Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Interview with with Audrey Assad: Deconverting from Certainty

In this episode, Pete & Jared speak with recording artist Audrey Assad about her music, her theology, and the shift from her conservative fundamentalist roots to Catholicism.

Read the transcript

Pete Enns: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the Internet. Serious talk about the Sacred Book. I’m Pete Enns…

Jared Byas: [00:00:08] …and I’m Jared Byas. Welcome everyone to this episode of the Bible for Normal People. Today we’re going to be talking about deconverting from certainty. We’re talking with Audrey Assad. Her new album, Evergreen, just came out this past February and has some pretty significant themes to it.

Pete Enns: [00:00:26] Yeah, I mean, this is her processing of her own struggles with her faith in music. And I’m not going to go into detail. We’re going to let Audrey tell this story because she tells it so well about this process of moving from certainty to just a space of mystery and how she got there and how it actually probably saved her faith. I don’t think that’s an understatement. So yeah, I mean, Audrey is just a wonderful recording artist and just deep and raw. And I was introduced to her–I mentioned this at the end of the podcast–my daughter a few years ago sent me a link to one of her songs, “I shall not want,” which any Audrey Assad fan knows immediately the importance of that song. And it was just so beautiful and so, like I said, raw and authentic. And it was something I needed to hear and the power of music and the power of thoughtful lyrics and from somebody whose obviously felt things as well. And I just felt an immediate connection with Audrey and her music and so I started downloading everything and listened to stuff a lot from her. And it’s just really–it’s fun to have an artist, Jared, on the podcast because, you know, they’re more normal than I am and you are.

Jared Byas: [00:01:39] That may be the first time, I think, that you’ve put artist and normal in the same…

Pete Enns: [00:01:43] Well, yea because, you know, people they feel things and they sort of express them and like me–I’m just German, I don’t have feelings. I have arguments. Dagnabit.

Jared Byas: [00:01:53] Excellent. Alright. Well, let’s get into our conversation with Audrey.

Audrey Assad: [00:01:57] I see myself as someone who is building rooms for people to sit in different spots on their journey and every time I go through something, I build a room around it and then I walk forward and I build another one and people who come after me can use those space. People are going through this stuff, not just me. I think me being willing to speak up about my own journey here has been a real comfort and help to them to not feel alone in their communities. And I keep speaking because I believe it to be valuable.

Pete Enns: [00:02:26] Audrey Assad welcome to the Bible for Normal People podcast. Great to have you.

Audrey Assad: [00:02:31] Thank you for having me. It’s good to be here.

Pete Enns: [00:02:33] Awesome. So where are you talking to us from?

Audrey Assad: [00:02:35] I’m at my home in Nashville, Tennessee in the office.

Pete Enns: [00:02:40] Really? I was just in Nashville.

Audrey Assad: [00:02:42] Oh yea?

Pete Enns: [00:02:42] I would have dropped in unexpectedly had I known that you lived in Nashville. But yeah, that’s…

Audrey Assad: [00:02:46] You don’t have my address, Peter.

Pete Enns: [00:02:49] Oh, I can find it probably.

Audrey Assad: [00:02:50] That’s actually very true.

Pete Enns: [00:02:52] Oh I know people.

Jared Byas: [00:02:54] And that’s just a little creepy.

Audrey Assad: [00:02:55] I know. No, I am really paranoid about people being able to find my address on the Internet. But it’s everywhere. There’s like no way to erase it, so it’s just…

Pete Enns: [00:03:01] I’m hoping people show up, but nobody does. I’m just lonely. Nobody cares about me at all. So, anyway…

Jared Byas: [00:03:08] Alright, get on with the hard questions.

Pete Enns: [00:03:10] I know. Hey, I have been listening to music now for a couple of years and I really love it. And my daughter turned me on to some of your stuff a couple of years ago that was just so wonderful. And the more I sort of looked into your own history, I just found it to be very interesting. Your own journey of faith. That sounds trite, but it’s really true. And maybe just for the benefit of our listeners, tell us your story of your faith journeys and maybe some of your struggles and we’ll just take it from there. Because I think it’s a great story.

Audrey Assad: [00:03:40] Well. So, I’m from New Jersey. Not too far from where you teach. I actually have visited–or have taught–I don’t know if you still teach there–at Eastern. But I have visited that campus and thought about going there and then end up there. So, we missed each other in that way. But I grew up in the Northeast and my mom is from the south. My dad is from Syria. He is a refugee from Syria that came here in the 70s. So I grew up in a multicultural home in a very diverse area, which I love. And just–I’m so thankful that everyone hates Jersey because it means that there’s more of it for me. But, I love it. So that’s where I grew up. And I was raised in a Christian home. We were members of a Plymouth Brethren Church, which is something that a lot of people may not be familiar with. But I like to say I’m more famous because our founder John Nelson Darby was sort of the first person to sort of proliferate the idea of a preacher relational rapture and it was very much at the center, in some ways, of how we worshipped and studied the Bible. You know, we did lots of Bible study of revelation. It was a very Bible study culture. So I grew up really digging into the Bible although we had a sort of very specific and limited hermeneutic, I guess I would say. So it was kind of myopic but at the same time, I kind of have grown thankful over the years that I was sort of taught to value it so much. So that was kind of my context. We had a really kind of interesting culture. It’s a very sort of–it’s a spectrum of culture. So there’s like more a progressive and maybe more like your typical traditional Bible Church. But where I grew up was on the sort of far right of that spectrum, where women couldn’t pray out loud in front of males who are over the age of reason. You couldn’t speak or read a scripture or ask a question at church. You had to go home and ask your dad, you know, if you had a question. And so there was a really strong sort of gender role–there was strongly enforced gender roles and that manifested various ways in my own life obviously and as a singer and songwriter I didn’t really start doing that until I was 19 years old because I didn’t have any examples of women who did that sort of thing. I compare it to a Quaker background for people who want to kind of get an idea of what it felt and sounded like. You know, our church was wood walls and floors, wooden chairs, no curtains, no carpets, no images. Extremely ascetic and bare. And we were sort of very much people of the Word. Like it was all head thing. There was no physical sacramentally like maybe the liturgical churches have. And no spiritual gifts like the Pentecostal and the charismatic churches have because we were–we didn’t believe in that. So, it’s just very somber and quiet.

Pete Enns: [00:06:29] Sort of harsh even.

Audrey Assad: [00:06:31] Yeah, yeah. I would say so. But at the same time, there’s something really special about being in a room with a bunch of people singing without any instruments  at full voice because we were all sort of taught how to do that. We were just around it our whole lives. So, we read – -we all read music and could follow along and sing all the parts and there’s something really kind of cool about it, but also I would say very countercultural and different. So that was kind of my context as a kid. When I turned 18, we moved to Florida. My dad just kind of decided he wanted to relocate and I was like–free rent. I’m going with him. So… I moved to Florida with him and lived there for six years and while I was there, I kind of started to do that thing you do at that age where you finally start asking questions about things. So I went to a Plymouth Brethren church for about a year and a half while I was there, but it was an hour away. And I was there four times a week. And I put a lot of miles on my car and I finally decided, you know what, I don’t know if I can do this anymore. I’m going to try out some other places which was, you know, just crazy notion. But–because we were very much, you know, you married Plymouth Brethren. You didn’t work with people outside Plymouth Brethren. That was kind of how I grew up. But I started going to a little Baptist church when I was 19. And that was where I learned to lead worship. That’s where I first kind of started listening to worship music, because I didn’t listen to that growing up. And then from there it’s like a lot of–I feel I’ve got to say yada yada yada a lot because there’s a lot of moving around, but I–I went to a Presbyterian church from there for about a year and a half. And while I was at a Presbyterian church, I met a Catholic who was, like, very different than the New Jersey Catholics I had happened to know. He was very devout and intelligent. And I don’t–not that they weren’t intelligent, but he was articulate about what he believed and why. And we had lots of crazy conversations about it. And I started to get really interested because I think I was finally getting to a place when I was about 20/21-years-old where I was asking myself: why am I at church? What am I here for? And I know it sounds like a silly question, but it actually didn’t feel silly to me at all. I sort of started to think: I could like download a sermon on podcasts and I could go hang out with people and have “fellowship” on a Friday night of Bible study. And, like, all of this stuff. What am I here for? I don’t understand what this is. And I started to be really intrigued by the idea of sacraments. And that was kind of the beginning of my journey into Catholicism, in terms of any like direct way. And so I ended up studying a kind of being catechized by some people I had my life–by this guy that I met and his family and I became a Catholic when I was 24, which was, you know, for a Plymouth Brethren kid, it’s truly anathema. And I got a lot of pushback from people, of course. But I felt really sure that it was imperfect, but the oldest church–or arguably one of the oldest–Orthodox Catholic, kind of that stream of Christianity. I felt like I wanted to be connected to that. And so I took the plunge and I’ve been Catholic for ten years now. And now in the midst of being a Catholic, I’ve gone through a pretty serious deconstruction. And I would say reconstruction at the same time. It was kind of both. It has been both at the same time. And I’m still kind of in that. Meanwhile, sort of still planted in Catholicism. But have really sort of had my old fundamentalist residue like really shaken off and challenged.

Pete Enns: [00:09:55] Audrey, do you feel–can I just ask you a question about that? Do you feel that your Roman Catholic context gives you freedom to sort of live in that space where you’re still sort of working things out? Or do you–I mean, I imagine with the Plymouth Brethren, it would have been–there’s not even a language for that.

Audrey Assad: [00:10:10] No, there would have been no manual for it. You know, I had questions when I was young and I would ask them in Sunday school and really truly received the answer: just don’t ask those questions. It’s that idea. Bad question. The things that, you know, we all ask, like why did God order genocide in the Old Testament? You know, they’re like–just don’t ask that. That was the reaction. So that–there would have been no help given or guidance or understanding once, you know–Catholicism–okay, I’ll say this–on paper, yes. Because Catholicism is an incredibly broad and wide berth of different opinions and different approaches to doctrine and devotion and discipline and all those things. But in America, a lot of Catholics are just like a lot of Protestants, which is to say that they are sort of like American-Christians. And America comes first. And I find that it’s discouragingly prevalent in Catholicism to be that way in this country and I think it’s just part of our country’s unique sickness. I’m already going there. Sorry guys.

Pete Enns: [00:11:08] No, that’s okay. Go wherever you want, Audrey.

Audrey Assad: [00:11:09] But I have also known and clung to the fact that there are people within the Catholic Church’s history, especially even in this country like Thomas Merton who–or Dorothy Day–who really would be called a flaming liberal by everybody in some of the parishes I’ve been to in the south. And you know, I’ve said to myself: well, you can say I don’t belong here but I get to say you’re wrong. I do. I have a place here just like some of these other people have a place. So, on paper, in theory, and in my own head, yeah, I do have more freedom. But I do meet with a lot of resistance to what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been doing it in terms of deconstructing and reconstructing. And I’m just trying to let my–let it roll off my back as much as I can because I truly do believe that this is the mystical way that many of my heroes have traveled before. And I might not be good at it, but I have to do it.

Jared Byas: [00:12:03] Yeah, Audrey, maybe give us a brief biblical history so you can track the spiritual, even denominational, path that you’ve walked. How has your views of the Bible kind of tracked with that from the Plymouth Brethren to the Catholic Church?

Audrey Assad: [00:12:16] Yea, as a Plymouth Brethren kid, we were taught that the Bible is self-interpreting. And so all you need to do to interpret the Bible is understand the Bible’s code. That, you know, these certain people that we happen to be sort of denominationally descended from–these people happened to have the keys to that, so we were in luck. You know? And so we were scholars from a young age of how to study the Bible and it was all very specific to John Nelson Darby, Schofield, these kind of thinkers that really contributed to the evangelical ideas of pretribulational rapture and premillennialism and stuff like that. So that was our lens. And we read the entire scripture through that lens. And so we weren’t taught to consider historical-critical approaches or sort of various ways that there are of studying the Bible. We weren’t taught to consider those because they were not valid. And so my understanding of the Bible really came down to the reality that everything was to be read through this dispensation.

Pete Enns: [00:13:14] Audrey can ask a quick question for clarification? I’m wondering if there might be some listeners who aren’t familiar with the pretribulational…

Audrey Assad: [00:13:24] Yes.

Pete Enns: [00:13:24] It’s been a long time since I’ve said that. You see, it isn’t foremost on my mind.

Jared Byas: [00:13:28] Doesn’t roll off the tongue anymore.

Pete Enns: [00:13:29] That’s when we just say–Pretrib Rapture. What in heaven’s name are you talking about?

Audrey Assad: [00:13:34] Yea. So, there’s lots of schools of thought on what’s going to happen at the end of time. And a lot of Christians, a lot of believers, and Jewish people before them, have been wondering and writing about and studying what might happen at the end of time. The Pretribulational Rapture Theory is this idea that comes from a very literal reading of the Book of Revelation. That Jesus will come back. That all the Christians will be raised from the dead. And all the Christians who are alive on the earth will be caught up in the air. That’s the rapture. And that they will meet him in the air and be in heaven. And then there will be a literal seven-year tribulation on the earth in which the Antichrist will sort of take over and the deceive people. And then Jesus will come back at the final end to vanquish the Antichrist in a giant battle at Armageddon. And then time will be over. And in our school of thought, no one got a chance on earth. So even like after the rapture happened, you didn’t get a chance. So even the Left Behind books were too liberal for us because there are people getting second chances down here. Like what do they think this is? The lottery? This is not how this works. We were just very hard-lined about that being exactly how things were going to go. And that’s really the pretribulational rapture. It’s as simple as like, I hate to say it, is a very literal reading of a few verses in a book of the Bible–the last book of the Bible. And, so, yeah. So that’s kind of what we read the Bible for. And everything served or was served by that. So being Catholic was very challenging to my old ideas even though I had kind of left them behind that it’s just like–it’s so deeply ingrained in you. And then I started to be like–why–the Catholic Church, man, they only preach for like 10 minutes. Like what? What is his deal? You know? The podium or the ambo, as it’s called in the Catholic Church, where you read the Bible from and where you preach from, is over to the side and not in the center. And that’s very intentional. Because the center for Catholics is supposed to be the sacrament of the Eucharist, which was a heretical idea to me–would have been to me growing up. We thought it was idolatrous and I was taught that Catholics were part of the Revelation story. Like you read about the whore of Babylon. And that was the Catholic Church. And the Antichrist could probably be a pope. And so it’s just very very . ..

Pete Enns: [00:15:53] Audrey, please tell us that you had Chick Tracts.

Audrey Assad: [00:15:56] Oh, yes I did.

Pete Enns: [00:15:57] Did they give you nightmares too?

Audrey Assad: [00:15:59] They did. I hated those things, but I thought…

Pete Enns: [00:16:00] You’re from New Jersey, you had Chick Tracts. Why are we not best friends?

Audrey Assad: [00:16:05] I don’t know. Are you from Jersey, too?

Pete Enns: [00:16:06] I don’t even know what’s going on. Anyway. I didn’t mean to interrupt. But I just had to ask. I just had this vision of Chick Tracts, which are another thing I haven’t thought about in about 30 years, so…

Audrey Assad: [00:16:15] I think about them way too much. I still go and visit his website sometimes.

Pete Enns: [00:16:21] Your next album needs to be Chick Tract stuff.

Audrey Assad: [00:16:24] Yea, definitely. Uh… Audrey Assad. One cool chick. Yea, so that’s the pretribulational rapture. So my journey away from that has been just really coming to realize that the Bible is not as simplistic as I have been taught that it was and it was not as easy to interpret as I’ve been taught that it is. But, at the same time, the Bible also, you know–it’s like there’s much more room given to people from different backgrounds and cultures to come to it, not only to know what was meant for this culture of the time but to look at the Bible through their own lens of their culture and their time and sort of create this living cloud of biblical wisdom. And so I just kind of view the Bible as something that came out of the church. That is interpreted by the church over time. And I don’t really think I’m less reverent of the Bible now. I feel like I’m much more reverent of it by not reducing it to a code or a system.

Pete Enns: [00:17:30] And that’s your word–mystery-before. I think, you know, I don’t know. In my mind, those things tie together a little bit. It’s the flexibility and the freedom of not having to be certain and so you get to explore these things a little bit. I want to be clear what you just said. You said something that sounded really interesting about how the Bible sort of comes out of the church, but people have just been interpreting it differently over time.

Audrey Assad: [00:17:59] Yeah, well, you know. I guess I would put it this way. So, the Bible came out of the church, meaning the church assembled a series of books in the–I guess–the 400s. And these letters had been circulating for quite a long time. But there was sort of a council held to sort of set in stone with the canon was. And so the church really took it upon itself to say, like, the Holy Spirit is guiding us. We believe this to be the canon of the scriptures and this it and we’re putting our stamp on it. And I didn’t know that’s how the Bible happened. I don’t know what I thought as a kid. I thought that the Bible fell out of the sky like it is. You know? And I don’t know what I thought, but that’s what I–something like that. And so when I found out that that’s how the Bible was assembled, I thought: oh, like well then who’s responsible for how we think about it? And now like a really staunch Catholic would say only the Catholic interpretation of the Bible is correct. And I never quite got there. I think I see a lot of value in the different approaches that I’ve come across. You know, everything from the Catholic mystical reading of scripture to obviously the more historical readings. And I’ve really appreciated the USCCB, which is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has on their website a Bible online with footnotes and with introductions to each book explaining kind of what type of literature each book is and who may have written it, the different ways you could read it. And so when I opened up the Book of Jonah as a new Catholic on this website and it said this may not have really happened. I was like–excuse me? That was so surprising.

Pete Enns: [00:19:36] They were right. They’re just a bunch of liberals. What am I reading?

Audrey Assad: [00:19:41] I know! So I’ve just grown to appreciate the Bible as the collection that is of different types of writing, wisdom tradition that, yes, contains some historical events for sure, but that isn’t like a textbook or a code of law as much as it is a life story. And that’s kind of how I see it now.

Jared Byas: [00:20:04] We’re sorry to interrupt the podcast, but we want to take just one minute to mention two simple ways to support the work we do with the Bible for Normal People. One–just go to iTunes, rate us, and give us a review, but only if you like us. If you don’t, first I would say reconsider your life choices, but, two, then just ignore this message completely. Two–if you haven’t already, check us out on patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople. There you’ll be able to find ways to join the community, contribute to the discussion, and offer your support at various levels. And last, but not least, we want to give our deepest thanks to some of the members of our producers group. These folks not only email us feedback, they hop on quarterly calls to give us feedback, and have supported us financially. So thanks to Brock Beesley, Nathan Kitchen, Denise Howard, Bob Fabey, Josh Levinson, Chrissy Florence, Kaleb Niedens, Michele Snyder, Shay Bocks, and Greg Belew. We couldn’t do what we do without your help. Now back to the podcast.

Pete Enns: [00:21:06] You know, one thing that’s coming across loud and clear, Audrey, and this isn’t very common actually. You’re a convert to Catholicism from fundamentalism.

Audrey Assad: [00:21:16] Uh huh.

Pete Enns: [00:21:16] And what often happens, at least in my experience, and Jared will agree with this because he has to–he always agrees with everything I say, but–the tendency is when you move from fundamentalism to another, let’s say, system, it’s to sort of bring the fundamentalism with you. And then you see this new thing that you’ve converted to. Now I have the final answer for everything.

Audrey Assad: [00:21:37] Yes. Well, I did do that.

Pete Enns: [00:21:39] For how long? About ten minutes?

Audrey Assad: [00:21:40] No. It was ten years ago I became a Catholic. I want to say it was three years of that, probably. Three/four years.

Pete Enns: [00:21:49] That’s not very long, though. I mean, it’s not.

Audrey Assad: [00:21:50] No, well… right. Well, I think everything was accelerated by the fact that I just had–it was kind of out of nowhere. I just had what I would have called a crisis of faith at a time. Now I would call it a healthy sort of disillusionment and a plunge into the darkness. And I could sort of sense it coming and I didn’t know where it was coming from, but in 2008 I wrote a song that’s actually on my new album that’s coming out in February, called Evergreen. And the song is called Teresa and I wrote it in 2008. It’s a song that kind of takes inspiration from the way that Mother Teresa felt for many many years, which her sort of posthumous journals that were released sort of illuminated that she had gone 20 years without feeling like she heard the voice of God. And I sensed that coming towards me. And in some ways, I had never really heard the voice I was looking for. And I was kind of involved in this fundamentalism thing. I mean, by no choice of my own as a kid, but then later on I sort of clung to it as like, I didn’t hear that voice I wanted to hear. And so this was how I would know, you know, that I was on the path was adhering and committing myself to these really rigid principles and ideas. And that was how I would know that I was in favor. You know, my ideas about God were very bad. And so I kind of thought of him as being in opposition to me almost. And that Jesus kind of was intervening between us. But that if Jesus hadn’t stepped in front of me, God wouldn’t want to look at me. And it was just this whole kind of very sad story I was telling myself. And so…

Pete Enns: [00:23:23] Not a very encouraging story.

Audrey Assad: [00:23:25] No. No. It was really sad. And mixed into all that–I know I’m saying a lot of things–but mixed into all that is the fact that I was suffering from something I didn’t even know existed which is religious OCD, which is called scrupulosity. So not only was I a fundamentalist but I was also obsessive-compulsive about cleansing my conscience, saying the Salvation prayer 100 times a day. Things that I thought you were supposed to be doing. And now I know I was a little sick. I didn’t know that but I… So there’s just a lot there and so I don’t know. At some point in the last seven years, I just went from being sure of things to being sure of nothing. Like absolutely nothing. Definitely to the point of questioning meaning itself. And that was scary because I make my living doing what I do, which is making devotional music and kind of having this spiritual platform. And I just was like petrified by what would happen if I just decided, oh, I don’t believe anything like before. And having to go through that in sort of the public eye was tough–and hide a lot of it–very anxiety-ridden situation. And I had a really great therapist who I’ve been working with this whole time as I’ve gone through it.

Jared Byas: [00:24:31] You know, Audrey, we had Jen Hatmaker on not too long ago. And one of the things we talked about with her–you just mentioning that made me want to ask the question as well. How is that for you? You know, being in the public space and having this following that maybe thought of you in one way wasted some of their belief systems on you in that sense of believing through you and the pressure you felt. How was that, as you changed–what was the reception of the community toward you’re–kind of as you came out in these doubts and this process. Was that a painful process? Did people come around you? What was that like for you?

Audrey Assad: [00:25:08] Well, a lot of people just fell off the map entirely. I had a spiritual director for a season who just stopped returning my phone calls. And that was very hard.

Pete Enns: [00:25:19] You’re a handful, Audrey.

Audrey Assad: [00:25:21] I know. I know. Yeah, apparently he couldn’t hack it, so. You know, stuff like that would happen and be very difficult for me. But then at the same time, there’s this whole public stuff. Like I felt like I was living a sort of double life ,  even though I was trying to be as honest as I could be in a prudent way without being like here’s every little thought in my head at all times. You know? Because if I had done that, I would have ended my career a long time ago probably because I was so lost. But so there was kind of a dynamic starting to happen as I really pressed into like the justice side of Christianity, meaning justice for the poor. As I started to follow Jesus for the first time, which was what it felt like to me. I started to see justice as a huge missing piece in my faith as a young person and really to lean into that and to lean in who, you know, how these all–like these marginalized and underserved and oppressed groups intersect with each other and to start to talk–like sort of talk that way publicly–I started to receive, yes, quite a lot of pushback. But it was the only way I knew to engage with Christianity for a season because I could not engage with it intellectually or honestly. It was a while before I could read about it or think about it and like you know in sort of the same ways that I had growing up. So there was pushback. But I have to say, from a public standpoint, I’ve received a lot of support too. And people are going through that stuff, not just me. I think me being willing to speak up about my own journey here has been, I hope, you know from what people are telling me, a real comfort and help to them to not feel alone when they feel alone in their communities in a lot of ways. So I’ve just been encouraged by that and I keep speaking because I believe it to be valuable in that way.

Jared Byas: [00:27:11] Yeah. It’s interesting, too, Audrey, just you saying that puts the pattern together a little bit where we’ve heard, on a number of occasions and I think it’s true for my story as well, where we sort of say well when we can’t engage Christianity at an intellectual level–we don’t believe these things anymore–we find these, you know, social justice and practices, liturgies, more concrete behavioral things. It’s interesting that we’re so ingrained in the intellectualizing of Christianity that that feels like a deconversion.

Audrey Assad: [00:27:43] I know.

Jared Byas: [00:27:43] Where for other faiths, that would have been like, well, yeah. Kind of no duh. There’s this political part of the faith but, you know, it’s just a testament to how we were raised perhaps that it was so tied to mental assent to oppositions about who God is.

Audrey Assad: [00:27:59] Oh man. I remember when that started falling apart for me because I started to think, wait a second, like once I figured out I had OCD, for example, and I was like wait a minute. All of my mental assent, all of those years, was coming out of sickness. So what’d it even mean? You know? What about people who hear the same thing I do but they’re coming to it with a different brokenness than I have and it means something different to them and they can’t really help that. The intellect, to me, I always saw it was this pristine pure thing that you could exercise with like total clarity and, you know…

Pete Enns: [00:28:35] Objectivity

Audrey Assad: [00:28:36] Yes. And objectivity was something that you just have. You know, you just have it. It’s like not something you grow towards or whatever. And then when it hit me that that’s not really how life works, I thought like oh my God I believed. But what did that even count for? It’s still like an act of the will. It’s still something that I’m coming to with my own sort of lens and context. So just like any other thing I used to decry as being like workspace salvation, I was like no, no, no. This is all the same exact S.H.I. You know? It’s the same exact thing.

Pete Enns: [00:29:15] S.H.I? What’s that?

Audrey Assad: [00:29:15] S.H.I. You can fill in the blank.

Pete Enns: [00:29:18] Oh, there’s another letter. Hold on. Which is it?

Audrey Assad: [00:29:19] I cuss now.

Jared Byas: [00:29:20] Yea, there’s a lot of ship.

Pete Enns: [00:29:20] P .

Audrey Assad: [00:29:20] Yea, bullshirt, as they say on The Good Place. Oh my gosh. Speaking of that–I know this is a total derailment–but I was on Twitter today and this guy had been tweeting about how there’s a debate going on in Catholic circles as to whether it’s a good or a bad idea to watch The Good Place. And I thought, wait, this is a debate I can’t–I can’t–this is too much for me. That’s a great show. Everybody shut up. But, anyway, so yeah. Yeah. I’ve definitely derailed myself. Oh. The intellect. Yeah, it’s an act of the will to believe and it’s a choice that you make that may or may not be objective and it probably isn’t and however you’re believing, it’s not perfect. And so that was a freeing, but also frightening idea to me because I just didn’t know what to do in place of it. You know? Especially when I didn’t believe anymore. I was like, what do I do now? You know?

Jared Byas: [00:30:17] Yeah. And that’s–you know the deconversion–being able to reframe that, at least for me, of saying I’m not converting from Christianity. I’m deconverting from this intellectualism or I’m deconverting from a need for certainty.

Audrey Assad: [00:30:30] Yeah.

Jared Byas: [00:30:30] Kind of making idols of these other things. Going on a new journey of what else is out there.

Audrey Assad: [00:30:36] It’s really jarring to discover you’ve been a Gnostic your whole life and you didn’t know. You know?

Jared Byas: [00:30:42] Right.

Audrey Assad: [00:30:42] Man. I was not prepared emotionally for that. It was very weird.

Pete Enns: [00:30:47] The irony, Audrey, is that, I mean, you’ve expressed something that–again I think many people including Jared and I have experience too–this irony that our whole–our lives–our Christian training when we’re young has been all about this assent. Right? This intellectual assent. But in a context that’s actually somewhat anti-intellectual.

Audrey Assad: [00:31:07] Right. That’s so true.

Pete Enns: [00:31:08] You can’t talk about it. You can’t debate it. So it’s–the word for that–I mean I don’t want to be too harsh here but–there’s a manipulative dimension to that.

Audrey Assad: [00:31:17] Absolutely. Oh my gosh.

Pete Enns: [00:31:17] I would even say brainwashing, although that’s a bit harsh, but it’s totally…

Audrey Assad: [00:31:21] Well, my therapist would disagree with you. She’s a Christian. But we were going through how it worked at my church and she said, you know what this is. This is the cult. This is a cult you’re describing to me where you live in your head but you’re not allowed to question. And you’re able to be manipulated because of that. Because all of the fear held over your head, if you don’t belong or be part of this ,  if you diverge one inch from this thing we’re telling you. This is the code. This is the path. This is how you do this. And if you go to the right or the left, you’re out. And so your–belonging-you know Brenee Brown talks a lot of belonging and I’m just reading through “Brave in the Wilderness” right now. And when I think about how much it means to a young person to belong and then to be sort of taught from the beginning that what it requires from you is absolute adherence to this way of thinking. Yeah, that’s cultlike. That’s definitely manipulation.

Pete Enns: [00:32:19] Yea, that’s true and that’s not the gospel way. I think we would all agree on that. And you know, it’s just so interesting to hear this story because it’s such a common one. And, you know, when you felt that like–I don’t know what to–I’m–this is scary. I don’t know what to believe anymore. It’s almost like I guess that had to happen because you had to–you tabled the intellectual side of things and moved towards practice like Jared was saying before. And I think so many have found that to be–and of course you were always told that’s wrong.

Audrey Assad: [00:32:49] Mmhmm.

Pete Enns: [00:32:50] That’s not how it works. Right? But then you start reading the Bible and it’s faith working itself out in love. And faith doesn’t always mean, in fact it rarely if ever means intellectual assent, it means trusting and actually acting well towards the other. It’s being faithful to other people. And then you start seeing, oh goodness, there’s a whole body dimension here that you know the mind doesn’t–and our minds are wonderful things for the most part, but that is not the center of the seat of the Christian faith. That’s all of us. That’s what we do and it’s…well, for you it’s creativity. That’s a big part of the expression of the faith for you and for me and Jared, it might be some other things. It’s just leaving that mono-dimensional view of the faith which is rooted in simplistic arguments that only work if you don’t open your eyes and look around.

Jared Byas: [00:33:40] And with that, maybe a question for you, Audrey, just as an artist. How did this play out in that side of your life? As your faith has transformed into new avenues and new pathways, how has that affected at all how you see yourself as an artist and the creative work that you do?

Audrey Assad: [00:33:59] Well, I consider what I do to be a very it’s a very mystical thing with very pragmatic reality. The music and the inspiration comes in the midst of all of the little mundane stuff I do to be ready for it when it happens. And that’s anything from practicing to just writing down notes and ideas as they come to my head. Or reading. Or all the things that I do to keep myself prepared and then inspiration will strike sometimes and it’ll be–sometimes it’s truly like a song that really happens in five minutes and I’m like: where did that come from? And sometimes it’s work and it takes weeks and months and years to finish it. But all that to say, I’ve found such a refuge in music because it really–even when you come at it with your–okay, I’m going to backtrack. The Calvinists have found a way to take songs and just make them incredibly… what’s the word I’m looking for?

Pete Enns: [00:34:58] That word again you used before?

Audrey Assad: [00:35:00] Yeah. Uh…

Pete Enns: [00:35:02] The three-letter word you used before. Is that what you want?

Audrey Assad: [00:35:05] Yeah, there’s some bullshirt going on there for sure. I don’t mean to be mean. I just, you know, when I sometimes I hear these new hymns that are coming out and I think, oh man, we’re really addicted to this way of codifying God. And I’ve been guilty of that I’m sure. But as I’ve grown, as I’ve changed and evolved, I’m seeing this music that I make as an opportunity to create and facilitate space for people to contemplate God and contemplate their own pain. And to experience those things in a space of freedom and then to do with that what they will. Do with it what they will and I see myself as someone who is building rooms for people to sit in different spots on their journey. And every time I go something, I build a room around it and then I walk forward and I build another one. And people who come after me can use those spaces for their own needs. And so that’s kind of how I see what I do.

Pete Enns: [00:36:02] That’s a great way of putting it. Man oh man. Building rooms and giving people space to not be certain and to figure things out. Almost giving people permission by modeling it for them, I guess, is what you’re doing. Maybe that’s one way to look at it.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:18] I hope so.

Pete Enns: [00:36:19] Well, you are. Because a lot of people say so. And not everybody agrees with anybody and everybody. You probably have people who think you’re crazy, but that’s okay. Right?

Audrey Assad: [00:36:29] Yea, it is.

Pete Enns: [00:36:29] If there aren’t people saying that, we’re probably doing something wrong anyway.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:33] Yeah.

Pete Enns: [00:36:34] You don’t get hate mail? I bet you don’t get hate mail.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:36] I have. I have. Yes.

Pete Enns: [00:36:38] No.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:38] I have. I’ve gotten hate mail and death threats, as a matter of fact.

Pete Enns: [00:36:42] Have you gotten death threats?

Audrey Assad: [00:36:43] I have. Only once, but was real and it was coming from somewhere near where I was touring and I had to have policemen at every show for like a week.

Pete Enns: [00:36:52] Oh my goodness.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:54] Yea.

Pete Enns: [00:36:54] I’m glad I didn’t show up at your house.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:56] I know.

Pete Enns: [00:36:58] That’s terrible though. I mean, was it just a crazy person or…?

Audrey Assad: [00:37:03] I don’t know. They were definitely. . there was something off, but I…

Pete Enns: [00:37:06] Obviously there’s something off if they’re doing that but was it something like you wrote in a…was it something that you wrote in…like you’ve written stuff in Christianity today, I think. Right? And a few other places. Was it something like that or was it a song, or just…

Audrey Assad: [00:37:19] No, they said something to the effect of like you’re on a “nosy bench”.

Pete Enns: [00:37:23] Okay.

Audrey Assad: [00:37:24] And get out of my business. And stop telling my story publicly. Who knows, it might have been a song I wrote or something.

Pete Enns: [00:37:30] Oh .  Something threatened him, probably.

Audrey Assad: [00:37:34] Yeah.

Pete Enns: [00:37:35] Oh gosh. And on that note… I haven’t gotten a death threat yet. I feel a little bit left out now, but umm… Well you know, Audrey, it’s really nice talking with you for both of us. And there are so many times when I wanted to stop you and say, hey, we do that too from our own little world here. And I think there really is this tremendous overlap, I think, in your experience and in ours and in building a community and trying to give people space. And I think there are so many people out there doing that now. Thank you, internet. That allows that. And there are so many pilgrims out there, I think, who have been taught a certain way and they realize–I mean I have kids–and who realize that that doesn’t make sense anymore of their lives. And the question is, well, now what? I guess Christianity is nonsense. No, it’s deep. It’s broad. It goes back to ancient times. And there were some smart people living back then who weren’t simplistic thinkers and working through a lot of problems. Sometimes I just think that we have to keep just telling this broad Christian story. Like Jared said before, you’re not deconverting from Christianity. You’re deconverting from a sociological construct that is tribalistic. That’s not what this is about.

Audrey Assad: [00:38:59] Right. Agreed. Yea. Absolutely.

Pete Enns: [00:39:01] Well, one last thing. I’m going to say this because I can, because it’s my podcast. My daughter sent me a link to “I Shall Not Want” a few years ago. Which, people, you need to listen to this song. It just hit me at a moment when I absolutely needed–it was just a down moment and I really really needed to hear it. And I said I don’t know who this person is with this weird name but she’s Catholic, but she doesn’t have a Catholic last name but I want to find out who she is. And it was just a wonderful song that was authentic and real. And I said okay here’s somebody who I think gets what I’m thinking about too. So it was it was a nice little connection from a distance. I’m just glad my daughter had the presence of mind to send me that so.

Audrey Assad: [00:39:48] That’s awesome.

Pete Enns: [00:39:49] I want to thank you for that and for the other stuff that you do as well.

Audrey Assad: [00:39:52] Yea, you’re welcome.

Jared Byas: [00:39:52] And speaking of that, Audrey, as we come to the end of our time. What else are… You mentioned Evergreen as an album but say a little bit more about that and the upcoming tour, projects. Where can we point people to?

Audrey Assad: [00:40:04] So evergreen will be everywhere February 23. And we are super excited around here about it because it’s my first record of full like original material since Fortunate Fall came out in 2013 and that was mostly because I just really couldn’t write anything for quite a while as I was going through all this. So yeah, you can find out more about it at audreyassad.com. I’m really active on social media too. Twitter and Facebook. I’m really pumped and I hope it’ll be another room for people to sit in.

Jared Byas: [00:40:36] Excellent and will be there’ll be a tour upcoming with that?

Audrey Assad: [00:40:40] In the fall. I have just had a baby so I’m taking some time off from touring. But yeah. So we’ll be there in a few cities this fall.

Pete Enns: [00:40:49] East coast at all?

Audrey Assad: [00:40:50] I’m sure.

Pete Enns: [00:40:51] I hope so. That’d be great.

Audrey Assad: [00:40:53] Yeah. Excellent.

Jared Byas: [00:40:54] Thank you so much for being on and for sharing your story just so openly and authentically. We really appreciate it.

Audrey Assad: [00:41:01] Thank you for having me.

Pete Enns: [00:41:02] Thank you Audrey. See ya. Thanks for listening everyone and remember to check out Audrey’s new album “Evergreen” and you can find out about Audrey on her website, audreyassad.com, which is very informative. A lot of great stuff. Jared, she sells merchandise. Why can’t we sell merchandise?

Jared Byas: [00:41:21] We could.

Pete Enns: [00:41:21] We could but nobody would buy it because we have no talent.

Jared Byas: [00:41:24] We’ll a thousand mugs in our basement.

Pete Enns: [00:41:26] Oh, here’s a little trivia too Jared. Another thing to motivate you. When Audrey went out on her own and recorded her album “Fortunate Fall,” which is a very interesting title. She went on her own and she had a Kickstarter campaign. And in 50 hours, she raised $40,000. Because there are people who really really believe in her. And I want you to believe in her too because she does great stuff. So you have the website and she’s going to be touring in the fall of 2018. She had a baby in October, I think. Her second one so she’s chilling out for a while.

Jared Byas: [00:41:58] I love to see you fan- boying here over Audrey Assad. I like that.

Pete Enns: [00:42:00] She’s awesome. I know. She’s awesome. So anybody who helps me is cool.

Jared Byas: [00:42:05] Excellent. And also in addition to purchasing Audrey’s album, head to thebiblefornormalpeople.com Or peteenns.com and just check out some of the articles there. Were always interested and engaged in this conversation about faith and questions and doubt and primarily: how does the Bible fit into that? How do we read it? What do we do with that? If you wanted to go even further than that, please check us out on patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople. Lots more opportunities there to engage on Slack. We hope to see you there.

Pete Enns: [00:42:34] See you next week, folks.

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The Bible as a Living Document Podcast Episode

Interview with Jennifer Knust: The Bible as a Living Document

September 16, 2019

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Jennifer Knust as they explore the following questions:

  • What is textual transmission?
  • How have Bibles changed over time?
  • Why do we have so many English translations of the Bible?
  • How has our view of the Bible changed overtime?
  • When did people start caring about the “original” version of the Bible?
  • Is our obsession with the “original” version of the Bible harmful?
  • How have we strayed from the historical tradition of the Bible?
  • Where do the chapters and verses in the Bible come from?
  • Why were chapters and verses added to the Bible?
  • Do chapter and verse placements matter?
  • How old are the oldest Greek New Testament manuscripts? 
  • How do Greek manuscripts present multiple interpretations?
  • What are the difficulties in translating Greek manuscripts?
  • How have different people loved the Bible throughout history?
  • How did the Dead Sea Scrolls actually set us back in our understanding of the Bible?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Jennifer Knust you can share. 

  • “Every [Bible] translation is always an interpretation.” Jennifer Knust
  • “Protestants have a tradition… that we should assume the importance of the original over and against tradition.” Jennifer Knust
  • “We can’t assume every copyist [of biblical manuscripts] had the same attitude towards texts that we do.” Jennifer Knust
  • “The Bible is incredibly complicated even if you’re just reading it in English.” Jennifer Knust
  • “How wonderful that there were all of these people over centuries who loved these books and tried to copy them correctly as they understood what correctly meant.” Jennifer Knust
  • “The Holy Spirit seems to move through people and nature and interaction and prayer. So wouldn’t it work in that way with scripture as well?” Jennifer Knust

Mentioned in This Episode

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