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On Religion

April 18, 2014

Easter with doubters and the 'nones'

It's the first thing people do after meeting strangers in coffee shops and clubs favored by the young professionals now flocking into Austin, Portland and America's other trendy postmodern cities.

Job one is to define themselves in terms of what they do and what they believe. "I am an accountant," one will say. "I am a vegetarian," or "I am gay," or "I am a techie," others will reply. Hipsters don't need to say, "I am a hipster," because everyone can see the obvious.

"Usually, our identity will emerge as a composite" of these kinds of labels, noted the Rev. Jonathan Dodson of Austin and the Rev. Brad Watson of Portland, in a small book of meditations on the resurrection entitled "Raised?"

"It will have a hidden mantra that goes something like this: I am what I eat, who I sleep with, how I make money, what I wear, what I look like, or where I came from. ... If you cannot imagine yourself without that statement being true, you have likely found something that is core to your identity."

For many Americans, that core still includes a religious label, like "I am a Christian," noted Dodson, founding pastor of City Life Church, which meets in the Ballet Austin complex near downtown. And millions who make that claim, with varying degrees of fervor, will flock to churches this weekend for the year's one service in which almost all pews are full -- Easter.

Instead of affirming a "sentimental" or "mushy" faith on this Christian holy day, Dodson thinks more pastors should ask a blunt question: Do you really believe Jesus was raised from the dead?

If some people confess doubts, that would be good, because sincere doubt leads to true faith more often than hidden apathy. This is especially true when discussing the brash claim that has been at the heart of Christianity for 2,000 years, he said. Thus, it's time to ask lukewarm believers to question their faith and to ask modern doubters to question their doubts.

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