You might recognize the name Lisa Gungor as one half of the singer/songwriter duo, Gungor, who have written and recorded widely beloved songs such as "Dry Bones," and "Beautiful Things." A few years ago, the Gungors made headlines after revealing they no longer believe in biblical historical narratives such as a literal Adam and Eve, or Noah's flood. They even compared these notions to believing in Santa Claus.
For many Evangelicals, this came as an utter shock. But for those who were paying attention, the Gungors had been veering from historic Christianity for a while, and none of this happened in a vacuum. To help connect the dots, Lisa Gungor recently penned her memoir, The Most Beautiful Thing I've Seen: Opening Your Eyes to Wonder.
The book tracks the couple's spiritual journey from hyper-legalistic fundamentalism to a more progressive type of Christianity to atheism, and finally to a wider spirituality that they no longer necessarily call "Christian." It's beautifully written, and Lisa manages to describe the desert of doubt and loss of faith with captivating tenderness, honesty, and vulnerability. She shares the pain of being sexually abused by a church leader as a young girl. She explains the disorienting control of a cult-like church environment. She takes the reader on a journey from childhood in a tiny New Mexico town to meeting the love of her life in college to touring the world as a successful music artist to becoming a mother.
Although I disagree with many of Lisa's conclusions, I by no means wish to trample on her thoughts and memories. It's not easy to open your heart to the world, lay it bare, and share your deepest reflections. I’m thankful for this book because it helps me, as an apologist and as a Christian, to interact more meaningfully with those who have adopted progressive Christianity. I wish I had the space to speak to all of the nuances in the book, but this post will deal primarily with Lisa's most fundamental assumption about reality. I pray it is helpful.
The Most Beautiful Thing I've Seen begins in an art class. Lisa's teacher draws a dot on a blank paper and asks the class what it is. Various students begin naming this dot things like "point" and "ball" and "cylinder" and" pencil" and "nail" and "tower" and "line." The teacher responds, "It may be a dot, but maybe it’s also something else. It’s all perspective, isn’t it?" (p. 17)
This is very clearly how Lisa sees reality. The most pervasive theme throughout the whole book is this: Reality is relative. It's all perspective. It's all what you see.
Here's the problem. Reality doesn't actually work like that. Our perspectives can shift throughout our lives, and we may see things differently than we did before. But that doesn't mean reality has changed. It means that we have either embraced reality more fully, or walked away from it to see something entirely different. The dot on the paper? It's a dot. It's not a line or a tower or a pencil. Although it may look like those things when you glance from different angles, it is still just....a dot. There can be deeper ways we grow to understand the dot, and more ways we can apply what we know about the dot to our lives, but that dot will never be a pencil. Once we call it a pencil, we are no longer operating in reality.
For example, imagine you deposit $808 in your bank account, and go back a few days later to withdraw it. Suppose your bank teller says, "Well, you may see $808, but I see the word ‘BOB.’ So sorry...have a good day.” There isn't one of us who would stand for that. We would appeal to reality, and say "You're wrong! Give me my eight hundred and eight bucks!" This is because we all innately know that reality is not just a matter of opinion.
Lisa writes, "Reality is one thing to you and another to me, but none of us sees it for what it is." (p. 18) While it's true that none of us has a fully accurate picture of reality, our goal should be to line up our perspective with what's real as best we can...not simply see it as an excuse to embrace a form of relativism.
Lisa weaves her memoir around the theme: dot, line, circle. The "dot" is the tribe you are born into. It's the small part of the world in which you learn the basic things of life. On your dot, you learn your tribe's beliefs, customs, and way of seeing the world. But at some point, your dot begins to shake. As new questions rise up and unfamiliar ideas invade your small world, you begin to walk out on a scary new line that is emerging from the dot. Just when you begin to feel safe on your new line, it also begins to shake and disintegrate, dropping you into a circle, which Lisa describes as "the reality underneath and around the reality you could see." (p. 124)
In her view, the dot and the line weren't really a dot or a line at all, but that was just how you saw them because of your perspective. This may actually be an accurate metaphor for how her beliefs developed, but that doesn’t mean it’s applicable to everyone.
Lisa's writing is rich with metaphor, so she never explicitly explains what her dot, line, and circle are. But it's not difficult to see that her dot was the hyper-legalistic, almost cult-like sect of Christianity in which she was raised. Her "line" was Christianity in general, with its tenets, Scripture, and exclusivity. Her "circle" is now a more pluralistic view of spirituality, and a recognition that "the divine" isn't restricted to one religious group. (p. 116) In her estimation, this is ultimate reality.
She received this epiphany while attending a silent retreat she describes as employing a more Eastern approach to spirituality, complete with two hour meditation sessions and Buddha statues. At the end of the retreat, she felt something "almost like feminine arms" holding her. She began referring to God as "Divine Mother” and practicing "centering mindfulness." (p. 180) (Mindfulness is a meditative practice that is the seventh step on the Buddhist eightfold path.)
But this didn’t happen in a vacuum either. Prior to this new way of thinking, she had already given up on reading the Bible, dismissed historic Christian teachings about marriage and sexuality, and described the God of the Old Testament as a "bratty violent murderer who killed babies and desperately needed his son’s blood in order to save all the rotten humans he accidentally created." (p.174)
So, the book reads like an ode to relativism, but ends up bottoming out in absolutism: trading belief in one absolute truth for another.
So what do we make of all this? I've done my best to carefully analyze and understand Lisa's viewpoint, and I don't think that ultimate reality is what she thinks it is. I might suggest an alternative path:
Assess your dot. Peel back the layers. Question absolutely everything you were taught about God, the Bible, Christianity, religion, and the world. Reject the things that are false and hold onto the things that are true. Maybe your dot will have quite a bit of truth. Maybe it won't. But don't reject your dot just because it was your starting point.
Here's the bottom line. If Christianity is true, then it is, by nature, exclusive. This means all other religions are false. If Christianity is true, then the circle of reality Lisa fell into is really just someone else’s dot. In my view, she has rejected the exclusivity and moral demands of Christianity, and traded them for something equally as dogmatic and exclusive—religious pluralism, the belief that there isn’t just one road to God.
Jesus loves Lisa Gungor, and I am praying for her. I am thankful for her creative mind, poetic honesty, and raw vulnerability. This book won't soon leave me. I pray that God will lead His wandering daughter home...free from abuse and confusion.
I am hopeful He will do it—because He truly does make beautiful things out of the dust.
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10/31/2018 10:00:04 am
Fabulous post. I sense (and fear) a progressive "wave" making its way into mainstream Christianity in the USA. It may turn into a sunami before long. I'm thankful that you are willing (and very able) to take it on with such truth and grace. I'm praying more people will listen to and read what you are saying. It's so desperately needed.
11/2/2018 09:49:11 am
Hey Phil, thanks so much for this comment brother. I assure you that the wave is here and that it will be a tsunami very soon. I've been doing all I can to warn the church of this for the past ten years, with little to no success. Anyone who knows the history of liberal Protestantism in this country should be able to see that this is coming. Liberal Protestantism almost completely destroyed evangelicalism in this country in the late 1800's through the early 1900's. Evangelicalism barely held on in the rural South and in pockets of rural America elsewhere for the most part and then saw a huge resurgence in the 80's. But the same thing is happening now and with even more vigor and it is truly scary.
10/31/2018 01:41:36 pm
Thank you for another good post, Alisa. I think you are right that pluralism is just as dogmatic and exclusive as the religions it claims to be above. Those I have heard making pluralistic claims have been insistent of them and upset at non-pluralistic views. This is in spite of the fact that pluralism isn't even compatible with (most of) the religions it claims to "include." Therefore, it is really it's own religion whose logical conclusion is that all other religions are wrong.
10/31/2018 01:51:48 pm
My heart is heavy...for Lisa and for her sphere of influence. In all honesty, when I was reading her “thoughts” I was reminded of the pot smoking hippies of my generation. Satan and his demons hard at work...sad, very sad.
10/31/2018 02:33:58 pm
Thank you - for your compassion and humility. For your willingness to listen and hear Lisa's heart and struggle. For your desire to understand first. I appreciate both the TRUTH of this post and the tone in which it is communicated.
10/31/2018 03:55:44 pm
Nicely said. I will keep Lisa in my prayers.
10/31/2018 07:38:22 pm
For any of you struggling with the exclusivity of world views, and how Christianity best explains reality, one of the best and easiest to understand books on this is The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl. It is a great foundational book and a great evangelism tool. No prior knowledge of Christianity needed.
11/1/2018 03:14:33 am
I appreciate the respectful tone you took here. As a former fundamentalist myself and current pastor of a progressive church in LA, I’d like to point out that conservative Christianity is actually rife with ambiguity and relativism because it cannot function without it.
11/1/2018 09:00:08 am
Hi Aaron, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I agree that Christians shouldn't simply appeal to mystery or a "just have faith" type of attitude when it comes to difficult questions. Thankfully, regarding the problem of evil and suffering, many conservatives are doing hard philosophical and biblical work on this, and are providing intellectually and emotionally satisfying answers. So, I don't agree that believing in ambiguity under the guise of “mystery” is absolutely necessary to maintain a conservative faith.
11/1/2018 04:56:40 pm
Thanks again for your respectful tone. I hope you can hear me in a similar way.
11/1/2018 10:53:57 pm
I’ve read both of your comments and I only respond here to the first one because it wouldn’t let me respond to the second. If you are such an expert on conservative Christianity as you say, then why do you so badly misrepresent it in both of your comments?
11/2/2018 10:25:58 am
Dan and Alisa, respectfully, how have I misrepresented conservative Christianity? I understand that you disagree with my judgment of it. But how have I misrepresented or mischaracterized what the basic tenets of your beliefs are? I thought you believed in the following:
11/3/2018 09:53:13 pm
Aaron, the first thing I would say is that I don't think a word like "conservative" is helpful here. Depending on who you ask, that can mean anything from alignment with a particular political party to simply holding to orthodox theology. I prefer "historic" Christianity, because that implies a more broad theological definition of Christianity based on creeds and the historically agreed upon tenets.
11/4/2018 05:04:48 pm
11/4/2018 05:45:46 pm
Thanks for continuing the conversation. I'm sure neither one of us is going to change each other's minds, but I find that these exchanges can be helpful for those who are reading and assessing the two different viewpoints.
11/4/2018 09:29:16 pm
11/4/2018 10:10:37 pm
Aaron, I think you may have misunderstood my question about Hitler. My apologies if I wasn't clear. I wasn't asking *if* your moral compass is better than Hitlers. I am assuming that it is. And no, I am not appealing to Scripture on this...you assumed that. I was simply asking a question.
11/4/2018 11:38:39 pm
11/5/2018 08:38:52 am
Aaron, I'm not "pushing an issue," or "appealing to Scripture or theology." I'm simply asking a question. Because of the many claims you've made about the immorality of the Bible, God, and the beliefs of others in this thread, I'm curious what standard you appeal to to make such claims. Again, I'm not asking you to define or describe what *is* moral (human flourishing etc..). I'm asking you *why* such a thing is moral or immoral. It seems you can't or won't answer, so I'm not sure the conversation can go much further.
11/5/2018 09:19:32 am
I feel like your question is akin to asking a parent why they love their child - as if they need a coherent theological or philosophical argument to justify it. They don't. Some things are "unconditional." Meaning they have inherent beauty and worth, without-why. Why do human beings, regardless of culture, race, religion, time, and place; love their children? Why do we seek meaning? Why do all cultures create art? Why do all cultures create moral categories?
11/2/2018 10:56:30 am
Aaron, I am actually responding to your comment below addressed to both Alisa and myself. I again only respond here because it won’t let me respond in the proper place. Hopefully, it will get rearranged and put in the right spot like my first comment to you.
11/3/2018 03:08:17 pm
I just went ahead and responded to your many misrepresentations on my blog if you or anyone else is interested. Thanks Aaron.
11/1/2018 10:01:12 am
You are quite correct. The idea that there are many roads to God is deceptively tolerant. If one claims to know this to be true, then one certainly cannot know it while walking a particularly path. Instead, one must rise above the ground where these various paths lie to gain a God's-eye view of the terrain. From this viewpoint, one can see where the various paths start, how they progress, and where they end.
11/1/2018 10:06:52 am
Thanks for your post, and there's much to learn from it. Lisa Gungor got on the train leaving fundamentalism and road it all the way to atheism. Perhaps it's possible to get on the train but to get off at some other stop--one that still reveres Jesus as Lord, but without the cultural baggage of a fundamentalist approach that would have been unrecognizable throughout most of Christian history.
11/1/2018 11:01:05 pm
I’m what way does Alisa’s statement that you quote in any way contradict what Lewis wrote in your quote from him?
11/1/2018 01:03:01 pm
I think that Gungor, post-modern thinkers in general, and the zeitgeist of the age has been terribly misinterpreted by Evangelicals.
11/1/2018 10:58:30 pm
A lot of what you say here is technically true, but functionally postmodernism is exceedingly relativistic and that is largely what the culture and progressive Christianity especially have embraced. And on that front we have not misrepresented a thing.
11/1/2018 09:02:14 pm
Aaron, while it's true that we can freely discuss whether the God revealed in Scripture is loving or not, the day may well come when our judgment of him will be eternally overridden by his judgment of us. If a literal hell is possible--which it is--then the consensus of untold numbers of people that it's unfair will really not make any difference.
11/2/2018 12:03:28 am
Diane, I pray for you as Meister Eckhart (14th century) once prayed, “May God rid you of God.”
11/2/2018 09:04:11 am
Aaron, with all due respect, you've made quite a few assumptions about the beliefs of the people you are interacting with. That makes it very difficult to have a meaningful conversation. While I (and I assume, the others with whom you've addressed) don't agree with your characterization of the gospel, the existence of hell does not make God evil...it makes him just. A robust understanding of love can't be defined as forcing rape victims to spend eternity alongside their abusers with no justice for those crimes ever being done. If the God you hate...the one you call "monster" is actually the real God, would it be loving of Him to force you to spend eternity in His presence? There is so much more to say, but I suspect we won't get very far. As the Apostle Paul said, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
11/2/2018 09:44:25 am
May the one and only true Triune God who has specially revealed Himself in the Bible and the Bible alone take a hold of your heart if it is in His will to do so, causing you to enter into eternally intimate fellowship with Him, removing your blasphemy, and save you from the very real hell that you deny.
11/4/2018 10:01:27 pm
I am responding here because for some reason it just won't let me respond to your comments in the right places. Thankfully each time they get rearranged. Anyway, I was genuinely ready to be done with you since I gave you a full response on my blog and you clearly are not interested. And the convo is mostly between you and Alisa at this point and that is fine. But I do get all the new comments in my email and I couldn't let your last one go. Your last two comments are once again filled with multiple errors. One blatant example is regarding what you said about the Cappadocian Fathers all being universalists. That is patently false. I am confronted with this type of thing all the time from Progressives. They read like one church history book and all of a sudden they are experts. It is unimaginably frustrating.
11/4/2018 11:47:46 pm
Hey Aaron, Alisa asked me to elaborate on what I said about the Cappadocian Fathers, not because she is not capable of doing so, but because I first responded to you on that front. I told her it would be difficult for me to do so in a short comment and that we both know I can get long winded sometimes, and she told me to go for it anyway. So here it is.
11/5/2018 12:33:46 pm
11/5/2018 12:51:53 pm
Aaron, I'm sorry, but that is a tremendously naive and illogical thing to say. Dan isn't proving your point, he's refuting it. It is so simple to come on a thread and make a wild claim with no evidence to back it up. The process of refuting such a claim will often involve some length, energy, information, and articulation. As the saying goes, "A lie goes halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes."
11/5/2018 12:53:35 pm
This response is to your response below regarding Gregory of Nyssa and connected matters that was in response to my long email regarding your blatant and overt misrepresentation of the facts concerning the Cappadocian Fathers.
11/5/2018 01:30:39 pm
11/5/2018 02:34:29 pm
Alisa, Dan, and Clark,
11/5/2018 03:14:55 pm
This response is to your response to me, Alisa, and Clark.
11/5/2018 05:44:29 pm
11/5/2018 08:19:25 pm
Anger does not adequately convey how I feel about Progressive Christianity. Rage would be a better word because I know that is how Christ feels about it. This movement is doing all in its power to attack Jesus and His beloved church. And true Christians are duty bound to fight against it to the death if necessary. But that doesn't mean I don't love you guys. I really do and want to see you guys saved. Both can be true at the same time and are true with me. It also doesn't mean that I am an angry person. I don't sit around thinking about or deal with heresy all day. I enjoy my life with Christ more than I can put in words. But when I do have to deal with heresy, especially Progressive Christianity, it is indeed upsetting.
11/5/2018 09:20:45 pm
11/5/2018 09:40:24 pm
Since coming to Christ almost 20 years ago I’ve worked tirelessly serving others, including Muslims and those in the LGBTQ+ community. So don’t lecture me.
11/3/2018 04:34:04 pm
Aaron, I've decided to respond to you again, not so much because I think I might change your perspective, but more for the benefit of Alisa's other readers.
11/25/2018 10:11:48 pm
As it pertains to abuses received from active members of a church, I have never been able to understand how anybody thinking critically could possibly blame any ideology for the actions of those NOT following its precepts.
11/25/2018 10:18:20 pm
People should be free to search for "THE" truth... Not "THEIR" truth....There is only one truth....
11/25/2018 10:28:40 pm
Objective and Subjective moral standards
12/20/2018 01:53:11 pm
12/20/2018 02:56:19 pm
Wow, amen! Thanks so much for writing this Alison, extremely well said. We are so grateful for your conversion three years ago and to have you in the body of Christ.
7/23/2021 11:53:33 am
Fascinating exchange that generally stayed cordial, which I know can be difficult for everyone.
7/23/2021 12:20:43 pm
So, because someone cannot understand the Almighty God of the universe, that gives them the right to give up seeking to understand Him and just simply redefine Him in a way that makes them comfortable? Wow.
7/23/2021 12:25:06 pm
I'd like to edit the comment I just submitted to add "By what authority are they doing this?" Thank you.
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