Sketching Faith

Shetchbook -- FaithThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
   Part 4 — Crucifixion
   Part 5 — Resurrection
   Part 6 — Ascension
These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Faith

The modern church has suffered the trauma of faith reconstituted as a system of rationalistic beliefs. “Do you believe?” or its antithesis “Here’s what you are to believe!” frames much of the homiletical venture of the modern church. But it is difficult to transform head knowledge (belief) into heart-felt trust (faithfulness).

The word “orthodox” is often used to describe sound / right judgment about theological matters. In truth, “orthodox” simply refers to approved “beliefs, attitudes, or modes of conduct.” Sometimes, however, sound judgment necessitates our standing over against the approved belief system. Disagree with that which is approved by the religious superstructure and you risk being accused of heresy, being shunned or excommunicated.

There is a role for beliefs, and a very human need for boundaries. But beliefs are secondary or tertiary. What is primary is faithfulness, which Herman Waetjen (in his commentary on Romans 1:17) describes as “trust into trust.” Beliefs formed under duress (“there is no salvation if you do not confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”) or from fear (“the Muslims / immigrants / homosexuals / … are threatening to steal our freedom ad our religion”) are built upon a shadowy replacement for trust that easily erupts into violence.

Catherine Keller (Cloud of the Impossible), page 38) puts it this way:

The traditional formulae of faith may reassure, but the traditions themselves are desperate for reassurance, twisting in cycles of lost hope and junk faith. The know-it-alls of religion only provide more fodder for … a vast know-nothingness, systematically produced as ignorance of its own ignorance.”

Faith as right beliefs is a ticket to a specific heavenly destination. Only by getting your ticket punched by the priestly conductor are you assured that you are on the right train. Woe betide those who have boarded the wrong train. It is a one way ticket, non-refundable but capable of being annulled for “conduct unbecoming.”

Faith as radical trust is a quest. It is a journey into the desert, “not the sterility of nonlife, but the biblical wild place of exodus, contemplative retreat, and messianic coming.” (Keller, page 45) It is an adventure which experiments with finding life at its fullest, its deepest, its most brilliant colors, its most profound meanings. Faith as trust is connecting with your own best (whole) self, being in relationship and solidarity with the best (whole) self of others, and caring for the best (whole) self of the creation. To do so is to become God’s best (whole) self in the midst of life.

Faith as trust does not result from the accumulation of information and knowledge; it does, however, often possess great wisdom. It arises from attending to an inner awareness that insists / invites / calls us into a wholeness that is characterized by compassion, peace, and tender justice. Trust is the ingredient that allows us to pursue that call without a schematic drawing, a Venn diagram, or a master plan. Because trust is an exploratory venture, we can acknowledge shortcomings and failures (in self and others) without belittling or abandoning the quest.

Trust encourages each of us to say and unsay our beliefs – to test them against the wisdom of science and theology; to measure them in relationship with one’s own experience and the experiences of others; and, when they harden into absolutes and lose their symbolic value, to abandon them in favor of beliefs that are more permeable and infused with radical trust in the fulness of life.


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