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A System of Beliefs or a Way of Life?

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Faith and Belief

A System of Beliefs or a Way of Life?
Sunday, July 16, 2017

The terms belief and faith are often used synonymously. Yet they are very different. As David Benner says, “Belief is conviction of the trustworthiness of a proposition. . . . Faith, on the other hand, can never be reduced to beliefs or thoughts. . . . Beliefs are often simply objects of attachment that provide a misleading sense of certainty.” [1] Faith welcomes unknowing and mystery. Unfortunately, Christianity has settled for dogma, rituals, and tribal belonging, losing sight of the transformative way of faith.

Over the next two days I’d like you to reflect on my friend Brian McLaren’s words. He offers challenging questions that can help us reframe and rebuild our spirituality from the bottom up:

For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism to environmental destruction, subordination of women to stigmatization of LGBT people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, clergy pedophilia to white privilege. What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes and is dedicated to beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?

For centuries, Christians have presented God as a Supreme Being who showers blessings upon insiders who share certain beliefs and proper institutional affiliation, but who punishes outsiders with eternal conscious torment. Yet Jesus revealed God as one who “eats with sinners,” welcomes outsiders in, and forgives even while being rejected, tortured, and killed. . . . He preached that God was to be found in self-giving service rather than self-asserting domination. . . . What would it mean for Christians to understand, experience, and embody God as the loving, healing, reconciling Spirit in whom all creatures live, move, and have their being?

For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an “organized religion”—a change-averse institution . . . that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation. . . . What might happen if we understood the core Christian ethos as creative, constructive, and forward-leaning—as an “organizing religion” that challenges all institutions (including its own) to learn, grow, and mature toward a deepening, enduring vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, enemy, and creation? [2]

Many people today are leaving the belief systems of their parents and grandparents. This is a mass exodus from institutional faith that demographers are calling “the rise of the Nones.” Nones comprise about twenty percent of all Americans, and one-third of Americans under thirty. [3]

Having little patience with (or appreciation for) mystery, as well as so little humility or basic love for groups other than our own, maybe Christianity in its present formulation has to die for a truly universal and love-centered spiritual path to be born. I sincerely wonder if this might be true. [4]

Gateway to Silence:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. —Proverbs 3:5

[1] David Benner, “Faith and Belief,” interview with Jackie Stinton, posted to http://www.drdavidgbenner.ca/faith-and-belief/ on August 5, 2016.
[2] Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016), 2-3. Please visit brianmclaren.net to learn more about his work.
[3] See James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker: 2014), 21.
[4] Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 127.

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