Steady Faith Thanks to Change
CTS Alum Mason Mennenga (MDiv ’21) understands the complexities of questioning faith and how diverse vocational ministry can look in our rapidly changing world. Growing up in a deeply religious Evangelical environment in South Dakota, he was immersed in a community that initially fulfilled his spiritual needs. He lived a block away from his church and walked over on a regular basis to hang out with his youth group and pastors. He read conservative Christian books, watched Christian TV shows (cue vegetables singing songs of comedic inspiration and morality), and listened to Christian music from the likes of Relient K, Switchfoot, and other crossover bands popular at the time.
However, as time passed, he found that his faith lacked the answers he sought regarding God’s love in our world – particularly questions about how purity culture was taught and regarding gay marriage. This realization led him to critically examine his beliefs and raise profound questions about the absolute truths he had been taught. Dissatisfied with the inadequate responses provided by his religious upbringing, Mason embarked on a transformative journey of deconstruction and reconstruction, resulting in a faith that is stronger, more relevant, and rooted in integrity.
Attending a small Christian college in Iowa to become a youth pastor, Mennenga read an assigned book about post-modern youth ministry, and for the first time he realized there were other Christians asking the questions he held inside. “A lot of the questions that were brought up in that book were questions I that I had been having… I was so insulated from everything else that I had no idea there were other Christians that had thoughts like this. I was like, oh, wow, there’s at least one other Christian like me!” Mason says. He googled the author and found about 5 other authors who were also discussing these questions. As he started reading their books and searching online, he found there were thousands of people asking similar questions. He was no longer alone in his newly developing Christian beliefs.
While working as a youth pastor at Solomon’s Porch church in Minnesota, Mason was presented with an opportunity that would shape his future. The pastor of Solomon’s Porch, Doug Pagitt, was collaborating with Christian Theological Seminary on a program that allowed individuals like Mason to pursue theological study while considering public engagement with theology. This program provided the chance to take courses taught by influential voices whose books Mason admired as exemplary models of questioning faith, maintaining it, and strengthening it.
Mason enrolled at CTS and found kindred spirits and inspiring leaders in the faculty he studied under. He felt a shift from desiring to be a minister to seeking vocation in public theology, serving people who feel alone in questioning their faith. While some faith traditions teach their followers not to question God or the doctrine of their belief, Mennenga believes there is plenty of room in Christianity and other faiths for people who believe questioning is a valid and valuable part of spirituality. “It wasn’t until I went to CTS and started to engage Process thought that I realized there are different ways to navigate religious difference that don’t have to reduce other religions. I realized we can actually have significant religious and theological differences and yet still love one another. That was one of the things that was really important for me to realize – that you can have difference with one another, and those differences really matter and are really wonderful. Being different from one another but being in relationship and navigating religious differences, our faiths magnify one another,” says Mennenga.
“I realized there are different ways to navigate religious difference that don’t have to reduce other religions. I realized we can actually have significant religious and theological differences and yet still love one another. That was one of the things that was really important for me to realize – that you can have difference with one another, and those differences really matter and are really wonderful. Being different from one another but being in relationship and navigating religious differences, our faiths magnify one another”
Mason’s experience questioning the faith he grew up with but continuing to identify as a person of faith is not unique. It reflects a broader trend among Christians worldwide who are reevaluating their beliefs. They are courageously dismantling aspects of their faith that no longer resonate or hold true, while preserving the core principles that remain. Through this process, they seek to reconstruct a spirituality that is authentic, robust, and meaningful. Mason aptly describes this process as the act of “taking apart the beliefs you grew up with… to construct something new and more beautiful.”
Those grappling with religious doubts and questioning yearn for a sense of community. They actively seek out others who can empathize with their desire to deconstruct obsolete aspects of religion while striving to rebuild a spirituality that can withstand the scrutiny of critical inquiry. In essence, they are searching for like-minded individuals who understand the transformative power of questioning and embrace the idea that it is an essential and valuable component of spiritual growth. For many, that community is being discovered online.
Enter Mennenga and the work he is doing in the field he describes as public theology. Mason has dedicated himself to exploring and sharing transformative theologies through various online platforms including active Twitter and Instagram accounts, an engaging YouTube channel, and hosting the podcasts A People’s Theology (in which he interviews theologians, religious authors, and activists) and The BlackSheep Podcast (where he engages in conversations with musicians, artists, and other creatives about their art, life, faith, and more). His work aims to inspire and liberate people, fostering personal and societal transformation through engaging and thought-provoking discussions. Mennenga also works in admissions for United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and helps prospective theological studies students navigate their own paths to answer God’s call. He believes that his journey questioning faith and following his calling changed his life. This also seems true for people he works with. “All these questions they have about their faith, they realize that they’re not the only person, that there are other people speaking to that journey. It is really powerful for those folks. It’s transformative.” His work is certainly resonating with a broad audience. In March, Mennenga was featured on the NPR Podcast “1A” discussing how important this journey is in a segment titled “How to question your religion without losing your faith.”
Reflecting on his evolving faith, Mennenga shares, “I was brought up in a Christian world that was very insulated, and I wouldn’t recommend that for anyone. But one of the things that it did allow me to realize is that Christians can care for you. I realized that I still needed Christian community to care for me. I still needed to be a part of Christian community so I could care for others as well. Those are the two things that have really remained constant for me. I never left Christianity. I went from Evangelicalism to a different kind of Christianity, because I love Jesus and I still wanted to follow Jesus, and I still wanted to be a part of the Christian community.”
In an ever-evolving world, the steadfastness of faith lies in its ability to adapt and embrace change without losing its core integrity. Mason Mennenga’s story of navigating the complexities of faith, deconstructing problematic beliefs, and reconstructing a more resilient spirituality exemplifies the transformative power of questioning. By embracing his questions, Mason has not only forged his own unique spiritual path but also emerged as a voice of guidance and inspiration for those seeking to navigate the complexities of faith, doubt, and transformation. As more individuals embark on similar journeys, seeking a faith that resonates with their deepest convictions, it is becoming increasingly evident that questioning is not only valid but also essential to fostering a faith that stands the test of time.
Mason Mennenga Bio:
Mason Mennenga (he/him/his) is an aspiring theologian, podcaster, YouTuber, and the Internet’s youth pastor. He received his Master of Divinity from Christian Theological Seminary in 2020 and a Master of Arts in Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in 2022. He enjoys conversation over a drink, being a music snob, stand-up comedy, and long walks on the valley of the shadow of death. He is the podcast host of A People’s Theology. A People’s Theology explores inspiring and liberating theologies that transforms you and the world. He is also the podcast host of The BlackSheep Podcast: Presented by HM Magazine. In this podcast, he and his co-host and best friend, Cullen, interview musicians, artists, and other creatives about their art, life, faith, and much more.
You can learn more about Mason and find links to his podcasts and writing by clicking here.
Mason’s social media handles:
Instagram: @masonmennenga @apeoplestheology @theblacksheeppodcast