking Jesus in everything.

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