Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Faith is Not a Statement

Why do churches have such wordy faith statements? A friend of mine recently told me what church they were attending so, being the nosie friend that I am, I decided to check it out. I read through a couple of their staff bio's, looked at their ministry options, and then I checked out their faith statement. Quite quickly, I made the following two observations... it was long with so many "points" that I lost count and, even for being as theologically inquisitive as I am, I found it utterly boring. I searched to find something compelling, something captivating, but there was nothing for me. They lost me... and yet, this was their "faith statement"!? This was their "concise" description of the Christian faith!? Bullet points with Roman numerals... the first of which claiming the Bible to be the primary authority for Christian faith... and yet, where's that in the Bible!? Why on earth would anyone go to Church after reading a "faith statement" like this? I am sure not interested in such a faith.

I think we evangelical theologians have gotten in the habit seeing the Bible as code to be cracked, to be decoded in systematic theological terms. We have done this so much that it has become our primary means for explaining our faith... it has even made its way onto church websites. Systematic theology, as such, seems to have a practically unhealthy theology of the Bible. Now, I have a healthy appreciation for the need for systematic theology as a tool for more complex theological questions. It's a great lens through which to conduct theological discourse. But should it really serve as a means for explaining our faith?

The Bible and the Christian faith in general are not just calculated positions on issues debated through church history. It's not just a list of intellectual doctrines to which one must ascribe. We should take a hint from the Bible which we claim to be our primary source for theological reflection. The authors of the Bible didn't lay out pointed arguments. No. They told stories. They shared personal experiences. they preached from their gut on specific contextual issues. They wrote poetry. They used humor. They exaggerated and even embellished when it helped them get at the deeper reality of their situation. They used words to paint a picture--one that was compelling and inspiring. In this way, our "faith statements" are nothing like our Bible. Instead of painting a picture, we make calculated lists to be sure that everybody's on the same page and that nobody slips in without being corrected in their thinking. Instead of telling a compelling story about our God, we are so preoccupied with the possibility that some sort of heresy might slip in that we altogether forget that our faith is good news and that it's gloriously compelling! Our faith statements, in this way, though they might be "accurate" to some degree, are in no way a reflection of the Christian faith that I've been reading about in the scriptures and in the stories of the church's heritage. In this way, though our faith statements are good as such, as mere statements, they are far from historically orthodox. It is unorthodox, if you ask me, for the Christian faith to be boring and exclusive!

Our primary means for explaining our faith should be the art of storytelling and prophesying. The first line of any good faith statement should be that our faith is not a statement at all...

What do we believe? Well, come taste and see... then you tell me...

4 comments:

TheYellowDart said...

After reading this, my wife just reminded me of our love of Kierkegaard and what his advice is on this topic.... In his book "The Sickness unto Death", he mentions in the Appendix part about a rationalized explanation or defense of our faith is diminishing to it. In his example a lover is asked to give three reasons why they are in love. And Soren reports the lover would think the questioner has obviously never been in love.

WES ELLIS said...

TheYellowDart,
I love Kierkegaard too! Thanks for the reference, I have not read that one yet.
-Wes

Pat Pope said...

Well said.

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks Pat!