What Does Faith Believe?

Faith mountain

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he breaks down gates of bronze
and cuts through bars of iron.
(Psalm 107:15-16)

Do we believe God can break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron? Do we believe God can do things vastly beyond anything we could ask or imagine? Too often we say that God is powerful—able to do all things, even—but then rarely look for God to do powerful things in and around our lives. We temper our expectations down to more tame heights or abstract aims.

At times this is because of uncertainty or fear. We say, “God is might to save, but will He do it here and now with this specific situation?” Unsure, we draw back from asking because we do not want to be disappointed if God does not answer in the way we hope or timing we would like.

But this reveals a deeper problem of our faith. If faith “is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1), then even if we do not see what we pray for, true faith still believes that God is at work. We walk by faith and not be sight. True faith is not decimated by perceptions, otherwise it would not be faith at all but something else. Faith believes God is at work, able to do vastly beyond anything we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) and bringing to completion the glorious work He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).

The Weekend Wanderer: 1 June 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

religious freedom“Rethinking the History of Religious Freedom” – Church historian Robert Louis Wilken offers this helpful essay on religious freedom at First Things. “What is missing in these accounts is the contribution of Christianity. Many believe that Christianity is inescapably intolerant, and that only with the decline of religious faith in western society did liberty of conscience take root. But a more careful examination of the historical record shows that Christian thinkers provided the intellectual framework that made possible the rise of religious freedom.”

 

catechesis.jpeg“Catechesis for a Secular Age by Timothy Keller with James K. A. Smith” – Catechesis  is the process of introducing new converts or those preparing for baptism or confirmation to the essential teaching of Christ and the apostles, usually with the help of a catechism. There has been increasing attention given to the need for catechesis within the church across a wide spectrum of traditions or denominations. In this 2017 article, Jamie Smith interviews Tim Keller about the need for catechesis in what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has dubbed “a secular age.”

 

can we believe“Can We Believe?: A personal reflection on why we shouldn’t abandon the faith that has nourished Western civilization” – Speaking of a secular age, here is Andrew Klavan’s personal reflection on the inadequacy of the Enlightenment narrative and the need for something beyond that like Christian faith. This meandering journey takes him into the prevalence of unbelief in the contemporary era and into the necessity of belief for the fabric of morality and society. Along the way, Klavan touches upon the work of Jordan Peterson, Douglas Murray, Marcello Pera, Steven Pinker, Yuval Noah Harari, and many more. He writes: “The point of this essay is not to argue the truth of Christianity. I argue only this: the modern intellectual’s difficulty in believing is largely an effect created by the overwhelming dominance of the Enlightenment Narrative, and that narrative is simplistic and incomplete.”

 

books“Thirty Years, Thirty Books | Fiction: The Pleasures of Obsolescence” – As part of their celebration of the one-hundredth issue and thirtieth anniversary of Image Magazine, the editors asked a poet, novelist, and essayist to offer their top ten works in their area over the past thirty years. Melissa Range offers a list related to poetry in “Poetry: A Word We Have Not Heard.” Christopher Beha offers his list of novels in “Fiction: The Pleasures of Obsolescence.”  Morgan Meis offers a list of essays in “Love, Hate, and Digestion: A Miscellany.”

 

54258“Farewell Franchise Ministry” – There are moments as a pastor where you feel out of sync with the surrounding ministry culture. Multisite is one of those areas for me where incarnational theology seems at odds with the prevailing model of multisite through video venues. We have been discussing at Eastbrook whether it’s possible to move into a more incarnational family of churches model within urban environments; something we affectionately refer to as missional multisite, although I don’t really love that terminology any longer. I know there are churches that have done so, and now here is another.

 

New_Life_Church_Aerial_Photo“Megachurches Discovering Liturgy & Traditional Christianity?” – In light of the previous article, Gene Veith’s recent post about evangelical megachurches moving toward liturgy and Christian tradition makes sense. Veith’s post is a response to Anna Keating’s article for America, entitled Why Evangelical megachurches are embracing (some) Catholic traditions. Veith corrects some misunderstandings of Keating’s article, while providing some background on why churches like New Life Church, The Village Church, and Willow Creek are now integrating ancient Christian practices and liturgy into their church life.

 

Music: Nils Frahm, “All Melody,” from the album All Melody.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Challenges to the Hunger to Know

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This past weekend at Eastbrook, I explored the hunger that each of us have to know and be known as part of our Hungry for God sermon series. One aspect of this that I did not really get to explore as much as I had hoped was some of the challenges that we encounter with our hunger to know.

The Challenge of Limitations
One of the challenges about our hunger to know is that we often encounter our limitations with knowledge. Sometimes this appears in relation to scientific realities, such as the reality that there is more unknown ‘dark matter’ in the universe than what we can know, or the unintended consequences of genetic manipulation about mosquitos that scientists are currently wrestling with in their goal of eliminating malaria.  Sometimes our limitations are more basic, such as not being able to know what’s on someone else’s mind – whether a friend, lover, or boss – or our inability to know the future, one of the great anxieties of our lives

The Challenge of the Intrinsic Relationship between Knowledge and Power
Another challenge is the relationship between knowledge and power. There’s an old saying: “knowledge is power.” Knowledge serves not only to enlighten people, but to give certain people power. On the positive side, this is why so much effort has been given to help people learn to read. Literacy helps in the acquisition of knowledge, which is such an empowering breakthrough in life. At the same time, some people hold back knowledge from others as a means of brokering power in a way that keeps some down and props others up. Knowledge is power, but that power can be used dangerously or beneficially.

The Challenge of Neighbors to Knowledge
Another challenge about our hunger to know is the fine distinctions that exist between information, knowledge, belief, and wisdom. I
nformation tells us about things, but knowledge tells us why that information is useful. Belief is different from knowledge but equally important. Belief shapes our approach to the good (or moral) life. Belief is often devalued in comparison with knowledge. Some will say, “If you have to rely on belief, then you are unthinking.” But that is really an unthinking statement, since it derives from a position of belief. Knowledge and belief actually function in different, but overlapping, capacities in our lives. Appropriate knowledge is the basis of right belief. For example, if we know the stakes of winning in gambling are so low, we would do well to believe it and live accordingly. Knowledge and belief work together. Wisdom helps us know how to live well in light of appropriate knowledge and right belief. We ideally gain wisdom over the course of our lives, but not if we reject either knowledge and belief. That’s why we say there are some very smart people who do very stupid things in life. They lack wisdom.

The Challenge of the Eradication of God from Public Knowledge
Another challenge for us in our contemporary world is the tendency to eradicate knowledge of God and His ways from the realm of meaningful, public knowledge. 
Some will say that if you believe in God, then you should automatically not be taken seriously; which is probably one of the most biased, unthinking things one could say. All honest thinkers will at least admit that as much as people may say we cannot prove that God exists – and I think there are some pretty convincing proofs of God’s existence – as much as people may say we cannot prove that God does exist, we also cannot prove that God does not exist. After all, Jesus, even if all His claims about God were set aside, is widely commended for His contributions to humanity, for things such as the golden rule, love for the neighbor, and more. If Jesus and His followers viewed the basis for these contributions as rooted in the knowledge of God, then we certainly must not brush aside knowledge of and belief in God as significant for discussions in our hunger to know. We must allow that knowledge and belief in God be admitted as potentially important within the realm of meaningful, public knowledge, not just private, personal practice.

In the midst of all these challenges with our hunger to know, there is a word from God that we need to hear again today. It is found in Hosea 4:6:

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.

The challenges to the hunger to know are significant. Still, knowledge is vitally important. The hunger to know must be filled and satisfied with what can truly fill and satisfy that hunger. 

The Apostles Creed: An Apology for Regular Use

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I made a shift in our worship service order where we will recite the Apostles Creed on the first weekend of each month before participating in communion. As a non-denominational church, we are not alone in rarely reciting creeds. However, here is my apology for regular recitation of the creed together in corporate worship. I offered a slightly different version of this in the conclusion of my message this past weekend, “The Joy of Faith.”

image 1 - mission dei mosaicOne of the most important ways we announce that we are living by a different story is to rehearse – to say again and again – to declare – that our story is something other than the story of this earth.

There is a word for that in Christian practice and history: an affirmation of faith or declaration in a creed. So, I am going to have us do something different as a church here at Eastbrook. I want to have us regularly declare that we are living by a different story. When we gather on the first weekend of every month and celebrate the communion meal, I want us to take a stand together around the truth of the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ. I want us to announce to a listening world that Jesus is Lord and we are living for God’s good life and no other counter claims.

The Apostles Creed is the most widely used and consistently affirmed summary statements of faith within the global church of Jesus Christ.[1] Although its exact origins cannot be traced, the Apostles Creed in its present form is first found in a document from c. 750. The basic concepts and structure of the Apostles Creed is found as early as c. 340 in what is known as the Old Roman Creed.[2] “Teachers as varied as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Luther have held the Apostles’ Creed remains the best condensed statement of Christian faith and the most reliable way to learn the heart of faith.”[3]

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Living with Faith

ThumbnailFaith. It’s the object that Christianity is built upon and around.

This past weekend, we launched a new series at Eastbrook entitled “Beginning to Live.” While celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, I spoke about “Beginning to Live with Faith.” But what is faith?

Ask around and so many people say things like: “At least I have faith…” or “I have faith that things will get better…” But what do they mean? What is the substance of their faith? In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read the following descriptions of faith:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

All these people [Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah] were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners on earth. (Hebrews 12:13)

Here, the writer to the Hebrews defines faith as: “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is a surety and certitude connected with an enduring hope related to unseen things.

However, this is still a slightly broad and abstract definition. I could have a blind and confused certainty aboutRead More »