The New Christians

The New Christians

A “Believing” Philosopher

Occasional blogger and always philosopher, Kevin Corcoran, has written a bit about his experience on the emerging church panel at the recent Calvin Worship Symposium.  It seems that the panelists were asked about what beliefs are necessary to be a Christian, and several of them hedged in their answers, including Kevin.  He’s continued the discussion on his blog:

God, I take it, is never satisfied with belief that.
God is interested in the total reorientation and rearrangement of our
lives, our loves, our desires our entire way of being in the world. The
important question is whether being a Christian is fundamentally and
primarily about belief that certain propositions are true.


the most basic level it seems clear to me that God is most interested
in the total reorganization and reconfiguration of human life, of
reorienting the human will, heart, desires and loves. God is interested
in our moral and existential transformation. This of course is in no
way incompatible with belief that certain propositions of the relevant
sort are true. But the goal is transformed lives, not belief in “Jesus facts.”

And this is why when asked whether followers of Christ must
know and put their trust in him, I’m inclined to point out that “being
a Christian” (like belief) is progressive, that I am even now, and
after all these years still becoming a Christian. Followers of Christ must, of course, put their trust in him. I must put my trust in him: today I must; tomorrow I must, and the next day I must. My frustration with myself is that I often put my trust in Christ one moment and then take it back the next.

[UPDATE: Kevin has blogged more about the nature of belief.]

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posted February 11, 2009 at 1:18 am

Why must it always be a dichotomy? Why can’t it be that proper beliefs lead to proper actions?
It would seem that improper beliefs can and do affect how we act (though proper beliefs don’t promise proper actions). He’s right, God calls us to transform everything (“Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”). Our entire being is to be wrapped up and transformed by God – but this includes our minds, which would include what we believe. It’s more than belief, but this doesn’t mean belief is unimportant or not as important as other aspects of becoming a Christian.

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posted February 11, 2009 at 6:52 am

Well said, Joel. I also think he’s not addressing the difference between believing in Jesus and believing in “Jesus facts”. Obviously, even the demons believe in “Jesus facts”, but they don’t believe in Jesus.

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Erik Leafblad

posted February 11, 2009 at 10:46 am

What dichotomy? Corcoran states: “This of course is in no way incompatible with belief that certain propositions of the relevant sort are true. But the goal is transformed lives, not belief in “Jesus facts.””
Please, help me understand the dichotomy he has set up? What I see is a well-reasoned, well-articulated position on what it means to be Christian in all of one’s life — precisely what you say he doesn’t do. Why nit-pick on this one, Joel. It seems to me, based on your comment, you could readily endorse Corcoran’s statement.

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posted February 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I believe the idea that there are a set of standard beliefs that makes us a Christian is our way of wanting to reduce being a Christian down to something that we can control and achieve. It really shook me up when I first encountered the idea that believing certain things did not make me a Christian because it makes being a Christian much more demanding. At this point someone typically jumps to the conclusion that I am promoting a salvation that requires works – let me say that I am not saying that at all. I believe that what Jesus did is completely sufficient. What I do believe is that being a Christian (I prefer Christ follower) is all about following the way of Jesus – the way he lived, loved, thought etc. My thoughts no longer go from thinking of being a Christian to “does that mean I will go to heaven” – now my thoughts go from thinking of being a Christian to “am I becoming more like Jesus”. I think that making personal salvation the central goal of being a Christian makes us unable (from that perspective) to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. So when I hear the question “Are there certain things a person HAS to believe in order to be a Christian?” I immediately think “that’s the wrong question”. I am not sure exactly what the question should be but I think it would be something along the lines of asking if a person is committed to following the way/ideals of Jesus, learning from him and becoming like him.

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posted February 11, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Wasn’t a nit-pick, just a poor job at reading it. I didn’t see that part at all.
I would stress, however, that it is important to believe facts about Jesus – but these facts do not make one a follower of Christ. They are necessary (mostly), but not sufficient in order to be a follower.

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Dave Metz

posted February 12, 2009 at 12:06 am

I think the question posed could be stated this way:
What separates Christians apart as a distinct community? Not just local community but global. How is someone recognized as a member of the church universal?
Every other ancient religion’s “members” were thus signified by region, race, tribe, and blood. That is one of the most progressive innovations of Christianity. It became an “open” religion. Anyone could join the “family” and become children of God.
However, not everyone did. So what determined who did and who didn’t? Actions were simply the outward sign, but faith is what gained membership. So, it wasn’t simply asking, “how am I becoming more like Jesus,” or attempting to “put my trust in Jesus.” Those personal questions and intentions were born from a faith. Faith in what? That is the question. In whom is that faith placed? On what is that faith built? That is what marks a Christian.
Does that mean we need to have creeds and catechisms? I am not sure how necessary they are, but I do think we need to not ignore those who have gone before us and the theological revelations produced through wrestling with history and scripture and the opinions of their predecessors and contemporaries.
If Christianity is (supposedly) a distinct group who, when juxtaposed with the rest of society, reveals an ideal global community, then that community must be tied together by something stronger than similar actions and attitudes. They must share a foundation. Can we just say that foundation is Jesus? Hardly since all we know about Jesus is from accounts written (at the earliest) forty years after his death and resurrection. Can we say scripture? No because, despite what some believe, scripture is not inerrant (although I can adhere to infallible since that doesn’t preclude historical inaccuracies or inconsistencies in the texts but focuses more on the ideas communicated) and the canon was formed by well-intentioned but far from perfect people… so, in a sense you would be putting your faith in those people, not God.
The foundation is what the community says it is, plain and simple. Every community defines itself by who’s in and who’s out. For Christianity, that litmus test has been the combination of scripture, councils, and creeds. This is why even the Catechism of the Catholic Church attaches the label of “Christian” to “men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” (1271)

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posted February 12, 2009 at 3:25 am

While I agree that being a Christian doesn’t stop at just beliefs, we are called first to “repent and believe”, not “follow the ways/ideals of Jesus”.

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Kevin Corcoran

posted February 12, 2009 at 9:11 am

Dave Metz,
Some thoughts. Speaking for myself, I do not want to be forgetful of the first 1600 years of Christian history. I am a firm believer in the Communion of Saints and believe myself to be accountable to them–all of them–those living and those long dead…I mean LONG dead and not dead just since the 16th Century.
What puzzles me is that you ask: on what is [Christian] faith built? What is its foundation? And then you say it can’t be Jesus b/c all we know of him we know from biblical accounts which you say were written 40 years after his death and resurrection. And it can’t be the canonical scriptures b/c they’re not inerrant owing to the fact that they were codified by imperfect people. So what is the foundation? You seem to say it’s a combination of scriptures, councils and creeds. If none of them alone can be the foundation, for the reasons you cite, how can the three of them together be? I don’t get that.
I would also add that if it’s the case that how someone is recognized as a member of the church universal is by (say) their confession of the Apostle’s Creed it wouldn’t follow that confession of the Creed (or the Creed itself) is the foundation of Christian faith. What it is that makes someone a follower of Christ and how others recognize someone as a follower of Christ might be two different things. Indeed, I would say they are two different things.
I’m also concerned that children, mentally retarded adults and others with significant cognitive compromises could not (on your account and if I understand you) properly be called Christians.
It could be, though, that I’ve misunderstood you.

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Rick Diamond

posted February 13, 2009 at 11:47 am

For a lot of us out on the frontier, the whole question of what does or doesn’t make a person a christian is of no interest or relevance. Jesus said that we are to love God and love other people and to serve and fight injustice and heal what is broken. That’s what many folks i know spend their time thinking and praying about, and doing. The rest is not only peripheral, it’s counterproductive; it definitely doesn’t mean jack crap to the millions of people in america who don’t care, much less the rest of the world, for whom christianity has nothing to offer except nice buildings to have weddings in.

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posted February 14, 2009 at 12:36 am

Very Rollins-esque. Thanks for the voices of philosophy here.
For me, beliefs/embodiment is a chicken/egg question. Rorh believes that we practice in order that we might believe, and Rollins believes that we belong, behave, then believe. I think those two/three things are so bound up within a cycle of perpetuation that they are hardly distinguishable as individually causal forces that have a discernible order.

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Jewel Kloos

posted July 25, 2014 at 8:06 pm

You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

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Utah credit repair

posted July 29, 2014 at 8:42 am

Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It actually was a leisure account it. Glance complex to far brought agreeable from you! By the way, how could we keep up a correspondence?

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