Not only did I get to know and converse with people with different perspectives during this time; I also found some new reading material.
My first foray into reading different points of view than my own, or perhaps even just different views that still claimed to be "Christian," took the form of blogs. I found them in my downtime while working at the headquarters of the denomination I was credentialed with at the time, so it would have been way back between 2005 and 2009. I read a lot of Catholic blogs, even though I had been raised to believe Catholics were idolaters and worshiped Mary as equal to God when "the Bible plainly says" the Lord is One, and to have no other Gods before Him. I was shocked to find these Catholic writers (like this one, and this one which I still follow today) really seemed to love God, just as much as I did. If they were heretics, why did their words speak to me and spiritually encourage me when I needed it?
From there I found other, more progressive writers. One I read secretly for a while (I would minimize the window whenever I heard anyone coming near, so they didn't think I was "that way") was by Kimberly Knight, called "Coming Out Christian: Conversations about being gay and Christian in America." When I first found it, accidentally - I can't even remember how - I was shocked. Here was someone claiming to be both gay and a Christian, two things every Bible believer knows cannot coexist. That piqued my curiosity, and I kept reading to see how it was she could believe she was okay with God even while engaging in the sin of homosexuality. (I still follow her today, too.)
So here I was getting to know atheists and gay people, and they didn't seem to be corrupting the world or luring children to the dark side. And they were becoming my friends. Then I discovered blogs written by people who also claimed to be Christians like me, but had very different beliefs about God, and these people seemed to love Him just as much as I did. (I read more than what I listed in these two or three brief paragraphs, and I read a lot of their views on various theological topics, and how they justified believing these things differently than I did.)
For one of my seminary classes, I researched various views on the inspiration of Scripture. I ended up including some of that information in a blog post afterward. At the beginning of this spiritual journey, I held closest to Erickson's "Dynamic" theory - wherein God divinely inspired the biblical writers with not only the ideas and concepts of the Scriptures, but also the very words they used (not dictating them, but I guess you could say the inspiration was just really strong - maybe like they could almost sense some of the words being whispered in the background or something.) Now, I think I hold most closely with his "Intuition" theory. I think people who loved God wrote what they believed (and had been taught) about Him to the best of their ability, within the settings and even limitations of their culture and ancient knowledge. But this dramatic change in how I view Scripture did not happen overnight. It happened over several years, with a lot of study, adventuring out of my comfort zone, and soul searching.
[Side story on biblical literalism.... When I was a teenager, our backyard had been dug up to put in a septic system where we had moved to previously uninhabited property in the country. In one of my scientific "testing of Scripture" moments, I went out into the backyard and, with all the fervency I could muster, I ordered one of those mounds of dirt to be removed and cast into the sea. It didn't budge - I mean, I would have settled for even a couple of inches! I imagine conservative Bible believers would tell me that verse speaks symbolically to spiritual matters, but I say if the first few chapters of Genesis are supposed to be taken literally, how in the world is that verse not?!]
While researching that Inspiration of Scripture post, I ran across the book The Human Faces of God by Thom Stark. This work looks into some of the difficult passages of Scripture that conservative Christians have a hard time reconciling to their God-box. Passages that indicate God condones human sacrifices (more than just Jephthah sacrificing his daughter, which, incidentally, I plan to write about sometime) while claiming that He hates bloodshed, and even orders genocide while claiming to bless the nations. (It is a well-written, academic book. Good read, really.)
Also around this time (2012-2013), I asked someone I respected as a Christian and mentor, someone who absolutely loved God and was (and is) a beautiful soul, for some book recommendations. Among others, she introduced me to If Grace Is True by Phillip Gulley, which explores the senselessness of hell and eternal torment in judgment of temporary sins. I believe it went so far as to ask, if God has the ability and propensity to forgive, why doesn't He do so freely? Why doesn't He forgive the creatures He supposedly loves, whether they "accept Christ as their personal Savior" or not? Either He loves and forgives, or He doesn't. When I first read the book, I did not like it. It was not academic and it flew in the face of all my hard-won theology. I thought his style of writing was based more on "feelings" than facts, and I didn't like it. I thought it was based more on fallible human reasoning than faith that God has His reasons that we cannot always comprehend. (I was right. It did. I have come since then to appreciate our God-given ability to think for ourselves instead of chalking everything we can't readily and comfortably explain up to "mystery". I have also since then come to look at people with different worldviews than my own as being generally decent people like, hopefully, me; and where does my exclusive theology leave them?)
These things (and I'm sure several others) all kept sitting in my mind and rubbing against each other - "stewing," I think it's called. After the last several years, I have begun to get a feel for how they have shaped and drastically changed what I believe about God.
There happened a few other profound life experiences during that time, too, though, which I will discuss in my next post....