October 2, 2009 by

Re-thinking the Foundations of Faith (part 1)


Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, theological questions

I have a feeling that this post title is going to rattle the religious.

Good. 🙂

What I’m about to say, I’ve been pondering for awhile. This past nearly two years interacting in the blogosphere has been the first time in ages that I’ve had contact with people who think differently than I do, on a lot of different issues. I come from a culture that pretty much insists that you hang with those who believe the way you do, because anyone outside that framework can potentially corrupt you. It’s a fear thing, really.

I bought into the fear for a long time. But I don’t ever really think I bought into the idea that we should all be the same, or that we can’t learn from each other. In fact, when the fear factor is gone, I gravitate to people who are different than I am. Always have. It makes life interesting, and I enjoy hearing alternate points of view, and different ways of looking at the world. (The only time I don’t is when a person of an opposing view shows intolerance to me for my views. That kind of thing makes conversation impossible.) Suffice it to say…for the past 20 months, I’ve been a kid in a candy store. And I’ve gained a perspective I never would have had within my own bubble. And it hasn’t “corrupted” me; my own beliefs remain pretty much intact. 🙂

The thing is, even among people who consider themselves Christians, there is such a diversity of belief. It has always astounded me how two people can look at the same Scripture and come to completely different conclusions about it. And it has always troubled me how many different theological views there are, because sometimes it seemed like a crap shoot to pick one. How would you know if you were right? Especially when someone with an opposing view can present just as convincing an argument?

Why is this issue so important? Because for so many of us, theological belief has been drilled into us as critical to our faith. Belief in Jesus almost becomes secondary to what we believe about Him. Theology and faith have effectively become synonyms, and right belief (i.e., good theology) has become the foundation of our faith.

Do you think that’s maybe too strong a statement? Consider the “foundations” courses we teach new converts in our churches. What are we actually teaching as “foundations?” I mean, really?

Be honest….

Theology. We’re teaching our theology to new converts, and calling it foundations. How much more proof do we need?

Our seminaries teach certain doctrines, and teach the students how to be good “defenders of the faith.” (That’s actually code for how to effectively argue that their take on Scripture is the correct one, and others’ aren’t.) Heresy is considered equivalent to apostasy, placing the so-called heretic in danger of eternal damnation. Heresy is the new unpardonable sin.

Now don’t misunderstand; I’m not suggesting that heresy is a good thing, or that theology isn’t important–or that we shouldn’t do our best to get it right. (And just in case anyone was wondering, I’m not questioning faith in Christ here, or Christianity in general. I’m talking about the differences of theology among believers in Jesus, not all possible belief systems.)

But the questions still gnaw at my soul: What is the correct theology? And how do I know the version I’ve chosen is correct? Have I not simply been convinced by someone, just as others have been convinced of the opposite view?

How can I base my faith on something that feels a bit like Russian Roulette? Pick the right things to believe about God, and you’re saved. Pick the wrong one, and you’re toast. Good luck!

See the dilemma? This is why I’m re-thinking the foundations.

So here’s where I get the religious folk riled up again….

I am thinking that if so many intelligent people can draw so many diverse conclusions from looking at the exact same body of Scripture, then it’s irrational to base our faith on our own interpretations. Thus, our theology can’t really be a foundation, because there’s no way to tell for sure that we have it all “right”.

So I am pondering a faith that is founded on something deeper than “correct belief” about God.

I’m pondering a faith that is based more on relationship than theological belief.

I’ll start unpacking those statements in the next post. (Meanwhile, if you feel like unpacking them yourself in the comments, feel free.)

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

17 Responses to Re-thinking the Foundations of Faith (part 1)

  1. co_heir

    I'm coming to the same conclusions, that faith is founded on a relationship with Jesus. Without that all the theology in the world doesn't do anyone any good. I believe there are some areas of "doctrine" that God really doesn't care about, or if he does, we sadden him by our insistence on making it a test of fellowship.

  2. shallowfrozenwater

    "So I am pondering a faith that is founded on something deeper than "correct belief" about God.

    I'm pondering a faith that is based more on relationship than theological belief."

    i'm right there in that same corner with you. i've thought some things over the last few years that i myself might've questioned severely if i heard them coming from someone else not so many years ago. i'm trying to be more inclusive in my theology, after all the faiths of the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman Centurian were accepted by Jesus and guys like Doubting Thomas was still loved by God.

  3. jimgrey

    God's brought me to a similar place over the past 5 years, starting when I left a non-instrumental Church of Christ that was very, very much wrapped up in its theology. Since then I've come to find that theology has limited use in my day-to-day service to the Lord, and that trying to discern where he's going and following him wherever that is has tremendous use.

  4. theschramfam

    I'm in this same boat!
    I've been thinking a lot about the "beginnings" of Christ-following. Theologies and apologetics just seem to exclude and divide the 'church' .
    And it seems to me that the Pharisees sure knew a lot about what they believed – and Jesus had some very strong words about their lack of substance.
    Makes me wonder… is it better to be "right" or better to "love"… ?
    If I am RIGHT, but choose to be an ass to those who oppose me … then I must be WRONG.
    If I love people regardless of their "creeds" , "foundations" and "doctrinal statements" – that seems RIGHT.
    Bottom-line, I am absolutely confident that it's ok not to know everything! – and not to have an answer for everything!
    Can't wait to hear more about your processing.

  5. Kari

    Jeff, I am so glad that I have found your blog. We are so often on the same page and your are more elequent than I.

    two things. I took a Theology course at Liberty University. I have never been so disappointed. Every required book was by the same author…I wanted to explore how we get theology not know what John McArthurs theology was. (although he has some good points)

    I once heard a radio program in which the speaker said if you could not name the time and date that you were saved, then you were not saved. Really!?

    But I still long to know what is right. But I will muddle through and pray for discernment.

  6. Sarah

    Reminds me of what one of my favorite girlfriends said:

    "Jesus does not leave his disciples with CliffsNotes for a systematic theology. He leaves his disciples with breath and body.Jesus does not leave his disciples with a coherent and clear belief system by which to love God and others. Jesus gives his disciples wounds to touch and hands to heal…."

    We all have theology. And it's interesting to hear different people's takes on these things. But ultimately – we follow a Live Person, not an ideology.

  7. Jeff McQ

    I am more and more convinced, by the simple fact that God rarely goes out of His way to clear up misperceptions about Him, that He is far less concerned about our theology than we are. I think He sees a bigger picture, and He has patience with our errors.

    Inclusive has been such a scary word for me, primarily because it has been used to suggest all roads lead to God, something I do not believe. However, one of the most freeing things for me is understanding that you can genuinely embrace and respect someone without agreeing with them.

    My theology used to rule me. Now it simply guides me as I follow Him.

    "Is it better to be 'right' or better to 'love'?" I am reminded of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, "To obey is better than sacrifice." God also tried to get through to Israel back in Isa. 1 about this kind of thing. He always seems to show preference to acts of love over acts of religion.

    I've had similar experiences with theology classes. Once I took an apologetics course where the professor was more interested in shoving his theology down our throats than in helping us explain our own views.

    I share your desire to know what is right, and I think we should have that. I still believe there is a "right". I just am not so prideful that I claim to always know what "right" is. 🙂

    So did John. The difference between John and Judas wasn't theology. They followed the same Person and heard His teaching. But one of the two got hold of His heart, and one did not. Maybe John was thinking of Judas when he wrote 1 Jn. 2:19.

    In fact–and this is speculation–perhaps one of the reasons Judas went the way he did was that Jesus disappointed him by not being what his theology had suggested He ought to be. (Remember, everyone at that time had the idea that Messiah would be an earthly king.) Maybe in Judas' case, his theology got in the way of true relationship, rather than enhanced it. Just maybe. 🙂

    Wise friend you have there. 🙂

  8. Kari

    bib1774 – Great comment. It definitly got me thinking. My first thought (before I read Jeff's comment) was, yes, they had a relationship but Judas was not convinced of the Christ. I don't think(imo) he betrayed The Christ. He betrayed his teacher, with whom he had some differences of opinion and he had some guilt what with the embezzling thing.

    Then I read Jeff's comments and thought. Yea, that's what I meant. Ha ha.

  9. Paul Wilkinson

    "Working out your salvation with fear and trembling;" while at the same time, "Seeing through a glass darkly," means that it ain't gonna be black-and-white.

    Even limiting the focus to relationship isn't gonna solve it, because in networks, people get to know each other differently. And I think some of that is deliberate: Jesus is revealing Himself to different people in different ways.

    On the other hand, take away the debates people have about Jesus and you've wiped out about 85% of the Christian internet!

  10. ruthsongs

    As I have stepped out of my little charismatic bubble, I've come to realize how many things I was taught are "kingdom" are actually just cultural, charismatic culture, american, regional, or human concepts. Now that's been an eye opener!

  11. bibl774

    Authentic Christianity is more than a mechanism for intensified will-power over our temptations. Authentic Christianity is miracle through-and-through. It is, as Henry Scougal put it, "the life of God in the soul of man." It is, as Thomas Chalmers put it, "the expulsive power of a new affection." It is, as Jesus put it, "abiding in me."

    Every one of us is so massively ordinary. Still more, we are sinners who break out in a rash at the approach of God our only true Friend. But the good news is that that Friend works miracles of love in ordinary, evil people who don't even want him around, people who continually oscillate between self-hating moral failure and self-exalting moral success. The miraculous virtue he creates comes through a Spirit-imparted bright new awareness and embrace of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners:

    "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

    That is miracle, that is Christianity, and that is what God is doing in the world today.

    The questions I never stop asking are, Is that miracle my experience today, right now? If not, how can I get back into that zone? Is that miracle our corporate experience at church? If not, how must we adjust to stay in that zone where God, God, God is at work with his unmistakable power?

    I just don't want anything else. Only having correct doctrine, important as that is, and biblical structures and attractive programs, etc. — reducing Christianity to the humanly manageable is unendurable to me. The miracle is too desirable. Lord, make my life a miracle.

  12. Tyler Dawn

    Hey Jeff, I reached the point a few years back when He finally impressed upon me that the only foundation was Him. Those things which draw me closer, which reveal His love, and bring me in subjection to the healing of that love — those are the things that I cling to. The rest? Not so much anymore. Everything I have been taught as solid ground has ever been revealed at some point to be wrong, or at the very least, incredibly shallow shadows of a greater truth.

    The Isrealites, while wandering in the desert, could never afford to drive in tent stakes too deep, because they were always on the move. We need to have that same sort of outlook. Perfect doctrine would require perfect teachers who have perfect understanding, and therefore is unattainable, or at least not to be trusted — how would you know who the perfect teachers were??

    Anyway, I think it requires a great deal of humility and trust to be walking where you are headed right now 🙂

  13. Al

    I pretty much agree with everyone so far. It's something I've thought about for awhile now, and came up with a similar view to Co-heir and Jeff.
    I think there are only two possible responses of God to our wide variety of theological views on so many topics. Either He would want to make sure we got it all straight and accurate, and would move heaven and earth to make sure we get it right, or He isn't nearly as worried as we are about that, and allows us to wander around, coming up with our often opposing points of view.
    I agree, "we sadden him by our insistence on making it a test of fellowship."
    My personal hunger is for 'church' to be a safe place to come with our ideas, where we can dialogue and discuss. And then go out and do the actual work of the kingdom–loving.

  14. Jeff McQ

    Good points…healthy exchange about Jesus is good; I just think it's disproportionate to focusing on His Person. But since I am on the Internet…please don't take away the debates about Jesus. 🙂

    My eyes were opened to the same things not too long ago. Yes, it is pretty astounding (and a little embarassing) how much we pass of our culture in the name of "kingdom."

    Tyler Dawn,
    Thanks for chiming in. I'm with you, sis. 🙂

    "Either He would want to make sure we got it all straight and accurate, and would move heaven and earth to make sure we get it right, or He isn't nearly as worried as we are about that…" I think this is a great way of putting it. Thanks for the comment!

  15. Randi Jo :)

    yes!!! that was exactly what I have been going through. As I got more passionate about seeking Him – I really got into "studying" — and operating getting to know Him to mean getting to know the "right" interpretation of His Word – studying the Greek, different translations, different commentaries, hearing from different people – until finally I was just TIRED and I didn't even feel like I was seeking HIM anymore —- because I knew that if I had gotten more like Him or closer to Him I would have have fruits of the Spirit and not frustration, anger, tiredness, etc…. but it hit me one day that I can't relate to Him or even relate my spiritual journey to my intellectual journey. I can't take the lessons that make me a great student in school and apply it to my spiritual health/relationship – it just didn't work. The goal isn't information — it is TRANSFORMATION and that all has to do with the heart — not with my brain.

    THANK YOU! 🙂

  16. Randi Jo :)

    wow — getting back to the 2 greatest commandments. He is taking so many of us back to the basics — how did we get so far away from them?

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