Just when I was hoping for a good ol’ knock–down drag–out fight, it turns out we agree again. Maybe we need to bring in a shill.
Anyway, I agree that humility is the sign of an authentic person of faith. I know my story is just a finger pointing to the moon (as the Zen people say) and never the moon itself. No story is verifiable. That is what Gödel's incompleteness theorem tells us. What Kurt Gödel said in 1931about mathematical systems is true for all philosophical and theological systems: they rest on untestable assumptions. That is why the value of a religion rests not on the rightness of its theology, but on the effects of its beliefs on its believers. By their fruits you shall know them. Works may not get you into heaven, but they certainly matter here on earth.
I am intrigued that your faith has led you “to experience a sense of the presence of God.” My own experience is the opposite. I love the story in Exodus 22:25: God is instructing Moses on how to build the Ark of the Covenant. One expects God to meet Moses in the Ark, and then God says He will meet Moses “above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark.” In other words, God will meet Moses outside the box! Literally. That is true in my experience. I never find God in the box of religion, but only when the box is stripped away, only when I stand in the place of unknowing that I experience the Shekhinah, the Presence of God.
I know what you are saying regarding radical religious freedom and the Baptist faith. I imagine most people would be surprised to learn that is was Virginia Baptists who helped elect James Madison to Congress, and did so largely on his promise to fight for religious freedom and the First Amendment. But that was a long time ago. Today the Baptist brand is usually associated with the opposite of what its history would suggest. How sadly ironic.
Your last remark, “Spiritual formation, I think, always requires that we die in some sense in order to live an authentic human life” is also fascinating. While this may not pertain directly to our topic, it is too rich a comment to let slip by. The Sufis have a saying, “Die before you die,” and I am certain we can find similar statements in most religions.
The way I understand this is dying to my story, dying to the box that I might stand outside of it and meet God. What dies is my egoistic or better narcissistic tendency to see myself reflected in my images of God and Truth. I would love to hear a little more from you about your sense of dying.