I believe because I have to believe. I have to believe because life doesn’t make any sense to me otherwise.
To say I believe, however, leaves open the question of the object of my belief. That is to say, what do I believe? I believe that God is behind all of this in some way that makes sense to God, even if it escapes me. I know I’m supposed to have it all together, to have it systematized in some way that will hold up to scrutiny. Yet, I’m secretly afraid, I suppose, that if I interrogate my reasons for belief too vigorously, those reasons will remain just enough beyond my reach to make me wonder, in times of darkness, whether they make sense, or even ought to be considered reasons at all.
Even so, let me venture into the fray with a few things that do make sense to me. These are neither systematic nor exhaustive, merely suggestive (and close to 250 words):
I believe that the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels has only a passing acquaintance with the Jesus we encounter in popular Christianity.
I believe that much of popular Christianity (mesmerized as it is by the atomic individual) is designed to distract middle-class white Christians from the fact that they drive Mercedes Benzes, inflict violence on people who happen to be born under different flags, and ignore the cry for justice from the margins.
I believe that Christianity operates more often than not as a mechanism for affirming what people already believe—before they ever encounter the subversive Jesus of the Gospels.
I believe that the ministry of the Jesus who died abandoned and alone is a terrible model for what most people think of as "church growth."
I believe that heaven is God’s jurisdiction; my responsibilities require me to be present and to work here and now.
I believe that if what you believe doesn’t make somebody mad, you’re not doing it right. Jesus wasn’t killed because he was nice.
I believe that in a world concerned only with saying yes, being taught to say no is the most loving thing that can happen to us.
I believe the church needs to quit clinging to its life as if its life were an end in itself, and needs to start getting comfortable with the notion that the church belongs to God—and God always gets what God wants.
I believe that Christian belief is only intelligible, only interesting, if it is embodied in a community of people committed to living and, if necessary, dying like Jesus.
It’s not much, but it helps me hang on.
by Derek Penwell
Derek Penwell is senior pastor of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities. He is the author of articles ranging from Stone/Campbell history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions. He is a graduate of Great Lakes Christian College (B,R.E.), Emmanuel School of Religion (M.A.R.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.), and currently a Ph.D. candidate in humanities at the University of Louisville. Penwell once wrestled a rodeo clown while the bull stood by in stunned amazement.
He currently blogs at The Company of the Eudaimon and on Twitter at @reseudaimon.