Monday, June 2, 2008

'Faith' Pt 1 - Introduction

Lee Carter writes...

I’ve been asked to provide four personal reflections on the book Faith by Bryson Smith. Rather than writing a book review or a theological critique, my brief is to record my own ponderings, as prompted by reading Bryson’s book. Hence I plan to use a series of quotes (with page numbers) from Faith as a springboard for further musings about, well, faith! One of my friends has the habit of describing herself as a “blob thinker” – by this she means that she thinks about subjects in a very focussed and ordered way. I, in contrast, tend to be more of a tangential thinker, seeing connections everywhere and getting excited about how they all relate. (Occasionally these tangents prove to be red herrings, but it’s fun fishing for them!)

So please join me as I go exploring and look at some of the things God uses to help our faith in him to grow. Hopefully you’ll be able to follow my thought processes as I ask the question:

What helps us to develop “a strong personal trust in God” (p. 25)?

Faith and the knowledge of God’s word
“Biblical faith is, therefore, not a warm fuzzy feeling or an irrational leap in the dark. Biblical faith is a personal trust in God, based on deep reasoned convictions about true events.” (pp. 15-16)
“… faith is based on a reasoned conviction … grounded in God’s faithfulness … being confident in the things God has promised.” (p. 28)
Here’s what Wayne Grudem writes about how faith should increase as the believer’s knowledge of God’s word increases:
When people have true information about Christ, they are better able to put their trust in him. Moreover, the more we know about him and about the character of God that is completely revealed in him, the more fully we are able to put our trust in him. Thus faith is not weakened by knowledge but should increase with more true knowledge. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 712-713)
Psychologists have analysed the concept of trust, and have discovered that in order to establish conditions in which trust can thrive, four elements must first be present: acceptance, reliability, openness and congruence. The examples given below help explain why trust is such a rare commodity today.

Acceptance: a man once worked on a church committee with a chairman whom he found he could not trust. This puzzled him because the chairman was well-respected, dedicated and a man of principle. Over time the committee member realised that the chairman simply could not accept ideas and personalities different from his own; he rejected outright anything, or anyone, not conforming to his own perception of what was right or desirable. The chairman’s inability to accept different ideas and people caused the committee member to distrust his leader.

Reliability: some people struggle to be punctual and some are born punctual! We have a family friend who is notorious for arriving late – really late; so late and so often in fact, we can rely on her being late! People make promises and people break promises. Some people rarely break promises and they’re the ones we find easier to trust. Some people make and break promises with such regularity that their promises become meaningless.

Openness: when athletes compete in world-class competition they do so on the understanding that they will not cheat by taking performance-enhancing drugs. But there have been so many drug scandals over the years that now even the innocent come under suspicion. In addition to the absence of deceit, openness is present only when everyone’s cards are on the table. Con artists pretend to be honest and sincere when actually they aim to dupe people for their own advantage. They have a hidden agenda.

Congruence: if a person does not demonstrate congruence we call them a hypocrite – what they say and what they do are not consistent. Several years ago a prominent Christian federal parliamentarian disclosed that despite having built his political career championing family values and leading a Christian fellowship of fellow MPs, he had committed adultery – more than once. He confessed his hypocrisy and sin to the nation and acknowledged that in the future people would find it difficult to trust him.

The more I read God’s word and try to live by it, the more I find I am able to trust him. Knowledge of God and all his ways gives me a firm basis for trust. The Bible tells me – and you – plainly that as believers in the Lord Jesus we are accepted by God because of Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father, in life and in death. It tells us that God is holy, righteous, faithful, unchanging, good, truthful, just and perfect (this is not a complete list!) and therefore completely reliable. Throughout his word God tells us clearly and openly what his agenda is – he makes plain to us his plan and purpose for all creation, and our need to be reconciled to him through the Lord Jesus. The clincher for trusting God through Jesus is the congruence between what he says and what he does. The Bible is full to overflowing with examples of how God keeps his promises and how he always follows through on what he says he will do in the future. The ultimate example of this is Jesus’ death and resurrection – God’s plan of salvation promised centuries before Jesus came. Not only this, the Bible demonstrates how God’s actions are always a reflection of his integrity – his character, his attributes and his nature cannot be separated from what he does. They are completely consistent with who he is.

2 comments:

Sarz said...

I had two main thoughts after reading your first post (& reading the book):

1. Understanding that faith is like trust is essential and goes hand in hand with understanding it's also a gift from God. As a teenager I was confused about what faith really was. God showed me in his Word that he 'called' me through his 'Word'. It wasn't dependent on any kind of 'spiritual experience' I had (or hadn't had), and it wasn't just because I went to church. I can see now how I didn't need to go down the front at the end of every Outreach event I went to. My assurance was in his Word all along. Hear and believe, Trust God.

2. I think this understanding of trust is crucial to how we explain our faith to others. The society around us often see faith as a 'religious activity' not as a trust relationship, built on reasoned evidence, and truth.

janellehardy said...

Thanks Lee for your thoughts.
It *is* true that the more we know (of him), the more solid we are in that knowledge. That Grudem quote certainly sums up that truth. “True information” is an interesting phrase…there is plenty of information around but it isn’t all accurate.

Quote: “the more we know about him and about the character of God that is completely revealed in him, the more fully we are able to put our trust in him.” For me, the reality of this has grown over the years as God has worked it into me and the people around me. In retrospect, I can see how our faith was hindered by being involved in a denomination which doesn’t have a solid teaching framework, where perhaps even the pastors are poorly taught and although there are evidences of grace in the lives of the believers, they really are sadly, weak in faith.

I really appreciate in your second paragraph how you said; let’s “look at some of the things God uses to help our faith in him to grow”.
While there is definitely a response to be made in faith, there is also a sense in which we need to acknowledge that any response *we* make is still a gift from God; it is the faith of Jesus which allows us to have faith in Jesus. This was a point which I felt could have been stressed better in the book.

A couple of verses come to mind; one is Isaiah 43:8 “Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf.” This shows that until our eyes and ears are opened by God we can never have faith, no matter how reasonable the verses of scripture may look and sound.

What about Peter in Mark 15:72 when he ‘remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.’ Peter’s faith utterly failed it seems. I relate so much to Peter and am grateful to see the work of God in his life through the time after the ascension.

You mentioned those four qualities; acceptance, reliability, openness and congruence. Knowing these are qualities of our Father certainly builds our faith. Isn’t it amazing to think that he also uses the contrast, our inability and lack, to build our faith? Very humbling.