Monday, August 01, 2011

Belief, Faithing, & Doctrine

 "I believe what I write, or rather, by writing I learn to believe. But then I do not put much stock in 'believing in God.' The grammar of 'belief' invites a far too rationalistic account of what it means to be a Christian. 'Belief' implies propositions about which you get to make up your mind before you know the work they are meant to do. Does that mean I do not believe in God? Of course not, but I am far more interested in what a declaration of belief entails for how I live my life."

The above is from Stanley Hauerwas in his memoir, Hannah's Child.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'"

The above is from Jesus in Matthew 7.

Why is it so hard for so many Christians to realize that Jesus' call is to action and not simply to "head-think"? "We're saved by faith and not by works!" is the general response. But the New Testament is full of statements like the one from Jesus above, not to mention that faith is inherently active in the Bible from beginning to end.

Bryan Stone points out that this is another word where the English language fails us. "Faith" is a noun and not a verb. We shift to "believe" when we want a verb, but this doesn't actually work. Dr. Stone (half-jokingly, I think I remember) proposes a new word to help us: "faithing." Faith is not faith unless it is active.

It's not unlike a marriage. If a husband sits on the computer all day, calling out "I love you!" once an hour to his wife, all the rest of the while doing nothing to demonstrate this, his words will eventually move from intimacy to platitude, from truth to lie, from actuality to fantasy. He might like the idea of loving her, but he doesn't actually love her simply by saying it.

The distinction of "saved by faith while judged by works" is helpful to begin, but it's still a head-think, doctrinal way of describing what happens. That's a start, but if faith is to be faith, our feet will move out of faith from the love and mission of God, not a law or doctrine.

Doctrine is great in telling us what happens, but not so great in helping us get there.

As usual, I appreciate Hauerwas' honesty. There is a vulnerability in writing and crafting, whether it's in a book, a sermon, on a blog, or on Facebook. The temptation is to think that we have to have everything perfect and correct before "putting it out there." And who can blame us? Our elementary, middle, and high school teachers demanded such excellence. But life is rarely lived in the finished product. We want to put out our best, but we can only get there by trying out what we've got first.

It's the same with our faith(fulness) in God, in our discipleship behind Christ. We generally read the passages of Peter, or Thomas, or Philip, or another disciple saying something stupid to Jesus with an air of pity, but at least they tried. And they eventually got it. Or even if they didn't fully grasp it (for who of us can?), moving through mistake or doubt at least eventually took them to greater places.


  1. Thanks for the post. Some interesting thoughts. I am struck often by how beautiful the English language is, yet how often it makes us work extra hard to understand simple concepts. There are limitations to it that do not exist in other languages.

  2. good stuff jeremy. thanks for sharing this.