When Faith Succumbs to Pressure
Pressure can take you out — but it doesn’t have to. There’s a lesson for Christians on that in recent events.
The U.S. Navy submersible vehicle Alvin has made more than 5,000 deep water dives as far down as 18,500 feet, and has always returned intact. The Titan sub was less than 70% that deep when it failed. It’s possible to dive that deep, but it’s possible to fail, too. The difference is in the quality of the vessel.
The Titan’s pilot and passengers thought they were safe, and indeed, in shallower waters they would have been. Under enormous deep water pressures, however — well over 2 tons per square inch — that trust tragically imploded. I trust that learning from them does them honor in their tragedy, because pressure on Christianity in the West is becoming enormous, too. Will we hold firm?
Persecution is nothing new to Christians. Even today, hundreds of millions of believers face pressures we Westerners could hardly imagine. The difference here in the West is in the rate of descent. Christians in communist lands fell very quickly under persecution, but I doubt even they were as mentally unprepared for it as we are for our own legal and societal changes.
Faith Isn’t Always the Answer
The pressure is intensifying … fast. Will we withstand it? The answer to that will depend on the strength of our … our what? Our faith? No. Strong faith in itself is no defense. Faith is a synonym for trust with risk attached to it. No one ever ventured out with more faith than the people on the Titan. It wasn’t their faith that failed. It was their vessel.
Or you could say that what failed was precisely their faith: where they placed it, that is. Analysis after the fact tells us they trusted the wrong design, the wrong materials, and the wrong construction methods. Their trust became their doom.
Anti-Christian pressure is rising, and it’s going to require faith such as we in the West have never practiced before. But it had better not be foolish faith.
Strong Faith in Wrong Things
Foolish faith is simply faith that’s placed where it doesn’t belong. We trusted in “experts” to guide us through the COVID crisis, and created new and needless crises as a result. We had no way at the time to know for sure whether our elites were being honest or not. But we could at least have seen the folly of letting our country’s social, economic, educational, and medical policies be dictated by epidemiologists. How could the outcome have been anything but lopsided, one-sided, and wrong?
That’s just one recent example of trust imploding on us because it was trust wrongly placed. Christians in today’s climate can easily be tempted to put their trust in equally weak vessels. Progressive Christians offer the prime example. They have many problems, but a lack of faith isn’t one of them.
Just try it: Ask a progressive whether it’s possible that Jesus is the only way to God. Ask him if there’s any chance same-sex marriage might not be such a good thing overall. For a real test, ask him how conservative Christian beliefs stack up against their progressive religion. What are the differences? How can this person be certain that he’s right, and we are wrong? Chances are you’ll hear him questioning their beliefs less than any fundamentalist.
This is faith, all right. Foolish faith. A vessel that has already been breached, and filled with the seawater of all the World’s anti-Christian beliefs and values. The passengers welcome that sea, even glory in it. They have become the sea! Which means that they’ve drowned.
And I see something like the same foolish tragedy beginning to replay among conservatives. To guard against it, we should know how it developed among progressives. It started centuries ago, when Christianity rode comfortably afloat at the surface in a culture that put little to no pressure on it. To be a European or white American was simply to be a Christian, or if not, then at least to give the Church plenty of social respect.
The cracks began developing slowly. David Hume in Scotland persuaded many that it was impossible to believe in miracles. René Descartes and Immanuel Kant raised doubts that we could know what was real.
That, then, set the stage for direct attacks on Christian belief in the 1800s. German textual criticism hammered Christians’ belief in Scripture. Darwinism did the same with belief in God’s creative hand in nature. Freud rewrote the meaning of human identity and growth, and the meaning of sin.
For many Christians of the day, the answer to the pressure was to equalize it by cracking the hull a bit and letting the seawater flow in. Liberal Christianity accepted this new scholarship pretty much wholesale. Miracles were jettisoned, along with the “old-fashioned” need for “salvation.” Psychoanalysis became the “science” that would lead to human salvation — along with the rising physical sciences, naturally.
Liberal Christianity’s Foolish Faith
And it was all foolishness. The science that pushed them away from belief could have shown them the way back, had they been less quick to trust their “experts.” Archaeology, for example, used to laugh at the “non-existent” Hittites in the Bible. Fast-forward several decades, to my years as a single man, and I’m living with a roommate who is studying the Hittite language!
They trusted the “science” of psychoanalysis, which everyone who knows — everyone! — now regards as pseudoscience. Even Darwin’s theory is giving out on them, not just because of “creationism” or even Intelligent Design theory. It isn’t fulfilling its own predictions, which renders it, too, a pseudoscience.
Nineteenth and twentieth century Christian liberals thought Christianity was sinking, so they jumped ship — to board a vessel riddled with holes under the waterline. Their problem wasn’t a lack of faith. It was faith in things that were destined to drown them.
Progressive Christianity’s Foolish Faith
Progressive Christianity lives inside liberalism’s tradition, which is a bad start to begin with. Liberalism was mostly a reaction to pressures on Christianity’s truth, though, while progressivism adds in a strong reaction against alleged “evils” seen in Christianity. We are (supposedly) xenophobic, anti-intellectual, anti-woman, anti-climate, anti-equality, pro-“gun violence,” pro-right-wing-politics, and callous toward the “oppressed,” and above all, anti-LGBTQ+.
That’s a lot of pressure. And progressives’ answer is to crack the hull open even wider, inviting in all manner of strange moral beliefs, from deviant sexuality to killing the youngest and most innocent humans. And they join in with the skeptics in jeering at the rest of our beliefs. (“He saved others, but he cannot save himself!”)
Like their liberal grandparents, their mistake is not a lack of trust, but trust in the wrong thing. They trust the sea to save them from the sea. But this, too, is foolishness.
When Conservatives’ Faith Turns Foolish, Too
So now we come to conservative Christianity today. The vessel we ride in, our protection against the pressures, is Christ Himself, the One Lord and Savior, revealed in His Word and represented through ages of historic Christianity. This vessel has stood the test of centuries, including persecution and martyrdom. Christ Himself is our strength. We’re as safe with Him here as the disciples were on the stormy sea. What more could we need?
Yet here we are, enveloped by a sea of harsh pressure on the faith. It almost seems sensible to crack the seals a bit, letting in a little room for “compassionate” acceptance of homosexuality, a little silence about the unborn, a bit of embarrassment over taking our beliefs and values public. Or we trust our “winsomeness” to bring others to faith, thus spilling even more seawater aboard.
This is neither wise nor necessary. We are secure in Christ. The pressure pounding on the hull can’t harm us — not unless we let it in. Small cracks under pressure always grow, by the way.
The Point Is …
Now if my analogy also has you thinking we’re riding inside some cramped, confined, uninviting space, then I’ll just take my leave of that analogy now. It can’t convey how roomy it really is in here, how spacious and green and life-giving. Maybe if you’ve read C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, you can think in terms of Queen Lucy’s quote: “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”
Anyway, the vessel analogy only goes so far. I only mean to say one thing with it: That it’s foolish to think we’ll save ourselves from the strong social pressure of false belief by letting some of it in.
That danger is real, and I see growing tendencies in conservative Christianity to succumb to it. That’s foolish, period. Christ is sufficient, for He is strong. His word is trustworthy, for it is true.
Don’t open the doors. Don’t even crack the seals. Stay with Christ.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.