Heart of Christianity 2 – Faith

I liked chapter two, “Faith: The Way of the Heart,” not so much because it breaks any new ground, but because it clearly lays out what I (at any rate) find to be a helpful understanding of the nature of faith.

Borg notes that some people criticize Christianity for being more about believing than being a way of life. While this criticism has some bite, he points out that Christianity was originally known as “the Way” and that faith is, properly understood, a way of life.

Borg distinguishes four meanings of faith:

Faith as assent: This refers to giving one’s intellectual assent to the truth-claims of Christianity. Borg claims that this idea of faith rose to prominence during and after the Reformation when the various Protestant sects and the Catholic Church came to be distinguished primarily by their belief-systems. In the wake of the Enlightenment, faith came to be almost identified with the act of believing highly improbable, or at least questionable, things. Borg argues that this definition of faith “puts the emphasis in the wrong place” because it “suggests that what God really cares about is the beliefs in our heads–as if ‘believing the right things’ is what God is most looking for, as if having ‘correct beliefs’ is what will save us” (p. 30).

Faith as trust: Specifically, “radical trust in God.” God is the one who keeps us afloat. This means that we can relax and not be anxious because we can trust in the “sea of being in which we live and move and have our being” (p. 31).

Faith as fidelity: Borg describes this as a “radical centering in God.” It is ultimate loyalty to God and God’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. The opposite of faith as fidelity is idolatry–putting something ahead of God as our ultimate concern.

Faith as vision: This is our synoptic view of reality as a whole. In particular, is God/reality hostile or indifferent to us, or is it consonant with our best interests? To have faith in this sense is to view God/reality as “life-giving and nourishing” or “gracious” (p. 35) rather than out to get us or unconcerned with us.

Borg cites the last three understandings of faith as particularly congenial to the emerging paradigm because of their relational quality–they define the nature of our relationship with God and shape our response to God, which is lived out in love of and service to our neighbor. He also recognizes, however, that they are important to the earlier paradigm too. The problem with the earlier paradigm, he thinks, is that it over-empasizes the propositional component of faith to the detriment of the relational.

As a Lutheran, I find Borg’s discussion of faith appealing. Whatever else it might mean, “justification by faith” can’t mean you will be saved if you can manage to believe six impossible things before breakfast. For Luther, it was radical trust in the graciousness of God that constituted “saving” faith.

However, I’m less persuaded that this approach to faith is distinctive of the “emerging” paradigm. I think that this more relational notion of faith has always been present in the tradition at its best. Even fundamentalism goes beyond “mere belief” to “trust in the Lord” (or “accepting Jesus into your heart”). I suspect that any genuine faith includes elements of all four of the types Borg has identified.

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