Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Apostasy from Orthodoxy

posted by xscot mcknight

An informed reader of the blog has sent this letter into me and I want to post it and offer a response — a brief one — at the end.
Scot, these are my thoughts on Chrysalis: The Hidden Transformation in the Journey of Faith, which I’ve wrapped up with some thoughts on Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy. Feel free to use or not — regardless, I’m curious for your thoughts on this question of how these journeys tie into “orthodoxy.”
I read through most of your Finding Faith, Losing Faith book. I was quite interested in the “apostasy” section because some of those issues bubbled up strong for me this past year — the natural sciences and Biblical criticism, which are not so easily dismissed as I once thought, and hell (in my case, in relation to my own disabled child) in particular.
I was a little distracted, though, by the continued use in Finding Faith, Losing Faith of the qualifier “orthodox” for “Christianity.” In my own case, I find that I’m moving towards a Christian “orthodoxy” that is more “generous” to borrow a perhaps worn-out phrase. So I can’t really use the word “inerrancy” easily anymore, I’m not sure what parts of the Bible’s protohistory are simply “historical,” and I’m not willing to opine with any certainty about exactly how or exactly whom God will save in Christ (though “in Christ” remains central). Yet I’ll happily confess the Apostles’ Creed. I think there are many, many folks like me, many of whom stay in evangelical churches and try to adopt an “emerging” or “missional” attitude, others who end up in ELCA, PCUSA, Episcopal, and other “mainline” churches — and many I gather who teach at “moderate” evangelical seminaries like Fuller and Regent College. Well, I guess some folks in my old fundamentalist church would consider me apostate — but then, the folks in my mom’s old Plymouth Bretheren church considered her apostate when she started going to a fundamentialst-evangelical church with my dad without wearing a head covering. I got a little sense of this “softening” that many people go through in your reference to Pete Enns’ book, but it just seemed odd that this term “apostasy” seemed to be defined against an “orthodoxy” that means “fundamentalism.”
This is where the Chrysalis book was both helpful and not helpful to me. The Chrysalis idea offers hope that someone facing difficult questions can emerge into a Christian faith that is more open, generous, and intellectually coherent. It’s encouraging to know that this time of being wrapped up in the cocoon of questioning isn’t an inevitable path towards conversion into Agnosticism. It can be a path into a richer Christian faith.
But the term “orthodox” is curiously absent in Chrysalis even as it’s undefined in Finding Faith, Losing Faith. This is the really hard question: can the Chrysalis journey lead into a renewed, sustainable Christian faith that is “orthodox?” I think so, if “orthodox” means the most basic confession that “Jesus is Lord”; and I think so, if “orthodox” also means the broad outline of the faith historically confessed by the Church, even if contingently and imperfectly, in ecumenical documents such as the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds. This is where it’s crucial, I think, that the Chrysalis journey be one that is undertaken in conversation with the great thinkers of the Church (the Fathers, the Reformers, and others, who wrestled with these questions in their own way) and in community with others who are sensitive to the demands of the journey.
Yet this, for me, is the rub: the person taking this journey must at some point gain confidence that he or she is moving towards an authentically Christian faith and not just a kind of Agnosticism or New Age spirituality that retains some Christian words. Communities of scholars and thinkers who take this seriously do exist, and many of them still call themselves “evangelical!” In fact, even at “conservative” evangelical seminaries and colleges, most of the faculty are far, far more nuanced in their thinking about these hard issues than ever seems to filter down to the popular level — I know, I’ve corresponded with many of them in my own questioning, and I’ve read many (too many!) of their books. There is a kind of “conversion” at work here as well: a conversion from an often rigid, received, pre-critical Christian faith into a post-critical, owned Christian faith that is more flexible, less sure of some things, and yet solidly within the trajectory of “orthdoxy” set by the Tradition — a faith grounded in relationship with Jesus that moves out continually, boldly, and patiently to seek understanding.
Dear David,
Thanks much for your note. I sense there’s some serious pondering here and I also sense that we can learn from one another on the issues.
Let me begin with an observation about Finding Faith, Losing Faith: I chanced upon a discovery of some stories of losing faith and a simple reading of a couple of them led me to the view that they could be seen as the mirror image of conversion. So, the hunch turned into an experiment. The hunch was that conversion theory can help us understand why some walk away from the faith. The theory might not illuminate everything, but I hope what we were able to discover will help pastors and youth leaders and college professors.
When doing that work I had to figure what these “apostates” were leaving. Should I call it “Christianity” or the “Christian faith”? I landed upon the term “orthodoxy” because the focus of nearly all of those who walked away from the faith was on what Christians believed instead of a “personal engagement with God.” In fact, I was quite surprised how rarely anything like the personal relationship these folks had with God was something they missed or struggled to abandon. Whey they abandoned was the coherent set of beliefs Christians have. What I mean by “orthodoxy” then is the basic beliefs that Christians — all Christians — hold in common. So, yes, one could say the Apostles’ Creed is enough to measure what I mean by this.
On the chrysalis and orthodoxy … this is an interesting connection you make here. I do think many who go through a chrysalis experience move into a deeper embrace of orthodoxy, in its big general sense. In fact, many who encounter the chrysalis experience struggle but end up with a second naivete, that is, a second commitment to Christ but this time in a deeper more penetrating way, a deeper level of personal commitment, and a strong embrace of the whole history of the church.
You’ve got some good wisdom when you mention the need for the chrysalis people to have good friends — the great thinkers of the church. I just have this sense that too many want to find only those who will tell them what they want to hear instead of struggling, as some of the great spiritual masters did, with the great sources of our faith. I think of some of the stories Richard Foster has told over the years, and I know the dark night of the soul was faced by many with Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and others in hand. For the chrysalis experience to yield genuine spirituality, it must keep in view that depths of the Psalms and the Prophets and the great masters of our faith.
Well, those are some thoughts.
Blessings,
Scot



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Peter

posted September 11, 2008 at 12:48 am


Whew.
That was invigorating.
I sit at my computer so thankful for your wisdom and insights (each of you).
Timely.
Thanks.
Peter



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RJS

posted September 11, 2008 at 4:34 am


Great letter David and great response Scot. This is a topic I?ve been thinking about a great deal lately (i.e. 5 or so years) and more sporadically before, for two major reasons ? personal and environmental. The first is a walk from lay-level evangelical orthodoxy, which is what I would call an incoherent set of sometimes untenable beliefs, to a more coherent orthodoxy. The second is the University environment and the challenges faced by students and scholars in this environment. So you could say my interest is personal and missional.
Reading the early church fathers was the single most significant thing I did on my journey, starting with Clement of Rome, and Ignatius, the Didache and Justin Martyr and on. This reading is actually what gave me the confidence that I was moving toward an authentically Christian faith and not away from God. The Apostles Creed is a great summary statement of “orthodoxy” in basic beliefs about God ? but reading the early church writings brings it even deeper. We are part of an ongoing effort to understand and grapple with God, his story, and his interaction with the world. There are not comprehensive statements of extensive absolutes. We stand in a great stream of Christian faith, action, and thought.
This process has also led me to hold denominational distinctive very loosely in the quest to follow God, and I consider RCC, EO, etc. as “denominations” here. If the Christian faith is true ? the Spirit is with all and will guide all who genuinely seek. Because I believe in the God of the Bible ? who acted in his creation through Jesus – I can neither dismiss other “takes” as wholly out of God’s will, nor believe that most of the distinctive we hold dear are all that important in the Grand Scheme. Rather these are cultural expressions that go awry when power, gain, pride, insecurity, etc. infiltrate, as they always do when humans are involved. Come on ? God is in control and he is a whole lot bigger than this little group here and that little group there.
This process has also led me to another important place — I came to realize that our faith is in God alone and in the atoning work of God through Christ. We grow in understanding through scripture, the teachings through the thread of history, and the guidance of the Spirit. The Bible is God’s gift to illumine our way, not the rock on which we stand. Christian tradition is the stream within which we interact and converse, again not the rock on which we stand. Within evangelical circles, and I still consider myself evangelical, this means we need to develop a realistic doctrine of scripture as authority, not turn it into a “magic book” in much the same vein that the medieval Christians viewed relics and such.
Authentically orthodox faith stands in the stream of the work of God through the church from beginning to end.
Good thing the post was long, so I have not yet fallen into the error of posting a comment much longer than the original — I have more I could say, but will stop for now.



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Scott W

posted September 11, 2008 at 5:46 am


One thing that one notices about heresies is that they lead to unbalanced,diminshed understanding of dogma which have the same effect spiritually. The faith behind the concilar creeds were meant to preserve the breadth and depth of the Catholic Faith, rightly understood.In a sense,Protestant Evangelical doctrine represents a diminution of this breadth and depth of the Catholic Faith, esp. the doctrine of Scripture.
My faith journey has taken me from being unchurched,to charismatic with Baptist church background to Episcopalian to Orthodox. The same Jesus whom I came into relationship with by the Holy Spirit when I was 17 is the same one who communes with me today.My journey has afforded me to understand better experientially who the Triune God is because of the contexts God has led me into have opened me up to so much more. Evangelicalism is not the boundary for Christian orthodoxy, even though I would not be where I am today if it were not for the journey within “evangelicalism” which I treasure.



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RJS

posted September 11, 2008 at 7:03 am


David,
Your last line is beautiful.
There is a kind of “conversion” at work here as well: a conversion from an often rigid, received, pre-critical Christian faith into a post-critical, owned Christian faith that is more flexible, less sure of some things, and yet solidly within the trajectory of “orthdoxy” set by the Tradition ? a faith grounded in relationship with Jesus that moves out continually, boldly, and patiently to seek understanding.
My response in #2 is in many ways an extended, wordy way to say “ditto.”



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Rick

posted September 11, 2008 at 7:17 am


Is this a case of resdiscovering orthodoxy and Christian tradition, or discovering it for the first time?
How many churches provide teaching and resources on those topics?
How many churches even recite the Apostle’s Creed, let alone cover its meaning and purpose?
I will never forget going to a Christian bookstore(s) looking for a book by Augustine. I had to go to Barnes & Noble. Silly me.
Some have clearly benefited by wrestling through the faith issues, but how many unnecessary “problems” could be avoided if more churches covered orthodoxy, the creeds, the theological tradition(s)?



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TJC

posted September 11, 2008 at 8:05 am


David and Scot,
I personally think this subject is one of the biggest issues facing the Church today. I think your assessments of a new generation of Christians’ spirituality and theology are on the mark. My own journey has been one of embracing a relatively simplistic (yet, in many ways true) understanding of faith in Christ, only to have it refined and deepened. Probably the place I’ve most seen this refining take place is with respect towards the nature of Scripture. I think the number of books written recently that have attempted to speak to the complexity of the issues related to the authority of Scripture are evidence of its significance today. And like David, I also have an uneasiness in using the word ‘inerrancy.’ Actually, I still use it, but I usually have to qualify it so much that I’m not using it in the same way that others use it and so I often feel a bit disingenuous. I believe that I’m still holding to a high view of Scripture, and that in recognizing its human component its authority isn’t diminished but rather reaffirms for me that it is the inerrant/incarnational Word of God.
Ok, so again thanks again for so accurately identifying this major issue. Scot, I would love to see an extended treatment (book?) by you on this issue. Not that you don’t have enough to do! I know that there are several out there (Enns, Dunn, Wright, Sparks, Witherington), but your perspective would be a welcome addition. Maybe you already have?
But now to a concern. Not with your comments, but more thinking out loud… I wonder if the journey that many of us have been on isn’t a necessary one. My concern is for Christian leaders who uncritically throw off an ‘orthodox’ Christianity that is perceived as rigid, because it is the in thing to do without having had the benefit of pressing hard on these issues either in an academic setting or with a cohort group of some kind. And on an related issue, can you arrive at the same place theologically from the other direction? I see plenty of evidence of ‘conservative’ Christians becoming more moderate, but how about skeptics moving towards an orthodox moderate position?



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 11, 2008 at 8:18 am


Faith is in an aspect of the Quadralateral…reason, experience, tradition, and Scripture. I find it untenable to say that everyone will come out the same way, no matter how one approaches it. How the individual approaches faith within the context of these aspects of faith, are diverse, as well as the personal contexts. There is “no one true faith”, in that sense. I know that evangelicals would like to “know the truth absolutely” dependant on their personal encounters with God and underwritten by Church Fathers (experience and Tradition), but there is no provability to faith. Faith should be undefined, and is exemplified by life commitments. Everyone’s life will be and look different, as we have difference in outlook, culture, values, etc….so many contextual differences that it behooves us all to “tread lightly” and respectfully concerning another’s faith..and applaud or challenge life commitments…this is values clarification and it is education, NOT relgion’s task…



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 11, 2008 at 8:20 am


I’m sorry about the caps…I just do it without thinking, I guess. I will make a conscious effort..



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 11, 2008 at 8:35 am


By the way, I developed a way in which to evaluate (it’s not scientifically proven) a person’s development. The “model” interfaces intellectual (reason), faith(tradition,text) and moral(experience) developmental models. These models are based on Fowler’s faith, Perry’s intellectual and Kohlberg’s moral models….It would be interesting to “prove” these across traditions (religions, denominations), cultures (experience) and education.



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RJS

posted September 11, 2008 at 8:55 am


Angie,
A reader a year ago or so pointed us to an article (Authoritarian or Authority-Minded? D. E. Owen; K. D. Wald; S. S. Hill, Religion and American Culture, 1, 73-100, (1991)) that dealt with the quest for certainty and “authority” with American fundamentalism. It seems to me that within conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism absolute authority is sought within scripture – but it is found in a way that turns scripture into something that it is not and was never intended to be. The Bible becomes the “rock” – and its “human” characteristics are denied.
I found the last chapter of Scot’s book (Finding Faith, Losing Faith) to be interesting in that the driving force behind many converts from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism was also this quest for certainty and “authority.” In this case absolute authority is sought within “The Church” and the apostolic succession (which is not really there). The Church becomes the ?”rock” and its “human” characteristics are denied.
The faith isn’t provable, but it can be reasonable… and I think that we search for truth, but must realize that the “rock” is God alone, not institution or scripture or anything else. When the quest for authority leads to absurdity it will drive some from faith altogether.
But I probably still misunderstand your issue and point, as that seems to be my lot.



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 11, 2008 at 9:10 am


Authority is needful for some who have not developed their own commitments and convictions. Not all people are comfortable with their own personal commitments and convictions to “not need an authority”. But, that does not necessarily mean that not needing an authority leads to atheism. Atheism is about those who are comfortable with difference and “freethought”. God is not going to zap you or judge you in the life to come if you think differently than according to tradition….but it can lead the atheist to commit, as in Ricour’s second naivete’ to a faith community. That commitment will not be because of a “need” within, but a “need withou” in those who need to be trained out of an outside source of authority…if that is the gifting…where the student will come to conviction that may be different from their family of origin…it becomes a personal development issue of life calling…



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Taylor

posted September 11, 2008 at 9:37 am


Man does this post strike to into my very core. I’m always asking: Is my ELCA church orthodox enough or should we go to more conservative church? Absolutely gut-wrenching. The bottom line is that I just really don’t know which denomination is right.



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Sam Burr

posted September 11, 2008 at 10:08 am


Thank you David and Scot and everyone. This post, and its concerns, describe with near perfection where I am on my journey and the fears but also joys that acompany it. I am finding the journey lonely, and I am very grateful for the blog community and the civility and safety I find here. I am very hesitant to share with my community my doubts because I do not want to weaken anyones faith. Perhaps I am wrong in this. Maybe there are some who are in danger if I am not honest about where I am in my journey. What I want is to to love God really and to live in grateful response to the love revealed through Jesus. And I am very concerned that my journey is leading to a deeper intimancy with God in community. Thanks again.



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dopderbeck

posted September 11, 2008 at 10:15 am


TJC — is Witherington’s book on inerrancy any good? Which book is Dunn?
I’ve read the others, which I endorse as good reading for folks trying to refine their understanding of scripture. John Goldingay’s work is also good here (“Models for Scripture” and “Models for the Interpretation of Scripture”), and also Telford Work (“Living and Active”). No one will agree with every conclusion in all of these books, but there is a group of folks out there writing on it.



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tscott

posted September 11, 2008 at 10:25 am


Angie Van De Merwe,
Couldn’t agree more with you that people are
different in respect to faith.
On the issue of tread lightly… my mind doesn’t go to the church fathers, but rather to a scientific one-
Carl Linnaeus. He’s known for binomial nomenclature, but
his research took science on a path that diverged from what had been taught by religious authorities. His lifelong motto was “innocue vivito, numen adest”. I’ll
translate this as “live innocently, God is here”, but
no matter the tranlation it’s about respect on many levels. Our report card here, from within Christianity, or without, is not pretty.



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TJC

posted September 11, 2008 at 10:35 am


Dunn’s is The Living Word (1988) with a 2nd (expanded?) edition in early 2009.
Witherington’s The Living Word of God is valuable in that it is another perspective in which he enters into conversation with some of the others (Wright, Enns).



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Anonymous

posted September 11, 2008 at 12:27 pm


Younger Evangelicals and Orthodoxy « Random Bloggings

[…] Younger Evangelicals and Orthodoxy Although I despise labels, the best one for me might well be “younger evangelical,” depending on how one defines that phrase. There is a very interesting post over at Jesus Creed that Scot has posted from one of his readers. Although the entire post is worth reading, one bit in particular struck me as exceptionally helpful: I was a little distracted, though, by the continued use in Finding Faith, Losing Faith of the qualifier ?orthodox? for ?Christianity.? In my own case, I find that I?m moving towards a Christian ?orthodoxy? that is more ?generous? to borrow a perhaps worn-out phrase. So I can?t really use the word ?inerrancy? easily anymore, I?m not sure what parts of the Bible?s protohistory are simply ?historical,? and I?m not willing to opine with any certainty about exactly how or exactly whom God will save in Christ (though ?in Christ? remains central). Yet I?ll happily confess the Apostles? Creed. I think there are many, many folks like me, many of whom stay in evangelical churches and try to adopt an ?emerging? or ?missional? attitude, others who end up in ELCA, PCUSA, Episcopal, and other ?mainline? churches ? and many I gather who teach at ?moderate? evangelical seminaries like Fuller and Regent College. […]



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Norm

posted September 11, 2008 at 8:55 pm


There are times when the refreshing waters of candid living wash over me and bring a sense of relief. Walking through these comments is one of those times.
Discovering there are fellow pilgrims who wrestle with the same questions, fears, doubts, and purposeful reflection on Scripture that I am trying to get my arms around is stimulating.
Thank you all.



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Michel

posted September 12, 2008 at 1:16 am


I?ve been thinking about orthodoxy a lot lately. Here in Switzerland, in many of the so called free churches, the Christian faith has moved to the realm of personal convictions. As long as you believe in the Christian God and do your best to give him the first place in your life (only some people would add this second part), and if you believe that Jesus died for your sins, it doesn?t seem to matter what else you believe, as long as it has a ?Christian touch?. The Christian faith has become something very individualistic; with limited Bible knowledge and mostly no knowledge of the traditions and history of the Church, most believers just create their own personal version of the Christian faith. Faith seems to be centered on personal experience and any dogma that comes from outside is considered restrictive and limits personal freedom. On the other hand, they are very adamant, that one should not use homeopathy, not believe in astrology, and a couple of other things, which however have nothing or at the very best remotely to do with the foundations of our faith.
In our small group I?m currently doing a series on the foundations of our faith. One evening we were discussing the humanity and divinity of Jesus and one member of our group said that for her Jesus was not divine during his time on earth, because he prayed to his father in heaven and he said that he could not do anything without the father. Another time when we were discussing the trinity, a subject that is rarely if ever spoken about in our churches, someone asked: why are all these details important? Isn?t it enough if I believe in God? Doesn?t the Holy Spirit make sure that I believe the right things? So why should I bother with all this theoretical stuff?
I?d like to hear what readers of this blog would reply to these objections.



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dopderbeck

posted September 12, 2008 at 6:49 am


Michel – I think you touch on an important point, and your concerns are exactly the sort that prompted me (author of the original note) to bring in those thoughts about “orthodoxy.” It seems to me that there is a balance here: we can eschew any notion of “orthodoxy” at all, lose any sense at all of connection to the Tradition passed down by the apostles except for something about the experience of Jesus, and perhaps end up with an existential faith without much truly “Christian” content; or we can demand an “orthodoxy” that is too historically situated and too brittle, so that any legitimate challenge to it shatters the entire structure. This is where I think Scot’s clarification on my original note was helpful — orthodoxy is both a tradition received and a trajectory given. The trajectory allows us to work towards extending the tradition as it faces new challenges in each generation.



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Michel

posted September 12, 2008 at 7:14 am


David – I agree with the statement that orthodoxy is both tradition received and trajectory given. This however is very vague. If I look back in history, the response of the church fathers to the challenges of their day, was to issue clear statements of what they considered to be the right way, the true way. The same can be said of the reformation.
Then why do we shy away from such clear statements in our day? Is it no longer possible to make such clear statements as the church fathers did?



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dopderbeck

posted September 12, 2008 at 7:38 am


Michel — I think I’d say yes and sort-of. yes, the Fathers responded forcefully to the issues they confronted, which were absolutely central to what was received from the apostles — particularly the divinity of Jesus in response to the gnostics. Sort-of, in that I’m not sure the Fathers were quite as monolithic as we might think — compare Origen, Ireneaus, and Augustine on some points, for example, and there are many differences on important points.
Also, even though the rhetoric used by the Fathers (and the Reformers) often was bombastic by contemporary standards, the substance of their discussion was often astoundingly brilliant and erudite. The Fathers were in deep conversation with Greek thought and the Reformers were in deep conversation with humanistic thought. They didn’t simply dismiss the intellectual challenges of their day, and they didn’t just erect an alternate version of reality; they engaged.
It’s also hard, when reading something like the Nicene Creed, to realize that at the time the creed was shaped there was not universal assent to it. It was forged in a crucible of debate over centuries.
Still, I agree with you that the trajectory has to be shaped by the tradition. I may be having a little trouble relating exactly to your situation because my experience is coming out of a sort of fundamentalism in which many, many things are said with force and clarity that probably should be said with tentative humility. It seems my experience is at one pole and yours is at another, and that there must be some good middle place between them.



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Michel

posted September 12, 2008 at 9:09 am


David – I am not a theologian; just a lay person with a hunger for truth. In my search for truth I read a lot and my reading may be biased.
What I notice is that my thoughts are constantly swinging from longing for a rigorous truth, that I can hold onto, to an open all encompassing and generous faith. When I’m in the rigorous ‘mood’ I see the danger of fundamentalism and legalism looming, I see the danger of arrogance and judgementalism rising. When I’m in my ‘generous mood’, I see the danger of universalism and individualism, I see the danger of no set values and ‘anything goes’, I see the danger of I/Me as center of the universe instead of God.
I’m looking for this good middle place, and can’t seem to find the right position to stop the pendulum from swinging from one extreme to the other. Out of this longing, you might even call it desperation, I’m calling for a clear and unequivocal statement, where we are to stand as earnest and humble followers of the triune God in a time of much confusion.



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dopderbeck

posted September 12, 2008 at 9:30 am


Michel, I hear you loud and clear. I think it’s wise and good to look for those anchors, particularly as you’re in the midst of a season of stretching / questioning / growth. To me the first place to start with this is “Jesus is Lord” and “He is risen!” to which I believe the scriptures, the Tradition and the Holy Spirit testify with the authority and power. Beyond that, I think the early ecumenical creeds — Apostle’s and Nicene — that the Church in its various forms has confessed for almost 2000 years, serve as excellent anchor points — not infallible rules, but strong anchor points. And of course there is the need to regularly be immersed in the scriptures and in prayer — again not as a way of necessarily finding proof points, but as a way of being shaped in mind and character.
Let me also suggest a couple of books I’ve found helpful in addition to the ones already mentioned in this thread: Os Guiness, “God in the Dark”; Alister McGrath, “Doubting”; Donald Bloesch, “The Ground of Certainty”; Leslie Newbiggin, “Proper Confidence”. Each of these books, in different ways, address the balance between our need for certainty and our uncertain human condition. I think you’d find that any one of them will help you start to get your feet back on the ground.



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RJS

posted September 12, 2008 at 9:43 am


Michel,
It seems to me that this longing for unequivocal clarity is normal, but somewhat unreasonable. The faith is much more a centered set walk, than a bounded set home. Of course this is somewhat unnerving, because it seems to breed individualism and exalt personal intuition over “reality.” But the walk has to be centered ? not bounded, because there are important ways in which the human social and cultural landscape evolves and fluctuates across the globe and through the centuries. Authentically orthodox faith stands in the stream of the work of God through the church from beginning to end and rests in the conviction that he is in control; that the Spirit is at work today as in the past; that Jesus is Lord.



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Michel

posted September 12, 2008 at 11:11 pm


David / RJS – If faith is a centered walk, then why is there so much discussion about details, also on this blog? It?s possible that I?m not grasping what you mean by centered walk, so maybe you could clarify what you mean by this?
I?m not looking for 100% clarity and assurance. Our God is an invisible God, a mysterious God, a God beyond our grasping and this mystery is an integral part of my faith. However, it seems to me, some things are (or should be) clearly defined. When God?s people where wandering in the desert, God gave them precise instructions. He didn?t say ?Ok, guys we?re gonna have a little walk in the desert and see where it takes us?. Now, ?centered walk? or ?middle place? to me, sound a lot like ?let?s see where it takes us?. This might resonate very well with people of our day and age, but is it true to our faith?
I understand that God is a relational God and as soon as you put constraints and rules on a relationship without the heart being in it, the relationship is bound to smother. On the other hand, if you live the relationship without bounds and rules, it will wear itself out or be overtaken by external factors that will drive a cleft right trough the middle. So I guess what I?m looking for are the bounds and rules for our day and age, without loosing the heart. Now, if you say, that?s an individual thing, the doors are wide open for each and every person to create his own private little brand of Christianity. This is what I see happening all around me. Why does this bother me? Because, instead of God, it puts the person, the individual in the center. He or she defines who God is and how he or she wants to respond to Him. People then say: this is how I want Christianity to be, this is how it?s ok for me. The question I?m asking myself then is: is this the Christianity God wants?



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dopderbeck

posted September 13, 2008 at 8:05 am


Michel, I think you’re asking very valid questions. My take on “centered walk” is that there are at least a few things that mark out the path. “Jesus is Lord” is one of them — there is no truly Christian walk without the fact of Jesus’ divinity. “He is risen” is another — there is no meaningful Christian walk if Christ be not raised. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and all your strength” is another — there is no authentically Christian walk without becoming transformed towards living the “Jesus Creed” (and without growing into all of the ethical implications of that creed as drawn out in scripture). Some others as I see it (and I would suggest as the Church has historically seen it):
— God is creator of all that is
— God is three-in-one: Father, Son, Holy Spirit
— All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
— Christ Jesus, fully God and fully man, died for our sins
— God is the final judge of all people, structures and institutions
Keeping these as boundary-stones, in my view, is what centers our walk. So, for example, I might explore how knowledge from the natural sciences shapes my understanding of what it meanst that “God is creator of all that is”, but that boundary stone keeps me on the path of a God who truly is transcendent over His creation.



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Michel

posted September 13, 2008 at 11:24 am


David ? thanks for your valuable comments. I?m currently reading The Divine Embrace by Robert E. Webber. This book seems to be providential (or however you might call it) for me, arriving at exactly the right time to answer some of my questions. Just today I read a passage that provides a good basis for a response to my questions here. This is the passage:
We in Christ belong to a community of faith connected with Israel that goes all the way back to the beginning of things. This community has been reflecting on what it perceives to be God?s actions in history and on God?s self revelation in Scripture for centuries. Out of this reflection comes the first order truths that all Christians embrace ? mainly the story of the Triune God, creation, fall, incarnation, death, resurrection, and re-creation of all things at the end of history. It is the second order systems that people now question as truth. These systems of theology (both conservative and liberal), rooted in the Enlightenment, attempted to answer all questions with certainty, leaving no room for ambiguity or mystery. Because these modern systems are now in question, we are able to get behind them to the narrative of faith from which they sprang . We do have truth. It is the story of God handed down in Scripture, in the church, and in its ministry of worship.



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RJS

posted September 13, 2008 at 12:17 pm


David and Michel,
I would agree largely with David (#27) but with a slightly different way of putting it (for one I prefer to avoid the term “boundary”). To me centered means centered on God through Jesus ? so centered on Jesus. But this means affirming Jesus as risen Lord; it means acknowledging that we follow Jesus as Lord because it was through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that God acted in the world to enable us to follow and to initiate the coming of his kingdom, present and more fully future. Centered means affirming the power of the Spirit to guide and direct the one who truly seeks after God and the kingdom of God. And the “Jesus Creed” is an indispensible part of this.
So, centered on Jesus as Lord means that we stand in the tradition of the Church, a stream, past, present and future, and we are not free to remake Jesus or the faith to individual whim or context. But we are free and must be free to wrestle with how we articulate this in our changing context. Reading scripture is essential – for all. Centered means taking the story we have in scripture seriously.
But as I reread the first paragraph in #19, and the comment in #21, I think that perhaps the question is somewhat different. Yes – many of the early church fathers, the great thinkers and theologians of 500-1500; and the reformers make clear absolute statements. But if the Christian faith is true, and I believe that it is, then they can?t all be right, and being right all the time cannot be all that important. Not only that, but the adamant insistence on adherence to particular peripheral dogma must be wrong (i.e. sinful). It seems to me that it is human sinfulness that tries to control, direct, and contain – rather than to follow God, admonish, and teach. Think about it – we stand in a tradition that executed people for translating scripture from Latin into the vernacular; that threatened excommunication and execution for proclaiming that the earth circled the sun – that we have a heliocentric solar system; that executed people for suggesting that transubstantiation in the Eucharist was a matter upon which Christians could disagree, and this despite the fact that it is a stretch to read the doctrine into the earliest church writings. I am convinced that the fundamentalist, legalistic mindset will lead to far greater and far more reaching error, than the softer centered on Jesus approach.
On the other hand – we must also have teachers and preachers who know enough to engage and discuss the issues; to set boundaries (even though I hate that word) on the doctrines of the church, but to teach these boundaries, not to proclaim and defend them. There is a big difference here. I teach my students how to think about the subjects I teach; I do not give them facts and consider myself successful if they can regurgitate those facts and unsuccessful if they question them.
So the response to the woman who suggested that for her Jesus was not divine during his time on earth, because he prayed to his father in heaven and he said that he could not do anything without the father is not to reassert the divinity of Jesus – but to look at how Christian thinkers have wrestled with this problem and to discuss the issues (Ask Scot – he’s certainly got opinions on this issue). These issues actually point to the fully human nature of Jesus in the incarnation – that God became man to save mankind. Frankly many lay Christians have a view of the divinity of Jesus which denies his humanity in the incarnation and life on this earth, which makes him to be divine in a “magical” sense not supported by scripture.
Oh shoot Scot — now you’ve really got me thinking. But I will stop here as this comment is already far too long.



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Anonymous

posted September 14, 2008 at 7:59 am


Chrysalis Experience : Aletheia – Songs of Unforgetting

[…] This morning I came across a post at Jesus Creed that consists of an email to Scott and a response from him. The whole thing is quite good, but it’s this part that grabbed my attention: I do think many who go through a chrysalis experience move into a deeper embrace of orthodoxy, in its big general sense. In fact, many who encounter the chrysalis experience struggle but end up with a second naivete, that is, a second commitment to Christ but this time in a deeper more penetrating way, a deeper level of personal commitment, and a strong embrace of the whole history of the church. […]



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