Monday, May 14, 2007

Interfaith Blog Event #6: FAITH

This is the sixth monthly installment of our Interfaith blog conversation. In these articles various bloggers from a variety of faith traditions discuss topics of spiritual importance. I am writing from an Evangelical Protestant perspective. Links for the other perspectives will be added as the make posts on their blogs. [Mike - Buddhist] [Sojourn - Pagan] [Jeff - Druid] [Matt - Emerging]

The topic today is: What is your view regarding the meaning and the role of faith? What importance does it play in your community and in your daily life?

Faith as a concept stands at the center of Protestant Christian theology. In fact, Sola Fide (Faith Alone) was the primary marketing motto that Martin Luther used in challenging the authority of the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church (AD 1511). I deeply appreciate the topic Sojourn, and it should lead to some interesting discussion. As hopefully will be shown in this essay, faith has deep personal meaning to Christians beyond its historical impact.

Like any abstract metaphysical word, faith is a complicated term with a variety of definitions. Faith can be used to refer to "a faith" which is referring to the set of beliefs and practices that constitute an orthodox creed. Faith can also be used to refer to basic intellectual ascent to something (belief) with or without evidence. Finally, faith can also be used for the personal trust that you place in someone. A Christian concept of faith includes all of these categories, and beyond that insists that a real faith will imply action beyond mere statements.

G.K. Chesterton traces in his work "ORTHODOXY" the process he went through in his life to "discover" the truths of basic Christian teaching. C.S. Lewis calls this basic core of Christian teaching "MERE CHRISTIANITY" and discuss his journey towards those positions in a book by the same name. The creed of the church is the set of beliefs that all people who call themselves Christians (or a particular group of Christians) hold in common. Examples of creeds that all people who consider themselves Orthodox Christians would believe include the APOSTLE'S CREED and the NICENE CREED. Different groups within Christianity also list different creeds, confessions, and statements of faith to further biblically define their theological system as a group. Some famous examples of these would be the WESTMINSTER CONFESSION and the BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE. One thing that can be said about all of the creeds and confessions in general is that Christians do sincerely affirm that the content of one's belief is of equal importance with one's sincerity of belief. In other words, what you believe in is at least as crucial as how you go about believing. There are treasures of thought in the ancient creeds and confessions of the church that Christians do not want to loose, even when they at times do not fully understand them.

Many times atheists and other secularists accuse Christians of having blind faith, faith that has no correspondence with reason, or that indeed challenges reason directly. While Christians certainly would not challenge the validity of such a choice of will to affirm the basic doctrines of the creed with certainty, few actually have truly blind faith. Almost all Christians would argue that their beliefs are at least possible, though they may not understand how. For most Christians there are logical, empirical, or experiential reasons that have convinced them that their beliefs are justified. Those personal probabilities are then confirmed by the will to faith creating certainty beyond probability.

For Christians this intellectual ascent to the creed, while necessary, is never (at least by most) considered "enough" to be real faith. Such belief must be followed by action to prove its validity. It is one thing for me to say I believe that God is love. It is another, and far more powerful thing for me to show my neighbors the love of God by mowing their lawn. The Apostle James argued that faith without works is dead. No one wants the rotting corpse of an insincere faith sitting around!

On a far deeper level, however, faith is more than either intellectual ascent or even the action that follows such beliefs. The closest biblical synonym for faith is trust. Personal trust is the essence of real biblical faith. Kierkegaard discusses this in length in his powerful and beautiful work "FEAR AND TREMBLING." God does not simply want people who say he exists. God wants people who will trust him with their lives, trust him for deliverance, trust him with their futures. Jesus in his ministry continually challenged people to put their trust in him. In a world where trust is so frequently broken that can indeed be a difficult choice to make. The creed and the Scriptures, however, both show us characteristics of God that demonstrate his trustworthiness. He may not do things how we would expect or even desire, but we can know that he has our best interests in mind. We can certainly know that he loves us, and that love is the ground for the trust we as Christians place personally in him.

I can best illustrate how faith works by describing my relationship with my wife. I trust my wife completely. I know I can trust her because I know her character. There are some things that I can logically know about my wife that help me to know her character, but my trust in her goes far deeper than merely the things that I can prove. My experience of her along with my "creed" about her both show that she is trustworthy.

For Christians, it is the common experience of trusting God and the shared creed/confessions that give us grounds for fellowship. Indeed faith makes up the common basis that creates Christian community. Shared faith is the true foundation for every actual Christian church.

Ultimately, this hybrid concept called faith is what is necessary for a person to possess in order to experience what the Scriptures call deliverance and eternal life. Personal trust in the personal God effects every aspect of a Christian's daily life, and indeed directly impacts their experience of eternity.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)


Mike said...

Your essay re: faith in Christianity doesn't present a lot of surprises, given our past talks on such topics. And as I greatly respect the way true faith expresses itself in mere Christianity, my response here is less a coherent argument and more disjointed questions and comments regarding specific points you raised.

(1) You mentioned “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone) as Luther's “war cry” in breaking from the Catholic Church. I'm curious how he applied this theme in his teachings and particularly what specific aspects of Roman Catholicism he challenged with this approach.

(2) ”A real faith will imply action beyond mere statements.” I couldn't agree more. I think it's a universal phenomenon spanning the world religions that people like the “idea” of their religion more than truly practicing such -- which requires “implementation” of faith throughout all aspects of life. This is why in Buddhism such importance is placed on "Right Effort," being mindful at all times, which allows us to apply our compassion and wisdom in all situations.

(3) I'd be very curious to read Chesterton's Orthodoxy, as its topic--how he “discovered” the truths of Christianity in his life--exactly mirrors the Buddhist teaching that one must discover the truths of the teachings for oneself. This is exactly the topic on which my essay focused.

In my opinion, this is the strongest evidence that having a diversity of religions is necessary and highly beneficial, that different people can come to different logical, empirical, and experiential conclusions based upon their unique existences in this life.

(4) ”Those personal probabilities are then confirmed by the will to faith creating certainty beyond probability.” I don't understand this sentence. Buddhist practice--again as I talk specifically about in my essay--agrees that it is necessary to create certainty beyond probability through our practice. But I don't understand the meaning of “the will to faith.” Can you clarify what you're trying to say here?

(5) ”It's a far more powerful thing to show ... the love of God by mowing their lawn.” Buddhism again agrees 100%. Earlier in your essay, you mentioned creeds to define one's theological system. What you'll notice if you look at the Buddhist equivalent is that such almost always is about enacting the teachings to benefit all beings rather than just an abstract statement of “belief.”

(6) I love your example of faith using your relationship with your wife. That is a perfect example also of how, as a Buddhist, I approach all aspects of Buddhist teachings. I can come to an intellectual understanding of non-self, for instance. That is helpful, but superficial. True development of certainty in non-self comes from somewhere far deeper than my intellectual reasoning and logical proof. My experience of non-self along with my creed about it creates my certainty beyond probability.

Again, seeing these commonalities between our religions, I marvel at the miracle of religious diversity. You'll notice in Jeff's essay further evidence supporting the value of having so many religions. As Jeff stated, our religions choose us.

Krista Dominguez said...

Well, there's a lot here. Let me touch on a couple of points quickly.

1 Timothy 4:16 says, "Watch your life and doctrine closely." The two things, the way we live our lives, as well as what we believe (our doctrine), are both important in the life of a Christian. The atheist Nietsche said that he would more easily believe in Christian redemption if the Christians looked more redeemed. The way we live is crucial to the way we portray the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Doctrine is equally important. We cannot claim to represent Christ if we are believing in false doctrines and things that are not true about him. Sincerity in our belief must be based on truth.

Then there is the great question of the compatability of faith and reason. I write a great deal about this on my blog, so I won't be long winded on the subject; I only affirm that the two are indeed compatible. (For more on the subject, feel free to check out Minds2Mentes).

Most important when it comes to a discussion about the reasonableness of Christianity is the knowledge that God's wisdom is completely different from the wisdom of the world. "For 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. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Corinthians 1:18-20). The purpose of apologetics is to bring a person to the point of taking that leap of faith. Faith, by definition, "is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1). There is a point where a person needs to let go of human reasoning, having reached the point when faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is found to be in fact reasonable, and put their faith in that gospel which has been found reasonable.

Faith and reason are compatible. But you cannot stick strictly to reason; at some point you need to have faith.

Pastor Jon said...

Mike, Thanks for your comments. In brief response to your comments/questions:

1) Faith alone was particularly in contrast to the "works" based salvation the Roman Catholic Church was teaching... that led to the excesses of indulgences.
2) Wow, an area we agree upon :)
3) We will discuss Chesterton in detail both on the blog and in person in the future... though clearly both all of the Inklings and myself would cry foul in using that as support for any kind of pluralism... tolerance, yes... pluralism no.
4) Choosing to actually believe. This kind of choice would lead to action but indeed is separate than the actions themselves.
5) While I agree action is the natural outgrowth of belief, I do find them to be distinct. This may be an area to discuss more in the future.
6) I agree that experience does strengthen belief, however, it does nothing really to show if that belief is correct. That would indeed be the point that we would part directions. I would guess Jeff would be closer to your view. I would ask both you and Jeff, do humans have any part in choosing what they believe? In Christianity we are very concerned about the actions of the will, and that includes what we choose to believe.

Pastor Jon said...


I appreciate your comments greatly. Thanks for reading this blog. Obviously the relationship between faith and reason is VERY complex. How our spiritual beliefs effect our epistemology is philosophically foundation. I will have to check out your blog sometime.