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Evangelicalism’s Belief

Is belief the central work of the evangelical faith?

Lately I’ve been watching as the really big voices in the evangelical world have been wrestling with their own faith structures. Ed Stetzer and Scot McKnight, whom I greatly respect, recently explore some of the tensions within the evangelical faith.  Scot recently explored the stereotypes and tension of what happens when you bring evangelicals and mainliners together. Ed recently explored the tension of interfaith dialog. But it was Scot who asked if evangelicalism creates a new fundamentalism.

It’s like the emerging church all over again. ;-P

I noticed the tension Ed shared.  He said, “As a rule, I don’t do interfaith meetings. Our goals generally do not line up.” I get and respect his desire in what he’s saying.  He wants to remain true to his understanding of the Gospel.  But it was interesting to note that his understanding of the Gospel became a barrier to participating with other human beings.  I also appreciate Ed’s candor for sharing something so personal.  By living out his faith in the public context he’s sharing some of the same fears we’ve all felt.

But the three posts have increasingly led me to ask, “Is belief the new work?”  Has evangelicalism created a new structure for works through belief?  Because in order for someone to get into heaven, they have to believe, and some would say the right way.  Maintaining the purity of that faith in practice becomes central to the process.  I’ve wrestled with this question before, but its interesting to hear Scot and Ed work it out in their own life.

What do you think?

About the Author

Jonathan BrinkI am an business development and communications consultant. I am also the senior editor and publisher for Civitas Press. I recently published, Discovering The God Imagination: Reconstructing A Whole, New Christianity. (Civitas, 2011)View all posts by Jonathan Brink →

  • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

    I may have misunderstood Scot, but the phrase he used – “we must get into Christ first” – almost sounded like belief as condition to be accepted by God.

    • David

      Josh I don’t think beleif is a condition for acceptance by God. We are accepted by the work of Jesus on the cross. But don’t we have to believe Jesus ? In Acts chapter 16, I think, wasn’t it addressed in this way…”belive on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your house” ? So in a sense belief is part of our new relatioship to Jesus. Don’t you think?

      • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

        The faith this verse talks about is the actual act of trust in the person. “Belief” on the other hand is usually defined and understood as a conviction about something to be true and would be the realm of doctrine and dogma. Belief is what you believe ABOUT the person, not the act of believing itself. And while taking a step of trust usually doesn’t happen unless you believe certain things to be true (think of a young child jumping down from the second floor towards his father believing that his love is so dependable that he will always catch him and not let him crash), it’s entirely possibly to have all kinds of beliefs and never act on them. “Salvation”, in my understanding, is the relationship itself, not what we believe about it.

        • David

          I think you have helped me get it right. Belief then in a sence is a noun and beliving an action or verb. Belief leads then to what we consider when we say I Hold to high view of Scripture and eternal sercurity in Jesus as in convictions. Where Faith or trust in Jesus leads to a Loving relationship not what we think about or believe about it. If thats what your saying, and I think it is, I’m with you…

          • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

            Yes, I believe faith is a verb or it is not faith (in the biblical sense) at all. Check Hebrews 11 in that regard as well. Through faith all those forerunners were able to act, receive and overcome, according to God’s promises. Faith is in the person of God, not faith in a belief about the person.rnrnUnfortunately the latter is seen more and more as the battleground where many evangelicals see their identity. And that is rather ironic, or tragic actually, because the evangelical movement began centuries ago as a movement AGAINST dead orthodoxy, emphasizing a living and active relationship with God in contrast to mere doctrinal assent and inactive affiliation by name only within the protestant tradition.

          • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

            Yes, I believe faith is a verb or it is not faith (in the biblical sense) at all. Check Hebrews 11 in that regard as well. Through faith all those forerunners were able to act, receive and overcome, according to God’s promises. Faith is in the person of God, not faith in a belief about the person.rnrnUnfortunately the latter is seen more and more as the battleground where many evangelicals see their identity. And that is rather ironic, or tragic actually, because the evangelical movement began centuries ago as a movement AGAINST dead orthodoxy, emphasizing a living and active relationship with God in contrast to mere doctrinal assent and inactive affiliation by name only within the protestant tradition.

  • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

    As far as Ed Stetzer is concerned, I feel really sorry for him. I’m sure he would reply to your question something like; “It’s not about belief. It’s about being faithful to Jesus. And I can’t be faithful to Him if I don’t let people of other faiths know that they need Jesus in order to be saved.”rnrnIf you read Ed’s post concerning the charismatic gay pastor who recently opened up about his homosexuality, he was very careful not to appear condemning and to recognize the complexity of the issue. At the same time, he also made very clear where he stood on the issue. For him and most of those commenting, this was a repentance for salvation issue, in other words: God won’t accept you unless you renounce your orientation.rnrnWhile I don’t agree with everything Jim Swilley said in the video, those responding didn’t seem to get the most central issue he was addressing. What I heard Swilley saying was basically: ” I’m a human being. I didn’t choose to be gay. I have done everything conceivable to change but God did not take this away from me. I don’t find Scripture addressing the orientation as such and the way it did originate in me, or addressing the way I’ve committed myself as a gay man to God. Why should I continue to live under condemnation personally and support what is killing lives every day?”rnrnI get the strong feeling that not necessarily belief per se but our belief about homosexuality and people of other faiths (particularly Islam) is becoming the defining and dividing issue for evangelicalism today.

    • David

      Josh, I agree with you on the issue of Islam and people of other faiths being a dividing issue as well as homosexuality. Maybe because homosexuality is spoken about so directly in Scripture as well as people of other faiths. Not sure. rnrnBut on Joanathan’s question isn’t belief central ? Can’t remember the address at the moment but the verse says. “Without Faith it is impossible to please Him. For he that comes to God must believe He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”. I think this is in Hebrews Chapter 11. So very much is spoken about belief in Gods Word. rnrnI don’t think that belief is a work however. I think it’s linked to Faith thru Grace and not a work as such. Maybe another way to say it Is the Holy Spirit working in us. Which is His work and not ours. rnrnBut I wouldn’t feel sorry for ED Stetzer Josh. Good man, decicated to the Gospel. he has issues like us all. You certanily can disagree with a position he may take but don’t think you need to feel sorry for him.

      • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

        Why do you think it’s impossible to please God without faith? I’m very tempted to give my answer here right away but I want to hear yours first. And what would you say to the question whether belief and faith is the same thing necessarily?rnrnAlso, I’m not feeling sorry for Ed Stetzer in general as a person. I just feel sorry for him on this issue because I can sense an unnecessary tension in the way he tries to resolve his passion to love people and yet at the same time maintain the walls that divide him from those people.

        • David

          I understand then why you would feel sorry for Ed. Makes sense. Looking forward to your answer on why it’s not possible to please God without faith. Guess my first thought is the message in Heb 11. I think there’s an overall message in Gods Word throughout about faith, and our trust in a Loving and Caring God. I think when we doubt and have untrusting hearts or don’t have faith it’s like we are saying God doesn’t Love & Care for us as we may have thought. It’s like we are hiding from God or breaking a friendship. When we don’t believe Him. I think that if there is one thing in the Bble that stands out in many of the stories is the issue of unbelief. rnrnI don’t think faith and belief is necessarily the same thing. I think they are related. Hard to believe someone you don’t trust or have faith in. If faith is the assurance of unseen things we must believe. How can you have assurance without belief ? Don’t think you can. So yes they are very close but not exactley the same thing. Not sure this makes sense. Hope so. The real issue isn’t us and our belief, but total reliance on Jesus and faith in Him. Because my belief and trust is flawed at best. As I’m thinking about this I’m almost positive faith and belief are issue that even come from God in the first place. rnrnI’m interested in what you think Josh.

          • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

            My answer: the opposite of faith would be works. Nothing we DO will ever change God’s mind about us, including holding on to a specific belief. What pleases God is nothing we bring to the table to become acceptable but our embrace of what is already true: God’s eternal love and acceptance based on grace. rnrnIn other words: faith doesn’t MAKE us pleasing in God’s eyes, faith is the act of believing that He already sees us as beloved sons and daughters.

          • david

            Not according to Heb 11:6 Josh. Thats only one verse but there are many verses & stories about faith. I do think our faith pleases God. Scripture backs that up through out the Bible. The story about the exchange between Jesus and the guard comes to mind.rnrnBy the way, I agree with your first paragraph. Especially the last two sentences.

          • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

            You’re still misunderstanding me, David. I didn’t say God is not pleased with faith. What I am saying is that the nature of faith with which God is pleased is a trust placed in the invisible which is already true (see V.1). Rather than a condition that needs to be fulfilled before God can be pleased with us, the writer is saying: Without believing that God does exist and that He is meeting us as a rewarder rather than a punisher, we cannot please Him because otherwise we start out with a false projection of God (an idol) or don’t seek Him in the first place. rnrnIn any case, faith is exactly what Sarah so eloquently described in her comment: it is faith in Jesus, not faith in a doctrine about Jesus. This is the main difference between belief and faith. You can have belief without faith, but true faith certainly incorporates believing certain things about God, namely that He exists and that He is for us rather than against us (pretty simple for a statement of belief, don’t you think?). rnrnIf someone maintains on the other hand that God is displeased with us UNTIL we show faith or are orthodox enough in our belief, we run into all kinds of trouble: Where does this faith come from I’m supposed to show in order to get God to like me? And how orthodox is orthodox enough? How about those who only get it 95% right? rnrnYou see where I’m going with this?

          • David

            I sure do get where your going and agree with your statements here. I thought that was what I was saying as well in the context of my words. I guess not as I sure didn’t communicate like you did. But yes, it is ALL about faith in Jesus not about faith in Doctrin or orthodox. And yes I do like your simple statement of belief…rnrn

          • http://jonathanbrink.com Jonathan Brink

            Josh, you beat me to it, but I will add this. There is a subtle way of interpreting that verse that suggests God can’t be pleased, when it’s the exact opposite. The sense of pleasure is not God’s understanding, but our understanding of God. We can’t please what has already been pleased. In other words, the verse is letting us know that our efforts are trying to gain what we already have.

  • http://paradigmshift-jmac.blogspot.com/ Joe Machuta

    Yes, in many ways I think that belief is the new work of evangelicalism. It was that way with the Arminian fundies also. I personally do not think that it has to be that way. In my view, Jesus obained eternal life and, redemption for all people, whether they believe it or not. Apprehending this reality by faith helps cement the relationship aspect with God here on earth and is a benefit in that way.nnReconciliation to God is important for one to have complete peace. Jesus did that work and faith apprehends the benefit. This in my view is a good enough reason for sharing faith in Christ with others… especially when it is done inclusively and not exclusively.nnFaith in the eternal goodness of God… real trust in God…that, in my view IS the only thing that can help us transcend our greed born of the survival instinct. Is it possible that it can be acheived generically? (Heb 11:6) suggests it could be generic believing in God and that he rewards those who seek him… Having said that, in my view, faith in Christ and his work on our behalf is the best way to see God as love. In fact to my knowledge the NT is the only writing that defines God as AGAPE/love. The gospel minus the exclusivity could be a really, really good thing!

  • Rooney Sarah

    I wrote about this last month for the internal blog of an organic church I’m part of. It’s on the topic, and not too long, so I thought I’d share it here. Although it’s a little more about the results of making ‘right belief’ a work (which I think evangelicals do often). Also, I’ve really enjoyed Peter Rollin’s “How (Not) to Speak of God” as he addresses this issue extensively in that book. Anyway, here’s what I wrote:nnWhen it comes to our faith, there are two sources that we can trust in:nn1) Jesus: His death on the cross, His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father as Lord of lords.nnornn2) Our right belief in Jesus and His death on the cross, His resurrection and ascension to the Father as Lord of lords.nnnWhen our faith is in Jesus, love motivates us. When our faith is in our belief, being right motivates us.nnWhen our faith is in Jesus, we are free from fear of being wrong or making a mistake. When our faith is in our belief, those beliefs must be right, or our entire security is shaken. Therefore, it is a fearful thing to think we might have it wrong, and so we avoid questioning our own beliefs.nnWhen our faith is in Jesus, we build on the solid rock. When our faith is in our belief, we are building on whatever we’ve been taught by others, or what we already think we know. Shifting sand.nnWhen our faith is in Jesus, we are humbled and come as dependent children to a God who has accomplished it all for us. When our faith is in our right belief, we entertain pride, and an attitude that we have the right answers and are better than those who don’t share our answers.nnWithout belief, we won’t experientially live in the reality of right relationship with God (which has been accomplished in Jesus). So belief is important. But our belief isn’t the source, Jesus is. And when we understand that, then asking questions becomes a lot less threatening.

    • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

      Loved it!

    • http://jonathanbrink.com Jonathan Brink

      Oh Sarah, I so love this.

      • http://jonathanbrink.com Jonathan Brink

        BTW, what was the response you got on the blog?

    • David

      I’ve been thinking about what Sarah has said. Sarah if you could please address the issue then of doctrin. Where does dosctrin fit in what you have said? Is it important and something that goes hand and hand with faith or is it very much seperate? What would you say for example that we hiold to a high view of Scripture ? Jesus was born of a Vergin? The Holy Spirit indewlls the believer at conversion? Our Salvation is secure in Jesus? Things like this…

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