Over the past year, as I have been posting, lurking, and chiming in here at Conn-versation, and reading and occasionally commenting on Art Boulet’s personal blog, I have continually found myself brought back to the question of what Christian faith really is.
The Bible has a good bit to say on the subject, but it’s really a New Testament concept. The OT explicitly addresses faithfulness, but it’s usually in the context of a quality of Yahweh and the desired quality of his people. The aspect of belief and trust that we typically mean when we talk about faith makes its first appearance in the gospels. Jesus observes faith in the people he encounters, and tends to evaluate it on a quantitative scale: little or great. He seems to be addressing their specific willingness to trust in him personally to accomplish in-real-time salvific acts, manifest most often in healing and life-restoration miracles, which then serve as object lessons pointing to his greater purpose. For the most part, it’s not until the epistles that we get a fuller-blown explication of faith as belief and trust in the person and work of Christ for salvation and eternal life.
In light of this, what does it then mean when we talk about hanging on to faith or losing faith as we ask questions of the Bible? It has occurred to me that conservative reformed Christians have worked hard to ensure that faith is so underpinned by certainties that – well – it doesn’t require all that much faith. To be one of the people of Yahweh requires faith in Jesus, which requires faith in the Bible, which believers can trust completely because the church has doctrinally declared to be inerrant, wholly trustworthy, and perfect down to its very words. Start asking too many untidy questions of the Conn-versation sort, and the whole system, it would seem, is at risk of collapsing, bringing the faith of the faithful along with it.
This is where I’ve had difficulty. Does my faith in the Jesus of the gospels really hinge on Genesis 5 being literally true, as opposed to an Israelite retooling and repurposing of the Sumerian kings list? On insisting as true that Samson was a historic figure and his deeds were accomplished as recorded or that David wrote the Psalms bearing his name? On intentionally burying my understanding of the very different looks of Jeremiah in the MT and the LXX in favor of one Jeremiah only? If these things are equivocal, must it follow that Jesus is equivocal?
Faith requires an element of trust in the absence of concrete proof. It is, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “the conviction of things not seen.” Given that, to what extent does the church’s admittedly well-intended insistence on the perfection of Scripture as a bedrock of faith begin to work at cross-purposes with trusting in things not seen? It strikes me as requiring a greater measure of faith to go with the kind of Bible we’ve actually got than the kind of Bible we may have at one time thought we had, or the kind that arch-conservatives continue to insist we must have. Is there room for the Holy Spirit to infuse the believer’s soul with the truth of the gospel resulting in faith even when Genesis 1-11 is understood to be literature rather than history?
I think it’s time for some reflections on exactly what we as Christian believers mean when we say we have faith. Is the Bible we have, the one that God in some mysterious way caused to be written, assembled, translated, and passed down by generation after generation of Christians, robust enough to withstand detailed secular and academic scrutiny and still contribute to the creation and growth of faithful believers in the person and work of Jesus to salvation? If it’s not, what are we really saying? Is it, as the conservatives would argue, that God is less than fully God? Or, is it, as I have begun to think, that our faith is less than the faith that Jesus himself commended? Or, is it something else? What do you think?