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Archive for September, 2012

So this series is about finding a way to talk about faith more as a verb and less a noun. Faith is not about mentally forcing a level of certainty about stuff we know is not really true. Faith isn’t about the content of what we say we believe in our conscious thoughts. Another sense in which we hear the word faith as a noun is a as a theological construct The Faith – and it generally here refers to a body of intellectual beliefs about God, human beings and time, organised into dogmas, doctrines and rules.

I was very fortunate to speak with Michael Schluter last Friday and he made a very small aside remark which has stayed with me all week. He first reminded me that in the Ancient Greek legal systems there were two technical words used to describe the opposing submissions. The defence counsel delivered the apologia, from which we derive our word apologetics, and is also seen in places such as Phil 1:7 and 1 Peter 3:15. Apologetics concerns the defence of The Faith against questions and criticisms, in order to show that is it in fact reasonable and well founded.

Schluter’s point was to go on to remind me that the prosecution or plaintiff’s submission was called the kategoria. The kategoria wasn’t a defensive submission at all, it was the framing of the issues, from which we also get our English word category. Categories help us to understand the world by drawing mental lines through the mess of sensory data and helping us the navigate life by dividing the world into “types” and “things”, which don’t have any ultimate existence in themselves, as they are a product of language. Language, though, and mental categories are vitally important. Categories make sense of the world. Categories give us a framework into which to assign “real” and “imaginary”, “good” and “bad”, “holy” and “sinful”, “arts” and “science”, “rational” and “irrational”.

Romans 12:2 talks about, in JB Phillips’ marvellous prose; “… don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within…”

So faith is a re-organising of our mental categories, where what we once thought was good, admirable or normal might become to us evil, detestable and definitely abnormal. Through faith we find ourselves liberated from the tight grip of consumerist greed, nationalistic elitism, flat scienticistic materialism and a driving myth of personal economic progress. We perhaps need a little less on the apologetics – defence of our Truth against criticism and maybe a little more categorics – giving a coherent (and beautiful) explanation of life and the world that people can explore and find themselves in. After all, if Christianity is true, then Christians should be those people who really know what’s going on in the world and can make sense of it. “Making sense” is work. It can be done lovingly, and creatively and it is something we are all called to.

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OK just to avoid disappointing anyone this is not going to be a detailed line-by-line analysis of the 1981 number by Journey, although there is probably a need for someone to do that important work on the web sometime soon.

This post series will attempt to dialogue with a few of the things I’ve been reading and listening to lately, that all seem to be shining a light on the same issue. My conversation partners will be people like Diana Butler-Bass, Greg Boyd, Philip Clayton, Richard Beck and hopefully some Harvey Cox. If I can get my head around some apophatic stuff it would be could do include some Rowan Williams in the mix too.

What’s the series going to look at? I want to play around with concepts such as “faith”, “belief”, “knowledge” and “truth”. I don’t particularly want to take this from the philosophical epistemology angle, although there is some useful material there. Instead I want to keep the conversation on a pragmatic and even practical level. My imaginary conversation partners will be the top Sunday School class. If this stuff isn’t helpful to a bunch of smart 15 year olds, then it still needs some further cultural translation.

I’m going to start with an observation by Diana Butler-Bass in her recent Christianity after Religion http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_24?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=christianity+after+religion&sprefix=christianity+after+relig%2Caps%2C288 . She makes the point that our English word “belief” of “believer” has undergone something of a 90 degree etymological twist over the past 600 years or so. The German root “belieben”, makes it more obvious. When the German’s say “Ich liebst du” – “I love you” they are speaking of a mixture of affection and commitment, not intellectual assent. Somehow we have turned the beauty of belief into some cold set of things to be intellectually assented to. The One we believe in, is the one who captivates our hearts, who engages our imagination, who beguiles our wandering will and who sparks joy at the very thought of their presence. Moreover I find I cannot really chose to whom my heart is beholden – what’s going on is far more deep and powerful than any intellectual choice. This is only part of the picture, but a good place to start. So what, or more usefully, whom, do you believe?

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