Longing for a solid foundation for one’s faith

Progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns wrote an interesting post about how most Conservative Evangelicals equate being Christian with believing in an inerrant Bible.

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another juicy quote from Oswald Chambers: “we are not asked to believe the Bible.”

Here is another quote from Oswald Chambers sent to me by my rector, Father Dave Robinson of  St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. Apparently he seems to have a lot of time on his hands, and if he keeps sending me these things, the vestry will likely require him to start giving 14 minute homilies instead of the regular 12 minute kind.

The title of this reflection is “Liberty and the Standards of Jesus,” the May 6th reading at My Utmost for His Highest. It is based on Galatians 5:1, ” Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free . . . .” (Paragraph divisions are mine.)

A spiritually-minded person will never come to you with the demand—”Believe this and that”; a spiritually-minded person will demand that you align your life with the standards of Jesus.

We are not asked to believe the Bible, but to believe the One whom the Bible reveals (see John 5:39-40). We are called to present liberty for the conscience of others, not to bring them liberty for their thoughts and opinions.

And if we ourselves are free with the liberty of Christ, others will be brought into that same liberty— the liberty that comes from realizing the absolute control and authority of Jesus Christ.

Always measure your life solely by the standards of Jesus. Submit yourself to His yoke, and His alone; and always be careful never to place a yoke on others that is not of Jesus Christ.

It takes God a long time to get us to stop thinking that unless everyone sees things exactly as we do, they must be wrong. That is never God’s view. There is only one true liberty— the liberty of Jesus at work in our conscience enabling us to do what is right.

Don’t get impatient with others. Remember how God dealt with you— with patience and with gentleness. But never water down the truth of God. Let it have its way and never apologize for it. Jesus said, “Go . . . and make disciples. . .” (Matthew 28:19), not, “Make converts to your own thoughts and opinions.”

I’ve never met a Christian, including myself, who is not prone to the problem Chambers diagnoses here.

In my experience, it is certainly a Protestant/evangelical tendency to functionally equate believing in the Bible and believing in Jesus.

I say “functionally” because such a thing would not easily be admitted as a conscious theological assertion–though even there I have to say that I have known many inerrantists who feel that there is not nor can there be any true difference between believing in the Bible and believing in Jesus.

Chambers is not “against the Bible,” but against those who dictate how the Bible must be encountered and articulated. Such a posture invariably gets in the way of encountering “the One whom the Bible reveals.”

People have to work out for themselves how they hear the voice of Christ in scripture, which for Chambers is a matter of  ”the liberty of Jesus at work in our conscience enabling us to do what is right.”

But I see, too often, Christians in power seeking to bind the conscience of others, “to bring them liberty for their thoughts and opinions” and call that serving God.

It isn’t.

The question of the meaning of faith has become a vital issue in an American society where a militant form of atheism is growing,which is itself a natural offspring of a religious fundamentalism pretending to deliver absolute answers to the complex problems of the modern world.

Conservative Evangelicals are convinced that ONLY an inerrant Bible can give them the guidance they need, and this explains the fact that many of them almost worship Scriptures as if they were a part of the divine trinity.

But it has become impossible for those of us following the results of historical-critical scholarship to still view the Bible as God’s direct voice to us and not to recognize the conflicting opinions expressed within its pages. For many progressive Christians such as myself, it has also become extremely hard to single out the Protestant Canon as being more inspired, more divine than great Christian books such as those of C.S. Lewis or Martin Luther Kind.

Such considerations have led many folks to give up their Christian faith altogether because they viewed it as knowledge grounded on an inerrant document.

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The alternative I propose is seeing faith neither as likely knowledge nor as irrational leap into darkness but as HOPE in Christ and His resurrection, even if the evidence might not be sufficient to rationally conclude one way or the other.

Of course, if good arguments against God’s existence or His  risen Son were to surface, we should be honest and abandon our faith at once, as the apostle Paul was ready to do.

“12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15”

But in the midst of uncertainties, it is certainly allowed to passionately hope in Jesus and that in Him everything will be put to right.

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15 thoughts on “Longing for a solid foundation for one’s faith

  1. … an American society being taken over by a militant form of atheism…

    Srsly? *American* society being taken over by militant atheists? Is this supposed to be a stealth-takeover in which all those militant atheists pose as fundagelicals until they have taken control of all key positions in government and military? Are the Illuminati involved as well?

    • You’re right it was a very unfortunate expression I just corrected.
      Let us say they are growing more powerful and their influence is increasing.

      Both you and I know that the true rulers of America are gray aliens, of course 🙂

      • Well, I for one welcome our new grey alien overlords ;-).

        Two quibbles regarding your definition of faith (which I think I mentioned before but I might be wrong):
        1. You say that one ought to give up hope when convincing evidence against the resurrection is presented, but why? It is quite natural to hope for things that are unlikely or even exceedingly unlikely – hope for world peace or hope that a terminally ill loved one might recover after all would be two common examples. (I´d also say that “ought to” is not really a meaningful category here, because you don´t choose what you want to happen / what you hope for)
        2. With your definition, you are blurring the boundaries between atheists, agnostics and theists of all kinds. I´m not aware of any statistics in this respect, but based on my personal experience, it is not that uncommon that atheists or agnostics *hope* that Christianity (or some other form of theism) is true, but are not convinced by the available evidence or believe that it is more likely that theism is false. If I´m not mixing him up with someone else – Jeffery Jay Lowder would be a prominent example of an atheist who would like Christianity to be true but believes that it is false, wouldn´t he then actually be a “Christian” according to your definition?

  2. The alternative I propose is seeing faith neither as likely knowledge nor as irrational leap into darkness but as HOPE in Christ and His resurrection, even if the evidence might not be sufficient to rationally conclude one way or the other.

    Doesn’t this essentially collapse the distinction between ‘faith’ and ‘hope’? These days, I’ve been thinking of the following ‘equation’:

         lim(faith(t)) as (t → ∞) = hope

    Here, faith has actual structure, just like ‘trust’ does. We could discuss what the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’ is. These days, I’m tempted to define ‘faith’ as “conformity to the Logos“. If my conformity to Jesus (instead of conformity to the world) is growing over time, then my hope is [in] Jesus.

    I said Logos because that word connotes lawfulness or rationality, in the sense that Jesus was somehow the blueprint of created reality—or at least he contains the blueprint within his being. The more of this lawfulness we have in our innermost being, the more reason we have to believe, and the more power we have over reality (“if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, …”).

    Note here that while I may have gotten close to “faith… as likely knowledge”, that fails to distinguish between ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’. It seems that one can easily have knowledge and not be for Jesus[‘s goals]. On the other hand, your definition of “faith.. as HOPE in Christ and His resurrection” threatens to have no inner structure, except increasingly strong desire or something like that. It reminds me of those who desire heaven, but have no interest in understanding what heaven is like in detail, and then acting as if they want those things on earth.

  3. //Conservative Evangelicals are convinced that ONLY an inerrant Bible can give them the guidance they need, and this explains the fact that many of them almost worship Scriptures as if they were a part of the divine trinity.//

    I’m not sure that is an accurate assessment, but I am open to the fact some conservatives are militant about the inerrancy of Scriptures.

    I think the salient point of Enns post is the following:

    //Chambers is not “against the Bible,” but against those who dictate how the Bible must be encountered and articulated. Such a posture invariably gets in the way of encountering “the One whom the Bible reveals.”//

    There is some truth in what Enns wrote. By all means, I think there should be an ongoing discussion on what X means in the Bible by use of the original language and proper exegesis instead of a drive by Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” I mean, let’s not pretend Jesus is this happy go hippie; as He also said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”

  4. This is an original and inspiring solution to inerrancy.
    To believe Jesus not the Bible writers.
    It is the search for the genuine voice of Jesus.
    Which we all can hear.

    • It is the search for the genuine voice of Jesus.
      Which we all can hear.

      I guess you mean “voice” metaphorically, because I certainly don´t hear Jesus.

    • //This is an original and inspiring solution to inerrancy.
      To believe Jesus not the Bible writers.
      It is the search for the genuine voice of Jesus.
      Which we all can hear.//

      Eh, and where do you get your information about Jesus? How should I discern from what is information proper about Jesus and what is not? Your opinion? Lothar’s opinion?

      • Eh, and where do you get your information about Jesus? How should I discern from what is information proper about Jesus and what is not? Your opinion? Lothar’s opinion?

        Your political party and activist groups of choice.

    • Most Progressive Christians will get their information about Jesus from modern scholarship which takes into account the historical and cultural context of texts.

      That just happens to disagree with the conclusions drawn from the previous 2000 year history of the Church.

  5. //Most Progressive Christians will get their information about Jesus from modern scholarship which takes into account the historical and cultural context of texts.//

    Can you give me a source? Say for example, a modern scholar you deem as viable whom which you consider “okay” with regards to Jesus’ historicity.

  6. Your title was interesting: “Longing for a solid foundation for one’s faith”. I see longing as an inner cry of someone who wants something badly that he doesn’t now have. It suggests, to me, that there are those who have faith who, on the inside, are insecure about why they have that faith. Perhaps I have misunderstood your intent. In my Fundamentalist upbringing, I didn’t see such longing among the faithful. Those who pulled back, questioning the faith, were seen as “back sliders”. The faithful were supremely confident in what was termed the “infallible, inerrant, verbal, plenary, and inspired” word of God. Bible studies were always based on material which supported this view. Critical and textual analyses of the Bible were frowned upon. The Fundamentalists had their own system of hermeneutics and exegesis. Anyone who did not share the basic idea that the Bible as we have it today is our sole, and only reliable, authority for life, were seen as in heresy.

    I’m not sure that being “saved” required one to accept the Bible as totally inspired of God without error, but it certainly was requirement to being a “good” Christian. The confidence in this type of faith is powerful and astounding. Most of my family members are still Fundementalists, and still confidently and boldly declare that faith to anyone and everyone. Any challenge to such a mindset is seen as emanating from the Devil, the “Father of Lies”, and is summarily dismissed. So, no, there is no “longing” at all for millions upon millions of really conservative Christians.

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