Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Faith (again)

I guess not many people were reading this blog last week. At least my old friend Chris responded... (where were the rest of you? I know of at least three other regular lurkers, why didn't you comment?)

Chris said this of faith:

'My short definition would be: "dependent trust".'

He then went on to give a longer illustration relating to abseiling:

'It occurred to me that when you are stood at the bottom of the rock face looking up, you can have absolute confidence that the rope holding the [abseiler] above will hold. There is no question in your mind that he will fall. But it is not until it is your turn to take the rope and lean back over the cliff edge that your confidence becomes faith.'

This is pretty much my understanding of faith too, its basically trust in action.

However, it is clear to me that most outside observers of Christianity (and, indeed, other religions) view faith as being the mechanism by which somebody can believe the unbelievable.

Obviously I can't speak for all people everywhere with faith, but my faith in God is more-or-less my belief that God will behave in the future in the same ways that he has behaved in the past. If he promised something and person X (in the past) received the outcome of that promise then I have faith that, in similar circumstances, person Y (in the future) will receive the same outcome. I have faith that if he has answered a certain kind of prayer in a certain kind of way in the past that he will answer the same sort of prayer in the same sort of way in the future.

My faith relates entirely to what God will do.

I can't approach faith as a way of 'rubber stamping' a given statement. The "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." way of thinking kind of annoys me. For a start, how can we be sure that God said it, whatever it was? I don't have faith that the set of compiled documents that we call the bible is the infallible word of God, as I've explained in this blog. So, for a given 'it', I need to question if God said it at all, before I can believe it. And as for settling it, well, there are some apparent contradictions and some things that God said which were only relating to specific circumstances, so no, that wouldn't even settle it...

The point in all this is to defend faith. Not blind faith - that is no faith at all in my opinion. But it is possible and justifiable to have a reasoned and reasonable faith in God and to live by it.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Fundamental Claims of Christianity

As usual, I've been listening to atheist podcasts. The more I listen to these things, the more I come to see that (for lack of a better term) 'evangelical atheists' seem to think that the creation / evolution debate is the most effective way of destroying a Christian's faith. It seems that they see creation by God as one of the fundamental claims of Christianty. And by that I mean it is a claim that, if disproved, would cause a Christian's belief structure to collapse.

I don't think that creation (in the six-days, man-directly-from-dust sense of the word) is a fundamental claim of Christianity at all. In fact, I call myself a Christian without believing either of those two elements of creation. I don't even believe in guided evolution.

But if that isn't a fundamental to Christianity, what is?

What are the fundamental claims of Christianity?

Well, I keep coming back to the thought that I am a Christian. The fundamental claims of Christianity are (in my view) the fundamental claims of Christ and the fundamental claims about Christ. I think these are:
  • The Kingdom of God is near. This is the heart of the ministy of Jesus as presented in the gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke. This is what Jesus himself preached and what he taught his disciples to preach before his crucifiction - the Gospel of the Kingdom.
  • Jesus is alive. This is the heart of the ministry of the early Church. Jesus is alive, he has conquered death and he is able to be the mediator between you and God the Father.
  • God can live in you. The Holy Spirit is fundamental to the teaching of the early church. The claim is that God can live in you and with you and change you into the person you have the potential to be. This is also (in my view) fundamental in that this, of all the claims, is the one you can test for youself. If you can experience God in your being, you can have faith in the other claims. If there is no evidence of the Holy Spirit, you cannot be sure that any of the other claims are true.
  • You can live after death. This is a claim of many (though not all) religions. The Christian claim is that Jesus (and only Jesus) provides The Way to the Father, the only way to 'heaven' or 'paradise' or 'the Kingdom of God' or whatever you want to call it.
In my opinion, any claim beyond that is not necessarily fundamental to Christianity. The creation thing is not fundamental - you can follow Jesus without believing it. In fact, if I can slip into utter heresy for a minute, my faith in Jesus wouldn't be destroyed if it was proved to me that some other deity had created the universe and our God only came along at a later stage. If God can live in me now, enhancing my quality of life, and if I can be assured of life after death, does it matter if the God that can do that built things? Not to me.

But what do you lot think?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I will shortly blog about faith.

But first, can I ask all readers of this blog (that means you) to comment on this post with a short definition of what you think 'faith' means?

Feel free to post anonymously.

Please use your own words and don't simply quote one of the famous bible verses. Thanks.

More to follow...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose free will.

Rush: "Freewill", from the album Permanent Waves (1980)

When going through all the questions posed by the Hillbilly Atheist, and when reading other atheist websites, the issue of freewill keeps coming up again and again. The atheist's view of the Christian belief about freewill seems to go something like this:

God has given man freewill, so that he can choose to follow God or reject him. In order not to force man's hand on this issue, God will not provide proof that he exists. But, in order to sway man's decision, God does threaten those who make one choice with hell and promise those who make the other choice with heaven.

As I say, this appears to be what atheists think that Christians believe. This is not what I believe.

Freewill is not a universally held Christian belief. Some Christians will maintain that God predestines some people to be Christians and some not to be; essentially predestinating some for heaven and some for hell. They believe that man has no freewill, and anything that looks like freewill actually isn't as God has predestined everything. I don't agree with this belief - for a start it implies that the world, in its present state, is the way God wants it - he ordained the tsunami, he ordained the war in Iraq, in fact, even the 9/11 attacks must have been predestined by God. Nonsense. If God planned everything, why on earth would he invent all the other religions? Why would he make some poeple mass murderers, etc. The whole concept is nonsense and requires quite a bit of interpretation to justify the belief from the bible.

But freewill is not an easy belief to justify from the bible either. I don't remember ever reading a bible passage that states that God has given man freewill (for what its worth, I have also had discussions about the subject of angels not having freewill, and this isn't stated anywhere in the bible either, so why is there no redemption plan for fallen angels?).

Those of us who believe in freewill, do so primarily because it is self-evident. We can choose to follow Jesus or not. We can choose to reject the claims of Christianity. So we must have freewill because we can do what we want to (more or less).

So what about the issue of God not wanting to force our hands...? Well, I'm kind of in agreement with this, up to a point. God wants us to be in relationship with him - I believe that is the only reason we exist, because he wants us to be in relationship with him - but he won't force us to do this, beacuse he wants us to choose to love him. You can't force love. I truly believe that God would rather have you reject him and live life your way, than force your hand and make you follow him. But I also believe that he does offer benefits (in this world and the next) to those who follow him and drawbacks (in this world and the next) to those who don't. This is why 'heaven' will be better than 'hell' (although I believe we have totally wrong concepts of both).

And I don't belief that God has not provided any proof of his existance. See my earlier blog posts. You can have proof that God exists if you actually are prepared to go looking for it. Those who seek will find. Of course, many people don't actually want to find proof of God's existance, because they know that they'll have to change the way they live if they find out that its true.