Saturday, February 09, 2008

[THO] The Supposed Crisis of Faith

I've been thinking about this a fair bit. One of my profs insists that there is no such thing as a crisis of faith, but what is often called a crisis of faith is really a crisis of beliefs. The root of a crisis of beliefs is when we discover that we don't really believe in what we say we believe in. It follows then that a large reason we defend our tautologies so intensely is to avoid the uncomfortableness of facing our own beliefs and sorting through them. And at a certain point, academically, it is frustrating to encounter this kind of defensiveness.

Pastorally, this is the water you carefully swim in all the time. Around you are people who come to faith in a modern church that is very inadequate at giving us tools to really think through and own our beliefs. The Church has lots of ways to reinforce dogma and even well developed systems of apologetics which help the "faithful" to defend the beliefs they are supposed to hold. But I'm convinced this is not good enough.

But it is uncomfortable to walk in the valley of the shadow of unbelief. It is hard to not be hounded by your own unreflected beliefs when you are walking through another persons crisis. What is left is a culture of desperate clinging often to quite proposterous "faith" positions. Pastorally this is distracting from the real work of the gospel - and in fact it often replaces the real work of the gospel.*

Academically, and this is where I reflect from for this blog, the notion of defending a tight system for the sake of feeding a culture that idolizes its beliefs is not at all attractive. It is better to work on the distinction between what we really believe and what we have assented to and work from there. This prof. offered a course on Spirituality that I took about 6 years ago, in it you took apart your core of faith, you probed and dissected, and then you put it all back together. That course was incredible hard, but it was also incredibly rewarding. When you believe what you believe, even if it is just a bit of what you are "supposed" to believe, there is nothing you can't face. Reality can be embraced on realities terms and the work of finding a coherent whole is a real work and not a defensive posturing.

The best case example is what a lot of local evangelical pastors fear about my university. From their perspective a few folks have gone to St. Paul and "lost their faith". Not really, but when you get into an academic environment the concern isn't to nurture that core of belief, but to teach you how to think. What falls off are the pretenses and the person is freed from the bonds that kept them from actually coming to believe. Externally that looks like they lost their faith. But I invite you to see the other side that this actually opens them up to the possibility of real faith.

I never really faced this sort of crisis at school, and I would insist that I don't see it as that prevelant (and personally know folks who have had similar experiences at evangelical and reformed schools). But it is a possibility. For me I'd had my beliefs kicked around before I landed in school. What was left was a pretty coherent core. But shaking off the need to defend that core lets me navigate a much deeper ocean of religious theory and beliefs.


* By real work of the gospel I am contending that the gospel is about proclaiming the Kingdom in the world. This was Jesus' gospel and it is what Jesus left the Church. We believe when we see this, not because we've been convinced by the propositions and tautological arguments. Also the message of the Kingdom is inseperable from the encounter of the King. I still owe this blog a series on the Kingdom of God, but I've been reflecting on Kingdom theology a lot lately and decided that it is just not time.


Les said...

Very good post, mate. I think one of the key issues underlying this discussion is that of fear. Many evangelicals, in my experience, seem to fear that if they think and interrogate their faith-position it will prove untenable.

When I went to Bible College to train for pastoral ministry I heard how people had "lost their faith" but, in fact, I found that my charismatic identity was strengthened and the only things that fell away were more cultural than biblical.

One of the problems I have identified in Australia is some poor exegesis in evangelical churches. This is a generalized statement but if Christians are not taught a strong, biblical, living faith then they will simply be pretty much like their neighbours and, of course, their fundamental beliefs will be shakey.

This is a discussion that I think has a lot more legs especially as you and I engage with faith at its supernatural level as well as the rational.

One of Freedom said...

Definitely fear is a huge player in this. I imagine that you Aussies have imported a lot of the American evangelical sensibilities and have a blended reality. That is the case here in Canada, at least (that the things I dislike the most about evangelicalism are mostly imports from the States). The culture of fear is at the heart of the efforts to maintain the anti-intellectual stance.

As a pastor though I'm concerned about the foundations we are building on. I'm convinced that if our foundations are solid then we can weather any storm. But the only way to know if the foundation is strong is to look at how it is built.

I'm reading von Balthasar right now and he is arguing that our foundation has to be both a solid thoelogical (intellectual) engagement and at the exact same time a spiritual engagement (obedience). But I'm certain that most of the foundations built by contemporary evangelical churches have only one or the other. In our pentecostal traditions it is unfortunately only a spiritual foundation (double blind obedience - we reflect neither on what we are following nor on where we are going, we just let it fly). The thing is the energy of pentecostal spirituality is amazing and even good. It just lacks balance (head to go with the heart).


Kelly said...

Perhaps you and your professor are talking about two different things. one can have beliefs, and one can have faith-based beliefs. When it becomes a crisis of faith is when one has to decide whether it's worth it to have faith.

Faith is belief without evidence or belief even in the face of contradictory evidence.

I think often with a crisis of beliefs, we're fighting our own vested interests and attachments in our beliefs. For example, I do believe that humanity is basically good and wants what's best on both individual and collective scales. However, there is mounting evidence to disprove my belief. I still hold it anyway.

But when it comes to faith, we tend to feel obligated to continue believing in Premise X even when what we believe we know to be patently false or, at best, unfalsifiable. When the costs outweigh the benefits when it comes to faith, that leads to identity deconstruction, and that's rarely viewed as fun.

One of Freedom said...

Welcome to the blog Kelly.

Faith is not something that demands we put on blinders. Faith is something lives out of our deepest held beliefs. So when we really believe that God is good, then our faith holds to this even when the situation seems to say otherwise. But faith is internally validated, that is based on an internal logic. Faith is our deepest convictions lived out - it all comes back to what we truly believe.

Where the difference is that we teach beliefs (in the Church) but we rarely go beyond intellectual assent. Pascal wrote in Pensees that we cannot really convince another person to beleive what we do, but our lived conviction is what convinces. (no. 795) So if you really believe, then you will live from that belief (faith) and people will see this as authentic - which then has the potential to be compelling (if the belief is desirable).

Gary Best would say it like this: as Christians we are to be good advertising for God. So it isn't about having the beliefs lined up, but about the lived beliefs expressed in faith in the world, that is what counts.

My critique is that our faith isn't in crisis, but what we believe so deeply that we are willing to give our lives for (faith).