Sunday, August 31, 2014

F1. Start with the faith you have.

I see this post as the very first in the first section (although I've already done three of the later ones) in my theology in bullet points.
In your search for God, start with the faith you have.

Technically speaking, it is first and foremost God's quest for you. The search for God is not primarily one in which you try to discover God in your own power. Indeed, it is ironic that some try to search for God in their own power by way of the Bible. One critique of Bible-centric, fundamentalist forms of Christian faith is that they usually are, inadvertantly, human centered because they usually picture us as individuals reaching for God by trying to understand and "master" the biblical texts.

Rather, revelation is about God reaching out to us, about God revealing himself to us. The Bible is part of that reaching out, as we will see later in this series. But God has been reaching out to humanity long before there was a Bible. And God reaches out to those who do not have a Bible. And God can reach out to us before we read or are touched through the Bible.

There is a reaching out to us in creation (natural revelation). There is the record of God reaching out to his chosen people (the Bible). God reaches out to each one of us as individuals in many and various ways (personal revelation). But the consummate reaching out to us took place when God himself took on human flesh in Jesus the Christ (incarnation). John 1 does not refer to the Bible when it speaks of the Word made flesh (nor do the other references to the logos in the New Testament), but it refers to Jesus. [1]

We are not in danger of missing out on God if we can't come up with the right answers on our own. We do not have to worry about coming up with the right understanding of the Bible to be saved. Revelation is not about us figuring out or discovering God. Revelation is about God letting us find him through whatever means he chooses.

John Wesley spoke of a special grace that works in God bringing us to him. We call it "prevenient grace." [2] Grace is God's undeserved blessing, his "unmerited favor," as they used to say. It is God reaching out to us long before we are even aware of him. He has been preparing things for us to find him since eternity past, knowing that we would need to.

It is not our study of the Bible in itself that leads us to God, but it is God helping us find him as we read the Scriptures. It is not because the evidence demands a verdict that we find God but, in some cases, God finds us and helps us find him as he removes obstacles to faith in our minds. We do not have to worry that our brains are too feeble to understand. We do not have to worry that we are not born into a family that goes to church. The Word, Jesus, gives light to everyone (John 1:9).

So start with the faith you have. Just considering the law of averages, it is not at all likely that any of us are born into a Christian group that has everything right. Indeed, it is not at all likely that there is a Christian group that has everything right, no matter how many godly people there may be in that group. This suggests that God is more interested in seeing our hearts move than our heads and understandings.

What is essential is that we respond to the light of God when it comes. God wants to be found. God is already here, longing for us to see him, to experience his transformation. We do not have to come up to him. We cannot come up to him. He has come to us. He stands at the door knocking.

Start with the faith you have because that is where God starts. As you open yourself to him, he will begin to change you. He will change your mind, yes. More importantly, he will change your heart. Then your life will change as a result.

There is an old expression for this process: "faith seeking understanding" (fides quaerens intellectum) or "I believe in order to understand (credo ut intelligam). We might only tweak it to say that it is God's transformation, most of all, that we are seeking: "faith seeking transformation."

So if you feel the tug of God, his reaching out to you, start the journey. Put yourself in the way of what are called the "means of grace." Read the Bible--not to master it, but to be touched by God. Seek out a community of believers where God is apparent, knowing that no one community has all the right answers. Pray and listen to God. Look for God everywhere, for he is everywhere.

And if you are already in a community of faith, don't start over. Don't throw everything out and start from scratch. Let God speak to you through the people around you. Read the Bible and pray on your own and listen to God. Don't look to change everything--which is often our human weakness disguised as the quest for God's voice. If God has a word for you, listen.

Start with the faith you have. God will take you where you need to go.

[1] The use of the word logos in the New Testament has a rich history in the impact of Stoic philosophy on Jewish thinking in places like Alexandria, Egypt and Jewish thinkers like Philo. The logos or word of God is God's will for the world in action. God speaks, and his will is done, with his "word" being conceptualized as the instrument through which it is done.

When we look at passages like Hebrews 4:12, James 1:18 and 21, or 1 Peter 1:23, they do not refer specifically to the Bible when they speak of the word of God but to the way in which God speaks his will into the world. For a small glimpse of the Jewish background to this use of the logos, see the book of Wisdom 9:1-2 and 18:15, not to mention Isaiah 55:11.

[2] He technically called it "preventing grace," but it is standard now in Wesleyan circles to call it "prevenient grace."

1 comment:

Susan Moore said...

Wow. I just had that same conversation with a Protestant teacher and a Catholic teacher who were almost politely at each other's throats.

Of everything I have read that you have written, I'd have to say that this blog was clearly inspired by God. I'll catch the sermon video in a few days.

Did you know -I expected to be kicked out of IWU when I went back to the beginning of my faith? Remember, He said I would complete my degree, He didn't say I would graduate!!

God is forgiving and merciful, after all!! :-)