I have tried to describe in some detail what happened in those years, not because the story is important, but so that others might be able to appreciate some of the diverse theology that I have been subject to over the years. It has been a work in progress involving contact with around 2,000 people including several who had been in leadership positions in various denominations.
At the end of 1994 the Worldwide Church of God – a Sabbath keeping church – announced (from the top) that much of their theology had been misguided (and that is a very long story). This was a traumatic experience that split our own family. My wife and I stayed with WCG while our daughter’s in-laws and their family totally rejected the changes. With hindsight we stayed because we didn’t know what to do. As our daughter said, “You can’t both be right”. She and her husband (who had both been involved with youth leadership) left the church, and he in particular is now a convinced atheist (understandably).
I have always been a ‘workaholic’ – I’m one of those people who always needed to be busy. Just as I’ve effectively put aside much of my memory of the teachings of WCG, I’ve put aside much of the chaos and confusion of the time following the split although we continued to attend what was left of WCG locally. I had been heavily involved in the Anglican Church and numerous community projects prior to the time of joining WCG. This was effectively thrown out the window for some 15 years until there was a change of approach in 1993. By 1996 I was again secretary of the local Community Association; I attended a Christian Counselling course; and I was an Active Age adviser with the national charity Age Concern. In 1998 with the help of Age Concern we opened a ‘Drop in’ one day a week for the over 60s and obtained a grant of £5,000 to buy a Short Mat Bowls mat and four computers. Directly as a result of this activity we obtained a grant of £20,000 in order to start a Cyber Cafe that opened in 2003.
I do have a clear recollection that it was in 1998 that I had this strong feeling of “freedom and liberation from the slavery of legalism”. It wasn’t obvious where WCG were headed. I had long understood that the traditional teachings of heaven and especially hell were misguided and I did get the feeling that they were likely to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
It was at about this time that I found “Houses that change the world” by Wolfgang Simson on the internet before the book was published. This was a book that was used extensively by some of those who were at the forefront of the House Church movement. The preface of the book contained “Fifteen Theses towards a Re-incarnation of Church“. This for me had been very significant. The author had said that he had always felt that there must be something exciting about the community which Jesus started and about which he read in the New Testament. Together with friends he dreamed of a community that was simple yet dynamic; an explosive thing, able to turn the world and a neighbourhood upside down . . . This would have been the time when my questioning really kicked in. By this time I was effectively retired – I had plenty to keep me occupied – I was spending a lot of time on the internet – and was vaguely aware of what was going on in the ‘Christian’ world – and catching up on some of the changes that had been occurring in the previous 30 odd years since I’d left the traditional church scene. I was always on the lookout for a local ‘house church’ but never found one. I had started developing my own web site in 2000 and with hindsight realised that the purpose changed four times in five years.
In 2003 I was introduced to the writings of Alan Jamieson – “A Churchless Faith” and “The Ten Myths about Church Leavers” together with the booklet “The Out of Church Christians” by Andrew Strom – see ‘Stages of Faith’.
In 2005 I finished what I now call ‘Some Earlier Material‘ (the foundations of the blog as I saw them at that time). It was early in 2006 that I read ‘Adventures in Christ’ by Andre Rabe. Something Andre wrote did not make sense at the time and I put it on one side. I want to consider this on its own and I’ve included the material as “Head v Heart?” as a separate Discussion Topic.
I then found “So you don’t want to go to church anymore” by Jake Colsen when the authors had only written the first three chapters. I’ve had the chance to spend a couple of weekends with Wayne Jacobsen (one of the two authors) when he has been in the UK. On the second occasion (in the summer of 2007) Wayne brought across copies of “The Shack” that subsequently became a ‘best seller’ around the world that Christians either loved or hated.. That was another turning point for me. I would want to question a little of the implied theology, but here was a picture of a loving Father who loves us more than we can imagine. It just made so much sense – a picture that I was happy to share with anyone who wants to ask questions. Although I had been a ‘Christian’ for nearly 50 years I had never had a faith that I really felt able to share with others. It had always been ‘head knowledge’ rather than ‘heart awareness’. Something had always been missing. I soon found myself wondering why it had taken 57 years for me to find an explanation of the trinity that at least began to make sense. But because I was retired I had time to read hundreds of the reviews of ‘The Shack’ (both positive and negative). I learned so much of why people believe what they believe, often as a result of divisive denominational theology – and I had a new perspective on what it had meant to be aware of that freedom and liberation from the slavery of legalism. I think it was at this point where I began to appreciate the enormous difference between the Christian RELIGION and the Christian FAITH.
It was in the summer of 2008 that I was involved with perhaps a couple of hundred people on the internet. There was a real coming together of people who had been drawn away from churches that they may have attended for many years. There were many different perspectives and there would have been only limited agreement deep down but it was as if we had been drawn together for a season. I am still aware from Facebook where some of those journeys have taken people.
There were several discussions about the differences between introverts and extroverts. One of these discussions led on to whether there was any connection between being an introvert and autism. This ‘accidentally’ led me to think that I had lived with Aspergers Syndrome all my life. This was such an exciting discovery – it made sense of my obsession with detail – my ability to go over the same ground time and again, improving and refining what I had done. It also explained something of my inability to communicate easily with other people about things I was not directly involved with.
After 2008 I developed quite a significant amount of my own material and had the chance to get involved with a couple of para-church groups in Brighton where I live, including a church in a pub run by an Anglican priest. It was early in 2010 when I was talking to another Anglican priest that she asked me if I had read any of the material by Richard Holloway – the former leader of the Anglican Church in Scotland. This was my introduction to his thoughts on myth and symbolism and the place of broken myths. I also found two lecture series entitled, “Religion on the Level” and “The Myths of Christianity”. As a former Anglican I could relate to much of what Richard wrote and I’ve quoted some of his material on the blog. N.T. (Tom) Wright the former Bishop of Durham was another Anglican who had a significant influence on my thinking for many years.
It was also early in 2010 that I was given a pointer to a new book by another Anglican priest entitled, “The Undefended Life”, part of which I found very enlightening. I subsequently edited some of my own notes to reflect some of what I saw as my own undefended faith – that faith that I didn’t have to justify but which I was quite happy to share.
It was after studying “The Undefended Life” that I wrote an article entitled, “The Hare and the Tortoise”. I felt that I had come a long way in the previous five years. Little did I realise then, having recently stopped attending church, how much more my understanding would change over the years!
In November 2010 I read an article entitled, “The Church and the Genie in the Bottle” by Dave Price. I could so relate to what he had written and we subsequently became very close friends (despite living some 4,000 miles apart).
In March 2012 I saw a review of “Christianity After Religion” by Diana Butler-Bass. This was another stepping stone that resulted in an intense period of study and some extensive notes that contains several additional links.
After this Dave and I were having some really animated discussions and there was one email where he commented on “Belief Persistence” and then wrote, “I’ll write again soon”. I subsequently found out that he had died of a heart attack probably less than an hour after writing that.