Up There

Some Thoughts on Belief

There’s been a lot of talk lately at the pub and in the press about faith and belief.  An apocryphal story has been told that says something very profound about the nature of belief in our society.

The story is told of Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian Cosmonaut and the first person to have gone into orbit and in outer space. When he came back to the earth, there was a reception for him in the Kremlin. During the course of the reception, Nikita Khrushchev, then the general secretary of the Communist Party and the head of state, slowly led him in the study and said, “Comrade Yuri, you are the first man to have gone into space. I want to ask you a question, and I want an honest answer from you. Out there in space, was there a heaven? Were there gates of pearl? Streets paved with gold? Angels? God? Did you see anything like that?”

Yuri became very grave in his face and said, “Comrade, I cannot tell you the lie. Unfortunately, there is a heaven. I saw the gates of pearl and the angels there.”

Khrushchev said, “Well comrade, this is what I always feared. But you know that you cannot say this to anybody else, because the Communist Party depends on NOT having heaven up there.”

Then he was taken on a world tour to further propagate this great achievement of the Russian State.

He also came to the Vatican, and he was given a reception in the Vatican and a private audience with the Pope.  The Pope also took him aside and asked, “Brother Yuri, you are the first one to have gone into outer space.  Now tell me, did you see a heaven and God and angels and Peter standing at the gates of pearl?”

Yuri was reminded of the warning given by Khrushchev, so he said, “Holy Father, I am so sorry to tell you but there is no such thing up there.” And the Pope said, “This is what I always feared. But you know you cannot talk about this outside.”

What might this story tell us about belief in our culture?

Mike Friesen recently asked on his blog, “How important is belief in God for Christians?”

He notes:

“Growing up in an Evangelical church, I thought that belief was the most important thing to Christian faith. We placed enormous emphasis on the Bible as the end-all-be-all of the Christian faith (unfortunately, we never developed real spiritual practices). And, as I get older, I find myself reading the bible more, loving the bible more, and caring about what the Bible says and what it means for not only my life, but for those around me. I find the authority in scripture. When I turned 16, I began having thoughts like: Do I believe in God? Or, do I believe in my pastors beliefs in God? Do I have my own answers? Or, do I have the answers of those around me?

Does one believe in God, if they just believe the teachings of their pastor? Maybe a better way is to say, by believing in the Christian religion, does religion believe for me? And, does what makes you a good Christian come from a checklist of beliefs?”


Marcus Borg notes that faith and belief have shifted in our culture over time.  (Below excerpt from: Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Bible)

“The modern preoccupation with factuality has had a pervasive and distorting effect on how we see the Bible and Christianity.

Christianity in the modern period became preoccupied with the dynamic of believing or not believing. For many people, believing ‘iffy’ claims to be true became the central meaning of the Christian faith. It is an odd notion – as if what God wants from us is believing highly problematic statements to be factually true. And if one can’t believe them, then one doesn’t have faith and isn’t a Christian.

The thoroughly modern character of this notion of faith can be seen by comparing what faith meant in the Christian Middle Ages. During those centuries, basically everybody in the Christian culture thought the Bible to be true. They had no reason to think otherwise; the Bible’s stories from creation through the end of the world were part of the conventional wisdom of the time. Accepting them did not require ‘faith.’ Faith had to do with one’s relationship to God, not with whether one thought the Bible to be true.

For me, being Christian is not about believing in the Bible or about believing in Christianity. Rather, it is about a deepening relationship with the God to whom the Bible points, lived within the Christian tradition as a sacrament of the sacred.”

What do you think?  What does belief entail?   What role does it play in the life of faith?  Do you resonate with any of the thoughts and questions above?

Post your thoughts or comments below!

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36 thoughts on “Up There

  1. Thanks for setting me straight Eric. Maybe one day after my Masters I’ll stop wetting myself and be able to form a coherent thought. Until then, I count on you to let me know what I’m actually thinking and why.

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  2. Scott, I certainly don’t claim to speak for Bryan, as I have never met Bryan personally. But I think it’s great that you feel comfortable with an inerrancy doctrine works for you. It doesn’t work for me because it isn’t the inference to the best explanation, based on everything that I have read to date. I am not constrained to believe necessarily that even the historical figure of Jesus that you believe you know was correct about his knowledge of all things. I am not constrained to believe that the synoptic gospels necessarily reflect a proper narrative of things Jesus said, and most modern biblical historians express a considerably less literal view of the gospel narratives than you do. But, I’m not trying to change your mind, I’m just reacting to the information that I have studied. I’d welcome a discussion when you finish your Masters degree at an accredited institution though. I’d recommend reading honestly, setting aside bias, about the historical Jesus quests of the last four centuries. I’d personally recommend EP Sanders as a liberal Protestant who gives a large amount of credence to the historical figure of Jesus, and NT Wright as a conservative. In the meantime, I’d also highly recommend reading other contemporary experts who don’t agree with you. In any other field, that’s how we learn. Theology should be no different. And while I know you don’t believe it, it’s the best advice you’ll ever get, you just won’t know it for about twenty years.

    How do I know that you haven’t? Because I know people, Scott. And you want to learn just enough to confirm what you already suspect.

    I’m going on vacation, and will be out of the country for the next week and a half.

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  3. Good deal Bryan – I’d be up for it.

    Here’s my issue. I’m not advocating doctrine for doctrine’s sake. I’m referring to core Christian doctrine because it is a dividing line, and a necessary one. I think you would agree that one cannot be an atheist and simultaneously claim to be a Christian. Likewise, believing that Jesus was an actual historical figure is essential. If Jesus was not who he said he was, then basing a religion on him is ridiculous. If he did not die and rise physically, then we have no reason to believe any of his claims. So there, I’ve got 5 essential beliefs that one must hold in order for the moniker Christian to have any meaning. Would you agree?

    I’m not saying that’s all there is, but that much is essential. From there, we move outward. Some are essential for salvation, some for denominational affiliation, some are merely about style. But to say they are unimportant is untrue – especially as we near the center of the faith.

    For the record, the creation of creeds was not pursued in earnest because Christians were more concerned with staying alive than they were with nuances of theology. It’s not that these things took hundreds of years. They had to stop dying before they could begin meeting. 😉

    As to the brew (either variety), drop me a line sometime.

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  4. I’m grateful to hear of your approach to the text – it is one I strongly resonate with. The trouble is that many people do couple inerrancy with a literal reading approach – I should not have assumed that to be true in your case. Your approach is thoughtful and nuanced, and for the most part I agree with it.

    Doctrine, however, is a different story. I’m not sure what it means to say “the Bible is inerrant in the doctrines is presents.” That is getting it backwards. People derive doctrines from the Bible. If the Bible had clear doctrinal stances there would be far fewer denominations and interpretations and theological approaches. Even regarding something as basic as the Trinity or the Divinity of Jesus – these took hundreds of years of study, debate, and prayer, and even then it wasn’t unanimous. If it was clear and obvious – such time and work would have been superfluous. Now we can trust that God was working in and through such processes, but that doesn’t remove the fact that they happened. Or consider the atonement – there are at least seven theories as to what happened when Jesus died on the cross (I find some to be more compelling than others), so it is far from simple. Many doctrines we take to be ‘core’ as a matter of course were in fact much later developments. Penal substitutionary atonement, for example, didn’t really get articulated until Anselm and then the Reformers, yet most Christians take for granted that this is what the Bible primarily teaches about Jesus’ death. Yet since this wasn’t primary for the earliest Christians – who were closest in time and culture to Jesus, it does make one wonder.

    I’m not saying its all up for grabs – I do think God reveals himself in Scripture and there is much we can know about him. My primary interest, though, is living in light of Jesus and the kingdom he came to proclaim – not enforcing people to believe in belief about this or that doctrine (in line with Borg’s comments above).

    I’m grateful for this exchange, but perhaps continuing the conversation over coffee or a pint would be even better.

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  5. Ok. That actually adds to my confusion then. Maybe you can help me.

    If you are a Christian, affirming all of the creeds you mentioned, that means you believe Jesus was and is God. Jesus quoted the scriptures extensively, covering all the collections that we currently call the OT. Given this, why doubt the inspiration or inerrancy of scripture when Jesus did not? Why do you refer to God as she when Jesus always referred to him as ‘he’? Why would you say that God is bigger than any one religion when Jesus proclaimed that he alone was the only way to God?

    These issues (for just a few specifics you have mentioned) seem entirely counter to the view of Jesus as God.

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    1. I never said I doubted the inspiration of Scripture. Scripture can be inspired without being inerrant. And it might surprise you to know – most Christians don’t hold to a view of inerrancy – that is a 20th-century, relatively recent theological stance (you might say invention), in reaction to the challenges that were increasingly being introduced by biblical scholarship. Rather than deal with these actual challenges (e.g. the Noah story being a literary creation rather than literal history), the response of conservative fundamentalists was to stick their heads in the ground and say, “You can’t say such and such isn’t literally true… in fact, it’s ALL literally true!” It was an overreaction, and I think evangelicalism is paying the price today for going down that road then (hence your confusion over what isn’t all that confusing – or unusual).

      The things I noted are not at odds, just at odds with a slavishly literal adherence to Scripture and creed.

      If you’re going to write me off as not being fully Christian, you’re going to write off most Christians historically and globally.

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      1. I don’t find your claims of what most Christians believe about inerrancy as particularly meaningful. Most Christians today are not at all well read, and few are even aware of Christian doctrines, let alone the various positions on them. If we agreed to only look at Christians who were familiar with the issue on inerrancy, I am confident that the truth is opposite of what you claim. Inerrancy doesn’t say there are no errors in the bible (transcription, etc) or that there is no interpretation to be done in cases of genre, etc. The primary stance (and the one I’m most interested in) is that there is no error in the bible with regard to core Christian doctrines.

        I’m not a literalist. I think the bible ought to be taken in the manner it was written. When the Psalmist refers to the earth being on pillars, he is not doing geography – he is doing poetry. Therefore no conflict. I’m open to aspects of Genesis 1-3 being literary devices. That doesn’t mean I throw them out though. (For instance, God created – from nothing. The method, timeline, etc. could be poetic to a degree, but you can’t throw out Adam and Eve when Jesus saw them as historical figures.) The flood could have been regional without doing damage to the text. That could be an issue of genre. But to say that Noah didn’t exist or that there was no catastrophic event whatsoever is to throw out the portions that were presented as history.

        Your examples of Paul’s restrictions of hair and dress are clearly cultural in nature. There is no basis to call those sorts of things contradictions. To do so would require throwing out all acts of government which included instructions for people to remove their hats. These are cultural norms specific to a situation. Another example of reading the bible as the author intended.

        To be strictly literal is to impose a reading the authors never intended. To be strictly interpretive is to remove the bible of *all* weight, except where the reader desires to arbitrarily find it. Reading the bible properly is not found at either extreme.

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  6. Absolutely. I affirm the historic creeds and consider myself an aspiring (and inadequate) disciple of Jesus, a follower of the Way, and one who lives in the hope of the resurrection.

    And I do feel there are answers available. But answers presume questions. And not all questions have simple answers.

    As Brian McLaren put it so well:

    “[It seems,] I think, that there are two kinds of theologies.
    Some theologies are like rooms. The doorkeepers say, “When you walk in through this door, you’ll find everything you’re looking for inside. You’ll never want to leave once you enter.”

    Some theologies are like doors. Their doorkeepers say, “When you walk out through this door, you enter a world of endless wonder. You’ll encounter mysteries too big to be contained.”

    Tradition means that we look back and see the story of unfolding, enlarging, deepening understandings … A living tradition expects that story to continue; a dying tradition presumes it has already arrived and there’s little room for continuing growth in understanding. What I think you’re yearning for – as are so many of us – is a living tradition, a learning theology, and a door into mystery and meaning.

    That’s one of the reasons I am endlessly fascinated by Jesus. He introduces us to the latter approach … The new wine of his gospel can’t be contained in old wineskins. Or as Paul said, “The letter kills. The Spirit gives life.” Discipleship is a continual call to childlike faith, humility, and wonder because the more we understand, the more we realize we don’t understand.”

    A theology that has ‘all the answers’ and has no room for questions is simply not that compelling for most of us. If God was that easy to figure out… well… as Augustine said… it probably wouldn’t be God we were thinking of (but rather the God we’ve created).

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  7. (Replying to Bryan… not sure why the reply button is gone)

    Thanks Bryan – that helps, though you didn’t directly answer any of my questions. It sounds as if your answer is something like you want to camp out in the struggles and mystery, and you don’t feel that answers are actually available.

    Here’s one last question for you: Do you consider yourself a Christian?
    Let me qualify that, because this entire conversation has been somewhat fuzzy. By Christian, I mean those who called themselves “The Way” in the NT, those who affirmed the earliest creeds such as 1 Cor 15, and the related summary teachings such as the Apostle’s Creed.

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  8. And on being arbitrary. My method, in general, is based on John Wesley’s four sources of theology. I believe I honor tradition in that I at least consider Wesley, and I believe I honor Scripture in that I am interested in everything it has to offer from a standpoint of data. And I believe I honor experience, as it has taught me to discount tradition, experience, and Scripture, in that order as it controverts reason and the inference to the best explanation. I am comfortable that a loving God would understand anyone who seeks Her in this manner. Here I stand, I can do no other.

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    1. But Eric, you have decided (per your earlier comments) what you believe to be philosophically and ethically acceptable. Another person could have an entirely different philosophy and come away from the bible leaving a different set of passages on the floor. So, when you say you honor Scripture as a source of data, what you really mean is that it is something of a grab bag and everyone can take what they want. You have written off entirely that there is any sort of moral imperative other than whatever you brought to the table. Here’s my question for you: where do you derive your philosophy and sense of ethics?

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  9. It’d be easy to pick NT examples: Women not being allowed to speak in church, men not being allowed to have long hair, women not being able to wear makeup, etc. etc. etc. The point is – we stick to the stuff we want to, even when it’s in the text we claim is our inerrant guide. Your question was: why do you pick and choose?

    Eric’s response: Because we all do that. It is impossible to do otherwise. He was simply endorsing putting a little thought into the process, rather than come up with a theory of the Bible that one doesn’t actually adhere to.

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    1. Bryan, I’m baffled. The sorts of objections you are waving at me are the kinds of things I expect from a first-time bible reader or a stringent atheist. These are not the issues of pastors or PhDs. So here is what I am left with – either you have never honestly looked for answers, you disbelieve the bible a priori, you dislike the answers you’ve found, or you’re intentionally pretending that there are no answers in order to build a community of mystery. Maybe you could help me understand that one, because I’m certain you know the answer to the issues you just posted.

      Also, this goes back to the questions I asked you in response to your Velvet Elvis quote. In case you missed it, here it is again:

      Sounds good. Since questions are the topic, I have a couple for you. I’m curious how you would respond.

      What is the purpose of these questions – to find the answers or dwell in the mystery?

      Do we see this modeled in the NT? ie – Do we see the apostles camping out in the unknown, or did they talk about the fundamentals of the faith as though they were knowable?

      I’m still interested in how you would answer these.

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      1. Scott-
        These are hardly the issues of first-time Bible readers. It appears to me you are the one who is either avoiding a serious reading of the Bible or has never read any recent biblical scholarship, or considered some of the things Eric and I have noted.

        As I noted earlier, if there were not such challenges/discrepancies/difficulties – faith would be easy and obvious and more people would have it. Studies show that people with no religious affiliation are the fastest growing segment in our society, not the other way around. If one lives in an evangelical bubble, I suppose one wouldn’t have encountered the problems and challenges we are noting.

        The kind of community I am trying to cultivate is one in which we are all honestly seeking God together – with all the questions, challenges, mystery, and answers that that journey brings. You can read about our particular approach to all this here: A Common Table.

        God is much bigger than we often conceive he is – bigger than our systematic theologies and preconceived notions. Bigger than the Bible, and bigger than any one religion. If he wasn’t, I’m not sure he (or she) would be worth knowing and worshiping. I do find God in and through the person of Jesus, which is why I wrestle with many of the difficulties Eric has noted: what kind of God requires the death penalty for picking up sticks? What kind of God tells a group of people to go into a city and kill everything that breathes – men, women, and children? The God revealed in Jesus seems to be utterly opposed to those sorts of things. Jesus calls us to love the unlovable and even our enemies (exactly opposite of a God who calls his people to wipe out their enemies). The approach of Jesus compels me to want to know him more, and to try to be an incarnation of that kind of love in the world.

        The things we have mentioned are not ‘easy questions for first time Bible readers’, they are legitimate struggles for honest, thoughtful people. Those are the kind of people I want to be in community with.

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  10. Scott, due respect, but it’s always a matter of presuppositions. Where do you obtain the evidence that the New Testament has a magic eraser to suggest that a clearly immoral command from history should suddenly be glossed over. There were, what then, thousands of years under which it was a God given imperative to kill those who worked on the Sabbath? Thirty years prior to Christ, should that have been the norm? And more seriously, should it ever have been the norm, and why? Why would someone not predisposed to answer otherwise ever think it was okay to kill for such a thing? To me, that leaves a question, and to me, I find philosophy and ethics to be more compelling than Levitical law to describe what should be the code of ethics in the time of Moses. And I’m supposing that God would be aware of this and appreciate my concern. I have faith in a God that loves despite the fact that I don’t believe in the same rules of biblical interpretation that you might. But, I’m okay with you having different rules, they just don’t seem plausible for me.

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  11. “I’m willing to accept the bible as potentially having some insight to those who had experiences with God, and yet not be certain of those insights that seem philosophically problematic.”

    It still sounds to me like you are picking and choosing which portions of the bible are worthy of your attention based upon whether they conform to your presuppositions.

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    1. Ahh, yes, I have been cornered. So, Scott, when you read Leviticus 11:7, do you do this before or after taking the pork chops off the grill? No pork for you, it seems. And, of course, “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.” So perhaps you have been good on that one, but please do tell me, Scott, how many people have you put to death, in accordance with this passage? Because if the answer is zero, it seems like you are picking and choosing which portions of the bible are worthy of your attention based upon whether they conform to your presuppositions.

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      1. It’s not a matter of presuppositions at all. It is an issue of reading the entire bible instead of prooftexting. Jesus himself declared the law to have been fulfilled. The laws of clean and unclean foods were done away with. I’m certain you’re aware of this, so why are you ignoring the NT?

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  12. An excerpt from the first chapter of Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell:

    “A Christian doesn’t avoid the questions; a Christian embraces them. In fact, to truly pursue the living God, we have to see the need for questions.

    Questions are not scary.

    What is scary is when people don’t have any.

    What is tragic is faith that has no room for them.

    Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know.

    Questions bring freedom. Freedom that I don’t have to be God and I don’t have to pretend that I have it all figured out. I can let God be God.

    Questioning frees us from having to have it all figured out. Frees us from having answers to everything. Frees us from always having to be right. It allows us to have moments when we come to the end of our ability to comprehend. Moments when the silence is enough.”

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    1. Sounds good. Since questions are the topic, I have a couple for you. I’m curious how you would respond.

      What is the purpose of these questions – to find the answers or dwell in the mystery?

      Do we see this modeled in the NT? ie – Do we see the apostles camping out in the unknown, or did they talk about the fundamentals of the faith as though they were knowable?

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      1. I think the point is that questions do indeed exist for many people, whether or not those people have crafted their purpose in advance, and it seems a bizarre approach which deprecates the student of God who feels the answers are less clear. For instance, your question to me above presumes that being uncertain of God’s attributes is an arbitrary approach. I don’t think it’s arbitrary at all. I tend to approach my statements about God carefully, and I’m willing to let the Bible be possibly not infallible. I’m willing to allow that Paul possibly did not understand metaphysics that wasn’t even invented until the 17th century. I’m willing to allow that Jesus may have said that he would return before the current generation passed away and that if Jesus indeed said that, because it’s possible that he didn’t, then he was likely not correct. I’m willing to not generate answers to those questions that seem like an epicycle aound or a logical stretch, and rather say to myself authentically, well, what’s the most likely answer, given the information that I know, and then be fine with not having all of the knowledge necessary to postulate a better answer. I’m willing to accept the bible as potentially having some insight to those who had experiences with God, and yet not be certain of those insights that seem philosophically problematic. I’m willing to treat it more how I would treat knowledge about physical science, history, or philosophy, because fundamentally, most religions are interwoven with those sciences. I’m willing to suggest there is no fundamental difference between best practices for studying any of those fields when one is interested in a higher probability of being right instead of being dogmatic, and frankly, instead of being afraid of eternal punishment for seeking truth about God.

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  13. Scott, it’s obviously a larger discussion that this thread, and perhaps we can address more at another time. I have a masters degree in theology and philosophy, and I do find it interesting, if you have a similar degree, that you feel that there are not problems within Christianity that are difficult, or where it seemed that the traditional answer was not a complete obliteration of Occam’s razor. And when that happens, it is fair to ask if that is the inference to the best explanation. Christianity and theology in general, are often presented as a closed system, and certain assumptions regarding biblical interpretation and inspiration are granted prima facia, where in no other form of study that would be considered legitimate. When anyone says to me as you have above that “the bible doesn’t tell us to”, then I have a hard time granting that they are able to have a serious academic dialogue. The bible is not by any means a one author book, it is a collection of works selected among a number of other related works, and it’s written to a variety of different audiences and there are propositions, if strictly held and assumed to be true, that conflict logically with each other, which if it was one work would cause it to be self-referentially incoherent. And yet, popular Christian theology would discount any questions as to whether the bible is infallible. If that is the starting point, then obviously, the answer to every mystery could be “Our ways are not God’s ways”. Or, if that isn’t the starting point, it’s fair to say, hey, maybe Paul was wrong on his opinion on that, despite the fact that he was adamant about it. The case for biblical inerrancy is especially weak, unless one is is predisposed to wanting or emotionally needing it to be true. And yet, I love the God that I feel I know anyhow.

    Best Regards,

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    1. Hey Eric.

      No, I don’t have a comparable degree, so maybe you aren’t interested in what I have to say. But since Christianity was first pitched to fishermen, I don’t think it’s a reasonable requirement to be able to speak about it.

      I’m not a presuppositionalist as you seem to believe. The only reason I referred to scripture in the “working out your salvation” reference was because your language seemed to invoke it. If not, then fair enough. In that case, then I would ask you what you mean by “working out your faith” as this is a foreign concept to me with regard to Christianity.

      Lastly, I have no desire or emotional need for the bible to be true. I have done a good amount of study on the issue and have found the evidence to be overwhelmingly in favor of its reliability. If you disagree, you are of course welcome to do so. Here’s my difficulty with your position: if you disbelieve the bible yet say that you love the God that it describes, I have to ask what basis you have to believe that the God you love is the same one described in the bible? It sounds like a very arbitrary process to me.

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  14. Scott, you seem to have a high degree of certainty of what Paul is getting at in I Cor. 13. I suppose I don’t share certainty that you have it right, although I think you might have valuable thoughts that I should consider. I think, however, that mostly Paul was concerned about his understanding of spiritual gifts and their usage and he wanted to emphasize a spirit of charity, of non-boastfulness, and the greatest of all of these gifts is love. I don’t think he was doing apologetics, and I think it’s presumptuous to assume that either of us knows exactly what his intent was. Thus, I think what is clear to you is not necessarily clear to others. What shall we do with that? I think we should strive for humility as we work out our faith together. When we read in Mark 1:34 that Jesus healed many, and “also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” — I think it’s fair for us to question “why have I never seen a demon? Why do some Christians think demons were psychological afflictions? And yet, if that was true, why does the author talk about Jesus keeping them quiet, and is the veracity of my faith bound to my interpretation of this passage? There are a number of problems in Christian theology, the problem of Hell, the problem of evil, and the simple problem of context and exegesis to name a few. They are called problems because most people, even the most studied Christians, find them to be problematic.

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    1. Hey Eric.

      I wasn’t intending to suggest that 1 Cor 13 was apologetic in tone, but actually the opposite. Bryan brought it up in that context. My intention was no point out that the end of the chapter doesn’t say that we know nothing, but that we do know in part. And I’d say that extends to many topics beyond the immediate context – that we know enough even though our knowledge is incomplete.

      What I was saying is clear to me (and I think plain to everyone?) is that 1 Cor 15 absolutely is apologetic in tone. I don’t see that as being presumptuous at all. Paul said what the church believed based upon evidence. Are you suggesting this is an ‘un-humble’ stance?

      The bible doesn’t tell us to “work out our faith” as far as I am aware. It says to work out our salvation, which essentially means to live in such a way that corresponds with our identification with Christ. I’m not sure how that’s not germane to this conversation, but maybe I’ve missed something.

      I think you are conflating various senses of faith and belief. Salvatory faith is trusting in the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead and removed the penalty of our sin. Understanding and/or believing in other minutiae is peripheral at best. To use your example, the reason you have never seen a demon is an interesting study or discussion topic, but your understanding of the issue has no bearing on the veracity of your faith.

      Regarding the “problems” you listed at the end. These are entire discussion topics of their own, but I want to make a distinction. You characterized them as “problems in Christian theology”. That is a bold statement that I would disagree strongly with. There are certainly things that people have differing opinions on, or that they struggle to understand, but they are not defects of Christianity. You said that “they are called problems because most people, even the most studied Christians, find them to be problematic.” This is the opposite of my experience. I would have to hear who you mean by “the most studied Christians”. In my experience, the issues you raise are only characterized as problems on Christianity by those outside of Christianity, and they are hardly unanswered. Usually it is a case of people disliking the answers or the consequences that come with them.

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  15. The way you portray faith sounds almost like we share a common wish that something is so. That is not the Christian sense of faith. Ours is a set of beliefs that is held for good reasons. It is not an irrational leap based on hope, but rather a step of confidence based upon what we do know. Certainly we don’t know everything, but we do know in part. That is what Paul was getting at in the passage you referenced earlier (1 Cor 13). Flip forward a couple of chapters and you’ll see Paul saying that he passed on what he knew to be true – not merely a repeated set of beliefs. He then said if this were not true, then our faith is pointless and our preaching in vain, and that we ought to be pitied.

    I feel like you are suggesting that Christian faith equates to hoping really hard. I don’t have that kind of faith. And I don’t think that sort of white-knuckled belief is what God is looking for either.

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    1. I’m glad to hear of your faith experience. But perhaps you are misreading what I am trying to say… We should differentiate between kinds of ‘knowing’ – that which comes by faith, and that which is empirically evident through the five senses, or something like that. If it was as obvious and easy to ‘know’ as you’re seeming to make it – everyone would be a believer. In fact, belief seems to be on the decline. Why? Because it’s not easy, and it’s not obvious.

      My experience is that belief is based on hope. And some days my sense of that hope is so great and strong and full that it makes me soar. It is as if I really do ‘know’. But other times, it is a struggle, and there are doubts.

      I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who wrestles with God, and I think it is time our faith communities are more honest about it, and make space for those who are in that place. Even a cursory reading of the Psalms and Ecclesiastes shows that such an experience is hardly unbiblical.

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      1. Thanks Bryan. You’re not the only only who wrestles with doubt. I think we all do. Your previous posts and comments made it sound like your take on faith is a belief in that which we cannot know. If I’m misunderstanding, please set me straight. What I am trying to communicate is that we can know by the Holy Spirit’s inner witness, and we can show these things to be true via apologetic arguments. Not with mathematical certainty, as you mentioned, but with the same level with which we know most other things in our lives – that it is more likely true than untrue.

        I disagree that belief is on the decline because it is difficult. Assuming you are referring to Christian belief specifically, it is on the decline because it has not been taught. Too many see it as a set of preposterous beliefs that they have heard passed down, but have never been given reasons to believe. Once an untrained Christian meets their first knowledgeable skeptic, their faith is often in shambles. Not because it was untrue, but because their faith was ungrounded. I believe we ought to be educating Christians why we know our faith to be true. We ought to be teaching apologetically in the same way that Paul, Peter, and the others did.

        Does that help clarify what I’m saying?

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  16. By “objectively know”, I mean, definitively, without a doubt, 100% know. I’m not sure anyone has that kind of unassailable knowledge about our universe or God or life.

    If someone did have that kind of knowledge, they would have no need for faith. The point of faith is that we don’t know. At least not definitively.

    As Paul put it:

    “Now we see put a poor reflection as in a glass darkly; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

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      1. Exactly! We have faith that those things are so. I don’t need faith that my wife exists – I know she does, because she lives in my house. As I already quoted from Paul – we presently see through a glass darkly. The ‘knowledge’ of these other things you mentioned are, as St. Paul notes, a ‘poor reflection’. One day we will know fully. Until then, we believe, we trust, we hope.

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      1. I don’t know what you mean by “objectively know”.

        If objective truth exists, then that truth is the same for me as it is for everyone else. It’s not an issue of privilege.

        The sorts of issues posed by the anecdotes in your post are odd caricatures. They ask questions that sound astute but are just a confusing jumble. The answers Friesen seeks are not hidden, so I’m not sure what is profound about his questions. And how can Borg be sure he believes in the God to whom the bible points if he does not believe that the bible is true?

        If you don’t think that people can know truth, then what is the point?

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  17. your true belief makes things true and if u keep faith in GOD definitely and surely ull feel his glorious and infinite love. And people goes all around and round to find heaven. heaven is here inside us , y to go outsight its insight just feel , god is around us and healing us.

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