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A Church Drunk on Rationalism

The biblical rationalism of Dwell Community Church has led to the belief that the church may adjudicate every aspect of life with crude legislation inspired by mere intellectual knowledge, at once a dramatic reversal of grace and a rejection of the ineffability of God himself. Moreover, this confusion of academic knowledge with the unconquerable certainty of absolute truth gives rise to a unique brand of intellectual arrogance within the church, the exercise of which results in gross overreach in both spiritual and non-spiritual matters.

Rationalism is the view that reason is the chief source of all knowledge.

Dwell Community Church is positively drunk on rationalism in its application of biblical and spiritual truth. There is an unspoken belief that all that is required for good spiritual leadership is intellectual knowledge of the Bible, through personal study, classroom instruction, or seminary education. Church leadership believes that by application of reason to biblical revelation, all human questions may be satisfied with unequivocal answers, and all relational or personal decisions may be neatly categorized into good and evil, in accordance with or against God's will which is readily apparent. As such, the church is not short on black and white verdicts for emotionally complex issues of such enormous scope they would make a philosopher nauseous. Indeed, Dwell Community Church routinely adjudicates issues according to its carefully constructed system of legislation with a force of authority more akin to draconian, rather than modern, court systems, with little opportunity for appeal or dissent.

These pronouncements may be as straightforward as how many church meetings to attend per week, where to go to college, or where to live (answers: at least three; Ohio State; a ministry house) or may stray into the arena of emotional judgments of breathtaking complexity. Indeed, church leadership has been reported as advising divorce to married men with unsuitably submissive wives, while wives of abusive husbands are urged to suffer within a marriage as Christ suffered on the cross (unto death, one might reasonably ask?). Allegations brought against Dwell Community Church even include the application of this crude, moral legislation to mental health conditions, with individuals suffering from depression or other medical conditions being shamed as rebellious against God and unwilling to change. This cruel practice being inextricably linked to several suicides of young adherents within the church, a reality at once heartbreaking and damning.

But faith begins, rather than ends, with rationality, and to forget the nuanced and perhaps incomprehensible complexity of God is to lose an integral aspect of faith itself. God is not merely lawgiver and judge, handing out rules to be blindly obeyed, but is also lover and friend, father and shepherd, light and word. Jewish tradition holds that there are various spheres within life, the lowest and most accessible of which is a realm where questions are asked and definite answers are provided. Above this, lies a realm where questions are asked, but defy simple and definite answerability, and perhaps the questions are themselves the answers, in an unending circle of mystery. At the highest level is the realm of God himself, the ineffable and inexpressible beauty of the divine, in whose presence all questions dissolve into meaningless irrelevance. So then we ask, is what is so labyrinthine in God not also reflected in his creation? Why does the church insist on playing in the dirt of the lowest level of understanding of God, abandoning its wounded to perish in mud pits not unlike those of ancient Egyptian slavery?

It is incredible the extent to which fundamentalist interpretation of religious texts results in an ironic smallness in the conception of God, with this quizzically, inverted outcome correlated directly with the insistence on possessing knowledge of absolute truth through biblical rationalism. Dwell Community Church is no exception to this algebraic interpolation and rather proves the rule. As young earth creationism restricts the true grandiosity of a universe some billions of years in its unfolding to a paltry 6,000 years, so does the church limit the true nature of God in a stifling container of its own creation, limited in extent to a pathetic, black-and-white authoritarianism. This is not the God of our fathers, whose mystery has been the object of contemplation for three thousand years; this is an idol constructed out of human rationalism and intellect, an idol to which the church has offered up hundreds, if not thousands, of human sacrifices, evidenced by the trail of wrecked souls murmuring from the mud. This reliance on manmade rationality as a substitute for faith is at once arrogant and woefully inadequate to possess any real comprehension of divine grace.

The search for reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide. It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding. Neither of them is amphibious: reason cannot go beyond the shore, and the sense of the ineffable is out of place where we measure, where we weigh. We do not leave the shore of the known in search of adventure or suspense or because of the failure of reason to answer our questions. We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore. Citizens of two realms, we all must sustain a dual allegiance: we sense the ineffable in one realm, we name and exploit reality in another. Between the two we set up a system of references, but we can never fill the gap. They are as far and as close to each other as time and calendar, as violin and melody, as life and what lies beyond the last breath.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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