Outgrowing Faith

Can we outgrow our faith? Certainly, it happens all the time. Some shed their parents’ religion like a too small snakeskin. Others find the faith of their fathers a good foundation but a lousy ceiling. Still others can’t live with the dissonance between the way the world is supposed to be and the way it is.

Faith provides a paradigm that gives direction and explains the rules of the road. It works well as a map—until it becomes outdated. What usually dates a paradigm is data. New information supersedes old ways of seeing.

The telescope changed theology, and most branches of science, by expanding human knowledge. Same goes for the microscope, the MRI machine, the computer and scores of other advances. These tools didn’t create reality but simply revealed what’s always been there.

We (should) outgrow faith when it no longer fits the facts or explains our experiences. We could also grow INTO faith for the same reasons. C. S. Lewis is a famous example (read Surprised by Joy). So is Anthony Flew, a leading atheist who became a theist later in life:

Flew told Christianity Today that although he was not on the road to becoming a Christian convert, he reaffirmed his deism: “Since the beginning of my philosophical life I have followed the policy of Plato’s Socrates: We must follow the argument wherever it leads.”


The important thing is to keep learning, to keep searching, to keep asking questions and evaluating answers. The quest will take us off church property, maybe even into the weeds.

Could we get lost? Yes.

We could also discover new territory not on our original map.


7 thoughts on “Outgrowing Faith

  1. Roughly half the people of the world believes in God. The other half does not. With a small percentage still undecided which way to go. The man who presented this statistic goes on to say that this state of affairs was present from time imemorial and will continue so into the future. How he figured out this I do not know. May be modern super computers can look into the future or back into the past with their data.
    The most beautiful definition of God, to me, is from Mahatma Gandhi. You can listen and read a slide show, in his own words and voice here :

    And here is late Dr.George Rodonia’s near death experience, which turned him into an ardent believer in God from a hardened atheist.

    1. Near Death Experiences have done that to many, including skeptic Dr. Eben Alexander. Not everyone sees the same thing, but most are changed for the better by the experience.

  2. Really agree – I remember early in my faith (as a young teen) reading Your God is Too Small and realizing that I need to practice discernment in evaluating input from the various sources in my life. C.S.Lewis was a major influence soon after that, but even he is not quite in the box that many Evangelicals would find comfortable. I think that if I hadn’t developed a sense of a personal relationship with God, I would have trashed the church paradigms I grew up with. But something still resonates in my “soul” – like Peter saying “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

    As I read your post, I was reminded of song lyrics from one of my favorite “recovering fundamentalists”- Bruce Cockburn’s “Pacing The Cage,” especially the last verse: Sunset is an angel weepingHolding out a bloody swordNo matter how I squint I cannotMake out what it’s pointing towardSometimes you feel like you live too long Days drip slowly on the pageYou catch yourselfPacing the cageI’ve proven who I am so many timesThe magnetic strip’s worn thinAnd each time I was someone elseAnd every one was taken inPowers chatter in high placesStir up eddies in the dust of rageSet me to pacing the cageI never knew what you all wantedSo I gave you everythingAll that I could pillageAll the spells that I could singIt’s as if the thing were written In the constitution of the ageSooner or later you’ll wind upPacing the cageSometimes the best map will not guide you You can’t see what’s round the bendSometimes the road leads through dark places Sometimes the darkness is your friendToday these eyes scan bleached-out land For the coming of the outbound stagePacing the cage Pacing the cage Mike Burns

    Date: Tue, 19 May 2015 14:57:44 +0000 To: mikeandtonyaburns@msn.com

  3. This latest post of yours is a good jumping off point for discussion. I was particularly struck by your comment “We (should) outgrow faith when it no longer fits the facts or explains our experiences. …”

    I think you downgraded the depth of the meaning of the word “faith” with that comment beyond is proper place in the world of ideas (and reality). Faith, which is a deep and abiding trust, based on prior facts and trustworthy testimony of trustworthy individuals, stabilizes a person in the face of seemingly contradictory facts and confusing or painful experiences.

    Faith carries you through the difficulties while leaving room for new ideas, for learning, and for course corrections, but its basis need not (should not) be abandoned.

    Both religious and secular seekers of truth and understanding of how the world works, not only mechanically but relationally, have had to persevere through mountains of contradictory factual data and experiences that were counter-intuitive to where they ultimately landed with new inventions and insights.

    So, you might ask – well then how does anyone ever cross over from one ‘faith-foundation’ to another? For those who hold that there is no single point of reality, no God, the move from one foundation to the other might be driven by the most compelling argument, and sometimes by the most compelling personality making that argument. What a person “wants” to believe can heavily influence their filters, however, as the data comes in. Most people in this frame of mind would say, “I have been open to the possibility of God, but I don’t find the facts or the philosophy compelling enough commit to it/him”.

    Another world view says, if God is real then it is his prime cause of inviting us into relationship that “can effect” a foundational shift from one world view to another. There is a spiritual interaction that takes place at the core of a person when God presents him or her with such an invitation into relationship. For a person to accept or reject that invitation (which may come in multiple ways over multiple times) is something that is more profound than deciding whether or not you believe that the Stoics or the Epicureans got it right, or that the current state of the big bang theory explains everything that exists. It is more profound because it is a personal experiential event (or series of events) that forces a person to make a decision. You have to either accept that you are experiencing this “call”, this “invitation”, into a relationship with God – whom you are realizing exists and is communicating with you – or you reject that prompting (that nascent and new understanding) because it doesn’t fit prior facts of how you thought the world works, or your prior lack of experiences with anything in the spiritual realm or anything like it. You might even sense that though this call/invitation is real, I simply don’t want to follow it. It is inconvenient for me to follow it right now because I think it would prevent me from pursuing something I badly want but that would be (I believe) prevented by God if I committed to Him.

    The challenge that Jesus throws down to the world is that “He” is the basis for reality itself, and that “following” his “way of living”, being “obedient to his commands” (which boil down to two – Love God, Love people), and “abiding” in that commitment through “FAITH” is ultimately the right way to live. Indeed, according to his messengers it is the only way to live and please God and experience true freedom in life now and for eternity.

    1. Well said, and well reasoned, my friend. We do need faith to stabilize us in the face of contradictory facts and painful experiences. We never get all the facts, or answers, in this life. If faith allows for new ideas and course corrections “its basis should not be abandoned.”

      Personal experiential is key to faith, yet we bring a subjective “ear” to the voices we hear. Is it God calling or our own projected desire? Or a blend of both?

      My hope is to grow into a deeper faith. It doesn’t nave to be different or novel, but I want it to be deeper and more intimate.

      Looking forward to continuing this face to face.

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