Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Brief Interruption: What is simple faith?

My wife and I are often at odds over theological issues. I'm liberal, whatever that means; she's theologically conservative. Over the past ten years, these opposite poles have led to some interesting discussions, and few heated arguments. 

This evening, we were discussing a recent post by John Shuck, a fellow CC blogger, regarding life after death. While I did not agree with John's ideas, some of my own less than conventional thoughts found their way into our conversation. The great theological divide between my wife and I once again became apparent. 

Upon thinking of this, my mind turned to a proclamation we make at the Eucharist table. We are United Methodist, so I take this from the hymnal, Word and Service 1 [p. 10].

Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.
Us theological types enjoy pushing the envelope. I enjoy challenging those around me to think about their faith, often to their demise, I must admit. Being right can have its disadvantages: such as sleeping on the couch, getting the silent treatment, or watching someone you love grapple with ideas that they would of never willingly been exposed too had you not been pompous enough to enlighten them.

My faith has undergone some serious challenges over the years. To say I've experienced a "crisis of faith" would be putting it mildly. I've laid so many things aside, only to pick them back up again. Others, I've discarded altogether: virgin birth, the inerrancy of scripture, hell, etc, to name a few. People who know me, especially my wife, find great difficulty in accepting these things. So, I struggle at times to find common ground, not just with people I love and care about, but with sincere believers who genuinely do not feel the same way. I used to think it was my job to change them; if its reasonable for me to feel or think a certain way, surely I should pass it on, right?

Well, no, it really isn't. It's not necessary for us to change everyone, make them think the way we do. It is incumbent upon us to find some common ground for love and fellowship. Tonight, as I pondered my wife's words, those three affirmations above come to mind and while I acknowledge that we have a philosophical/theological divide, there is also an unbreakable unity in those three, unambiguous statements.

Christ has died. He was a human being, lived in a specific place at a particular time and is forever a fabric of world history. There is no negating that Jesus was an extraordinary man who lived in first century Palestine, who identified with the outcast and oppressed, because he was one himself. His life meant something then; it means something extraordinary now. 

Christ has risen. My library is filled with hundreds of volumes written about this man, most of which were penned within the last century. Churches have been erected all over the world in testament to his ongoing presence and impact upon humanity. I don't care if you believe in a bodily resurrection, it really does not matter to me. But he lives on, and his influence upon life and culture, whether for good or bad, is of the such that the Western world has never seen or duplicated. 

Christ is coming again. This affirmation may be a bit more difficult. But, in the end, what we are saying is that his influence has no end. I believe in a consummation of this age. I believe that things will not always be as they are. Thus, the blessed hope that Paul talked about. 

So, for all the contention and discussion, these three affirmations are for me, what it means to posses a Christian world view. Sure, there will be many who disagree. But these are three simple affirmations that I believe all Christians should be able to gather around the table for discussion. And, yes, the discussion should start here. 


Simon Cozens said...

I know I don't know you at all, but hey, it's a blog, and people blog in part to get reactions from one other. So I'm sorry if it feels like a total stranger is having a go at you. That's not my intention.

I did, however, want to say that, while I'm by no means a crazy-ass fundamentalist, the way you come at this affirmation of simple faith makes me a bit uncomfortable. I think the thing that makes me uncomfortable is that you're assuming a great deal of latitude in interpretation of the proto-creed, and to be frank, I don't think it's there.

I know someone who was going through a divorce and was looking back on the promise "til death do us part." She told me that, of course, it meant til the death of the marriage. Did she mean that at the time when she said it at the altar, I wondered. It seemed a convenient way to claim that she meant precisely the opposite of what she had meant at the time. That, to me, was deception and rationalisation.

When Christians from the very first days have said "Christ is risen" they actually meant risen. Not "alive in our tradition and our consciousness", but actually risen. Similarly, when they have said "Christ will come again", they actually meant he will come again, not "we will keep his memory alive."

I think the reason I'm so exercised is that it feels like, for the sake of a kind of ecumenism, you are saying this affirmation with, as it were, your fingers crossed behind your back. "Yes, I believe with you that Christ is risen (but of course, not in anything like the base and naive way that you mean it)."

And what a shallow kind of ecumenism that would be. I'd be much more comfortable with someone saying flat out "I don't believe that Christ will come again" than with someone who claims to me to believe it, but actually believes it in such a radically different way to the way that the words are normally used that there's very little connection between them.
Rules-lawyering your way out of faith responsibilities was something that Jesus took a pretty dim view of.

Again, sorry to bail in as a stranger with some strong words, but you did invite discussion... :)

ChrisK said...

Simon, thank you for your feedback, and your objections are duly noted. I see these affirmations as irreducible starting points. I also agree that faith has become ambiguous, and that personal interpretation has taken precedent over tradition. However, faith is dynamic, and as such, is subject to interpretation and change, if need be.

With this said, I think my affirmations affirm the reality of Christ and his influence upon the past, the present, and the future. Our particular faith traditions flesh these ideas out, and I admit that I am closer to your position than you might imagine. Nonetheless, these simple affirmations are wonderful starting points for an ensuing discussion of what faith in these principles means today, in the 21st century.

Once again, thank you for reading and your comments!