Is Faith The End All And Be All Of Christianity?

communion elements-1072441-mI’ve mentioned the Facebook group I was in briefly. The group started out by calling itself Faith vs. Reason and one of the few good discussions we had revolved around the understanding of the word faith. Christians, of course, see no contradiction between faith and reason. Most of us agree that our faith stands on reasonable arguments, and that, in fact, evolutionists have the same kind of faith in their theories as Christians do in the things we believe, such as the truth of the Bible.

Well, that was not consistent with what most atheists believed. Some would not accept that they had faith in anything because to them faith equaled blind faith—more like wishful thinking than the “assurance of things not seen” which Scripture talks about.

Interestingly, a recent comment to a post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction also, in part, addresses faith. The basic issue is that one of the visitors characterized what they thought were “God’s definitions of right and wrong.” Leading the way was “faith takes precedent over action or intent.”

How to describe the part that faith plays in the life of a Christian? This is a topic of many sermons and books and Bible studies. I took the easy way out and made a categorical statement that the list was “wide of the mark.” But that didn’t satisfy and the question came up again. So I’ll give my best shot to answer.

Does faith, in God’s eyes, take precedence over action or intent? Yes, and no.

God tells us clearly there’s nothing we can do to be saved—no action on our part is enough to wipe out the offense of our previous rebellion against God, the very rebelliousness built into our nature by the Fall of humankind into sin.

Instead He needed to act on our behalf. His action is effective because He has no sin. Consequently Jesus could present His life on our behalf, that we might be declared right with God.

So what do we have to do? Nothing, because we still can’t effect a change in our relationship with God. Rather we have to believe that Jesus did in fact stand in our place so that we now can enjoy God’s forgiveness and a restored friendship with Him.

But there’s more. The Apostle James wrote a letter that explains something critical about faith. He said that faith without works is dead being by itself. At one point he said, “You believe that God is One. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder.”

In other words, lip-service belief is nothing. Even demons can do that. They can acknowledge God without it making one bit of difference in their lives.

Rather, James describes faith that is lived out—demonstrated by actions. Without the actions that show the faith, it’s as useless as if you tell a hungry homeless person to be warmed and fed without giving them a thing to eat or anything to keep them warm. Words alone are as empty as the body without the spirit.

So, does God give precedence to faith? Well, without faith, Scripture says, it is impossible to please Him. But what kind of faith? Not something divorced from actions. But the actions aren’t some kind of do-gooder kind that earns brownie points with God. They aren’t rituals either—stuff that we do just because it’s what people who are religious do.

Rather, the faith we have in God changes us. It turns our lives upside down. In the Old Testament the prophets came down pretty hard on God’s chosen people for just going through religious motions. They were doing sacrifices, even fasting, but God didn’t want their sacrifices. He said, what He wanted was a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to the end of our efforts and stop trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we can’t possible escape from. He wants us to come to Him with hearts surrendered to Him, acknowledging our need for Him, sorrowing for our previous rebellion.

And from that place of brokenness, He heals us and makes us new. It’s the phoenix rising from the ashes. Sorrow in the black night of our souls, but joy in the morning.

As healed and new and joyful, we can get to work doing what God has asked us to do, which Jesus summarized as loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So God’s thoughts about faith, actions, and intentions? I suppose He’d say good intentions are just like lip-service faith—it doesn’t put bread into the hands of hungry people. Good intentions are just as dead as faith without works.

But actions and faith? Pretty inseparable, those two. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, so faith is built on something, not just a feeling or a wish. There’s substance that can be checked and verified and analyzed and debated and discussed and in the end believed to be true.

But that belief makes everything different. Everything, including our actions.

So why the picture of the communion elements at the top of this post? Jesus said we are to take of the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him—of what He did that turned our lives upside down. When we take communion we are doing something, but we’re not. We’re remembering, but in remembering we’re doing. That’s a lot like a Christian’s faith. We believe, but in believing, we do. And if we are unchanged, there’s the possibility that we are offering lip-service faith.

The thing is, change sometimes comes over a period of time. That’s why we use metaphors like growing in our faith. How radically different we are (under new management, some like to say) can’t always be determined right away on the outside. But God’s at work renewing us, healing us from our brokenness, and equipping us for His service. It’s an awesome change, this coming to Christ. But is it faith taking precedence over actions? Yes, and no.

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Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (15)  
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15 Comments

  1. Simply awesome Becky. I think you captured the essence of what saving faith is, and how it relates to change in our lives. I like that you write these things without getting so hard core theological.(but are grounded in good theology.) Very nice and I enjoyed it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Wally. I appreciate your encouraging feedback.

      It’s amazing how the short book of James has something pertinent to say about so many topics, isn’t it! Love that book.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. It’s probably my favorite. I’m a practical person so it has much appeal to me. It can be tough I think but you handled it nicely.

        Liked by 1 person

        • 🙂 Thank you. I’ve spent some time in the book of James. Used to teach it to my seventh graders.

          Becky

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  2. Amen. We’re meant to glorify God. We need to put everything else 2nd and God at 1st. God created us and we shall meet our amazing Lord someday.Trust in the Lord.

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    • Yes, JF, trust in the Lord and as a result, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1: I forget the verse number . . . 9, maybe).

      Becky

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  3. Christians, of course, see no contradiction between faith and reason. Most of us agree that our faith stands on reasonable arguments, and that, in fact, evolutionists have the same kind of faith in their theories as Christians do in the things we believe, such as the truth of the Bible.

    I agree with your first bit, that Christians see no conflict between faith and reason and I agree that Christians honestly believe their faith stands on reasonable arguments. I think both are clearly wrong in fact and in method but that’s not where my disagreement about your post lies.

    There’s no such thing as ‘evolutionists’ any more than there is ‘gravityists’ and ‘germists’. What there is are people who understand evolution and those who do not. Those who do not are usually motivated not to accept why evolution is true because it is in conflict and incompatible with certain fundamental tenets of religious belief. But evolution is arrived at exactly the same way and by the identical method that produces the screen you’re looking at and the technology to make these words appear before you. It’s rather silly to suggest that one must be a ‘computerist’ in order to understand how this technology works and why your software is able to transfer electronic symbols into these words… and just as silly to reject the explanation on the basis of some contrary religious belief.

    As far as the ‘truth’ of the bible, it seems to me that there are many ways to approach it including as a believer and as a historian. I came at it as a literary critic and spent a ridiculous amount of time working on and researching the book of Job in various bibles and scholarly commentary. I know there are problems in translations and differences in texts. I’ve seen them. I know there were different authors for different parts. I also understand the context in which this book was collated and used by the returning Jews released from Babylon during the Persian period to help solidify an ethnic canon that condensed the pantheon more into a monotheism… to unite their leadership position in Jerusalem and bring the various Jewish tribes into political unity. But we know, for example, that YAHWEH was but one god (a creator god) worshiped by these different Jewish tribes out of many, which is why He’s bothering to talk to this other god about Job and testing his mettle for monotheism. (‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ indicates that there ARE other gods before Him, you see).

    My point is that ‘truth’ about the bible is not served by approaching it only as if one must believe in some particular set of religious tenets first; one can come at the bible from many starting points without involving the assumption of it’s sectarian ‘truth’. That’s what biblical scholarship is all about… connecting threads from different kinds of inquiries like history and anthropology and politics and geography and so on.

    This kind of multifaceted approach is shared in biology. An essential task in the use of science is to try one’s best not to approach any hypothesis with bias and assume that it is true first but to let the inquiry determine evidence to be accounted for. One doesn’t come at evolution as the believer does for the bible (approaching it only as if one must believe in some particular set of tenets first); one is simply overwhelmed by how well all the evidence from various inquiries not only fits the model but leads to new knowledge (ie genetics). This, too, is strikingly different than ‘doing’ theology of any kind.

    So there are important differences, and simplifying them away by silly terms (evolutionists) does not serve ‘reasonable arguments’ but undermines them.

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    • Hi, tildeb, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I wonder, though, if part of your objection to these ideas aren’t simply semantic differences. I used the term “evolutionists” as short hand for “people who believe in evolution.” I wasn’t trying to create a unified group of people espousing a particular worldview. As you may know, there are Christians who believe in evolution.

      The next part of your comment has me laughing though. You said

      But evolution is arrived at exactly the same way and by the identical method that produces the screen you’re looking at and the technology to make these words appear before you.

      I’m hoping you don’t really believe this. Certainly you understand that evolution can’t be examined by the scientific method while everything about the computer and screen can. I mean, whatever beginning of the evolutionary process you choose to believe in can’t be reproduced or experimented on. Evolution is observation and speculation, nothing more. Computer technology is actual science that came about as people practiced the scientific method.

      And finally, humans created computer science—not the principles upon which it stands, but the practical working out of it that results in hard drives and screens. Evolution, on the other hand, has nothing what so ever to do with man’s invention. Nobody thinks otherwise, unless you’re talking about the invention of the theory. But in so far as evolution exists, it certainly does not do so because mankind had anything to do with it.

      You also said, “I know there are problems in translations and differences in texts. I’ve seen them.” I’m not sure what you’ve seen since only parts of Job have appeared in the Dead Sea Scrolls. So whatever translations or texts you’ve studied may have problems, but it doesn’t mean you’ve looked at “best evidence.” It’s a rather bold statement to say you “know” there were multiple authors of that particular book. There may have been more than one scribe who eventually wrote down what had originated as oral history. And who was the author of that original piece? That’s not something anyone “knows.” Besides, the truth of Job doesn’t hinge on believing that Job wrote the book. I don’t recall anywhere in the text a claim that he wrote it. So authorship is rather immaterial.

      The dating, of course, is disputable. If you study what certain scholars say, then you’ll come up with one answer about the date of writing. Other scholars with different preconceptions will change that date to something else.

      Sort of like the whole idea that monotheism was some sort of later invention. The Bible does indeed record the various tribes of Israel worshiping multiple gods, and for this Yahweh removed His protection and blessing. He didn’t hesitate to have His prophets spell this out. I have no doubt that when the remnant of Judah returned to the land from Babylon, they determined they weren’t going to make the same mistake twice, and in fact did at last put away other gods. It doesn’t mean that God was not the sovereign long before they accepted Him as such.

      And the “no other gods” line does not say that God recognized other gods—just that the people would. Sure there are other supernatural beings, but no other God. There can only be one sovereign, after all.

      I’m not sure why atheists think Christians don’t study the Bible in its historical, geographic, anthropological, sociological context. Because Biblical scholars reach different conclusions than those who study the Bible from a point of view that most of it is a myth, shouldn’t surprise you. But different conclusions does not mean a lack of scholarship.

      One doesn’t come at evolution as the believer does for the bible

      So you’re telling me, tildeb, that you come to the theory of evolution so open minded that you consider the possibility that God brought life into being? Honestly, that surprises me.

      But I’m not sure why you’re comparing evolution (a theory) and theology (a field of study). The two aren’t comparable because they aren’t doing or trying to do the same things.

      In the end, it seems like we disagree on far more than the fact that I used the term “evolutionist.”

      Becky

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      • Rebecca, you say, “I’m hoping you don’t really believe this. Certainly you understand that evolution can’t be examined by the scientific method while everything about the computer and screen can. I mean, whatever beginning of the evolutionary process you choose to believe in can’t be reproduced or experimented on. Evolution is observation and speculation, nothing more.”

        It is exactly this confusion you reveal here that is the reason why I continue to say you (and others who promote this idea that evolution is something that requires belief) don’t understand what evolution is and how the method of science works to produce it.

        Yes, developing the process we call evolution is arrived at by the IDENTICAL method used to arrive at developing your computer screen. If evolution works in the sense that it is powered by belief, then so too does your computer screen work in the IDENTICAL sense. It is a ridiculous assertion that either requires belief; they either work or they do not. Evolution, like your computer screen, works whether I or you believe it or not. Until you can wrap your head around this brute fact you keep denying, it means you don’t understand that evolution is true whether you believe it works or not.

        Yes, evolution can be, has been, and continues to be reproduced. Yes, it can be, has been, and continues to be predicted. Yes, it can be, has been, and continues to be tested. Yes, it can be, has been, and continues to be demonstrated. Evolution properly understood is a natural, unguided, purposeless process as real as gravity or germs and just as real. Zero belief is required. Its greatest achievement is the product we call genetics and this reveals specifically how genes undergo changes over time that produces speciation by natural selection (mostly). No belief is required. None.

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  4. I find it impossible to pin down what religious people mean when they say faith. The word literally means to make a presupposition or pre-theoretic claim to knowledge; to claim to know things you don’t have epistemic reasons to believe; to pretend to know what you don’t know. But religious people make the word “faith” synonymous with ‘belief’; it isn’t. Belief is the bigger group, of which faith is only one type. Faith is necessarily not reasoned. If it were reasoned it would be reasoned belief and not faith.
    In this post you make another curious implicit claim about what faith is: action. You and I need to see action to understand what other people believe because we do not have access to their mind. God does have access to our mind and does not need to see our action to know it’s true (or not).
    Imagine two people who had different beliefs but resulting in the same actions: one person a Christian who loves his neighbour and prays and does communion, the other an atheist who lives culture and so prays and attends communion–without faith, just reveling in culture–and also loves his neighbour and does good. Will you still insist that actions are as important as faith, or are you willing to admit here that only the Christian will go to Heaven?

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    • Interesting thoughts, Allallt. But here’s the thing: you are using faith in a way that is different from how Christians use the term. You said:

      The word literally means to make a presupposition or pre-theoretic claim to knowledge; to claim to know things you don’t have epistemic reasons to believe; to pretend to know what you don’t know.

      But in fact no dictionary says faith is the pretense of knowing what you don’t know. Some parts of what you say might define blind faith, but again, I don’t know any Christians who say they believe God just because, without any evidence. Faith is actually quite reasoned. In fact, I recently read an article by an Oxford scholar telling how he became a Christian because the preponderance of the evidence left him no choice.

      The faith/action issue is not easy to explain. Perhaps I failed to make it clear. Faith is not action, nor are actions “as important as faith.” Rather, it’s because of actions that anybody can know faith exists. People can talk faith all they want: “I believe in God,” “I’m a Christ follower,” “I obey the Bible,” and on and on. None of what people say matters if they live in a way that contradicts their words.

      And sure, God already knows who’s a pretend Christian and who isn’t, but the fact is WE need to know that about ourselves. We can’t go through life thinking that our verbal assent that God is the rightful Ruler means anything as long as we’re living as if He doesn’t exist.

      But about the two people, one Christian and one atheist, doing the same deeds from different motives—no one gets to heaven because of what he does: not the Christian or the atheist. There aren’t enough good deeds in the world for me to do to make up for my rebellion against God. Turning around and following Him doesn’t undo the years of NOT following Him. Only Jesus Christ could provide what I need—forgiveness.

      Becky

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      • Google’s second definition of faith (where is pertains specifically to religion): “strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.”
        I assure you that “blind faith” is a tautology and “reasonable faith” is an oxymoron. Faith is blind, belief apportioned to evidence is reasonable. Actions are consequences of beliefs, but a bed bound mute can still believe things, without action. So action is not a requisite of faith.
        And here’s the real kicker… even I can say I obey the Bible. Hell, I could turn over a new leaf right now and actually obey the Bible. But my beliefs will still not align with the Bible. Internally, personally, “in my heart” (as the cliché goes) I will not believe. Who relevant do you think that is to God?

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      • Hi, Allallt,

        My dictionary does have something similar to the one you quote from Google and you say that’s the one you use to understand faith. That’s fine, but it’s not the one I’m using. When I speak of my faith, I mean definition one: “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”

        I actually think the logical thing would be to study primary sources—people with faith—as opposed to a secondary source. If you were to ask Christians at other sites you frequent if they ascribe to faith in God based on “spiritual conviction” rather that “proof” I don’t think you’ll find many that say, yes, that describes what they mean by faith.

        I suspect you’ll find a number saying something like, My spiritual conviction is based on proof. You have two other Christians in the comments above who both agree with my assessment.

        Allallt, you’ve given two scenarios. The first is the bed-bound mute. You answered this one yourself some while ago when you said God knows our hearts. In truth, there was a thief crucified with Jesus who did turn to Him in faith and Jesus told the man they’d be together in paradise—an indication that his faith was sufficient. So, no actions.

        The actions issue comes into play when a person says he believes one thing (Jesus is my savior) and lives as if he believed something else (I can do whatever I want regardless of Jesus).

        The second scenario, you pretending to believe the Bible, even doing what it says, is also answered just like the first: God knows our hearts. People might be fooled, which is why there are a lot of pretend Christians walking around, but God won’t be fooled. There’s a story Jesus told about the judgment day and some people trying to go with Him. They say, Lord, Lord, we did all these good deeds in your name. But He sends them away saying, I never knew you.

        But you ask how relevant your good deeds, done in pretend obedience to the Bible, are to God. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. God doesn’t save us because of our good deeds. But saving faith will produce good deeds. The former is bound up with the latter. So the mute guy in your first story—if he recovered, he’d be living out his faith as best he could, if his faith is true.

        That certainly doesn’t mean other people can’t do good deeds or live moral lives. Mormons, for example, are probably a lot more moral than a lot of Christians, but they are still far, far from God.

        The issue that matters is what we do with Jesus. As I said in the original post, we have to believe that Jesus did in fact stand in our place so that we now can enjoy God’s forgiveness and a restored friendship with Him.

        At one point in the Bible we’re told that we had a “certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us” but Jesus took that certificate of debt and “nailed it to the cross.” Imagine you’re locked up on death row and in walks someone who says, “Let him free; I’ll take his place.” All you have to do is believe the guy means it—that you’re free and that you’re not going to die after all.

        But you still have to walk out of that prison. What if you hung around your cell, kept showing up at the mess for meals—you can say you’re free all you want, but you’re acting like a prisoner, like someone who doesn’t believe that this person who set you free actually did what he said he was doing.

        Saving faith is the kind that means you walk out of the prison.

        Becky

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        • Your initial claim was that no dictionary alludes to faith being belief without evidence. Can we now agree that some do and some don’t? But, I will concede your definition of faith “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”. That kind of faith presupposes the knowledge claim of the something existing. I have complete confidence (in the common parlance use of the words) in my partner as someone who is loyal. But that “faith” about her quality presupposes something about her existence (in this case, that she exists).
          I would also doubt that “faith” is the right word to use here. I can give reasons and evidence for my belief my partner will not be disloyal. The data ranges from her moral utterances to her observable behaviour. There is a certain preponderance of evidence that has lead me to believe she is loyal. My belief in her loyalty would not continue if evidence was presented to the opposing view or if I had no evidence. If her moral utterances were absent or more in line with the sentiment ‘we’re not supposed to be monogamous and I don’t like the idea of being tied to one person” by beliefs would be quite different.
          Watch how others invoke faith. “You’ve got to have faith” is about believing a thing you have no epistemic reasons to believe. Faith–belief in things unseen–is precisely about acting as if you know a thing you don’t know. Even if you can’t find that definition in a dictionary, I offer you the same challenge that Peter Boghossian offers: “Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith’… yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know”.
          Now, you implore me to ask Christians if they believe based on Spiritual Conviction (witness of the Holy Spirit) or “proof”. It’s a semantic point, but I’m going to swap “proof” out for “evidenced or reasoned argument”. The Jehovah’s witnesses that come to my door and Dr William Lane Craig all proclaim it is about the witness of the Holy Spirit (which is basically spiritual conviction). I had one door-to-door preacher politely request that I not discuss science because it’s not an issue of science (and therefore not an issue of evidenced or reasoned arguments). I have had many debates where the individual invokes faith as their foundational reason as a rebuttal to the idea that no reasoned argument for God actually stands up to honest criticism. Presuppositional apologetics are basically defined as accepting the claims of Christianity and rejecting anti-Christian claims on faith (as I use the word). So, my primary sources do lead me to believe that Christians mean faith the way I define it. But my primary sources also lead me to believe that when the conversation is broad enough, Christians will introduce definitions of faith like the one you have presented. As soon as the pressure is on, it would be on trend for you also to invoke faith as I present it. (Except, we’ve biased the experiment now by drawing so much attention to it, so we may never know.)

          What you’re saying about faith and action I fundamentally agree with: certain beliefs will affect certain actions. You also seem to agree that the actions are simply incidental, and not the metric by which we are saved (or not). It is all about the faith.
          I find your prison analogy captures my point brilliantly, because of it’s absurdity. You cannot honestly take someone else’ place in prison. If you are found guilty and convicted to prison, no one else should be in that prison cell for you. Where would the justice be in that? The guilty party remains free and an innocent (but willing) man is imprisoned. There is no philosophy of justice that allows an innocent person to knowingly be sentenced to death in the place of a guilty person who can be convicted. Such a situation would be evidence the justice system in use simply doesn’t work. We would consider it corrupt if a prison guard allowed such a swap or if a politician had arranged such a situation. Yet, Christians claim it as the pinnacle of justice.
          The convict’s faith (i.e. pretence to knowing what he does not know) that the walk-in man really is willing to take his place would be phenomenal faith: it would be contrary to one’s own ethical ideas and knowledge of the structure of the justice system. It assumes not only the walk-in man’s willingness to take his place, but also the judicial system’s willingness to accept such a trade. And, to be honest, true freedom would include the right to stay in the cell with the knowledge he can walk out. If I’d done something heinous, I like to think I’d stay in the cell and accept my just punishment. (The problem is that God doesn’t offer a just punishment.)

          I would also be curious as to the Biblical references for “saving faith” instead of just faith.

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  5. Your initial claim was that no dictionary alludes to faith being belief without evidence.

    I’m not sure it matters, Allallt, but my earlier claim was that ” no dictionary says faith is the pretense of knowing what you don’t know.” Faith is not pretense. That kind of faith Christians have is knowing, and it’s built upon reliable, evidential, historical truth.

    In this latest comment your repeated your thoughts about faith:

    Faith–belief in things unseen–is precisely about acting as if you know a thing you don’t know.

    It is that position I am refuting. You speak as if the only thing people can know is what they see. But what about deaf people? They know things and yet they never see them in the same way a seeing person sees them. We know things about history though we were not present nor have we talked to anyone who was present. Yet we know. My contention is, you are limiting the ways in which a person can know.

    I’m not surprised that the people you know use faith in a way that others of us understand as “blind faith,” because I suspect you don’t talk to a lot of Christians. My experience is the opposite. In fact when I got into that atheist/theist Facebook discussion group, I didn’t understand that we had a fundamental difference concerning our perception of faith.

    All I can tell you is, contrary to what you have believed, Christians do not base our belief in God on your concept of faith or what we call “blind faith.”

    I don’t understand one part of your definition, though—the idea that I’m pretending to know God exists. I’m not pretending. I’m not sitting here thinking, Well, I know God doesn’t actually exist, but if I pretend He exists, then I’ll feel better or act better or something. That is . . . lunacy.

    In fact, many Christians find Christianity to be the intellectual answer to all of life’s questions—the philosophical, emotional, spiritual, relational, psychological ones that include such things as Why are we here and Is this all there is.

    Alister McGrath, a professor at Oxford University in England is one example of such an individual. I just read an article about him. Here’s one statement that caught my eye:

    I had been an aggressive atheist, utterly convinced of the godless worldview. Yet in my first term at Oxford University, I came to realize that Christianity was intellectually superior to my earlier atheism. Christianity simply made sense of life in a way that atheism did not.

    The article is actually about how McGrath had to come to a place where his Christianity was more than an intellectual exercise. He put it like this: “My faith had affected my mind but left the rest of me untouched. I had thought of spiritual growth in terms of accumulating knowledge.” In other words, McGrath was all about figuring out how the intellectual dots connect. His need was to let what he believed, change him.

    You made another statement I’d like to comment on:

    You also seem to agree that the actions are simply incidental, and not the metric by which we are saved (or not). It is all about the faith.

    That’s another yes, and no. I just heard the perfect illustration of this. Suppose a man capsized his boat in a lake and he’s about to drown. Along comes another boat. Someone on board reaches down to him and helps him out of the water. Is the man who was rescued likely to say, I was saved from drowning because I reached up my hand. Hardly. He’s going to say, I was saved from drowning because someone in this other boat saved me. But the drowning man did in fact have to reach up his hand.

    Faith is our “reaching up our hand.” It’s the proof that in fact we think the one in the boat is reliable to pull us from the water. If there is no boat and we reach up our hand, that’s “blind faith.” We don’t really think there’s anyone there, but we’re willing to try. I often read Christians advising non-believers just to act as if God does exist and see what happens. I don’t think that makes any sense. On the other hand, I do think it makes perfect sense to say, What if there really is a supernatural, all powerful being—what would that look like; how would that change the way I understand the world? That sill wouldn’t be faith, but I think admitting that there might be something more than the finite perceptions I choose to use is a step in the right direction.

    I find your reaction to the prison analogy fascinating. You said

    it would be contrary to one’s own ethical ideas and knowledge of the structure of the justice system.

    Two things here: there have been societies—I think Rome was one—in which a rich person could pay someone else to do his time (I know that’s true about the military, but I think it’s also true about prison). In addition, the Jews, and it was their culture from which Christianity came, understood penal substitution as part of their regular worship—they made animal sacrifices on a regular basis (or were supposed to—and in the first century, they were actually making them) that they might be forgiven for their sins.

    I guess there are really three things because you’ve come to the crux of belief in God. Ultimately a person who believes in God surrenders his own ethical ideas and knowledge of justice in favor of God’s. It’s our nature to “pay our own way,” to “do our own time.” The idea of someone stepping in and paying for us is . . . unheard of in our day. Who would do that? It’s hard to imagine anyone loving so much that he would be willing to shoulder our debt so we could go free. And it’s hard for us to accept the idea that justice is served by this substitution. Or that what we owe is so insurmountable, we have no way of paying on our own. We tend to minimize how heinous are our crimes.

    So part of what we must believe is that we are sinners and the other part is that Jesus can, and did, make a sufficient sacrifice on our behalf.

    Becky

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