Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

How is Your Faith Sustained?

I'm in a Celtic Christianity discussion group and there's been an e-mail trail going for the past few days regarding the HOW of gaining faith. An individual is struggling with doubt about the whole package, and wonders what can be done to strengthen faith, and what the role of faith is in our pursuit of Christ. Here's my reponse:

Greetings to all from Seattle...

I'll just echo some of things already written here, but with a slightly different twist. First, it seems that, at least in our part of the country, there is a greater openness to faith now than was there 25 years ago. I think the crisis of modernity, and the deconstructing of certainty in the disciplines of science, literature, and history, have created a vacuum of certainty.

Into this vacuum a strange blend of openness and doubt, faith and skepticism, engagement and cynicism has rushed. The result is a culture that, at the same time, is both more willing to believe without 'objective evidence' AND less certain of the validity of ANY belief they ultimately hold. I find this to be a good yet scary place for the church. It's good in that people are more willing to 'check it out' and give Jesus a try because they don't so readily dismiss our unbelievable doctrines (and when you think about it - the resurrection is really a stretch; 3 days? Come on. Yet I do believe it!) At the same time that there's this openness to faith, there's also this pragmatic dismissal of any belief system that doesn't work, discarded like a pair of shoes that's worn out. For this reason the church (and we who serve it) had better work hard to enable its community to testify of the reality of Christ's life. If all we're preserving is a form or an institution, I really don't think it will survive this age of skepticism. Nor should it.

But the other difficulty, of course, is that our walk faith takes us through valleys of darkness. Those are the times that worry me most in this age. If my faith is purely pragmatic, then when the discipline, refining, and purifying processes of Christ begin to occur in my life, I'll suddenly get the itch for a new pair of shoes! Faith continues to press on saying 'this I believe' even when God seems absent. In those moments, I hang on to the moments when I saw clearly: a sunrise in the Cascade mountains, a demon leaving the body of a young women in response to prayer, a subjective sense of His presence in the silence, the wisdom and strength to sustain my marriage or ministry. The reminders are like the stones gathered from the Jordan river as 'stones of remembrance' so that when I see nothing, I can still, at least see the stones.

What sort of stones have YOU seen in your life? Are there moments when you saw, when you encountered the holy, when you knew that you knew? Maybe sharing them would help you - and the rest of us.


At 1/11/06 11:42, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard, I find that I am somewhat less encouraged by that "strange blend of openness and doubt". The reasons for my disquiet are found in your observation that there is a "pragmatic dismissal of any belief system that doesn't work". And "work" presupposes the idea that it must fit in well with my existing wants and goals. It reflects people's desire to find a belief system that fits well into their wish to glorify and cherish self. And my conviction is that the a true walk with Christ will never fulfill, or coexist comfortably with, that desire.

Bob W.

At 1/11/06 11:49, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

funny you should mention that - for I'm in the midst of studying Colossians 2:8-15 for this coming Sunday and am reminded once again of how comletely 'other' the good news of Christ is; a total contradiction to all kingdoms of this world. Surely moving from one kingdom to other is inevitably costly, requiring the laying down of previously held beliefs/allegiences.

But I'm still encouraged in this sense: at least the door is open. People who previously dismissed any truth claims requiring faith as untenable are now acknowledge that all truth claims require faith. This new paradigm has many looking who've not looked before. Of course it will still require the death of the old - and repentance. But we'll never get to that unless we first hear the good news - and I believe some are finally starting to listen.

BTW - I'm to be down in Fresno for a quick trip soon... will contact you regarding breakfast

At 1/11/06 12:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, its always good when the resistance to the gospel is lessened and the message is heard anew! Only then can we become "doers of the Word, and not hearers only". Drop me an email and let me know when you will be in town. Hopefully we will be here...

Bob W.

At 1/11/06 22:43, Blogger jc said...

i too wonder how one can strengthen and sustain faith. it bothers me that i am coming to understand faith as a sort of mysticism. it seems like a great leap to say that you believe in Christ. there is not enough evidence out there to rationally support this belief. so then i have doubts because i wonder why i chose christianity over another religion. i don't really have any religious experiences that i can point to and say "that is God in my life so i believe."

At 3/11/06 09:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if faith, (or belief in things unseen), has to be "mystical" just because it can not be explained in
familiar scientific ways.
I was by my father's side as he lay dying. Cancer had eaten away at his body but his spirit, soul, life
and being were as alive as ever. It was clear to me that I was watching not an end but the pains of a
process similar to birth - I was filled with the certainty that he ( soul, life and spirit) was on his way to a place that was even more real than the reality which I was standing in at that moment. The odd thing was that I felt faithless at that moment.
But the knowledge of the reality of eternity was
given to me as a gift. I never could have created what happened at that moment with wishful thinking or trying my best to be faithful. It was a gift - and a gift that has given me faith.

So I wonder, do we
need to stop trying to conjure up faith and instead ask God to open our eyes to all of His amazing gifts
that present themselves before us each day - trusting that these gifts will bless us with faith :
1) faith that there is a Creator and 2) faith that we are involved in eternity.

At 5/11/06 22:17, Blogger jc said...

anonymous, well it sounds to me like you had a religous experience. i would say that it is not necessarily mystical to believe in something after having experienced it. there are somethings that we are unable to define or rationally explain and yet we know they exist. we can experience the color red but we cannot explain it or define it. we can only point to it and say "that's what red is." likewise if you experience God personally than you can point to experience and say that's what God is. outside of this i think one has to have rational explanations in order to hold a valid belief. epistemologically i think these rational explanations have to be based on things we can observe/sense in reality. i think the bible makes claims about reality which if believed are believed in a mystic sort of way because we can not substantiate these claims. so, at least for me, i think to sustain my faith in something i cannot rationally understand is very difficult. it would be quite a bit easier with the aid of religious experience but as i said i cannot claim any. but you are right that i can pray for these experiences. other than direct experience or rational understanding i am not sure how else one can hold beliefs.

At 7/11/06 02:44, Anonymous other said...

jc, one thing you can begin to base your faith on is historical fact. Lee Strobel probes the depths of time in search of proof of, or against, the existence of Christ in his book "The Case for Christ". I believe he does very thorough job and deserves some consideration. But obviously you can't base faith on His existence alone, but must also base it on what Christ said and did while He was on this earth.


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