Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Bible misused as a dictionary, Faith still needs evidence

Today let us explore some more of the irrationality that propagates itself contentedly in the Adventist church. Keeping with last weeks article let us again examine a statement made by Preston Foster on Adventist Today website:
What I am positing is that 1) spirituality is, by nature, irrational as it is based on faith which is, by definition, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (that definition, alone, would repel the traditional rational thinker) and, 2) based on our limited ability to comprehend God, whose thoughts and ways, by His own admission, are different than ours is.
How many times have we heard this statement, as if the author of the book of Hebrews was actually trying to define the meaning of faith, as if his intent was to give us the once and for all time meaning of faith even though he had used it before and it had been used many times in the Old Testament and the Jewish religion. After all those using this statement will say that they are only letting the Bible define itself as if the simple common words needed to be defined by the Bible as if it was not only a compilation of books but also a dictionary. Think about that for a moment should I use that technique if I said to someone “I love you” and I used the Bible as a dictionary I could quote “God is love” (1 John 4:8) therefore my statement is now “I God you”. Oh we can work it out in a round about way, we can say God loves and because God loves we are able to love. But still the definition of love is not found in the word God, even less so if I don't capitalize god and I realize that there are many different beliefs about god and gods, after all, not all gods are that terribly loving are they? We can't just substitute one word for another because some place it was equated in a statement where “is” is used. “God God's you” it may be true but what does it mean. So are we really being wise to use Hebrews statement as the definition of faith. Let us look at the text in question with the surrounding context, because after all context gives meaning because we are rational:

HEB 10:37 For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay.
HEB 10:38 But my righteous one n will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." n
HEB 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
HEB 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
HEB 11:2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
HEB 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
HEB 11:4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

The purpose here is not to define faith as some kind of irrational thought that just gets into our head and we believe it even though we don't see any evidence of it. Faith is not even meant here to mean just because a person is sure of something and hope that their certainty is true that it is in fact true in all things one maybe sure of, rather that faith in Christ is something He is sure of and encourages other to be sure of. As the Expositor's Bible Commentary says:
The chapter begins with some general observations on the nature of faith. They do not constitute a formal definition; rather, the writer is calling attention to some significant features of faith. Then he proceeds to show how faith works out in practice.

1 In the Greek the verb "is" (estin) is the first word. Faith is a present and continuing reality. It is not simply a virtue sometimes practiced in antiquity. It is a living thing, a way of life the writer wishes to see continued in the practice of his readers. Faith, he tells us, is a hypostasis of things hoped for. The term has evoked lively discussion. Sometimes it has a subjective meaning, as in 3:14 where NIV translates it as "confidence." But it may also be used more objectively, and KJV understands it that way in this passage by translating it as "substance." This would mean that things that have no reality in themselves are made real (given "substance") by faith. But this does not seem to be what the writer is saying. Rather, his meaning is that there are realities for which we have no material evidence though they are not the less real for that. Faith enables us to know that they exist and, while we have no certainty apart from faith, faith does give us genuine certainty. "To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for" (TEV). Faith is the basis, the substructure (hypostasis means lit. "that which stands under") of all that the Christian life means, all that the Christian hopes for.
Faith in the Bible is developed, it is practiced it is lived and thus Hebrews chapter 11 recounts several instances of faith. Not one of them simply based upon some irrational concept. God warns Noah and Noah builds and Ark, Abraham is called by God and goes to a foreign country, Abraham and Sarah have a child which they are promised by God. Now we may not know in all the cases how they received their messages from God but it does appear that it is not meant to convey the idea that their spirituality was based upon some form of irrationality. Instead they were trusting the one that communicated to them. The implication being that their lives included enough reason to come to the place where they could trust God rather then just following an irrational voice in their head. Think of the story of Israel's exodus from Egypt. Moses comes to Pharaoh and tells them what God wants. Pharaoh says who is this god and why should I do what he says and then evidence is provided. Pharaoh needed a rational reason to give up what was to him, his property.

We don't ever want to get to the position of faith without reason. There has to be a reason, there has to be some kind of evidence to create the faith. As Paul once wrote:

1CO 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

Faith that is not backed by evidence is usually useless. Irrational preaching and faith is useless if there is not reality to move the irrational into the realm of the rational. The problem is that today there are certain people of a fundamentalist perspective who despise logic and reason because reason dictates against certain of their beliefs. Their beliefs having become sacred truth because they hold them tight because they are traditions. When reality conflicts with their beliefs instead of re-evaluating their beliefs they reject reality in favor of their traditions and as in the above quote redefine Biblical material to support their traditional views. Growth however comes from changing, discarding things that don't fit reality and adapting to new systems of thought that function with reality. It is not perfect as you don't arrive at truth instantly it is a constant movement toward greater understanding. Not every theory will work out and when they don't they must be discarded, keeping the theory just because it has become your tradition insures that you won't ever change or grow. This failure to grow is so often the landmark of religion, it becomes why Fundamentalists whether Christian or Islamic fight against modernity. Because modernity and even post modernity refuse to simply accept tradition without evidence.

So we have to move past the irrational toward rational views in all things, and God is not irrational the very process of progressive revelation of the Bible indicates that God understands the need to grow and change and step by step lead people in a rational way while maintaining the necessary distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Which requires us to reason not only why miracles occur but why they don't occur. How best can we understand a God whose capabilities so outweigh our capabilities and the distinction between force and willing trust. It is unlikely that we can fully understand God but to end the rational pursuit of God is a fulfillment of the old commercial that said “a mind is a terribly thing to waste”. We can never get to the point as someone once claimed a church authority said regarding the Godhead and The Plan of Salvation :
“to wit: if we try to understand it, we will lose our minds; but if we don’t believe it, we will lose our souls.”


Jonathan Gallagher said...

Thank you Ron! Please keep going, especially on this theme. Faith in a non-sense-making-God is truly a travesty... Best, Jonathan

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