Evolving Faith

Is Faith about choosing the right way to believe and then standing firm, or about the life of change it took to get there? I’m heading off today to a conference called, “Evolving Faith” and it seems like a perfect prompt to write again.

My writing has recently slowed down, and it may be worth discussing why:  I am more settled.

Or more accurately, I am more settled with being unsettled.  

I used to know a lot about God, and how “He” wanted me to live. Like a kid in Sunday School, I had direct and clear answers to an unexplainable world.

But I know less now, and that’s ok.

It didn’t feel ok at first.  Especially not when it meant so much loss – of surety, of community, of being settled.

Sarah Hurwitz wrote an insightful essay called Religion for Adults Means Embracing Complexity (unfortunately behind a paywall):  “For some of us,” she says, “the transition to adult religion is less gradual, brought on by a sudden life crisis.  We followed all the rules but still suffered some unimaginable loss, and the old bromides about God having a plan and not giving us more than we can handle feel woefully inadequate to explain our new reality.  So we’re forced to wrestle with our old certainties, and if we’re lucky, we come out the other side humbler and more nuanced in our faith.”

There’s some change happening there.  The move from solid to subtle takes security.  That is, changing requires being secure enough to say “Maybe I _don’t_ know”, and takes away the security of knowing where we stand. One dictionary defines evolution, especially evolution of language, as: “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.”  Some of us remember when the word sick was something bad.  Now we long for sick waves or sick shoes.  But there was some confusion as language evolved.

Some sick shoes. On some sick carpet. There, both meanings of sick in one sentence, you figure it out.

It seems my language of God is evolving too. More complex, but simpler too.  With the sunset on my face I’m more comfortable saying, “Wow,” than turning to my friend and saying God created that light on the fourth day, the Bible clearly says so, and if you’ll only trust Him as your personal savior…. I’m less sure how prayer works, but more convinced of the power of thankfulness.  I’m less sure that “me and my people” had a corner on the exact image of God, but more sure that I will only see God’s whole face by listening to the lives of those different from me.

Which puts my changing faith in the company of other doubters and change-makers through history. And makes me willing to fly to Denver this weekend to meet some other people whose views are evolving.  The organizers are many of the authors whose pages journeyed with me through this doubt and into this new life.

As I wrote in Unbundling My Bias, my beliefs were all strapped together, and I had to shake them out of every pocket and onto the table.  So much of that journey was about letting go.  About what I don’t believe.  My friend The Doubter, whose struggle with doubt throughout his adult life has been refreshing to me, listened to some of my recommended podcasts and commented that it’s all about what they don’t believe.  What do you believe, he wondered?

(You have to at least give my friend credit for being an equal-oppportunity doubter – he even doubts the doubters! Love it. But in fact, couldn’t I direct his complaint to the faith I’m escaping: evangelicalism became as much about what we shouldn’t do as what we should.  Playing defense for Jesus, avoiding sexual misconduct, controlling God’s image in the public sphere, legislating against things. I know what I can’t do, but what should I do?)

And the same What do you believe? question could be said about me too, not just my podcasts.  I had to give myself permission to stay there for awhile. Be settled in my unsettledness. Know that I don’t know.

This 1908 building is not being destroyed, but renovated from the inside for new life.

I can’t stop there. That table still holds some goodness, and as time passes I start to see which parts to put back in the pockets as I move on.

Hurwitz wouldn’t settle for a religion which never grows up – whose God stays small.  Her essay continues, “We would never do such a thing in a secular context. If someone told us that they found their sixth-grade science or history classes to be dull and overly simplistic, and thus entirely stopped learning about those subjects, we would be appalled. But that is precisely what many of us do with religion, including plenty who continue to show up at our places of worship and go through the motions.  We’ve rejected the kiddie stuff but never bothered to replace it with an adult version.”

Why is this so? Could it be the faith we inherited was more about the message than The Messenger?  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  “And the word was with God, and the word was God.”

Brian McLaren pointed out that our admiration of religious rebels is too often about their new-found beliefs, when we could instead emulate their lifestyle of questioning existing beliefs.  “John Calvin brought people as far as he could.  And Martin Luther brought people as far as he could.  Unfortunately, their followers often stop right where their founders stopped. Even though you follow people who boldly moved forward, you stop where they stopped.  And so in that way, you keep saying what they said, but you don’t follow their example of doing in your times what they did in theirs.  I think so many of us inherited a form of religion like that.”

Remember when you first joined your church? In my case it was founded by someone breaking away from an institution entrenched in tradition.

That rebellion, that sense of newness, that blending of new information with rich tradition, invigorates the air and undergirds our hopes of not becoming our parents (no offense, Mom!).  And we’re all in.

But then one day, we look around and realize we’re protecting our little revolution against the next generation’s uprising.  Maybe our kids grow up and announce they’ve found a new church, one that doesn’t ____{list of things our church does}____.  It was only when I heard a statement like that and reacted defensively, that I realized I still imagined my church to be the one I’d joined 25 years ago, the one in my head that was ground-breaking and not like “other” churches.

Or maybe new information comes in, the internet, globalization and all that, and our tradition’s answers for things didn’t quite address things in a way that matched the Spirit we were founded on.

Should we just buckle down, solidify what we know and print more doctrinal paper to lock it in?

That doesn’t sound like much fun.

Sounds like something our kids might bail on.  And I might better go with them, you know, just to make sure they’re ok.

Maybe our songs of change are meant to encourage them to write their own.

As McLaren elsewhere points out, when Jesus said Follow Me, the implication was that He would be moving.



I’m hoping the Evolving Faith conference will give me a few hints, and I promise to pass them along.  Check out the schedule at bottom and LMK if you want a personal report on any particular sessions.

♦ weekendswell ♦

Notes: Check out Brian McLaren on The Nomad podcast talking about How to pass on your faith when your faith is evolving (skip the dry humor introduction to about 15 minutes in). Highly recommend this one!
See more on Sarah Hurwitz’ book: Here All Along

If this post feels too settled for you, go back in history a bit to Simmering Boil or Stained Glass Followers.

Evolving Faith Conference 2019

FRIDAY – October 4

(All sessions are in the University of Denver’s Magness Arena unless otherwise noted)

7:00 AM Registration / Doors Open – West Concourse, Ritchie Center, University of Denver

8:15 Opening Music – House Band: Beer and Hymns OC

8:30 AM Welcome/Morning Meditation

Jeff Chu

Sarah Bessey

Dan Evans

Dr. Grace Kao

Jennifer Knapp

Amena Brown

9:00 AM SESSION I – “Evolving Faith & the Wilderness”

Sarah Bessey

Dr. Eric Barreto

Barbara Brown Taylor

10:15 AM BREAK

10:30 AM SESSION 2 – “Evolving Faith & Theology/Bible”

Danielle Shroyer

Dr. Pete Enns

Dr. Renita J. Weems

12:00 – 1:55 PM LUNCH BREAK

12:00 – 1:00 PM LGBTQIA Meet and Eat – Magness Arena Floor

1:00 – 1:45 PM Book Signing with Speakers – Magness Arena Floor

1:55 PM SESSION 3 – “Evolving Faith & Human Dignity”

Tanya Marlow

B.T. Harman

Cece Jones-Davis

3:15 BREAK

3:35 PM SESSION 4 – “Evolving Faith & Justice and Decolonization”

William Matthews

Kaitlin Curtice

Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes


5:15 PM GRIEF & LAMENT SERVICE – Jeff Chu, Jenny Morgan, Amanda Held Opelt

5:45 PM End of Day One

DINNER – on your own

9:00 PM OLD TIME GOSPEL HYMN SING ALONG with Beer and Hymns OC  – Denver Community Church Wash Park Campus, 1101 S. Washington Street, Denver, CO 80210

SATURDAY – October 5

7:30 AM Doors Open

8:00 AM Morning Prayers

Dr. Grace Kao

Matthew Paul Turner

8:20 AM Introduction & Overview of Breakout Sessions

9:00 – 10:15 AM BREAKOUT SESSION 1

“Gender Diversity in the Bible and in Our Churches” 

Austen Hartke – Gates Field House

“Enneagram and an Evolving Faith”

Micky ScottBey Jones – Magness Arena

“Reconstructing a Faithful Family”

Traci Smith – Lindsay Auditorium, in Sturm Hall

“Justice, Deconstruction, and Soul Care: A Conversation”

Kaitlin Curtice (moderator), Alicia Crosby, Kathy Escobar,

Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, B.T. Harman – University Park UMC Sanctuary

“Having Better Conversations while Evolving” (Live Podcast Recording) – Pantsuit Politics: Beth Silvers & Sarah Stewart Holland – Davis Auditorium, in Sturm Hall

10:15 – 10:45 AM – BREAK

10:45 – 12:00 PM BREAKOUT SESSION 2

“Gender Diversity in the Bible and in Our Churches”

Austen Hartke – Gates Field House

“Enneagram and an Evolving Faith”

Micky ScottBey Jones – Magness Arena

“Reconstructing a Faithful Family”

Traci Smith – Lindsay Auditorium, in Sturm Hall

“Walking Wounded: Hope for Those Hurt by Church and Ministry”

 Kathy Escobar – University Park UMC Sanctuary

“Having Better Conversations while Evolving” (A Conversation)

Pantsuit Politics: Beth Silvers & Sarah Stewart Holland – Davis Auditorium, in Sturm Hall

12:00 – 1:55 PM LUNCH BREAK

12:30 – 1:00 PM Lunch and Special Presentation with International Justice Mission – Gates Field House

1:00 – 1:45 PM Book Signing with Speakers – Magness Arena Floor

1:55 PM SESSION 5 – “Evolving Faith & Your Story”

Jennifer Knapp

Jen Hatmaker

Lisa Sharon Harper

Jeff Chu


4:15 PM Communion Service

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sarah Bessey

Music: Jennifer Knapp, William Matthews and House Band

5:30 PM End of Conference

5:30 – 6:30 PM Meet & Greet / Book Signing with Speakers – Magness Arena Floor

6 Replies to “Evolving Faith”

  1. Oh gosh. BBT. Jeff Chu. Sarah Bessey. Nadia. Jen Hatmaker. Peter Enns. Why did you not drag me along with you? Next year. You could speak at one of these. Maybe we need Evolving Faith X SB like TEDx. Just saying.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve listened to or read many of these people – it is guaranteed to be fascinating! Enjoy on behalf of so many of us who would love to be there too. Excited to read and hear more about your time.


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