faith

What Do You Do With Faith vs. Facts?

I was just asked how I respond when my religious beliefs conflict with what I believe on the basis of other sources of information.  I think this is a common experience (certainly common for me), and that many people wrestle with it in different ways.  My short answer is that I do what I do whenever any two beliefs of mine conflict.  But that answer itself presumes certain views regarding the nature of religious beliefs and knowledge, and there are perhaps some slight differences worth exploring.  Here are a few thoughts about how I approach the issue, and ways I think are dead ends. (more…)

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Judaism and Christianity: Together Again at Long Last?

Earlier this month a collection of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis published a manifesto of sorts “toward a partnership between Jews and Christians,” as the document’s subtitle states, on the website of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation.  In doing so they were, they say, “accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters.”

Now I’m all in favor increased mutual understanding, and indeed of partnership toward shared goals, such as peace.  But I found the document disheartening, and in one place misleading.  I thought I would discuss it here, and through it, how Christians might best serve their Jewish neighbors in Christ-like love. (more…)

Basic Ecclesiology 3: Who’s In?

One of the thornier question in ecclesiology is the question of boundaries: who gets included and who gets excluded?  If you’re reading this hoping that I will conclusively resolve the issue in a “basic ecclesiology” series, you will be disappointed.

No, the starting point for my discussion of inclusion and exclusion is the apostle Paul’s advice to a younger minister of Christ, Timothy.  After reminding him of the salvation available in Jesus, Paul continued (2 Timothy 2:14-19):

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.  Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,  who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.  Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

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Teleology Between Christians and Historians

Teleology is both the hope of Christians and the bane of historians.  As a professional historian, I have publicly railed against teleology for the edification of my students.  As a practicing Christian, I have publicly thanked God for his teleology and used it to comfort those who are hurting.  That sure looks like a contradiction.  It struck me as odd recently, as I was buried under a mountain of undergraduate papers and final exams to grade.  I don’t think it’s a contradiction, but exploring why not has clarified for me what historians are trying to accomplish, and the basis on which Christians formulate their understandings. (more…)

David’s Unanswered Prayer at the Disjuncture of Faith and Feeling

The Bible does not often report unanswered prayer; when it does, we should pay close attention.  One such instance occurs in an unlikely place: the fallout of the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband Uriah.  In this story (2 Samuel 12), David is no hero, but a villain, and when he was rebuked by Nathan, the prophet tricked him into condemning his own actions.  Only then did he repent, and even so the Lord condemned the child to be born, for Bathsheba had become pregnant with David’s son, to death.  David then lay in sackcloth for seven days, fasting and praying for the child to be spared, and yet at the end of the week the baby died.  To the bewilderment of his servants, David then got up, cleaned himself off, stopped fasting, and worshiped the Lord.  Even though this awful situation was the result of David’s own sin, the divergence between David’s actions and his servants’ expectations, a disjuncture occasioned by unanswered prayer, spotlights the difference between faith and feeling in Christianity.

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“The God of All Comfort”

This post is not actually about 2 Corinthians 1, from which the title phrase is taken, but rather about 1 Peter, which I was reading recently.

Peter is writing to Christians scattered throughout what is today Turkey to encourage them because “is necessary for a little while now that you be grieved by various afflictions” (1:6), whose faith was being tested (1:7).  He praises their faith and counsels reverence for God and holiness in life.  He describes their relationship to God with some amazing language which bears repeating: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, so that you may declare the excellent qualities of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light, you who once were ‘not a people’ but now are God’s people, who had ‘not received mercy’ but now have received mercy” (2:9-10).

And he simply assumes that Christians will be hated and will suffer because they are Christian: (more…)

Fighting Truth Decay

This is, at long last, an answer to a question posted by a commentator (I’m sorry to say over a month ago): “[H]ow do you see Christ as having made provisions for guaranteeing the preservation of Truth through the ages (if you see Him as having done so at all)?”  Subsequent discussion revealed that he did not mean merely since Christ’s ascension to heaven.  So this post attempts to address the question in general, but first (as a humanities scholar is apt to do), I need to clarify the issue.

Clarifying the Problem

What does it mean to “guarantee the preservation of Truth”?  In what ways is Truth not preserved?  Truth is not an organic mass which begins to decompose in the summer heat, changing color and attracting flies.  Nor is truth a substance that can be diluted or transmuted.  Truth is a property of certain beliefs, and the “preservation of Truth” is the preservation of true beliefs in the minds of people.  A true belief may fail to be preserved in the minds of people either by failing to pass it on to new people, so that the true belief may be said to end (in a sense) with the death of the last person who believes it, or by being rejected in favor of alternate (and false) beliefs.  Since no sound argument can refute a true belief, if we were fully rational beings, no true belief would ever be rejected for a false belief.  And if we were immortal and perfectly rational beings, truth would be in no danger.  But in fact, we are both mortal, so beliefs need to be passed on, and sinful, so that we often prefer convenient falsehoods to inconvenient truths.  And thus true beliefs need to be preserved.  The transfer of true beliefs to other people is a variety of revelation, the means by which those other people come to believe this truth.  The question of how sinful people are checked from simply chucking out whatever truth they don’t like is a question of redemption.  In both processes, God’s message of salvation is at stake, and therefore this is an important question. (more…)

The Argument from (Dis-)Similarity

Will the real Church please stand up?  Go to a phone directory of any moderately sized settlement and see if the listings for “churches” don’t rapidly get bewildering.  Indeed, such an exercise is often an education into varieties of Christianity we didn’t know existed!  How should those who worship Christ sort through this denominational chaos?

One method frequently suggested by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Disciples of Christ (along with a few Baptists, on occasion) is to look at the evidence for early Christianity and see which contemporary denomination is most similar to the churches of the apostles and their successors.  This is the argument from similarity.  I recently read a blog post making this argument against Protestants of all stripes, and a commentator here pressed me to consider the same line of reasoning.  It was not the first time.  I have heard this argument made in favor of multiple different branches of contemporary Christianity.  I like to imagine the question by asking which church would look most familiar to the apostle Peter or any of the other earliest Christians, if he were sent on a time-travel expedition from AD 60 to the present.  I prefer someone else to Jesus for this exercise because Jesus is the God who knows the hearts, and this is usually posed as a question about external appearances. (more…)