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In this episode of Faith for Normal People, Pete and Jared tackle your questions about faith, identifying a common theme of the tendency toward dualism and binary thinking and exploring how to think more critically when faced with either/or theological questions. Join them as they answer the following questions from our Society of Normal People community members:

  • How can we overcome the dualistic thinking that if any part of our inherited tradition is not true, then none of it is?
  • Without any certainty, what is the point of the life of faith? 
  • How do we know the authors of the Bible were genuinely experiencing God, not just making things up and interpreting as they went?
  • Paul says in the beginning of Galatians that he was explicitly making it all up. How do we know that was the real Jesus or just his spiritual intuition and imagination?
  • What authority do we or should we give to the Bible and what do we mean by that?
  • If Jesus doesn’t actually come back to earth, is there any hope?
  • What are we to do with the idea that Christianity (or Judaism or Islam) teaches followers that there is only a singular right way to access God?
  • What advice do Pete and Jared have for getting through and navigating binary black-and-white thinking?


Pithy, shareable, sometimes-less-than-280-character statements from the episode you can share.

  • I think many of the problems we have today are more modern problems because we think in black-and-white terms. — Pete Enns
  • Rather than [thinking] “I have to get all this right intellectually before I move,” the moving is actually the work of theology. It’s not like you have to get it all together and then you can move forward. I think it’s a wonderful thing to say, “I’m not sure if any of this stuff is real.” — Pete Enns
  • If you have a certain view of the Bible, and it turns out that the Bible doesn’t deliver on those expectations, then yeah, your faith can fall apart. — Jared Byas
  • “How has the tradition evolved and developed from that passage in Scripture over the last 2,000 years?” People who are within the tradition have wrestled with this and have come to these conclusions and have built a scaffolding for us. — Jared Byas
  • As long as we’re not expecting the Bible to give us all the answers, this is a very interesting intellectual and spiritual and ethical journey, this Christian faith. — Pete Enns
  • Maybe our job as thinking Christians living in our moment is to look at how the Bible describes eschatology and to transpose that into another key of some sort, another way of thinking about things. Because our world is bigger, our universe is bigger. — Pete Enns
  • Part of the task of theology is to be creative, to have imagination, to look at the world and say, how is God relating to all this stuff? — Pete Enns
  • The kernel and the husk go together. That’s called the Christian tradition. And we’ve got to deal with the good and the bad and the ugly. What did it start with? Where did it go? And where is it now? All of that is part of the Christian faith. — Jared Byas
  • Seeing a different way of thinking literally embodied in other human beings is necessary, in my opinion, for really healing. — Pete Enns

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Jared: You’re listening to Faith for Normal People, the only other God ordained podcast on the internet. 

Pete: I’m Pete Enns. 

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Intro music plays]

Pete: Today on Faith for Normal People, it’s just us. 

Jared: And we asked our Society of Normal People community members about their most pressing theological questions and the theme that emerged was about navigating through black-and-white thinking. We had about 13 questions that ended up coming in that we kind of whittled down to, and five of them, out of the 13, were very similar about this theme of navigating through black-and-white thinking. 

Pete: Yeah, very common theme that I think a lot of us experience. And this was really fun for us to do because it’s a live podcast recording, meaning that our community members are actually getting access to this whole conversation as we record it. Which isn’t always good, Jared, I think—

Jared: There were some…

Pete: I hope—

Jared: Turns.

Pete: I hope they cut out those embarrassing things that you did and said.

Jared: Emotional rollercoaster we were on. [Laughs]

Pete: Yes, I hope so. Because if not, I don’t know, we’re just, we’re in deep trouble here. Anyway, about a month before it even airs, you know, people are seeing this live and our SoNP community.

Jared: Yeah. So this is the quick shameless plug. If you want to participate in our Q and A’s and these live podcast recordings in the future, you can become a member of SoNP at

Pete: Alright, let’s get into the episode. 

[Music plays under teaser clip of Pete speaking]

Pete: “It’s realizing you are underwater and the water’s all around you. There’s a thickness. That is the reality that we’re living into, and that sense of transcendence, the numinous, there’s a spiritual in-tuned-ness, which is not anti-intellectual, but it’s not driven by the kind of certainty binary thinking that a lot of people have been taught to think that way in churches.”

[Ad break] [Music plays to signal start of episode]

Jared: Okay, first up, we have Andrew, who asks, “I grew up with a very literal theology. When I started digging into the Bible scholarship, my faith fell apart. Any advice on how to overcome the black-and-white thinking that if any part is not true, none of it is?”

Pete: Yeah, we get that a lot, don’t we? 

Jared: And this is great, this is representative of the questions that we’re going to be talking about today in navigating through black-and-white thinking.

Pete: Yeah, binary black-and-white thinking. So, what I can always talk about is my own experience with this, and then, which is basically this, sitting with it long enough, you get sort of used to it. You keep seeing it, and other people keep talking about it, and you start feeling more comfortable with it, and then the solution to the problem, so to speak, is not, I need to find that other certainty anchor. It’s learning to live with ambiguity. And maybe that’s something that the church has always understood and recognized until I think fairly recently. I mean, it’s, church history is complicated, but I think many of the problems we have today are more modern problems because we think in black-and-white terms.

And I think we’re raised, Jared, I know you were raised more like this than I was, but raised to expect the Bible to do certain, pretty much do everything. And when you realize that it doesn’t work that way, and it’s got all these different voices in it and things, it’s, it’s a faith crisis. I just want to suggest it’s a, it’s a crisis that’s created by the, um—

Jared: By the expectations. 

Pete: Exactly, right. 

Jared: That were put on you by your faith tradition growing up. 

Pete: Right. And so if that expectation’s not there, How do you handle this? So I think a lot of this is about really doing critical thinking about the expectation itself.

Jared: Yeah, I think it’s the challenge, at least in my experience and with people that I talk to is when that expectation is built into you at a young age, it shapes how you see the world. And so even though you’re, you may change your mind about faith and what’s to be expected of the Bible and what’s to be expected of faith—it’s very hard to break out of that expectation because it almost is a, it’s almost a, a precognitive reflex. 

Pete: Yes. Right. 

Jared: That no, we need certainty. We need objectivity. We need, that’s sort of like almost baked into the lens through which I see the world. So even if the content of my belief changes, I’m still feeling like something’s missing in a deep and important way if I don’t have that thing. 

Pete: Right. Right. 

Jared: And I think that’s important. But the only thing I would say that’s been really helpful to me, this helped me shift my thinking about this: was just to put this way of thinking into another context. So, is there any other place in our world where we have this kind of thinking? That if it’s not 100 percent certain, it’s not worth anything. Or if it’s not a hundred percent true, none of it is. If there’s any other place in our life where we would apply this kind of thinking, and then we start to see how absurd that is.

So if I were to go to a doctor and they gave me something that wasn’t a hundred percent accurate, or if I just thought about it and thought, wait, I’m sure they’re wrong about some parts of their life. I shouldn’t listen to anything that they say. Or if I did that with a parent. If my parenting, if I ever said anything wrong, then my kids should just ignore everything that I’ve said.

Pete: How can any parenting happen? 

Jared: Exactly. 

Pete: How can any doctoring happen? Right. 

Jared: So this, this all or nothing, I think when we put it in a different context, we kind of start to realize the absurdity of that. And that, for me, it helped shift my thinking around, Why am I expecting this of the Bible or faith when I don’t expect it anywhere else?

Pete: I think the part of the decoupling of the Bible and the sense of certainty is, really decoupling the notion of God and Bible are more or less the same thing. That’s actually the expectation that’s like, “This is God’s word. God is speaking to you. Yeah, but I started reading it and it’s weird and it does dumb stuff.”

So how can, how can anything be true? Well, that original assertion is the problem, and this is why people deconstruct, which is fine, and I think people need to deconstruct all the time. But they deconstruct, then they say, “I now believe nothing, because I’ve exposed this for what it is, which is just a bunch of lies” and this and that. And that’s, I think that rests a lot on the expectation—not completely, people have their own stories—but that doesn’t make it any easier when you have a faith that just has to act a certain way in a very black-and-white kind of manner. 

Jared: Yeah. And I think that goes to Andrew’s question because they ask about overcoming the black-and-white thinking. And I think that’s a good step. Are you connecting or equating God with the Bible? Because if you can figure that out, I think it does go a long way to not have such a black-and-white way of thinking about it. 

Pete: Right. And to hang with people who already sort of get that and talk with them, well, how do you navigate these things? How have you learned to navigate? That’s important. 

Jared: Yeah. 

Pete: But there’s no quick answer to that. 

Jared: Right. 

Pete: I think, you know. 

Jared: So, but that is a good segue into Jordan’s question, which is the next one on it. You’ll see again, the theme here. And so it’s, it’s a similar question, but I think it gets a little broader. Can you read the whole question? It’s a long question. 

Pete: It’s a long question, but a lot of good parts in it. A lot of good parts. So Jordan says: “Without any certainty, what is the point of the life of faith? I’ve had no real, what I would consider God experiences to keep me drawn in. And it seems every benefit of the life of faith without knowing God is actually there can be replaced by other secular ideas, such as community and meditation to replace prayer and church. I want to believe, but sometimes it feels like one big comforting lie. How do we know the authors of the Bible were genuinely experiencing God, not just making things up and interpreting as they went? Even the Gospels don’t feel safe from this sort of criticism.”

A lot going on there. 

Jared: Yeah, it’s the same question of “Without any certainty, what’s the point of a life of faith?” is again, there’s a lot of equivocation going on. They’re equating things just like with Andrew, that God and the Bible are the same. And then the Bible gives us certainty, it gives us perfection like God is.

That’s the equation that we’re still dealing with. And what I appreciate about what Jordan’s asking is, sometimes we can say, okay, maybe the Bible’s not perfect, but you can trust your experience of God directly. That’s the more mystical way of thinking about this. Okay. Yeah. We don’t have the Bible, but if you’ve experienced God directly, you can trust that.

And I appreciate Jordan saying, well, I haven’t had that either. So now what do I do? And there was this other part that I want to get into, which is the idea of a benefit to the life of faith. “Well, why would I be religious or be a Christian or have faith in God or talk about God if everything that good that comes from that, you could just have a secular replacement for like meditation and community and things like that?”

So there’s a lot going on. I think that’s why it’s a nice one to unpack. And I want to start with that last one, which is there’s this idea that I’m religious because of what it gives me. And so it’s like, well, if I don’t need to believe in God to get those things…And I think I used to think that way too. It seems a little foreign to me now because it’s not what I am. But it reminds me of the argument that people have about hell, which is, “well, there has to be a hell because if there’s not a hell, what would compel people to be Christians? Why be a Christian if you don’t have anything compelling to sell, which is like a ticket out of hell” to be saved from something.

Pete: To be saved from, yeah. What’s the point of all this if you’re not getting saved from something.

Jared: If you’re not getting saved from something. So what would be your answer to that? 

Pete: Um, yeah, I just, I have so many things swimming in my head right now. I think these are all good questions, you know, and I, who hasn’t thought these, I think, at some point in their lives? And what I’m seeing here is again, the assumptions that are in the background, which is, without any certainty, what is the point of the life of faith?

There’s some people who would point out, there seems to be even a contradiction in that statement. As if faith is about certainty. That’s an assumption. And it’s an assumption that people come by honestly. You know, because of how they were taught. So you know, I would spend some time thinking about that, like this really, um, difficult combination of two concepts here that may not go together as well as we’d like them to.

Jared: Well, let me dig into that, because let me flip it on you. If certainty isn’t the point of a life of faith, what would you say is the point of a life of faith? 

Pete: I think the point of a life of faith is to go on our life’s journey, to be reflective of the reality of God and the cosmos. And I think that’s primarily through not being a jerk, loving other people, doing good deeds, which is anathema, I know, in some circles. Like that’s, you know, you’re not working your way into heaven. Nobody’s working their way into anything. It’s about cultivating peace, really, for me. And I think that the Christian faith does that. I don’t think it’s always been sold that way, but I think that it does. And so, I’ve abandoned the idea of certainty a long time ago because I don’t find it.

It’s that simple. I mean, anything you can put your hooks into, someone else is going to come along with an argument. And I think the life of faith is learning to live with that ambiguity, right? And, you know, we don’t know God is there. What do we mean by that, not knowing God is there? Like, what would it take to know God is there?

And very often it comes down to, I need evidence. I need to see, touch, taste, smell, whatever. And some would say that you’re not going to get that because it would make God into just another thing that you can argue for or prove. And I think for God to be real, we have to be more subtle in thinking about the nature of the reality of God than that.

So, that’s another layer of complexity that I think makes this question very existentially threatening, you know, and it is. I think, though, that I rather than say, okay, here’s a problem. Now, here, these three steps will get you to the answer. Keep moving forward. I want to more move backwards into the psyche and say what’s happening here that would even lead us to formulate questions this way. 

Jared: I appreciate that you went at it that direction because I think first this decoupling of certainty. And so in this existential sense, when people are going down this rabbit hole of feeling like they’re losing their faith, I think it’s true. If your faith was rested on the idea that it gives you certainty, then the point of your faith is going to be completely disrupted when you realize it doesn’t give you that. So I sympathize with that. It’s like, yeah, that kind of faith, the faith in certainty will disappoint you at some point. Right. And so what is the point of a life of faith built on certainty? I think, yeah, it doesn’t have a lot of, there’s not a great point to it because once you realize that that’s an illusion—

Pete: Yeah. 

Jared: —You’re going to have a real hard time. So then my question, my kind of my existential question is, part of the journey of faith is to figure out how you’re going to replace certainty. Not with another certainty, but with what? What is the point of your faith? And I would almost make that more. That is a very personal and communal question, but I think that is the question propels us in the journey of faith, is to figuring out the answer of that. And I would say in the last 15 years, my answer to that has changed and gotten more nuanced and taken some left turns and right turns, and it’s different now than it was.

Pete: Well, and my answer has been also changing and developing over, I’d say, the last maybe 20 years or so. And I would look at it sort of this way. The purpose of this is not God is out there, I need to sort of understand and know that this is for real. It’s what the contemplative movement says, and that’s always been there in the Christian faith. I think it’s in the Psalms. I think it’s in Paul, that it’s really about cultivating an awareness of the reality of the divine everywhere. And a way that people, I mean, I’m, this is not my field at all, but I know a way that people have done that is through meditation, contemplative prayer, which is essentially meditation.

And I’m struck by, you know, Jordan’s, and again, I get it, he says, but, you know, replacing prayer and church with secular ideas like community and meditation. I would just say those aren’t secular ideas. I don’t, I mean, they’re, they’re part of all religious communities will have a community. And meditation has been a part of the Christian community for a very, very long time. And I think it’s pre-Christian actually. So maybe that’s part of the solution for you. I mean, I’m not saying it is, but maybe that’s something worth exploring. Maybe this very active meditation. Can I get one, one suggestion? Because it’s helped me. Martin Laird, who teaches at Villanova, a Roman Catholic theologian who’s written a lot about contemplative prayer and the life of contemplation.

He has a book, Into the Silent Land, which is a classic. It only came out about 15 years ago, but it’s a tremendous book, very readable, and it gives a different idea of even what we mean when we say God. Because we have these notions that are baked into us as children, and those don’t ever develop or change when we become an adult, we see the complexity of the world, and that childhood faith doesn’t work anymore. Where do you go? Well, there are different places people go, but one place is to re-examine the nature of the faith itself, and what it’s been saying and not saying. 

Jared: Yeah, and this is going to bleed over into the next question a little bit, but I do think when I hear questions like this, it is also based on thoughts of exclusivity.

“What’s compelling about Christianity is that it’s different from other religious ideas in that it is more true.” I grew up with this. It’s very apologetics, which is, you know, a whole industry of defending Christianity. And that’s what I hear a little bit in Jordan’s and in the next question of, well, if I could just replace all of these Christian ideas with secular ones, why is Christianity any better? And for me, that’s already an assumption that Christianity needs to “be better” or needs to be unique in some way. 

And so it just reminds me of, I had someone, you know, we have conversations about faith all the time with people. They want to ask us questions or dig into things as they go through these troubling times. This was early on, I don’t know, maybe season two or three and someone reached out and said, um, I just need to talk to someone about like, why are you a Christian? And he had come from an apologetics background. And so I got on a Zoom with him, not knowing what to expect and just being maybe too honest with him.

And, uh, he kept trying to, like, get me to say what was unique about, but why are you a Christian? And all I had to, I just kept saying like, I, cause I, cause I want to be, I want to be a Christian. Like I grew up Christian. It’s the language I know. It’s what I want to do. And then he would be like, but, but what about this argument? And he would try to say like, do you think this is a good argument? And I kept being like, I don’t, I don’t know. There’s holes in that too. And there’s a lot of different ways to think of it, but he actually ended up getting very mad at me and like, did not appreciate the call at all because what he wanted was, I need to have a hook that I can hang my hat on that tells me I’m right about Christianity as opposed to these other religions. 

And I just kind of was like I think that’s the wrong question, I didn’t, that’s not what I base my faith on anymore is being right about this thing and all of these questions I think have a little bit of that in there. Mm hmm, and I understand why for sure Yeah, but that idea of can we replace it with secular ideas my whole thought is like, well, yeah what? I don’t understand why that matters that much. I mean, I do, you know, I understand the background, but from where I am now, it’s not threatening at all to me—

Pete: Secular means non-Christian, I think, right?

Jared: Yeah. I think, yes, it doesn’t mean anything to me to say—It’s not the gotcha moment that I think some evangelicals or atheists think it is to come and say, like, well, there’s these ideas in Buddhism and in Hinduism, and I’m like, yeah, because they’re probably true. It makes sense to me why all the religious traditions would have them. 

Pete: Well, yeah, I mean, this, you know, Thomas Keating, who reinvigorated the contemplative movement in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 70s, they had a monastery, and down the road there was a Buddhist monastery. And people keep knocking on the door saying, where’s the Buddhist monastery? He goes, it’s down the road. He said, well, why are they doing that? And it’s exactly because of meditation. I wrote about this a little bit in Curveball, but I was also in an AA meeting and there are people that are really struggling and very, very honest and say, I just don’t pray. I meditate. And I’m thinking, well, yeah, that’s, that’s a really good, like, but for them it was more like a break from the tradition rather than a part of the tradition that was never explored. And I think it just, it’s a subtle reorienting of even, I mean, I have some of these same questions. I’m just not driven to despair.

Not that, not that Jordan is, but I’m not, I’m not driven to despair by them. I’m thinking, I don’t really know what makes it unique. Sometimes I have some ideas, sometimes I don’t, but you just keep moving because this is more than a system that allows you to achieve epistemic certainty, that’s a big word I just used, I can’t even define it myself, but like, like knowing that you know that you’re right.

Jared: Well, like my, my grandma used to ask when I was a kid, do you know that you know that you know that you know that you’re saved? It’s like, I don’t know how many knows I got to have, I guess by the sixth or seventh time I got saved at a camp, then I, every one of those was an additional knowing that I got. So.

[Ad break]

Jared: Well, that’s a good way to get deeper into this conversation with the next question from Clint. We’re going to take it specifically biblically. We’re going to take a journey into the Bible now because Clint says, “Paul says in the beginning of Galatians that he was explicitly making it all up. He says nobody taught him but the risen Christ. But how do we know that was the real Jesus or just his spiritual intuition and imagination? Paul saying it was Jesus is hardly evidence.” 

So, we talked about if we don’t have the certainty and, uh, what’s the point of the life of faith and all of that. But this gets back, and Jordan asked it at the end of Jordan’s question, “how do we know the authors of the Bible were genuinely experiencing God and not just making things up?” Clint just picks right up there. So, what would you say to the Bible itself? Paul, “I didn’t get this from anybody. No one taught me. Just the risen Christ.” How do we know that he’s speaking the truth? 

Pete: Well, we don’t. I mean—

Jared: It’s blasphemy. 

Pete: We don’t know that. We can’t know that about anybody, in a sense. Especially nonempirical things. We can know that, you know, you’re drawing with your pen right now, but we don’t know whether Paul had a genuine experience or not. I hate to put it that way, but it’s more, you know, putting these things into practice is where maybe the rubber hits the road rather than as an abstraction, you know.

Jared: Say more about that because I think that’s a great concept, but it’s hard to get your hands around.

Pete: Rather than like, I have to get all this right intellectually before I move. The moving—I mean, Trip Fuller said this once we were talking in a podcast—that moving is actually the work of theology. It’s not like you have to get it all together and then you can move forward. I think it’s a wonderful thing to say, I’m not sure if any of this stuff is real. I’m not sure whether Paul was just making it up out of his own psyche or whether, you know, he was quote, taught things in a visionary way, right? And Paul seems to have been sort of a vision kind of guy, you know, like taken up to the whatever the third heaven or seventh, whichever one it was. But, you know, I mean, he acts in ways that are consistent with what some people would say is about a contemplative approach, right? It’s more meditative. It’s not just reading the Bible and figuring things out and having certainty. For Paul, I think his faith was highly experiential, it wasn’t abstract and he put his life behind it, you know with all the things we can complain about with Paul, you know, he’s not a modernist. That’s for darn sure, right? 

So how do we know that Paul is really trustworthy, is another way of putting this to me. And was it really Jesus or just his spiritual intuition and imagination? And that struck me in this question too. I think, I’m not sure if we have to drive too strong a wedge between those things, right? Because if God is present, right, and, you know, we think things, and we have imaginations, and we have intuitions, and we have thoughts, but can they be valid without, it’s actually, you know, Jesus whispering in your ear saying, Now say this, now say that, and that, okay, now you have the right thought. Maybe this is part of the wonderful complexity of human drama that God is fine with, and Paul is trying to figure things out.

And so we can, I mean, the last part of this question, which, you know, we didn’t read, is that maybe it’s fine to question Paul. And I think it is. I think it’s fine to question any biblical writer, and not because we’re superior, but because we have experiences that lead us to ask certain questions of Paul in Galatians. And to me, that’s part, that’s a healthy expression of faith, in my opinion. 

Jared: Yeah, it does raise the question, which I think is important here. What authority do we give to the Bible? What do we mean by that? Because this is, you know, Clint’s last point here that you referenced just a minute ago is, is it even a problem unless we want to give inappropriate authority to one man’s spiritual intuition over everyone else’s?

And that’s a question, again, to go back to: If we have a certain view of the Bible, and it turns out that the Bible doesn’t deliver on those expectations, then yeah, your faith can fall apart. But one of the, it’s interesting, people who have, you know, quote, deconstructed or changed their beliefs, one of those knee jerk reactions is still to hold the Bible’s opinions of things above other sources of information.

And not that that’s bad, but even when we say, “what does the Bible have to say,” I’m much more sensitive to, when I ask that question, I’m also asking, how has the tradition evolved and developed from that passage in Scripture over the last 2,000 years? Because that seems also important, that people who are within the tradition have wrestled with this and come to these conclusions and have built a scaffolding for us that we don’t—to go back and ask that question, it’s fruitful and I think it’s good, but I think it is anemic or it’s thin without understanding well, there’s a lot of really smart people who’ve thought about most of this for a couple thousand years. It might be good to check in on what they said. 

Pete: And, you know, we talk about this a lot, Jared, with respect to Judaism and having a Talmudic tradition, which is where you ask, you know, a learned Jew, how should I think about issue X? They’re not going to necessarily say, let’s go back to the Bible. They may start the discussion there, but the discussion goes very quickly to the history of understanding, the history of thought in that tradition. That’s a part of this too. And, you know, Jared, the thing is, in terms of should we trust one person’s spiritual intuition, even Paul? Well, James and Peter didn’t at first.

The earliest Christian writings we have was actually a debate between these three people. Now Paul said he won them over. I’m not so sure by reading the letter of James, which a lot of scholars say James didn’t write, but that’s irrelevant. There’s a tension there, I think a very clear tension between Paul and James. And also, you know, Paul and other New Testament writers, they were very convinced that Jesus is raised, it’s the first fruits, as Paul says, but It won’t be long now, the rest of this, the rest of the dead-raising business is going to happen very soon. So you know, don’t really get married. Don’t complicate your life too much, you know, just hang out and wait for this to happen.

And then in 1 Thessalonians, when people were dying before Jesus came back, he had to say, “well, okay, here’s how I see it. Here’s the explanation. We’re going to meet him in the air and blah, blah, blah.” So there are pretty clear instances in the Bible itself where it’s okay to say well, that doesn’t seem right! You know, and that’s part of, I think, this very vibrant Christian faith. As long as we’re not biblicists, I think, you know, as long as we’re not expecting the Bible to give us all the answers, this is a very interesting intellectual and spiritual and ethical journey, I think, to be on this Christian faith. 

Jared: Maybe we’ve already covered this, but maybe you can read Darcy’s question because it’s interesting you chose the Paul’s expectations of the resurrection, it dovetails really nicely with Darcy. We’re going to take the same theme and apply it to eschatology, which is the study of last things. 

Pete: All right. So here’s Darcy’s question. “My eschatology growing up was dispensational and bizarre.”

Jared: That’s redundant, but go ahead. 

Pete: I know. Well, “I’ve long left that behind along with six day creation. I do believe that the Bible attempts to address our current condition and often looks to a future hope. I don’t know if I could assume that Christ’s future coming to set the world aright is literal. And if not, is there any hope?” 

Like, Jesus’ return, which is eschatology, it’s about where this is going. The final stage of this whole human drama, and culminating in, typically, in Jesus’ return. To judge the living and the dead.

Jared: And usher in whatever’s next. 

Pete: This new thing, right? Which, I mean, to get back to the previous question, in the first century they thought that was going to happen really soon. And Jesus would be sitting on the throne in Jerusalem, probably ruling from there, and right all the wrongs, and the dead would be raised, which is a lot of what a lot of Jews thought at the time, and, so, but here, it’s like, it’s been 2,000 years. It’s hard to not think about this, and say, what’s happening? 

Jared: It’s the elephant in the room, right? 

Pete: It’s the elephant in the room. 

Jared: Well, and we have a little bit of a shame tactic built into my tradition, is like, well, “that’s exactly what the devil wants you to do is there’s these verses about being asleep. You don’t want to be asleep when Jesus comes back.” And what that means is to do exactly what we’re doing, which is to be like, “Oh, I don’t know.” That’s being asleep. Like, no, you always have to be—

Pete: Actually sleepless at that point when you’re sort of like so anxious, you’re rolling around the bed, not knowing—I’m awake. I’m awake, man. Are you kidding me? 

Jared: But I think that’s important because again, there are these mechanisms that are subtle, but very important for those of us who grew up in a more conservative evangelical tradition, where there’s a fear of like, is it okay to question this? Because we conflate that with the gospel. Like part of being saved means you don’t question it. So if you question it, you might not get saved. And so there’s all these like micro rules that you have to follow. And this is one of them. Like, I have to believe that Jesus is coming back any second now. So, I don’t need works to be saved. All I have to do is believe in Jesus and then do all these other things like believe in an inerrant Bible and make sure that I’m always thinking Jesus could come back at any second.

Pete: I was convinced, I’m sort of embarrassed to say this, I was convinced that Jesus was going to come back May of, I think it was 1980 or 81. I was home from college and it just seemed so right. I was wrong on that. I’m glad I didn’t have, you know, the internet at the time to, to embarrass myself further.

But, you know, it’s, it is an expectation that’s sort of, is embedded. It’s encoded into the evangelical DNA. And what if people like, you know, Richard Rohr or Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who I mentioned a couple times in Curveball, it’s like, it’s the universal Christ that is the energy to bring things to completion cosmically. And humanity is a part of that. I mean, you know, you can’t, these are just words, you can’t prove any of it. But it’s like, I look at that and I say, Oh, people actually think that way. That’s very, very interesting. So it puts eschatology in a different context, you know, I would say the eschatology of the first century was a totally understandable, legitimate eschatology for Judaism at the time.

The problem is that Jesus didn’t come back and didn’t set up the kingdom, so Jews aren’t going to have anything to do with that because the Messiah is supposed to make all things right. Jesus came the first time, didn’t set all things right. He died, rose from the dead. Where is he? Well, he’s coming back. Don’t worry. Maybe, can I say this? I’m gonna say it anyway. I do mean maybe, because I’m just one person struggling to understand stuff. Maybe that was a false expectation on the part of the New Testament writers. Understandable in the context, but at the end of the day, not correct. And we’ve been doing a lot of dancing around that for a couple thousand years.

And what does it mean for Jesus to return? Some people say that he did return when the temple was destroyed in AD 70. That’s a sense in which he returned. That’s very symbolically. It’s not literally. So maybe our job as thinking Christians living in our moment is to look at how the Bible describes eschatology and to transpose that into another key of some sort, another way of thinking about things. Because our world is bigger, our universe is bigger. So, for me, it’s exciting, but if you have sort of the narrow eschatology that is what is brought to people in church settings, and again, Jared, I think you had much more, I didn’t have this growing up. I didn’t hear this stuff until I was in high school, and I’m like, “okay, whatever, I gotta go play baseball.”

You know, it didn’t affect me that much, but I didn’t grow up with the paranoia, you know, and now you read other people who have, like you said before, Jared, they have thought about this stuff. And they have very interesting and creative answers. Which is part of the task of theology, to be creative, to have imagination, to look at the world and say, how is God relating to all this stuff? Right? And so they write books or they have podcasts or whatever, you know? 

Jared: The only thing I would add is this phrase, if not, is there any hope? And again, I would ask the question of, well, what do you mean by that? What kind of hope are you looking for? And why is that really important to you? Because I think, I hear it, and, and this isn’t just recent—I think I’ve had this question for a long time. I think I don’t necessarily understand what hope means in the Christian context. A hope for what? And why is that really important? Because there is, when people have said that to me in the past, it’s almost like supposed to just be self evident. Well, without this, you don’t have any hope. And I’m like, I don’t know. I have a lot of hope. So I think we just mean different things. I’m not sure what you mean. 

Like it’s kind of the same idea of if all of this is made up, whatever that means, then we’re in despair. And again, I think of that as a marketing tool of a conservative evangelical way of framing the gospel that positions it as we have a product to sell, and one of the best sales tactics is “if you don’t have it, you’re going to be unhappy and miserable and despairing, and there’s no hope for you.” And I just actually don’t think that’s true. And so that would be, you know, if not, is there any hope? I would just have questions about that. Like for me, the answer is yes, there is hope.

Pete: Yeah, I agree with that. A couple of thoughts came to my mind just from conversations with other people and that is, you know, rather than saying “if this is not reliable, we don’t have hope.” That is a, I think a very non experiential and intellectual way of processing reality. And I, I have no problem with processing reality intellectually, but we always have to ask ourselves when it comes to God, at what point does that stop?

“Well, then how can you know anything?” Right? Well, this again is where, you know, thinking of God as not this problem out there, but experiencing God as very just thick and all around you. And what happens is some of those, again, this sounds like psychobabble, but it’s not to me. Some of those very ego-driven questions start fading away, and it’s like, it’s about the presence of God. It’s not about how I can figure this stuff out. And the irony for me is that it’s actually studying the Bible that has brought me to these conclusions because it’s not giving me the answers that I want, in fact some of the answers that it gives I find somewhat problematic, but I understand it contextually. 

And I know there’s an author, Jared, I wish I could remember his name. I was introduced to him by a couple of Episcopal priests. And basically he says, the problem with the church, at least in the West, isn’t that, you know, we don’t do church right or things like that. It’s, we’re not giving people a sense of transcendence, something bigger and beyond us that we’re subject to. And it’s not a cheap way of talking about God. He’s just saying to think that way is a reorientation of the way I think many people think of the nature of religious faith. It’s the thing you believe in blah blah blah. 

Jared: Well, but say more about that because I think, you know, I would think for a lot of people that’s exactly what their church tried to give them.

Pete: Transcendence. 

Jared: Transcendence, in a way that was unrelatable, right? What is a perfect Bible if not transcendent? What is a God who’s above all? You can’t question, anytime you ask a question about, well, what about children who die of cancer and does God allow that? Why does God allow that? It’s like, well, “God’s ways are higher than ours.” That’s very transcendent talk. 

Pete: Yeah. I, I hear that. When I, I don’t mean transcendence as sort of another way of saying sovereignty or God has everything in control. 

Jared: Right. So say more about that distinction. 

Pete: I mean it more as metaphorically, it’s realizing you’re underwater and the water’s all around you. And it’s, you’re not drowning, you’re safe, right? That’s a bad analogy, but it’s, it’s, it’s all around you, there’s a thickness all around you. And that’s actually what, that is the reality that we’re living into, and we could be living into. In that sense, transcendence, that the numinous, as others would say, you know, there’s a spiritual in-tunedness, which is not anti-intellectual by any means, but it’s not driven by the kind of certainty binary thinking that I think a lot of people have, have been taught to think that way in churches.

Jared: And the reason I pushed on that and asked that is because I feel like I have more of an allergy to the idea of transcendence. And what you’re talking about for me is actually re-enchanting the imminent. And for me, that’s very compelling.

Pete: Okay. Yeah. Transcendence and imminence.

Jared: Big words, but transcendence is out there, which I would argue is for me, that’s the God I had when I was younger. Now God is imminent. God is here in here and around. And that was scary at first because there’s a loss to not having the God up there, the God who controls everything, but there’s freedom to having the God here. And that is a huge, it’s a 180 shift thinking about God that I think is scary at first, but can be very liberating and can be gracious and allow for more compassion and connection. 

Pete: And some would say, I mean, it’s, there’s, I mean, not to get into quibbling over words, but that which is imminent is not limited in the imminence. So there’s an imminence and a transcendent. There’s a remainder. There’s a biggerness, right? You know, and that’s to have, let’s say, access to this, which is somehow responsible for the multiverse, right? I mean, and transcendence in that sense. It’s, it’s not like we’re all we are. And that, I mean, it’s just us and there’s nothing, right?

It’s more a sense of transcendence, which can envelop your existence, rather than being a thing out there you have to access through your argumentation—Now I know that I’m right. And I can you know, I’m in the process of buying a car. I don’t know what’s right! I can’t figure it out! I don’t know what to get and I have to get one because mine got totaled, anyway…But it’s like, you know, I don’t, I can’t live with certainty in buying a car let alone God, right? I just, I have not found that to be a compelling point.

[Ad break]

Pete: So this is somewhat related. Alright, so Jeff asks: “Can Christianity or any of the Abrahamic faiths ever escape their fundamentally exclusivistic position? Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all assert that there is only one valid God and one valid belief system to know that God. With the text, the Old Testament, New Testament, and Quran, and the exclusive posture as their core DNA, can they ever escape being religions of judgment and evangelism/empiricism?”

Jared: It’s interesting that they would connect evangelism and empiricism. 

Pete: I think both are relevant.

Jared: I thought when I first read it, evangelism/imperialism is what I was reading it as, because that made sense.

Pete: I wonder if that’s what Jeff means, or if not, it’s still empiricism, it’s like, I know that I’m right. Right, maybe. Empirical thinking. 

Jared: I think with this one, I would just, again, I don’t want it to seem like we’re just picking apart the questions themselves. 

Pete: Right, right. No no.

Jared: But I do think it’s important because I think what we’ve learned over the years, I’ll speak for me, but I think it’s true for you, is that sometimes as we grow and learn or change how we think, the questions themselves start to change. And I think that’s important. But for me, “the exclusive posture as their core DNA,” I just, I don’t know of a lot of Muslims, so I can’t speak to that. As far as the Jews that I know, and the Christians that I know, spending time around different kinds of Christians now for quite a while, I don’t know that they would.

Pete: They wouldn’t accept this. 

Jared: They wouldn’t accept exclusive, exclusivity as the core DNA. 

Pete: Well, they’re just weird though. Right? The more normal thing is exclusivity, which seems to be baked in, you know, I think it is, it does seem to be baked at least in the biblical story. 

Jared: I mean, I think in the biblical, yeah, and that’s what I, that was the second thing I was going to say is I wouldn’t confuse core DNA with context. Because in the ancient world, yeah, you’re, you’re jockeying for whose God is better. And so in that way, what do you mean exclusivist? Like they recognize other gods exist and that way they’re not exclusivist, but there is a sense of like, well, in that context, of course, you’re trying to fight for like, our God is better.

So that makes sense that you would posture it as exclusivist. I wouldn’t call that being core to the DNA necessarily. I think that’s contextual and it makes sense. And then it comes back to what we’ve been talking about this whole time. Well, how does the tradition develop? And that’s important. And I think that breaking down the binary of what’s core DNA or the, the kernel and the husk, it’s like, well, the kernel and the husk go together. That’s called the Christian tradition. And we got to deal with the good and the bad and the ugly. And what did it start with? And where did it go? And where is it now? All of that is part of the Christian faith. 

So I would say we are evolving more and more less toward this exclusivity as a Christian tradition, and I welcome that, and I think it’s important, but I don’t think that puts me on the outside of Christianity.

Pete: Well, yeah, and you know, the early church, there are all sorts of examples, at least from Origen on, that talk about non exclusivity. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s weird because I don’t want to put modern categories on ancient people. That’s very dangerous to do and it’s, it’s good to avoid, but there’s sort of like a non exclusive exclusivity in that it’s Jesus, right? It’s the Christian story. But at the end, it’s all good. All is redeemed. Right? 

Jared: So universalism to even some of the early church and how they thought. 

Pete: And I think we can call that Christian universalism, but it’s not about conversion and going to 

Jared: It all goes through Jesus, but some take different routes there. 

Pete: Which is a CS Lewis kind of thing too. In The Last Battle in the Chronicles of Narnia. So it’s, it’s not a new thing, right? But I think, you know, looking around today, I don’t fault people for saying, uh, Christians seems really, they seem really exclusivistic. And they are, but there are always Christian traditions who say it’s, you know, whatever you think of the grace of God, multiply it by a hundred, and then keep multiplying it by a hundred, and then that’s something of the grace of God. You know, we do tend to limit things, and we know there are things in the Bible that are exclusivistic, but that comes down again to the whole reason for the Bible for Normal People is let’s look at the Bible, you know, and try to put some of those pieces together. And, and what authority does the Bible have? What does that mean? Practically speaking, it’s an authority that can handle interrogation. And at least I hope so because people do that all the time anyway. 

Jared: Yeah. As we wrap up this episode, I wonder if we can take a minute, and Pete, I’m going to have you go first. What would be a word of advice now that we’ve kind of talked through all of this and kind of thinking about this? I think there are a lot of people who are still navigating through this black-and-white thing. Again, they’ve changed their mind about the content of what they believe. But it’s still hard to break through those barriers of either/or thinking. What’s a word of advice as we wrap up here for someone who’s on that journey and hitting these roadblocks.

Pete: I mean, because it is an emotional issue and that’s not to belittle it. I mean, that’s who we are. We’re a mess of emotions, aren’t we? So I really think that to have other people who understand you and understand that is very important. And for some people, that means finding a church or a church tradition that just gets that right away.

You know, and I’ve, I’ve found that in the Episcopal world—Jared has a wonderful community he’s a part of, which is Mennonite and, you know, a different kind of Mennonite than some others. Right? Not super conservative, right?

Jared: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pete: They’re very different, broad sweep of people there. And I think seeing a different way of thinking embodied, literally embodied in other human beings is necessary in my opinion for really healing because that’s really what this comes down to. And not to give cheap advice, but I think maybe a spiritual director that can be, you can trust and to say anything to, can, they’ve helped me, you know, over the years thinking, why do you even think that? I don’t know. Everybody thinks that. Nobody thinks that, you know, so it’s, it, it helps to human contact is, is as important as anything. 

Jared: Yeah. I was, I would second that. That’s actually what I was going to say, but from a different perspective, I think you’re talking about it very importantly from the idea of getting around a group of people who can kind of model a different way of thinking for you and show you that there are ways of doing this that aren’t black-and-white. I think the, the flip side of that coin is they can also provide a little bit of accountability of pointing out those things where it’s like, oh, you can take the person out of the fundamentalism, but sometimes it’s hard to get the fundamentalism out of the person. And so being around those people can also be a good mirror, uh, when they’re like, wait, like what you said with your spiritual director of like, Wait, you do know that not all Christians think like that, right? Right. And you’re like, what? No, I thought they did. It’s like, no, let me pass you along three or four resources of how this has been the case for, you know, 1500 years or 2000 years in the church. Oh, okay. So that little bit of a pushback or accountability can go a long ways because we don’t know what we don’t know. 

[Outro music begins]

Pete: Absolutely. Yeah. 

Jared: All right. 

Pete: Well, we did it. 

Jared: Thanks everybody. 

[Outro music continues]

Jared: Well, thanks to everyone who supports the show. If you want to support what we do, there are three ways you can do it. One, if you just want to give a little money, go to

Pete: And if you want to support us and want a community, classes, and other great resources, go to

Jared: And lastly, it always goes a long way if you just wanted to rate the podcast, leave a review, and tell others about our show. In addition, you can let us know what you thought about the episode by emailing us at 

Outro: You’ve just made it through another episode of Faith for Normal People! Don’t forget you can catch our other show, The Bible for Normal People, in the same feed wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Hodge, Stephen Henning, Wesley Duckworth, Savannah Locke, Tessa Stultz, Danny Wong, Natalie Weyand, Lauren O’Connell, Jared Cazel, Jessica Shao, and Naiomi Gonzalez.

[Outro music ends] [Beep signals blooper]

Pete: This is easy. 

Jared: We have hours and hours of research and preparation put into these questions, so. 

Pete: We do. Actually, a lifetime of research and preparation. [Jared laughs]

Jared: So we should know exactly how to do it because we’ve already thought through these questions for days and days.

[Beep signal another blooper]

Jared: And—Pete Enns. This is perfect. This is a perfect representation. 

Pete: [in the background] What’s happening?

Jared: It’s Pete meddles with everything he can get his hands on and then—

Pete: [in the background muffled] No! I didn’t meddle with anything, it just came apart. Who put these cables together? 

Jared: How is it—

Pete: [no longer muffled, back in front of the mic] It was you! I’m sorry, we have to fight here for a minute. You’re going to see really how the sausage is made. [Animated tone] Jared, I can’t believe you embarrassed me like that!

Jared: [Laughing] Who put the cables together? I put these cables together like two years ago and mine never, not one time has come unplugged.

Pete: [Irritated tone] Because you gave yourself the longer cable that doesn’t have the tension that mine does. I’m sorry, time out. Time out. No, we’re good. 

Jared: No, that is true. We did change up when that thing got moved. That’s true. I’ll give you that. 

Pete: Anyway, can I say, add one thing to that, Jared? Um—

Jared: I didn’t finish my thought. 

Pete: Oh, go ahead. I thought you were finished. 

Jared: No, I was, I was about to give the punchline. 

Pete: Go ahead, give the punchline. And then I have, then I have a second punchline. 

Jared: All right. So now I gotta maybe rethink what I was saying. Um…

[Beep signals another blooper clip]

Pete: If I have no—If I had, if I had had no, it’s not, if, if 

Jared: It’s not “if” it’s just, “I”.

Pete: I have had no real, what I would consider…Oh, okay. It’s not your Jordan writing. It’s not your Jordan. It’s your, your writing. It’s my reading. [Jared laughs in background] [Beep signals end of episode]

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.