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The path to critical faith

By Christine Nielsen-Craig

Dr Alan Jamieson champions the spiritual grapplers of the world.

Those who have more questions than answers about faith and seek the same from religious leaders will find solace in his latest book, Called Again.

Following on from Alan’s earlier work, A Churchless Faith, Called Again explores the experiences of people who have left Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic (EPC) churches. His first book was the product of Alan’s PhD research on why people leave EPC churches.

Called Again weaves together personal testimony, academic research and biblical insights to explore how people sustain their faith once they’ve left EPC churches.

“It’s about people with a pre-critical faith moving to a post-critical faith,” says Alan, who is pastor at Wellington Central Baptist Church. “I wanted to look beyond a crisis of faith or critique of faith. These are real-life stories.”

“For many people dissatisfaction with church is tied up with the mid-life phase, although it is also associated with quarter-life crises, people in their mid to late 20s or early 30s. Education, personal suffering and being around other people who are questioning can be a source of this feeling.” he explains.

In her testimonial ‘Sarah’ says: “I felt that church was negatively impacting my relationship with God? Church was like a box into which I no longer fitted.”

In most cases Alan found that despite their alienation from church, people who leave EPC churches keep their faith and seek other forms of spiritual companionship.

He writes: “The churches these people have left — which are predominantly conservative, evangelical in theology and charismatic in style — are typically full of answers. The post-church groups these leavers form are in contrast focused on questions — exploration of questions, opening up of questions, looking behind answers and challenging the known.”

An appealing aspect of EPC churches is their extended family atmosphere. But even those who enjoy the warmth and security of a family gathering may feel relieved when it’s over. Being part of a group can be comforting but living up to its demands and expectations can be suffocating.

Alan says for people comfortable in postmodernist society EPC churches appear to put limits on faith. Churches need to create space for people’s questions, doubts and experiences of life that do not fit neatly into their faith doctrines. However, he is critical of neither EPC churches and their followers nor those who leave them.

“I don’t want to rate those who are dissatisfied with traditional EPC churches as further along or more mature in their faith,” he says. “This becomes unhelpful.”

It’s about courses for horses, he says. That shift is important for some people but not for others. People should be able to get out of Christian faith what they need.

To that end, Alan and colleague Jenny McIntosh run spiritual “waystations”, called Spirited Exchanges at Wellington Central Baptist Church to ease the transition of those suffering from a bad spiritual fit with their former church. They publish a newsletter of the same name.

“These options are transitional support. They help get through a crisis and are not set up to entice people to this church. We state very clearly that we are not trying to recruit them to a church.”

Can one church support those who thrive on questioning and those who find comfort in clarity?

“This is a constant issue for the church to manage. There has to be an appreciation of each other,” he says. “But people who want things to be more clear-cut don’t always tolerate our open ways.”

Alan grew up in Nelson and spent eight years at Spreydon Baptist Church before completing his PhD and taking up his post at Wellington Central. Called Again is available from Epworth Books for $29.95.