January 11, 2023

Faith and Doubt with Grace Hill

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Grace Hill returns to the Maybe God studio to wrestle with some of the specific doubts that led her to deconstruct her faith, doubts that she and so many other people continue to wrestle with today.

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Announcer: Today on Maybe God, part two of Eric Hoffman's conversation with story church member Grace Hill. When Grace started attending Eric's church back in January 2022, he had no idea how deeply she'd struggled with doubts related to her Christian faith for over a decade. In this conversation, they tackle some of the biggest questions that led grace to deconstruct her faith, questions that she and so many other people continue to wrestle with today.

Eric Huffman: So, Grace Hill, welcome back.

Grace Hill: Thanks for having me.

Eric Huffman: Thanks for coming back and giving us more of your time. I really wanted to delve deeper into some of the things that you brought up in our last conversation because we sort of just hit the surface on a lot of it.

Grace Hill: Yeah. And I've been looking forward to drilling you with some of my questions here for a while, so...

Eric Huffman: Oh, boy. I should have done my homework. It's my first day back from vacation and I'm gonna get the drill. All right. So we'll see where that takes us. But no, I do relish this opportunity to talk more with you, especially about your journey of deconstruction as it's so often in the news, as famous Christians, you know, Christian rock stars and recording artists and authors are continually coming out and confessing their season of deconstruction.

Grace Hill: Yeah, seems to be quite a trend right now.

Eric Huffman: It is, and it's pretty hot right now. I just like to hear what that word, as I've heard you mention it a couple of times, what that word means to you, and what it's meant to you and your journey so far. Deconstruction.

Grace Hill: So I guess the way I tend to think of it as... Deconstruction to me is different than maybe, I guess, how I think of de-converting. So I know the word "deconstruction" is thrown around. It's kind of umbrella term that people use to capture all of these different experiences that may or may not end in walking away from the church.  So to me, it's helpful to think of de-converting if you're leaving and completely done. I think that's a little bit more problematic place to be then going through honest deconstruction.

So the reason I think deconstruction is maybe a healthy process for some to go through is that I don't think it has to end and walking away. I think sometimes it's healthy, particularly if you've been raised in a tradition of faith that is perhaps toxic, maybe damaging in some way, some super fundamentalist ideologies that maybe have been hurtful to you or someone in your family, it can be actually helpful to say, "Okay, well, hold on here. Let me take a step back and deconstruct in the sense of, let me take apart these pieces of the faith and kind of look at them and figure out, well, why do we believe X, Y, Z?

I think in some instances, it can definitely be very healthy. I think where it gets dangerous is if the skeptic becomes a cynic. And that's where I think sometimes-

Eric Huffman: What's the difference? Well, to me, I think a healthy skepticism is like, "Well, why do we believe this?" To me, cynicism is, like, "All of this is a dumb thing to believe."

Eric Huffman: Pointless effort.

Grace Hill: "I'm not even gonna give it time a day to research." So that to me is kind of the difference.

Eric Huffman: How thin is the line between skeptic and cynic? Like, have you seen people or have you yourself sort of felt yourself crossing over from skeptic to cynic? Does that happen a lot?

Grace Hill: That's tricky. When it comes to certain theological doctrines that I no longer believe are inspired by God, it can be easy to fall prey to some cynicism. Like, how could you believe that? That's so damaging. So I have to remind myself to be respectful that, you know, not everyone's at the same place in their journey. And, you know, having different knowledge doesn't it makes somebody better than someone else.

But it is hard sometimes when you see theological doctrines flung around really to control people, or in the case of male-female dynamics for males to dominate females and certain things. I certainly grew up in a tradition where I think I saw a lot of men in the home using scripture to keep women in their place. I think some of that, I mean, yeah, I do get a bit cynical of, and I don't know that that's right.

Eric Huffman: But that led you to a healthy deconstruction. In a way, your cynicism about what you experienced drove your healthy skepticism. So I guess there can be a good dynamic there between being cynical about things that are absurd to us and then not letting that push us into a healthy deconstruction process.

Grace Hill: Yeah. You know, it's interesting because you're making me think how that unhealthy cynicism almost goes both ways. I mean, I think it's unhealthy anytime whatever you believe become something you were like, "I'm superior to somebody else," or "I know better and you stop being honestly curious and instead kind of put yourself in this place of 'well I know better I'm the judge.'" And really solid Christian people can be in that place to towards the skeptic. Like, Well, you just need to read your Bible. I don't know what's wrong with you. That can be not a good place for a Christian to be as well.

Eric Huffman: Sure. Well, what you're describing I've experienced as well. But interestingly enough, I experienced to a certain degree when I de-converted from Christianity. And I hear what you're saying. Like, let's parse out deconstruction from de-conversion. And I honor that. I actually agree with that.

But I also experienced a level of, I would say, a deeper deconstruction process coming out of my secular liberal world. When I came to faith in Christ when I was 33 or 34, that deconstruction process was intense and painful. I would say it's still going on to this day. Sometimes I'm like so deeply indoctrinated in certain assumptions. I don't even see it and then it's apparent, and I'm like-

Grace Hill: That's so good to hear you say that because it makes me feel a little less crazy. I have those emotions at times, too.

Eric Huffman: And then I'm like, "Well, I've been really wrong for a long time," and I start to feel guilty about it. Anyway, deconstruction, I think, it's the way you describe it, is needed at times. And I see that as a sort of a biblical thing. Like when Micah, the prophet Micah says, "With what shall I come before the Lord?" Like, "Do you want my firstborn child? What sacrifice would be enough for you?" And then the Lord says, through Micah, you know, "Just do justice and love kindness and walk humbly." That's what you're describing. That's what you would call deconstruction. And I think that's biblical, and beautiful, and good. And it's something that I think every honest Christian should constantly be in pursuit of.

You've heard me in messages probably struggling with the word deconstruction, just because it's a relatively recent addition to our sort of daily lexicon. Like it's not something people did 100 years ago, publicly. Well, maybe in academic world but it bled into the mainstream public more recently.

And it really comes from postmodern thought. I mean, it's a postmodern concept that basically is built around the idea that nothing's ultimately are objectively true. So any truth claims, including the institutions upheld by certain truth claims, should all be dismantled. So you've heard the word dismantle a lot in our culture since 2020, I think, especially, let's dismantle this system, let's dismantle that, let's dismantle you know, the nuclear family, let's dismantle whiteness, let's dismantle like all of these things. It really is born out of a Marxist sort of postmodern worldview.

So I'd rather not use that word as Christian just because of where it comes from and sort of the baggage that it entails. But to hear you describe it, I'm like, well, that's beautiful and good. So I look at what you're describing as discernment. Like we should always be, like, God gave us the mind between our two ears, we should use it and discern everything. We should test the spirits, the Bible says. Like, we should always be doing the work of discernment. Deconstruction, I'm still a little uneasy with it as a concept, but I'm glad to hear it served you well.

Grace Hill: Well, I mean, I think those are all important points to bring up because words matter. You know, words are noises. They're packages of meaning and they do sort of evolve over time in the way different cultures use them. But yeah, I think it's good to be kind of going back to what are the messages and meanings being conveyed in how we're using certain words. And is it helpful or not?

Eric Huffman: I think when people go a little too far with deconstruction, it can have consequences that are maybe unforeseen And the consequences of just throwing every institution or hierarchical structure or every truth claim out the window, you know, can obviously lead to chaos, which I would not argue is a lot of what we're seeing in culture now is just nothing means anything, to each their own, my truth, your truth, all that stuff like. And it's chaotic.

Grace Hill: I mean I find it so ironic though that right in that movement everyone's like, Well there is no truth except the truth that there's no truth. And that's true.

Eric Huffman: Well, it's sometimes-

Grace Hill: And it's kind of-

Eric Huffman: Yeah, it gets a little absurd. Especially like when the Christian people I mentioned earlier, Christian rockstars, spotlight Christians that have quote-unquote, deconstructed. And they all do it the same way they do it by seeking attention and multiple social media posts. One of the things they often complain about is Christians who evangelize and that's why they're deconstructing. But they, by seeking attention in this process, are evangelizing to their own side right at this point.

And then they'll say, "I don't know what's true, but you know, love your neighbor, and look out for the little guy and support the oppressed and lift up the downtrodden." And I'm like, That's Christianity. You're deconstructing and saying you're walking away but then you're just repackaging and reclaiming the same idea. You're taking the what and leaving the why. And that's where I get a little uneasy with the process on a social phenomenon. Have you seen that as well?

Grace Hill: Yeah. I mean, I guess what I tend to hear more from people going through that is when you have that conversation of where does that "ought" come from then that we ought to treat people this way. I'm seeing a lot of phrasing around, you know, well, our instincts tell us it's our evolutionary survival instinct, it's best for the maximum flourishing of human beings and it's good to alleviate suffering and conscious creatures.

I just can't make the connect between that if that's the framework you're going to use to support you still living in these weird Christian ways, I don't see how you derive an ought from chemical reactions. Like that's still hard for me to understand. So I like engaging in that conversation with people going through that or have been through that.

I just find it interesting to learn like, yeah, what are you basing it on now? Because for me, I just... I mean, I know Christianity has challenges too but I just see it as like every worldview does, even the one that's claiming, "Well, no, I'm not going to be a Christian now, but I still think we should treat people a certain way." It's like, okay, but why? Your worldview..." Oh, it's fine. I respect that.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Grace Hill: But I feel like it has just as many like faith components as to, well, we don't know why chemical reactions should be honored that tell us to do this versus that, but we just know in our heart it's right. It's like, okay, well.

Eric Huffman: And I love that about your story. Because, you know, I think your upbringing scarred you in some ways. You had a great upbringing is not like your... you had a great upbringing. You can listen more in our first conversation about that.

But if you're listening right now and thinking Grace is like an angry former Christian or something, like you're the opposite of that. You're just a naturally skeptical person. And you take that skepticism to every corner of your life, to every relationship, every conversation equally. You're an equal opportunity questioner. And I appreciate that about you.

I want people to hear that it's okay to question Christianity, we just have to be careful not to so zero in on the faith that we've known our whole lives, the faith that we're frustrated with or whatever, and let every other competing worldview off the hook in a way by not projecting the same questions onto other truth claims.

Grace Hill: Right. I mean, I think it's really easy for any of us just as human beings to deceive ourselves and thinking, Well, of all the humans that, you know, are suffering from this self-confirmation bias, I am not... You know, it's hard to research anything without caring if it's true or not. I mean, I feel that I do care if certain things are true or not but I'm also very aware of my presuppositions. So that's why I'm extra hard on myself.

And it's funny when I am researching a particular topic, maybe looking up a book on Amazon to purchase, I don't know if this is a healthy thing, but the thing I always do first is go to the one star reviews if it's a Christian book. And you would be surprised how many really intelligent rational people are leaving reviews that actually gives me great fodder for like, "Okay, going into this, like, these are..." And sometimes I'm like, "Oh, I don't see your point there." But sometimes I'm like, "Well, that's a good point."

So I think we do have to just be constantly aware of internal biases and just know we all have them, whether you're going to be a Christian, or atheist or agnostic, or whatever. We come preloaded with them and so the best we can do is be aware and just like daily redirect our posture toward knowledge and learning into one of humility, and openness and respect for others and wanting to learn.

Eric Huffman: Right. I love it. So let's talk more nuts and bolts about your process coming out of a sort of brand of Christianity that had a lot of assumptions sort of imposed upon you, you come of age, you start to question those assumptions. What were the sort of areas of concern for you in your deconstruction of your Christian faith?

Grace Hill: So some of the main areas of concern have been questions around the discontinuity, whether it's just my own perception, or maybe I'm off, but between the Old Testament and New Testament, the conquest of Canaan in particular. The second piece would be just the Christian doctrines about how one even comes to be saved and how... And we can unpack this as we go-

Eric Huffman: Sure. Sure, sure.

Grace Hill: But just kind of high level, for me, what's always been hard is this idea Christian kids grow up in the church and then get baptized, and we don't, as Christians expect, them to have this rational, intellectually, rigorous understanding of the faith before they accept it.

And we would just say, "Well, if they feel the draw of the Holy Spirit to be baptized and come to Jesus and have Jesus in their heart, that's enough." And yet I think a lot of Christians would say, if let's say a Muslim child goes through that same process of they've grown up in a certain faith tradition, they've attended community events and services and things and then they feel compelled by their version of, you know, all ought to adopt certain practices, we would say, well, they're culpable for those wrong beliefs. They should know better or they're rejecting the truth.

And it's like, well, why does the one good get in and the other doesn't? Technically, they both came to their faith for, quote-unquote, irrational reasons. And by irrational I don't mean ignorant, but I mean, it's based on subjective feelings or cultural impressions made upon them versus a rational, you know, systematic evaluation of truth claims. A lot of these kids they're not even aware of their views exist at the point that they come to their various faiths. That for me is like an issue we can unpack that's hard for me.

Eric Huffman: Let's get into it.

Grace Hill: Okay.

Eric Huffman: I mean, we can get to the others as well. So a lot of times, what I'll hear from people who doubt along these lines is something like, "Well, you're only a Christian because you were raised in the Bible Belt in the 20th century in America, whatever. That's not what you're saying. You're saying there's a contextual problem with the Christian assumption that Christians go to heaven and everybody else goes to hell.

And especially given that whether you're Christian or not, a lot of people come to these conclusions based on where they were raised and what assumptions were imposed upon them and what they felt about those assumptions and all of that. You know that there are assumptions built to your feelings about this as well, the idea that most people just believe what they believe without thinking it through. That's a subjective claim that's hard to prove. I'm not sure that that's exactly the case.

So what you're suggesting is that it would be hateful of Christians to impose condemnation on non-Christians who, for lack of any better knowledge or any other experience, grew up Muslim or Hindu or whatever.

Grace Hill: Yeah. I don't even think it's an issue with Christians necessarily. It's more like, is that how God would actually operate? I think the core of the issue for me is kind of an epistemological issue, the nature of knowing truth and how we can be expected all to arrive at this very specific way of looking at the world and truth.

Again, I go back to this example of like, "You know, we see it in the churches all the time. My kids too, like they're raised in a certain tradition. With my kids just because of my past, I am giving them a lot more rigorous kind of like understanding the nuts and bolts, encouraging questions and all these things, that if they adopt it, it's been based on something more than like, "Well, everyone at VBS was doing it."

But I don't think in Christian circles, if you were to see a child who's like had cursory exposure to the Bible, they've gone to VBS, maybe their parents they've read some Bible stories, but they decide, raise my hand, I want to come forward, I want to follow Jesus. Christians would say they don't need to do anything else. That's enough. That's the Holy Spirit. And perhaps that's right. But countless other people from other faiths go through that exact same journey.

And because it seems we're wired sort of as sheep and groupthink, it's like God wired us in a certain box to sort of go with the flow at times. And yet, if He did this all for love, how is there not perhaps mercy for people who are doing their best to seek God with the limited box they've been placed in?

Eric Huffman: Yeah. What were you raised believing about it? What did your church growing up teach you happens to people that are more in other places?

Grace Hill: Well, like I had mentioned, the last time we got together to talk, I don't know what the churches believed because we never attended long enough to get into that.

Eric Huffman: What was yours?

Grace Hill: Somehow there's this residual effect in my psyche into adulthood that... and I've heard it repeated by other Christians I know. It's like, if you accept Jesus into your heart and admit that you're a sinner, He will take your sin away and you will go to heaven. And that is the only way. And everyone else is going to hell, therefore, we need to evangelize because all these people are going to hell and it's urgent.

So it's always been hard for me. It's like, What makes you want to respond to a God like that where it's like a big trick? Like, "Okay, you've got to make the right choice while you're here on earth, based on completely immaterial knowledge, in a lot of senses a lot of it's like, very subjective?" People have all kinds of supernatural experiences that they attribute to all kinds of things. And if that's the baseline, it's like, well, But it only counts if it leads you to Christ, the rest of it is just wrong and deception. It's like, well, gosh, I mean, then so many people can be led astray.

Eric Huffman: I hear the deconstruction process. Where did you take questions like those and how have some of them been resolved over time? Like, what resources did you find helpful in this process?

Grace Hill: Well, I would say on this specific issue, thankfully, unlike some of the other ones we'll talk about, I have found the work of C. S. Lewis and N.T. Wright actually to be very helpful and help me to reframe how I think all of that kind of stuff works.

  1. S. Lewis, it's funny, he's everyone's, you know, poster child, right? Everybody of all different denominations in Christianity will quote him. And yet, if you read some of the stuff he wrote, I think there's a lot of people would be like, "Oh, my gosh, that's heretical." But he really believed that there are people in certain faiths that God's Spirit is leading them to focus more on the aspects of that faith, like mercy, for example, that are modeled after God's own heart and in ways maybe they don't know yet they are serving Christ and don't know it yet.

Now, I know, that's a very controversial way to think about it. But I mean, people don't realize, well, C. S. Lewis thought that. I find that comforting to think. You know, at the end of the day with all of this, I think where I've landed is God is looking for reasons and ways to redeem and reach us, not reasons to damn us.

Eric Huffman: What makes you think that? How do you know?

Grace Hill: Because you can't have this consistent idea of a loving God matched up, at least to me, with the idea of but He made all this knowing most people would never find Him and He was going to torture them in hell for the rest of their lives. I don't know if that is your view of God and how it works and it's that simple. How do you want to worship that entity?

I get, you know, holy awe and fear. But perfect love has no fear. I mean, it says that in the Bible. So I don't know for the Christians who believe that version of it. I don't fit with that mindset. And before I researched it more fully, that was one of the things where I thought, "Well, maybe I can't be a Christian because I can't buy into that version of God."

Eric Huffman: Yeah, right. No, I think that makes all the sense in the world. I think that's really thoughtful answer. For me personally, you know, the why always goes back to Jesus. It's this idea that in Jesus we see the fullness of God on display. And if that's true... By the way the seal of that promise is the resurrection. That's why I always tell people, Figure out what you think about the resurrection of Jesus and then you'll figure out what you think about Jesus and then you'll figure out what you think about scripture. In that order. And sometimes we try to figure out Leviticus before we figured out the resurrection, and it's no wonder we get all screwed up about it.

But if the central claim of Christianity is that God Himself came to be one of us, with us, God with us, Emmanuel, for the purpose of solving our biggest problem, which is death really and death and isolation from Him, and to take care of that by taking the cross on Himself and saying they're going to comfort me, they're going to have their way with me, and I'm going to overcome, and then He did it. If that's the central claim of Christianity, then we extrapolate from there.

Like that's the nature of God. He's a problem solver. He's a common get us kind of God. He's not a distant, angry from on high kind of God. He's an end of the dirt with us, you know, let's fix this together. Follow me out of this hell. It's that kind of God we see in Jesus. That's so unique among all religions by the way. That's such a unique claim that I'm not even sure you can call Christianity religion. It's like it's not up to us. It's all up to God. And all we get to do is say, Okay, and that's it. It's not a merit-based system.

If that's the reality about Jesus, we believe that's the reality about the ultimate being in the universe, that's where we get all this idea that God is love. And if God is love, then certain things can't be true about God that we unfortunately often communicate to the world. "We" being Christian pastors, right?

Like we often communicate to the world that it is a merit-based system and we are here to just crush you with expectations and rules and laws and just press you like a lump of coal into a diamond. And if you just let us keep pressing you and oppressing you with all of these rules, then one day you will be this beautiful diamond. That's not Christianity. I don't know what that is but is not Christianity.

Grace Hill: Right. I think what was helpful for me at one point where I sort of came to some level of peace with this is as I was researching all this, you know, I had this day where this image came into my mind of this great divide this chasm between these two sides of land and the cross falling over and like bridging.

Eric Huffman: It's a very common sermon illustration.

Grace Hill: There are some who would accuse me of, I guess, where I've landed now as being like more of a Universalist type of mindset. But I don't believe all roads lead to God in the sense that, well, if you can believe Buddhism and that gets you to God, and you can believe is... I think there's a version of God that's true that is mutually there... All those different versions are mutually exclusive of one another. So I'm not saying, well, as long as you're a good Buddhist, and you believe it wholeheartedly, that'll get you in.

I guess what I'm saying more is that I'm, I get frustrated with Christians who want to make it so black and white that you do A, B, C step and you're in, and if you don't do A, B, C step, you're out. To me, Jesus is the cross is the bridge. And there's all kinds of highways that lead onto that cross and that bridge that is a bit of a mystery in some senses that we can't fully optimize it and quantify it and boil it down to this mechanistic process that's A plus B equals C kind of a thing.

Now, with that said, the other piece of it is, you know, well, let's say you're one who does believe it is, you know, you have to believe certain things. Well, there's people who believe all those certain things about Jesus and yet they're hurting people. So they believe the right things, but their deeds are hurting people.

And then you have people who may not believe the "right things," quote-unquote, but are actually loving people the way Jesus would want them to. And so it's kind of like, well, the Christian would say, "Well, if there's a person who believes the right things, but they're not doing the right things, they're not really a Christian."

So you're saying you can believe the right things and do the wrong things and not be in, not be saved. Well, why not the possibility you could maybe believe some of the wrong things, but do the right things, have a posture of humility and seeking God and possibly be saved? Like, if it's, on the one hand, possible, why not the other?

I think about this example, something that really... Gosh, it's cut to my core. I was reading my boys this biography about a Polish doctor during World War II. He was Jewish. His name was Eugeniusz Łazowski, I think was his name. I mean, gosh, Łazowski was his name. He was the most amazing man.

He had the schools for orphans. And mind you, he wasn't a Christian. He was Jewish, he rejected Jesus. But during World War II, when his little Jewish orphanages were put into the ghettos of Warsaw, he went with them. He had opportunities, through his connections, because he was well to do had all these, you know, academic connections. He had the chance to get papers signed for him so he could get out of there when they were coming to round up the kids and stuff.

And he decided, "No, I'm not going to send these kids off to the concentration camps. Where they go, I go. I'm gonna go with them." So he marched with them. He calmed them. He's like, "we're gonna go on this train. He knew it was coming but he chose to go with them. And he was killed with them in a gas chamber.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Grace Hill: And this is a guy who, on paper, rejected Jesus probably for how he was raised. And it's like, you're gonna tell me he's in hell and yet you've got the people who ran the inquisitions in Spain, you know, these good Catholic Christians who believed all the right things, and they're burning people at the stake in the name of Jesus and they're... You know what I'm saying? So there's like this mystery here that-

Eric Huffman: Yeah. I know what you're saying, Grace. I do. And I've been frustrated by the same thing. It feels to me like you're arguing against a certain Christian and not against Christianity. And you're worked up and rightfully so. Like Jesus got worked up about the same things. I want to reiterate that again and again, like, what's your worked up about, absolutely in step with Jesus.

Jesus got mad at the self-righteous people who said, "I don't need a doctor." He's like, "I'm just here to heal the sick. Well, from Jesus' perspective, everybody's sick. But those who don't know they're sick or won't admit they're sick, they'll never come for healing. So the people who frustrated Jesus, frustrate you, which tells me like chase that heart of Christ, don't punish His movement for the, you know...

Grace Hill: And that's kind of where I've landed, but I guess it still, at least for me, feels kind of fringy to think that way. I know so many Christians... I mean, I've heard people say to my face because we've talked about this, "No, I think Jewish people are going to hell. I think they're going to hell." And I'm like, "I think actually, what you and I here are talking about is a little fringy. I mean, I think...

I don't know. I think there's a lot more people than you would think who actually like well, maybe I've never thought about it but I do think you have to accept Jesus or you're going to hell. And I would implore people to... You don't have to agree with like where I've landed, but at least consider the implications for being so stringent. What if you're slightly wrong? Don't you hope there's mercy? Like if you're wrong, don't you hope there's some degree of mercy or mystery? It's like God knows the heart. None of us can prescribe, you know, the exact prescription that it needs to look like?

Eric Huffman: Sure. I want to be clear, too, in saying, as I'm empathizing with you, I also believe that Christ is essential for salvation.

Grace Hill: And I do too.

Eric Huffman: I'm not sure we know entirely what that means and who can be included or not. But when Jesus says, "I'm the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through me," I believe Him.

Grace Hill: And I do too.

Eric Huffman: Because I believe Jesus and because of the resurrection again, sort of, that's the order of things for me. It's how it works. But I think, for any Christian to say, So and so is in hell, that group's going to hell, it's just wasted breath. It's Ecclesiastes, like chasing after the wind. It's just like vanity. It's worthless talk. Like, we have no idea. We have no way of knowing. Only the Father knows who goes to heaven, who goes to hell. What business do we have, unless we're Jesus, what business do we have making such predictions and blanket statements that only do harm? So I'm right there with you.

Grace Hill: What do you would you say are the point of missions then? Like going on mission trips. I've heard, you know, growing up a lot of hype around we've got to go evangelize because people are going to hell. I mean, I've heard that exact.

Eric Huffman: Sure, they are. We don't know who. We know some. It's not that Christians believe we have the best "what" in terms of what we talked about earlier with, you know, love your neighbor, take care of the poor. That's in a lot of religions. Or "We have the best why?" And that is a God who is with us, a God who wants relationship with us, a God who became one of us, like died for us and rose for us. That's the "why" that drives all the what stuff. And so the why is what we go to convert people to. It's not to get them to behave better.

It's because we want the world to know this is who God really is. And it's not so we can have notches on our Christian belts, like, Look how many souls we say from hell today, which is I know how missions often work, especially in the past, some even now. It's really about wanting the whole world to know, like the first Christians did, this is who God really is. It's Jesus on the cross, in the tomb, rising from the tombs. That's God and the fullness of God. So we're so energized by that, we can't not go on missions.

Grace Hill: I think this kind of touches back on a little bit of we talked earlier in this episode about how words matter. And I think what you're saying is so right. But I think sometimes, at least just, you know, and I could be off here, I think what happens sometimes is we do throw around jargon-y phrases, maybe hearts are in the right place, but it's just how it's always been described or why we do this or that or the other. Maybe the heart's in the right place. But sometimes the wording of some of this doesn't capture the nuance of the discussion we're having and it is more strident. It is more, you know, we have to go on missions because if we don't go, there's a chance that the person doesn't hear it on the right day and then they're going to hell. It's like, what was it all like this arbitrary if you happen to hear the good news?

I mean, what I believe is that God knows who was gonna respond. He'll make sure if you or I dropped the ball and are not evangelizing at the coffee shop one day, but there was someone we could have impacted, well, God will make sure someone gets to them. So, to me, it's like the why of the evangelizing isn't what we have to... It's our job to save people from hell. It's like God's gonna do that. Like, if none of us were here, He could still do that for people. To me-

Eric Huffman: But you can see how that would be an excuse to not do anything.

Grace Hill: Well, I think, to me, evangelizing is a gift that's given to us and not a duty that we have to save people. It's like God's gonna do this stuff. He's Kingdom building. He doesn't need us.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Grace Hill: It's a gift to us to get to join with Him and what He's already doing versus this arbitrary, "Oh, well, God sent me to go evangelize on this country and I didn't go that week and so this person, as a result, went to hell because... You know what I'm saying?

Eric Huffman: Yeah. In my church growing up, and a lot of churches where I grew up in the Bible Belt taught not just that, but like, if you don't do missions, the lost people's blood is on your hands. I remember being traumatized by that as a kid. I remember even going in high school after this high school trip where I talked about "you guys, we have to do more, because their bloods gonna be on our hands." That's a horrible image.

And I know it's pulled out of some proof text from scripture that's like out of context and all that. But that image really sticks with you. And the trauma of that can really, I think, harm our theology long term. But I do think one thing is interesting from the New Testament is there are no evangelism training courses. Like as though it is a compartmentalized thing, like it's just something we have to do as a church because the lost won't be saved without us.

You don't see that in the Bible. You see that in a lot of our churches today, I guess. But in the New Testament, what we call evangelism would just be basically winsomeness and joy, exuberance. Like when the people observed the first Christians and they said, "Those people have drunk," because they're having such a good time together because the Spirit overcame them and they just looked like a party. And for me, Christian evangelism is really just a better party than the parties the world throws.

Grace Hill: Yeah, I think too, one of the joys to be lost sometimes with, if there's a church culture that is focused on that mission, so we have to go evangelize, we gotta raise the numbers, is sometimes it's like you miss what's right under your nose next door or across the street. It's easy to go on a missions trip and everyone's you know, rah, rah, rah. It's maybe a little bit more glamorous in some ways. It's a lot harder to like go across the street to your neighbor who bugs you and make them a dinner because they're going through something hard or invite them over to Thanksgiving, or say hello, you know, strike up a conversation with just someone in your day to day. That's a lot harder to do to me. And yet that, I think, what's we're called to do.

Eric Huffman: Of course.

Grace Hill: But sometimes I think Christians feel, "Well, I went on that mission trip, check. I did the evangelism thing." It's like a daily embodiment of being Jesus' hand and feet.

Eric Huffman: Of course. But that's because we're still wrapped up in the meritocracy mentality. And the only reason we do it in that mentality is because we have to make sure we're saved. Like we got to do the right thing so we can go to heaven. That's so antichrist. That mentality is so antichrist that I can't even wrap my head around it. Because Jesus came and we say he paid it all. We sing that song, Jesus paid it all, and then we act like He only paid some of it, and we have to pay the rest. That's not what the gospel is.

I mean, the only reason to do missions is because we can't keep the joy of Christ to ourselves. I mean, that's the only biblical reason to do missions. It's not about us getting more people saved or whatever. So, you're right, that is God's business. But it's our privilege to be a part of God's business, right?

Grace Hill: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Not that we're putting any tidy bows on anything, but I do want to hear what other sorts of areas of concern sort of drove you through the process of deconstruction and eventual reconstruction. What other sort of subsets of questions did you wrestle with?

Grace Hill: So I would say the next biggest hurdle that kind of is a bit of an ongoing challenge for me is this dissonance that I come away from the Bible with sometimes between reading the New Testament and the Old Testament. In particular, I really struggle with, you know, and this is nothing new, a lot of people have this struggle, but, you know, the Canaanite conquest.

And I think that's an issue that maybe a few decades ago wasn't as big of an issue for Christians. I think today it's getting a lot more traction, just because we're more... I don't know, I guess, we feel more morally developed and it flies in the face of our moral sensibilities.

It's very hard for me at times to feel a personal relationship with God when I read the whole expanse of Scripture and hear just all the different interpretations that other Christians have about it. And some people really amplify the wrath and downplay the mercy. And then other people totally amplify the mercy and downplay the wrath.

So it feels like there's a lot of people going around saying, "I know God is real, and we have this personal relationship, He's so loving, all this stuff." And then I'll say, "Well, have you read Joshua in Deuteronomy?" "Oh, no." "Okay. Well, if you haven't read that, then you don't know..." I'm not saying you have to say the whole Bible. But-

Eric Huffman: Let me break in here because I'm concerned we might be leaving a few people behind and our listeners and viewers who don't know what the Canaanite conquest is. So in the book of Joshua, especially, there are a series of battles that are directed by God who instructs His people to go and lay siege to other cities and towns and people. And most of the time really take no prisoners kind of a scorched earth policy. Difficult to read, to say the least. And Grace, your concern is, how do we reconcile that with the concept of a loving God, right?

Grace Hill: Mm-hmm.

Eric Huffman: So not an uncommon concern. And a lot of people just would prefer to skip over Joshua. I would say, though, that questions and concerns about Joshua's seemed to be more common today than ever, and it's because of our... I mean, generally, you hear these concerns expressed, present company excluded, right? But expressed by white, Western, liberal, educated, sort of elites. Like that's where I've heard the brunt of this argument coming from.

Because I think the mentality that we have or the image we have in mind when we think about Joshua and the battle of Jericho or whatever, I think we conflate Joshua and that army of his with like, the inquisitions or, you know, the conquests of the crusades, and with white western domination. And there's a lot of white guilt that comes into that for a lot of people.

Not that this makes everything okay, but it eludes us, I think, the idea that the people who were executing these attacks in Joshua's day were people who were fighting back against their own recent slavery. And people of color who were oppressed and were marginalized in every possible way found their voice found their fight and staked a claim to what was theirs, this land that they had possessed in the days of Abraham.

So from a cultural perspective, I just think we need to reframe our perception of what's going on here. Because we're not talking about a bunch of like... It wasn't like Franklin Graham leading the people of white southern Baptist into Jericho to lay siege to those poor people. This was literally a band of former slaves and their descendants few generations past that were trying to live and survive.

Now, that doesn't take away the God stuff here. I think it's easy for us to excuse God when we shouldn't. We should discern this. How do we make sense of God's directives to go to war? So what did your deconstruction process take you and how have you landed?

Grace Hill: For this particular issue, I have researched very deeply because it bothers me and it still does, because I can't find resolution that makes me feel comfortable. I do find it frustrating that and sometimes having this conversation. You know, you hear Christians a lot of time say, well, our moral intuitions is part of the proof of a divine law-giver. That what we think is good and bad, that comes from somewhere else-from God. Listen to that.

And yet, when that same moral conscience and you're looking at a passage in the Bible where Israelites are slaughtering babies, and you're like, Well, I see a problem with that. Oh, well, you know, you're being deceived. You don't understand. God, His ways are above ours. And it's like, okay, well, which is it? You can't have it both ways.

My moral intuitions that I believe are planted there by God are absolutely appalled at the idea of Israelite daddies running into camp with swords and slicing through the pregnant bellies of mothers, slicing off the heads of elderly people, slicing up babies. And Jesus is right there like, yeah, this is the justice they deserve? You know, let kill babies with Jesus. Like no. I cannot wrap my head around how that makes any cohesive sense.

Another reason it bothers me is... You know, again, I've researched this heavily. I would recommend people who are interested, you can go read Paul Copan, Greg Boyd, Randal Rauser, R-A-U-S-E-R, for him. Paul Copan has the more conservative view of like it was divine war. And then you've got people like Greg Boyd and Randal Rauser who are well... They think maybe God never commanded that. And so they take into question the idea of inerrancy of the Bible or errancy, like, Did God actually command that? So those are resources I've read heavily.

With Paul Copan, he makes the case, well, these were more military outposts. There weren't as many civilians. These people did horrible things. There are great mass graves of tens of thousands of babies that were burned because these Canaanites were so pagan they would burn their babies to their gods.

Where my mind goes with that is like, okay, they were so horrible for killing babies and so the solution is to go kill their babies? That doesn't compute to me. So I don't know that I've landed anywhere on that. Again, going back to your point of like, well, taking it back to Jesus as the clearest lens of God's character and heart. I can't imagine Jesus slicing through any babies.

Now, God has the right. I believe He can take life. But why would He ask Israelites who have their own sin, how could you expect them to go do that and not be completely traumatized or have that process develop keen hatred in their heart? How do you go slice through a baby and then go home and rock your baby? The trauma that would create for these Israelite men doing this, I can't see how that was of God.

Eric Huffman: I just think we have to be very careful to not project our present-day expectations on to a context and culture and a reality we cannot understand. I think there is a tendency in our modern day to do that. I think we're so blind to that we can even honestly wrestle with the implications of projecting our sort of chronological snobbery on to the past.

I don't think we understand the reality that Joshua, and in those days the Israelites were up against. I think we do ourselves and the scriptures an injustice when we just assume that had the Israelites not done this everything would have turned out okay. Had it not gone this way, then they could have just adopted the children and killed the parents. Or they could just, you know, live and let live. It was not a live and let-live world.

Grace Hill: And I understand. I mean, I've read all those abuse and I know where you're coming from. But I go back to why didn't He just send a play like he did the Egyptians? Or just take them...

Eric Huffman: Would that have been better?

Grace Hill: To me, yeah. Because I mean, if God's doing it and do does it quickly, like, why make...

Eric Huffman: Now we're into some difficult [inaudible 00:50:17].

Grace Hill: I know. I know that. But I just struggle with this idea of how could these human Israelites have done it without malice. I know that God's instrument of wrath, but I don't know. I just have a hard time.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, these are hard questions. And I think it's hard for us to even begin to relate to that world that was a notably brutal world. It's one of those things, I think, where we find God in the Bible coming along and making the most of the worst human mess. I think we would be well served to consider the consequences of another outcome in Joshua's day. Even to the extent that like, whether we would be here today or not. At some point in time, the sovereignty of God has to come into play. And this is where truly skeptical or cynical people get very uneasy. But if he's God, and if He's real, then He knows a lot of stuff we don't.

When we come to a crossroads of our understanding and scriptural truth, something has to give way. And it's either our limited finite sort of understanding that gives us a sense of control or it's just leaving some things to God for now and saying, I don't understand this but in Christ I understand you. And because I understand your character in Christ, I accept you for who you are, for all that you are, and I trust you enough. So let some things linger and let some things hang.

Grace Hill: On the flip side, I get it. Sometimes people say, "Well, we get mad that God doesn't do anything about evil, and yet, look, He did something about evil through Joshua and now we're mad that He did that. Right?

Eric Huffman: Absolutely.

Grace Hill: That is a valid point. I guess, where I tend to land is, you know, if this really is what God commanded, and that was part of his sovereign will, I can accept that. Mentally, it still makes it hard for me to feel close to God because that scares me because I don't understand it. And I can all day long say, Yeah. I mean, obviously, maybe, probably, I'm off. I'm not a scholar. I haven't looked... So I'm probably off. It just leaves me kind of in a paralysis a little bit of like, Okay, do I just stay away from those books?

Eric Huffman: We're probably all off a little bit. And that's something that's important to always to remember. But at the end of the day, for me with stuff like Joshua, it does start and end with Jesus. I mean that in the least clichéd way possible because it's not for nothing that Jesus was named Joshua too. Jesus comes along as a second Joshua. Literally, Yeshua, means Joshua.

And so there's something about the story arc of Scripture, even if you've struggled with Joshua, that finds resolution and Jesus. It's like he came to make right what was wrong and Joshua's day. And he comes as such a different Joshua to go right at the heart of evil, to conquer us with love, you know, to do in a godly way what Josh would do in a manly way.

You know, it's just a beautiful resolution. And I think it's intentional. It's not accidental that the angels said his name will be Jesus, Yeshua, Joshua. I think that's what I find so beautiful about the scriptures is even when we wrestle with one part, we find that God Himself has already answered our question about what's ultimate, what's good, what His divine plan is for us. With that in mind, I love the fact that the book of Joshua was never erased. Because at some point along the way, the Protestants or whoever wanted to make the Bible more palatable to the masses-

Grace Hill: Yeah, that's true.

Eric Huffman: ...could have just said, "Do away with that. Let's keep second Yeshua. Let's do away with the first one." But they didn't because we need to see the ugliness We need to see the pain and the bloodshed. We need to see violence on display so we can see what Jesus came to resolve. So it doesn't make it better what happened in those days. But in some ways, it does make sense of the world we're living in and what God's plan might be for us.

Grace Hill: Well, I'm still working away, praying through this, trying to find a way that it doesn't preclude me from feeling close to God's heart. It's just I'm still kind of in that place. So yeah, it's just good to talk through it.

Eric Huffman: Awesome. What would you say to somebody right now? It's like, I'm with her, I feel what she's saying, I can't let God in too close because I just don't know who He is. How have you gotten to this place where you're sitting in a church today talking to a pastor? How do you hold these things intention?

Grace Hill: It's hard sometimes. I think kind of what you said, I do tend to with the parts that I really struggle with, try to read them through the lens of the parts I don't struggle with, the parts that make more sense. But I guess there's a part of me that I am loathe to tell someone, "Well, go make it up for yourself and pick and choose the books you want.

I would say, for me, this isn't something that's just cherry-pick that. Well, I don't feel good about this, so I'm gonna decide that whatever that may be these books were meant to be there. I say that I have researched this humbly, deeply, skeptically from every possible angle. I believe Jesus rose from the dead and that He is the ultimate, like you said, expression of God's love.

So I don't know that I'll ever resolve how to read Joshua and Deuteronomy and Numbers without cringing. But I'm gonna wrestle with God through those questions. And I'm not gonna give up. Well, I mean, this is important to me, so I just, I keep wrestling and keep showing up and keep hoping that, you know, God will throw me a bone-

Eric Huffman: Amen.

Grace Hill: ...and give me some clarity.

Eric Huffman: Oh, it's so hard for me right not to tell you God already threw you a bone. It's a cross-shaped bone.

Grace Hill: Yeah. What I mean is-

Eric Huffman: I know what you mean. I'm just being stupid. There's so much more to dig into. But gosh, we're out of time today. I'm sorry we didn't get to everything you came ready to talk about. But I'm so, so grateful for your voice. It's such a valuable voice to so many people that are going to be listening in, I hope listening in, to hear your heart on this.

Because you're in this beautiful place of having asked all the questions, done all this homework, like you've not resolved a lot of the questions that you're asking, but you've resolved enough of them to still be around with Jesus, but you're still a threat to that kind of Christianity that has everything settled.

And I think your prophetic voice in a way. Like the Old Testament prophets, always stirring the pot. And every church needs that voice to keep us on our toes, to keep us open to questioning our own assumptions and discerning and testing everything, you know. So I deeply value your voice as part of our church. But more than that today I value your voice as part of this podcast.

Grace Hill: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. And thank you for your leadership to and just the church community here in Houston. I think it's so, I don't know, rare in some ways, at least in my experience, to have access to a pastor who will take the time to sit and hash through some of this not-tidy stuff, you know.

Eric Huffman: Thank you. This is fun stuff for me.

Grace Hill: It's been really good.

Eric Huffman: I really appreciate. I hope we can do it again soon.

Grace Hill: Awesome.

Eric Huffman: Thanks, Grace.

Grace Hill: Thank you.

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