A Calvinist Contemplates Walking Away From Faith

The following comes from the minutes of a freethought association meeting concerning Calvinist professor and author of 14 books, Dr. Ruth Tucker, here. I was struck when she said, "(I am a) heathen in my reason and a Christian with my whole heart." A Calvinist, Dr. Tucker believes in a "sovereign God" that assumes doubt and faith equally. Her faith is more a matter of "God's grace" than "personal will. Here's a Calvinist who thinks that reason does not support her faith but that God decrees her to believe anyway, or so it seems. Interesting, eh? This is a personal example of what I have argued for here.

Anyway, there is much she said that is good fodder for discussion.

Here are the minutes:

Our topic for this meeting was "A Calvinist Contemplates Walking Away From Faith" and was presented by Dr. Ruth Tucker, professor at Calvin Seminary, and author of 14 books. Dr. (Ruth) Tucker, noting the good attendance for this meeting (approx.55 ppl.), quipped that she hoped people had not confused her with the famous speaker on sex topics, Dr. Ruth W. One of Dr. Tucker's books, "Walking Away From Faith," regards those who, like Dan Barker, were once devoutly religious believers but who broke from this perspective to one of non-theism. The content of this book and her personal anecdotes and observations formed the basis of this presentation.

Tucker, who is the Associate Professor of Missiology, first felt her call to mission at age 13. The middle child of 5, she was the only one who becameimmersed in the faith that her siblings had all walked away from. She began to harbor festering doubts about certain doctrinal content, however, with the Canons being the biggest instigator of skepticism. What ultimately was included in this body of ecclesiastical laws, she knew, had been decided on by fallible men. There was room for error and what if the "wrong books" had been inserted, she wondered.

Professor Tucker disclosed that she had had no other doctrinal doubts or peripheral problems with biblically revealed truths. Rather, her main uncertainty zeroed in directly on the heart of the matter: the existence of God Itself. Findings by science seemed to continually push back this Being from a personal, proximal one-to a less and less involved entity far off somewhere on the outskirts of the deep vastness of space. Its heavenly home tucked away somewhere among the billions of galaxies. These "Night Sky" ponderings made her wish to live in the old, pre-scientific times, with the attendant beliefs of geocentrism and a small, personal system of an Earth lit by the greater and lesser lights of Sun and Moon, all for the benefit of Man. She had begun to teach religious tenets, but it wasn't until she stopped and really critically investigated the subject matter that she discovered sharp challenges to her religious beliefs and practices.

The next big blow to test her faith was the death of her mother in an auto accident. Her mother, while a believer, never prayed aloud or made any formal testimony to her faith. Had she gone to heaven? Had Ruth failed her, by not saving her soul before her untimely demise? This single, acutely painful event jelled her more nebulous doubts, powerfully challenging her belief in an All-Powerful God. She had witnessed a portrayal of a court trial of God for the events of the Holocaust. Tucker conducted her own trial of the Deity before her students, charging God with "manslaughter." To her at this time, the heavenly Father who sees every sparrow that falls had essentially "killed" her blameless mother.

It was the "silence of God" that was most disturbing to Dr. Tucker. She had a friend who heard God's voice routinely but Ruth, herself, found only a mute deity that she could not closely connect with. Along these lines, Dr. Tucker mentioned that about half of the Psalms deal with the apparent indifference and apathy of a God hidden from humanity. After quoting some examples, she said that very few Christian writers have dealt with the negative side of doubt. Instead, they generally designate it as a "gift" along with belief.

This forms the basis of her book; the progression from faith to unbelief, with many accounts of those who have left the fold feeling liberated and joyful in their departure. Professor Tucker said that she understands this, but that she, herself, will not leave her faith. In an interesting phrase, she said: "I would be doomed if my faith depended upon my belief."

For Dr. Tucker, this "concoction of men" and "belief in something you know ain't true" to quote others regarding faith, is not based on reason and critical examination of doctrines but more upon tradition and more numinous, anagogical associations. She readily admits to the emotional aspects of her faith, feeling that reason can take one only so far. She summed this state up by another quote: "(I am a) heathen in my reason and a Christian with my whole heart." Dr. Tucker also gave us a few quotes and examples of the now buoyed, now sinking quality of faith and its analogy to a "life preserver of the heart" that one clings to all the harder as the stormy seas of reason buffet it. "God does not depend on (her) faith or (her) doubt," she asserted.

Professor Tucker listed five myths about people who have abandoned their faith:

1) "They are angry and rebellious." She found virtually no evidence for this. Rather, people felt sorrow, initially. They experienced pain, not anger. 2) "They can be argued back into faith." Because the person leaving his/her faith has carefully and painstakingly dissected the reasons behind this major worldview change, the Christian who proffers apologetics is more likely to convert into non-belief in such an exchange. 3) "Doubters can find help at Christian colleges and seminaries." This is not seen to be the case. 4) "They abandon their faith so that they can go out and sin freely." Our presenter pointed out that too many people who profess faith sin more often than non-believers and that this argument was not a motivational issue in de-converting from faith. 5) "They were never sincere Christians to begin with." She has come across example after example of the most earnest and devout of evangelical, fundamentalist believers who became non-theists. Dan Barker was mentioned as just one of these erstwhile believers.

She then listed some actual reasons given for "losing faith in faith." Science and philosophy has eroded the faith of many former believers. The sense of absence of any caring God was another. Another reason was the myth-shattering experience of the critical examination of the scriptures. Disappointment in God (Its apparent apathy or antipathy to Its creation) and the hypocrisy of Christians were two other reasons listed. And finally, the perception of a dogmatic anti-feminist and anti-homosexual stance of fundamentalist Christianity was given for why some relinquish their faith.

A Calvinist, Dr. Tucker believes in a "sovereign God" that assumes doubt and faith equally. Her faith is more a matter of "God's grace" than "personal will." The meaning, purpose, comfort and fulfillment she derives from the story of Jesus, his death and resurrection is a key part of her life and who she is, going directly to her emotional/affective state of being.

Codifying once again. Dr. Tucker gave examples of responses to the issue of belief and non-belief: Christian faith is not proven by rational proofs and apologetics. The faithful base their beliefs on a celebration of the "mystery of the Christian faith." It is the poetic, not the noetic sensibilities that are called up. Faith is a response to the tensions and challenges in life, not a means to solve them. Tucker, borrowing from Flannery O'Connor, spoke of the naturalness of unbelief and how the assault on a young mind from advanced education can displace the faith instilled in childhood, but that they are too young to decide on unbelief. She offered thoughts on the "winteriness" of faith that stands alongside the atheist in finding a silent God but with this cooler search uncovering a faith nonetheless, opposed to the "summery plaudits" of those whose faith runs warmer. Professor Tucker talked cogently about the sense of community and familiar traditions-the hymns, stories and rituals that ensconce faith and the connection with ancestors and future bridges built with younger relatives as being important elements in faith. And she talked about the necessity of the apostate turning his skepticism on unbelief to the same degree as he does on belief.

There was a marvelous writing by Stephen Dunn that Dr. Tucker shared with us called "At the Smithville Methodist Church" that speaks, in part, of outgrowing faith intellectually but subsuming it emotionally. One line from it reads: "Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes. / You can't say to your child/ 'Evolution loves you.' The story stinks/ of extinction and nothing/ exciting happens for centuries. I didn't have/ a wonderful story for my child/ and she was beaming. All the way home in the/ car she sang the songs, / occasionally standing up for Jesus/ There was nothing to do/ but drive, ride it out, sing along/ in silence."

There was a discussion following Dr. Tucker's presentation. Bishop Shelby Spong and his book "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" were mentioned and his dilemma of being in his official role in an Episcopal church, yet seeing folly in many faith claims. We discussed the importance of the institution-the structure- to believers. We can't change the institution, so we must change ourselves, or else walk away from it.

A psychologist in our group talked of the psychological needs that are met by faith. He said that non-believers can't say: "I'll pray for you" or other comforting (if devoid of meaning to the atheist) words. We can feel the sense of peace that a hymn offers but not honestly believe the message or have this message to impart to others. We have a harder time creating a sense of community, and have no deep traditions to hang onto.

The issue of predestination was brought up by one group member and how to reconcile this Calvinist tenet with genuine ethical considerations. Tucker spoke of finding peace from a sovereign God and placing a high priority on "good works." When talking of the sense of praying to a predetermining God, she said that one does not so much alter the plan of the Creator as one creates changes in him/herself. "We are in a partnership with God," Dr.Tucker stated.

Some other thoughts and questions posed to Dr. Tucker were regarded how she defined "faith" as opposed to "belief," the evil done out of emotional faith to uncritical acceptance of religious doctrines (such as was seen on September 11 and all throughout human history), is faith itself a "good" thing? Or is it only faith in what the given believer thinks is the one "true" belief system? Is it a false dichotomy to set up faith as either a belief in God or not? Is there value in group prayer even if there certainty of a divine listener? Tucker spoke of the sense of community and shared caring focused toward a person or issue and the intrinsic value therein. Does the believer hope his faith is true, or does he believe it on faith?

As she stated earlier, the solving of vexing challenges to one's faith is not the core concern, rather it is the giving in to the mystery and giving one's doubts and even unbelief to a sovereign God." With my naked intellect I cannot believe." Professor Tucker was forthcoming in stating that she swam the shallow waters-enjoying the play of tensions, struggles, etc., on the surface, rather than trying to plumb the murky depths. Talk arose of one's faith emanating from an "accident of birth(place)." How could all the diverse belief systems just in Christianity, let alone other faiths, all have it right? "There is truth in all religions but only one path to Christ," was our speaker's response. As to all the harm done out of dogmatic belief, Tucker quoted another writer who spoke of how Christians have turned many away by their bludgeoning use of faith and would garner more sympathetic supporters if they "…didn't make Christianity so darned unattractive." Another quip was that just one week with Southern Baptists would ensure no new conversions.

Thanks to Ed Babinski for pointing this out to me.


Ken McDonagh said...

Ruth A. Tucker is a reformed theologian, and she has no doubt about it. Go ahead and e-mail her and she'll tell you that she's Reformed. Furthermore, you're wrong about her book. Read the interview and you'll see how people get her wrong. And why am I not surprised that you got your "information" from Ed Babinski. You have to do your homework.

Anonymous said...

Daddy Cool, I did have my suspicions when I read the interview. So I re-read it. It seemed as if she had her doubts but believed anyway. And I asked why she did such an interview with freethinkers unless she was expressing them. But then I wondered why she was still teaching for Calvin Seminay where my former professor, Ron Feenstra, is the Dean.

So I stand corrected. It isn't the first time.

But she does say some interesting things, don't you think?

She said: "Because the person leaving his/her faith has carefully and painstakingly dissected the reasons behind this major worldview change, the Christian who proffers apologetics is more likely to convert into non-belief in such an exchange."

Albert said...

In the vein of people who had significant doubts about their beliefs here are some interesting quotes from Sydney Carter (author of "Lord of the Dance")

"Bibles, legends, history are signposts: they are pointing to the future, not the past. Do not embrace the past or it will turn into an idol." Jesus was central to his experience, but not, in his words, "the official Jesus— but the Jesus who is calling you to liberty, to the breaking of all idols including the idol which he himself has become."

" Your holy hearsay is not evidence.
Give me the good news in the present tense.
What happened nineteen hundred years ago
May not have happened.
How am I to know?
So shut your Bibles up and show me how
The Christ you talk about
Is living now."

"So what do you believe in?
Nothing fixed or final,
all the while I
travel a miracle. I doubt,
and yet
I walk upon the water.

From wikiquote "If any church could come to holding Sydney's allegiance, it was the Society of Friends, with its rejection of dogma, and its reliance on personal experience and social activism, and its affirmation of God's presence in every human being."

Anonymous said...

Actually Ruth Tucker no longer teaches for Calvin Seminary and here's the reason why.

nsfl said...

Man, they gave her the boatiita treatment. I left her a comment of encouragement on her site, but I don't know if she'll publish it.

I did a post on her dispelling the 5 "big myths" surrounding apostates

Edwardtbabinski said...


I don't think Ruth Tucker will mind my quoting from an email she recently sent me. She has gone into detail about such matters far more at her blog and website, so the email gives away nothing and is not embarrassing. So allow me to cite from her email below:

"Hi Ed, I smiled all the way through your message. THANKS for writing. I'm almost certain I own your book [Leaving the Fold]--certainly used it in my research (appreciated much!).

"You're very observant [noticing that my professor page at Calvin College Theological Seminary no longer exists at their website], I moved out of my seminary office a couple of weeks ago. I'm not teaching at CTS any longer. My term of teaching ended 12 days ago! If that piques your curiosity at all check out my blog: http://www.ruthtucker.net

"I was interviewed by the Grand Rapids PRESS yesterday and they say there will be an article today--but if they publish my web address, I'll be satisfied.

"Are you ever in the GR area?

"Again, thanks for writing. Keep in touch.

"Blessings. (Does that mean I'm blessing an agnostic!!) :)



May I also say to Daddy Cool that no one is suggesting Ms. Tucker has left Christianity. But she does acknowledge freethinkers as friends, and also that intelligent people have left the fold for intellectual reasons, and that the question of divine hiddenness is a good one. Ms. Tucker's books are published by Intervarsity Press (a Christian apologetics publishing house), and include, God Talk (2006), that I recently enjoyed, and, Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief (2002), that I haven't yet read, but will probably when I get a chance.

Lastly, I hope Daddy Cool will continue to read the Debunking Christianity blog, and comment as he will, and keep things civil.

Cheers to all,

exubf said...

Ruth Tucker has made a habit and a bit of a living off of ignoring the stories of spiritual abuse of former members of groups such as the World Wide Church of God, Jesus People USA, Jews for Jesus and the University Bible Fellowship. (She's written glowingly of two of these groups in two of her books.) Ignoring the stories of the former members of these abusive groups and taking the word of these groups' leaders at face value, she's effectively rubbed salt in the psychological wounds of the many who left these groups. Now she bears all, cries injustice, and wants people to sympathize. Guess what, Ruth? I think I'll take Calvin Seminary's word over yours. Karma's a bit of a b*tch, isn't it?