HOME ARTICLES SEARCH ARTICLES BOOKS SUBSCRIBE NEWSLETTER ABOUT US COMMENTS

 

CAN WE "BELIEVE" IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE?

Is faith an objective decision? Is it simply reasoned agreement with approved doctrine? Can we reduce faith, in other words, to mere mental assent?

Consider, for example, these historic milestones:

Old "ideas" of faith—"empirical" faith, "processed" faith, "ordained" faith, "cerebral" faith—will no longer stand alone.

Old apologetics, abstract deities, philosophical propositions, "God-in-a-box" revelations, and narrow ideologies will no longer suffice.

Even the empty philosophies of "postmodernism" with their disconnected dots and subjective disbeliefs are fading as well.

We are discovering, instead, that all convictions—including "logical" science and "spiritual" Truth—are empowered by belief. In other words, we must believe before we understand.

Faith, after all, is impossible without a personal response—it requires the contribution of the believer.

The faith of the ancient Hebrews differs, as well, from our modern philosophical traditions. In fact, scriptural faith offends the modern mind. In the ancient world . . .

Faith comes from the deep congruence of "faith, hope, and love."

Though "feeling" remains a "forbidden" word in the modern "idea" of faith, the very meaning of scriptural faith confirms the notion of feelings.

Finally, mind and emotion—faith and feelings—are inseparably connected. Even today, our brains have never experienced the unfiltered "real world" outside our bodies.

In short, the world is leaving behind a narrow knowledge about faith and embracing a new knowledge of faith—an experiential, relational faith.

For the stories behind these milestones, read on:

Truth—in whatever form—comes only to those who welcome it. As Scripture confirms, it comes only to those who are "alert" and "cheerfully expectant."1 For Truth always requires a personal response. It never intrudes where it’s not welcome.

No wonder. Even in the "real" world, every "knowing" requires the unspoken, yet personal, contribution of the knower. This requirement is not a weakness, but "a necessary component of all knowledge."2 In the same way, we easily see why a corrupt or calloused conscience seldom sees signs of spiritual Truth.

In short, "believing is seeing." Truth’s call for a personal response is ultimately a call for faith. Admittedly, rational understanding helps our belief. But we must believe even before we understand!

This is Saint Augustine’s famous credo ut intelligam—faith seeking understanding.

Paul insisted that Truth is effective only in those who believe.3 The writer of Hebrews witnessed that faith provides the "proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality."4 And even the secular Wordsworth admitted that poetic truth comes only to those who are affected "by absent things as if they were present."5

Truth, in other words, is "caught" more than it is "taught."

This faith in Truth, however, is not just any faith. It’s not a "cerebral" faith removed from life itself. It’s not an "ordained" faith handed down from on high. Neither is it a prideful faith—a "faith in our own faith." For its power lies precisely in our frailty, in our vulnerability.

Yes, the search for Truth requires a leap of faith, but it doesn’t require a "blind leap." Yes, it requires staking our life on things we can’t completely grasp, but somehow, it grasps us.

This faith, in other words, is not as irrational as we may think:

Our grasp of "logical" science and "spiritual" Truth are both empowered by belief. We’ve been told that imagination isn’t really true—that it’s just "imaginary." Yet, the latest breakthroughs in quantum and string theories strongly suggest that what’s imaginary is truer than what’s "real." And, when cutting-edge physicists pass over the hidden line between physics and metaphysics, they sometimes question if science is in touch with reality.

In other words, faith in things we cannot see does not mean these things are unreal. Indeed, faith has long proven a prophetic vision through which ultimate reality is not only perceived, but created as well. (Even today, we can trace this truth through quantum and string theories.)

You must understand in order to believe, but you must believe in order to understand.6

Embodied Truth

Of course, these claims are unacceptable. Let’s admit it. The above notions fly in the face of modern ideas of faith. They embrace, instead, an "ancient/future" faith requiring the mystic interplay between faith and emotion.

The very meaning of faith confirms the notion of feelings: "Faith is the assurance (that is, the heartfelt encouragement) . . . of things [we] hope for." Further, it is "the conviction (that is, the fervent belief) of their reality."7 In addition, faith is "activated . . . energized . . . (and) expressed . . . through love."8

Here is how it works:

Desire dreams of what it wants, then faith receives the dream as accomplished fact. Hope longs for its wistful vision, then faith claims the vision with absolute certainty. Hope yearns for a cherished goal, then faith declares the goal an established reality. In other words, faith fulfills hope . . . gives substance to hope . . . confirms hope. In faith, we forcefully "seize and hold fast and retain without wavering the hope we cherish."9

Of course, this hope is not just any "hope." C. S. Lewis wrote, for example, "If I find in myself a desire in which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."10

. . . and made for searching the Truths of another world.

So Faith and hope require each other. Only the coldest theologians could think otherwise. Contrary to their ivory tower disciplines, even "intellectual" faith requires feelings as well as facts. Pure "abstract theology," in other words, is impossible.

Yes, the objective mind and the disciplined will remain immanently important. Revelation is indeed cognitive. And theology is certainly "processed information." Further, the mind and will can "test the spirits" and control the emotions. They can offer fortitude during long hours of sterile sensations. And, they can focus sudden and impassioned energy in new directions.

But, the mind and will also involve emotion. Emotion boldly counters the empty abstractions of the mind. It gives fervor and devotion to the will. And it ignites, as well, the pursuit of Truth. In fact, feelings and affections perceive the beauty of Truth before the mind does. And—in the end—emotions become "much more convincing than results established by mere logic ever are."11

So mind and emotion are inseparably connected. "Reality" is embodied or embedded in our feelings. Every thought has a qualitative "feel" that cannot be quantified. Though we believe otherwise, our brains have never experienced the unfiltered "real world" outside our bodies.

This is not a new truth. This is a new revelation of Truth. We must catch this precipitous turn in the road. After all, our lives are far different from our philosophical traditions. As Paul insists, the pursuit of Truth remains possible only in our "love of truth."12

So, in summary, Truth comes from the deep congruence of "faith, hope, and love." And, though these categories affront the modern mind, they steadfastly follow Paul’s spirit.

"True perception counts for nothing without love."13

A Concise Ambiguity

Obviously, we need to search for Truth in a different way. For our old "proof" of truth is finished. It no longer fascinates—we can take it or leave it. And our old epistemology ("how we know what we know") is over. It no longer charms—we hold no interest in it.

Worn-out apologetics, abstract deities, philosophical propositions, "God-in-a-box" revelations, the pride of mere ideas, the comfort of narrow ideologies. . . .

They’re all gone!

No theological tradition—neither conservative nor liberal—leads society today. Both have been dealt mortal blows. Let’s wake up! We can’t outlive a time that has already passed us by. We can’t go on describing who God was—merely managing "the residue of the mystery."14 Nor can we simply "improve" ourselves, tweaking and tinkering with outdated ways in a postmodern world.

None of these ways will work.

Even the multitude of "postmodernism truths" are finished. Yes, we live in a post-modern world, but the empty "philosophies" of "postmodernism" with their disconnected dots and subjective disbeliefs will not keep the Church alive. The freedom to define our own "truth"—combined with ever-present selfishness—will only turn postmodern "freedom" into a living hell. . . .

. . . and will only continue Christianity’s "free fall."

Thankfully, most of the postmodern world shows sure signs of leaving not only modernism behind, but "postmodernism" as well. New tests of Truth are bringing unquestioning veracity to our visions and increasing credibility to our beliefs. We are leaving behind a narrow knowledge about truth and embracing a new knowledge of Truth—an experiential, relational Truth, confirmed endlessly and in countless ways.

Jonathan Edwards prophetically predicted that even salvation requires a sensibility to beauty.15 He agreed with the psalmist who encouraged us to "Taste and see that the Lord is good."16 In other words, Truth is felt more than formulated.

Does this revelation of Truth imply ambiguity? Yes, of course. But it will prove a "concise ambiguity."

<<<>>>

When our search for Truth takes on a new logic—a "different" logic—a nonmodernist logic, we will move beyond the split experience of faith and life. When our seeking spirit equals the strength of our analytical mind, we will interpret reality with the skills of new art and new "science." When we encounter Truth rather than merely creating it, we will discover pristine Beauty as well as pristine Truth. . . .

. . . not in distant abstractions, but face to face!

When we honor whenever and wherever the "Word becomes flesh," total conviction will replace mere empirical "evidence." When we move from the dialogue between man and man to a dialogue between God and man, we will discover the profound unity of head and heart, mind and spirit. When we explore the implied power of Pentecost—the many ways in which the human spirit flows from the Holy Spirit—we will share a new currency of thought, a new commonality of language. . . .

. . . a language of both meaning and reality.

The church was never intended to provide safety from a rapidly changing world. It was never intended to argue old dogma while envisioning the future. Yes, this is a difficult and momentous moment. We can lose it all or gain it all. And, perhaps most difficult of all, there is no way we can "get there from here." That is, there is no way we can simply "improve" the modern church and arrive, at the same time, in a postmodern world.

After all, we are being reintroduced to God.

"The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."(Rom. 8:19-25, NIV)

 

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. Romans 12:10, Message Bible.

2. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958) p 312.

3. I Thessalonians 2:13, AMP.

4. Hebrews 11:1,2; AMP.

5. Ian Smith, "Misusing Canonical Intertexts" http://bit.ly/cXCyft

6. Paul Ricoeur, quoted in Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 426.

7. Hebrews 11:1, AMP; my paraphrase.

8. Galatians 5:6, AMP.

9. Hebrews 10:23, AMP.

10. http://www.bradstetsonquotes.com/ (My italics and bold type)

11. William James, http://www.vexen.co.uk/books/james_varieties.html

12. II Thessalonians 2:10, KJ.

13. Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and Community (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000) p. 193.

14. LaMar Boschman, Future Worship (Ventura, California: Renew Books, 1999) p. 86 .

15. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/edwards/

16. Psalm 34:8, KJ.



Future Church Administrator