Monday, 13 April 2015

Fear and Faith

One of the biggest fears in relation to faith [I think] is having your own type of faith challenged.  I've just been reading about the so-called New Perspective on Paul and those who disagree with it. It seems that the disagreement is: "But we've always believed like this, therefore this new perspective is hideously DANGEROUS!".  But what if Christians haven't always believed like this.  What if over 2000 years our perspectives and understanding of issues and the Bible has changed and evolved?  I'm not saying that those who are speaking about this 'new perspective' are right, neither am I saying that those who disagree with it are wrong.  But it's that knee-jerk, "Don't challenge what I've always thought" reaction that irritates me.  I wasn't always like this though so I understand the fear, but I think it's because I used to be a clear contender for Confirmation Bias World Champion in my old cultish church that it annoys me so much now.

What also makes me sick is, despite the fact that the Bible tells us that God is so high above us that we will never fully understand Him and right now we only see but a dim reflection, some Christians will use the Bible to claim that they have all the answers.  It must be fear that prevents someone from even admitting a teeny-tiny shard of doubt creeps in about dearly held beliefs - an example might be this question: Do we still have the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church today?  Well, Camp X claims that they have Biblical proof that the gifts no longer operate within the church today as they did in the 1st Century.  Camp Y claims they have Biblical proof that the gifts do operate in the church today as they did in the 1st Century.  And Camp Z do this:

and probably this:
We don't care/want to know/even have to think about it.

Camp Z don't bother me so much [well maybe a little], but the other two camps drive me crackers when they use their viewpoint to belittle - or even condemn - fellow Christians (and you see this on both the liberal and fundamental spectrums of the faith - some liberals are very fundamental about their liberalism!).  Surely, if we cannot fully understand God in this life (as the Bible seems to say) how can we not admit that really we are just fumbling about and trying our best and that God loves us and that's all that matters?

Oh I want to know of course, but if I use my 'knowledge' to place myself snootily and smugly above a fellow Christian because I believe I have superior understanding, then am I not discarding a key teaching of Jesus and the Apostles - humility?  It's just a wondering.

So, for Paul, we may well be quoting him out of context.  The letters we read were written to churches we will never visit, in a time and place with customs and values very different from ours, and were in response to issues to which we have very few clues as to what they might be.  We are probably often quoting Jesus out of context as well.   Paul seems to tell us that we gain salvation through faith alone (or does he?) - but James tells us even the demons what good is our faith if we claim our salvation on faith alone?  Lutherans will explain this anomaly one way, Roman Catholics another and other denominations will have a whole host of different viewpoints...and they will all use the Bible to back it up.

This scripture from Romans 8:29 is classic: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters." (NIV).  Now is it the case that God knew beforehand who would become believers through their own choice and he predestined those people to become more like His Son - or did God decide beforehand who would be saved and then predestine those to become more like His Son?  This will determine whether you are Calvinistic in outlook or Arminian.

We haven't got all the answers, especially not me. 

And yet, opposing sides will claim it is out of a love of the truth that they fight.  But Jesus is the truth and it is Jesus who saves us, which I think all Christians will agree on.  "It's what He did on the cross which saves us!" they cry, but then they also cry heretic if you disagree with a teaching thus suggesting it is actually what I do or don't do which saves me.  Confusing I think.

Emo Phillips tells the following joke:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!"
He said, "Nobody loves me."
I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"
He said, "A Christian."
I said, "Me, too!
Protestant or Catholic?"
He said, "Protestant."
I said, "Me, too! What franchise?"
He said, "Baptist."
I said, "Me, too!
Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Baptist."
I said, "Me, too!
Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region."
I said, "Me, too!"
Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."
I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.


  1. I love that joke.

    This is so, so true. My home denomination was so good at saying exactly what is right and wrong, at claiming to be "sola Scriptura" while saying that church leaders had to sign off on all these confessions and documents. We could tell you exactly why the book of James really wasn't saying what it obviously is saying, because it disagreed with our Calvinist system. And all the verses about social justice and poverty? Yeah, we never mentioned those. The Bible "clearly said" something in two passages about homosexuality, but never in more than 40 passages about poverty.

    I have to remember, though, that I don't have all the answers. There is so much I don't know about the Bible, about context and language and translations. So I do what I've always done and listen to those who know more than I do - except now I'm honest about it and don't say that I'm sola Scriptura when I'm really sola RC Sproul :).

    1. Yes, we don't seen like to remember that Jesus' main concern was the sick, the sinner, the oppressed, the hurting, the poor, the stranger, etc, etc. I've just read a number of Christian reviews of political parties manifestos over here in the UK, they mention abortion, same sex marriage, immigration, etc, not one of them mentioned how the parties fared on caring for the poor! I wonder if these people actually really read the Gospels! Each of the issues they looked at are important, but they are forgetting mercy and justice! Ugh it frustrates me.