A reasonable faith

A reasonable faith is  the title of a book someone wrote and I have plagiarized the title as I am not trying  to be very original. I know  there are some  who may not  take this very seriously because I am not referencing my sources. I am not attempting   to be an academic here. Its a blog  for crying out loud and this is my blog I make the rules……. so sue me!

Besides  the title stating a reasonable faith one might ask what a reasonable faith is. Well since its  me writing this you are getting my take on the subject.

Over my 34 years as a Christian I have been both encouraged and discouraged to actually engage my brain and understand  what I believe and why I believe it. Those who have discouraged me essentially  told me  that I  should  just accept  the bible as true and believe it without question because if I did I  would be showing a lack of faith. They told me  that getting  too intellectual about faith could lead me into  liberalism. I was told that  the bible was  to be taken literally that it doesn’t contain allegory and symbolism.

Those  who  hold this position generally scoff at textual criticism and most higher learning  such as learning Greek  or Hebrew or studying theology as suspect. You can’t trust those scholars  they have all been infected by liberalism; stick  to simple interpretation of the bible and trust the Holy Spirit  to guide  you.

In this camp parishioners tend  to rely heavily on the Pastor  or teaching elders  to guide  their understanding of the bible. I noted in my previous blog  that very often parishioners have a tendency to parrot their leaders and simply crumble  or revert  to circular reasoning when asked why they believe   what they do. The response is often “Pastor Smith says………:’ or Rev Jones  told me……. So when asked but what does   it mean  to you? They invariably give  very similar answers  to those  they are taught by their authority. If  you  think I am just aiming  this at the fundamentalists  you would be wrong! Group  thinking  or herd mentality is as common in the more critical  thinking circles as it is  in in those   that are less inclined  to  think  so deeply on matters of faith and belief. To be honest we all have a our chosen guru’s  that we like  to quote. If you have a tendency towards  debate ad  being an apologist like me  you might be be drawn  to people such as William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharius James White or Paul Washer  to name a few. I don’t dwell in fundamentalists circles so I  don’t have  much interest in Chuck Mislier or Charles Swindol and  those  goes  but  you can easily recognize  which camp are in by the people  they quote.

That is all well and fine but  the tendency is to put  the above mentioned on pedestals as  though they are speaking infallibly. A well  formed sentence within what appears  to be a well formed argument or defense can be very appealing. Also a well stated devotion can  sound very spiritual and inspire some one  to take their faith more seriously but that doesn’t necessarily make  them right  or what  they have said true. Some classic examples from current affairs in the church is the downfall of Mr Bill Gothard.

Bill has been leading seminars since  the 1960’s on how  to live the Christian life. Recently Bill was dethroned because of his ungodly behavior. Ironically Bill had been teaching heresy for nearly five decades which influenced hundreds of thousands and no one noticed  the red flags waving! Those  who did raise the alarm  were largely ignored. I told  you so! in retrospect is a redundant statement. Now there is a group  that expose Bill and act as a refuge  to those effected  by his teachings and behavior. Not  to sound overly insensitive but closing  the gate after the horse has bolted just leaves the rescuers  to salvage  the victims.

One more example  that may highlight my point is  the current popularity of  the left behind series by Tim Lahaye. Most of us would recognize  that the Left Behind series is a fictionalization of one perspective regarding  the end times, mostly a dispensationalist premillennial view. Not only is  it bad  to base  your beliefs on something that is  so speculative, it can be down right disastrous. If  you watch any TV, there has been a series about those preparing  for  the end  times or a post apocalyptic world. Peoples spending  their life savings  and their lives obsessing  about what could happen is not  a healthy way  to live. Watch ten year old children practicing  with autonomic fire arms  for Armageddon is more than  a little disturbing.

My point here is not that all  these examples are necessarily  bad, its  the amount of faith  we put in these men  to guide us while we state “Amen Brother! Very often we give our leaders the status of a Prophet sprooking some unfathomable wisdom.

During my days on the mission field it wasn’t uncommon  for my comrades  to quote  the director and other leaders of our organization, or other speakers/writers   who  thought in a similar vein. I saw  the red flags during my internship and should have left right then  but its never  that easy when  your on  the inside. One little statement by  our then director should have  been  the point  for a mass exodus away from that para church organization. “God forbid that   you should go back  to where  you came from! Not meaning God forbid  you should   go back  to  the sin  you once lived in; God forbid  you should settle back into your home churches after having served  with us,  this is where   you should stay!

The Pressure  to conform within any social group is enormous! Within a religious setting it is no different, it should be  but its not. In fact the pressure within many Christian groups  to conform  to the ideology and theology of that group is probably stronger than secular groups. I have recently distanced myself from a fellowship where  the Pastor would say the Church didn’t force its beliefs on the group members  to conform  to its standards or impose its ideology on others. However from  the pulpit it was clear that  there was an expectation that certain norms were preferable while others weren’t an issue. Over a long period of time in private communication with  one of its leaders over a number of issues it became clear  that trying  to reason with them was as useful as butting my head on a wall!

The issues raised in  that long dialogue (if one could call it dialogue) came   down  to what I can only call faith in tradition that lacked reason  on the absence of evidence.

That all being said you can intimate that  I never took  the road more traveled and just followed  the crowd. Faith in God can be reasonable and it can be articulated intelligently  so that nonbelievers can see  you have actually  thought about what  you believe and you can defend it vigorously. What  you believe  and why  you believe it doesn’t have  to be because I believe in  it and that’s why. Faith doesn’t need  to be circular. Faith doesn’t need  to be based on faulty information. Faith is not a personality contest  where we follow one man  or another because  they have the latest argument that annihilates our opposition. Faith doesn’t need  to be based on  the greatest thinkers.

What faith needs  to be  based on is the truth of the Gospel about Jesus Christ. Christ can be defended from both  the bible and from History. The Bible can be defended from History and archaeology. The manuscript evidence  for the reliability of the bible narrative is overwhelming. Faith in Christ can be defended against atheism, it can be defended against all other religions.

The big question at the end of all  this is have  you convinced  yourself of the truthfulness of  your faith? Is it  your faith or is it second hand?

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