Walk Humbly: Defining Terms

All posts in this series refer back to the conversation found here.

“[T]he Christian faith is not about feeling or convincing. It’s about God, through His spirit, revealing and convicting people of the truth.”

This is Damon’s response to the article from Defeating the Dragons that I mentioned last time.  He’s disagreeing with Samantha Field’s statement that “the typical evangelical teachings about faith usually involve this nebulous idea that “faith” equals “certainty”– that you feel sure.”

As far as I can tell, Damon’s model of faith is built around the concept of divine revelation.  You can’t believe in God without God first telling you that he’s there.  At that point, according to Damon, you don’t get a say in whether you have faith or not.  He uses as his proof text the famous passage from Ephesians 2:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Damon’s interpreting that first verse where Paul calls faith “the gift of God” to mean that faith literally must be received from God.  I think from there he might be using verse 9 to support the argument that we can’t do anything to obtain faith, though I’m not entirely sure if that’s the case.  For what it’s worth, my interpretation of this passage goes something like this: we receive salvation as a freely given gift from God, and our reception of it is predicated on faith in Christ.  The “not by works” bit refers to the fact that salvation is not something earned.  The last verse (which doesn’t usually figure in to discussions of this passage’s meaning about salvation) points out that an expression of that salvation is the good work that we do.

I don’t see anything in this passage that expressly denies the possibility that people may choose faith.  Yes, it comes from God, but as a gift.  Gifts can be accepted or rejected.

From there, Damon affirms this list of beliefs as foundational for his faith:

Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture
Deity of Christ
Virgin birth
Substitutionary atonement
Physical resurrection and physical Second Coming

Field puts together a pretty succinct explanation of why, from a historical view of the Church, most of these doctrines are suspect as the essentials of Christian faith.  Belief in biblical inerrancy is hard, if not impossible, to put into practice with a view towards the entirety of the Bible.  As Ned Flanders so famously put it, “I’ve done everything the Bible says!  Even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!”  Substitutionary atonement is only one of a multitude of theories of how the Crucifixion operated in relation to salvation (pretty much all of which require a good bit of inference from what’s said in the Bible about it).  Heck, even the concept of Virgin birth, which I have no problem affirming, isn’t really provable, and is only significant if you subscribe to the additional doctrine of original sin, which theorizes that the sinful nature of humanity was passed down from Adam’s fallen seed (essentially Jesus had to be born of a virgin so he wouldn’t be infected with the sin virus that we all get from our fathers) and which first entered Christian thought in the fourth century by way of Augustine, a huge hedonist prior to his conversion who likely was working through some of his own hangups when he was theologizing.  As for belief in a physical Second Coming, well, I guess you can believe in that if you like, but it doesn’t mesh with Church tradition, and it additionally tends to foster an attitude that this current life doesn’t matter.

In my response to Damon following his affirmation of those same beliefs listed above, I try to lay out my understanding of a couple of terms that Damon says he’s not familiar with.  I was surprised that he expressed unfamiliarity with ‘evangelical’ and ‘fundamentalist,’ especially since they’re rather commonly used terms.  This whole conversation seemed to me to be framed around the question of whether there was a legitimate alternative to practicing Christianity in the manner common to evangelicals, but the terms hadn’t been laid out.

Now, I should say at this point that I’ve been trying to remain fair to Damon.  The conversation started because we had a disagreement, and he approached me for further discussion.  And up to this point things were pretty civil between us.  But look at what I said about fundamentalism:

Fundamentalism is not a specific ideology so much as a methodology. It can be applied to any subculture as those people within the subset who hold to their beliefs so strongly that they are unwilling to consider differing opinions as potentially valid. This doesn’t mean that non-fundamentalists don’t hold their positions strongly, only that they are willing to listen to people they disagree with in an effort to find common ground.

I think that’s a pretty good definition of the term (also as a sidenote, I pulled much of my discussion of fundamentalism in that response from this post by Fred Clark at Slacktivist).  Fundamentalists of any kind of ideology are the ones that people generally recognize as the extremists, the ones who are certain that no one else but them may be right about the way the world works.  They almost always fail to uphold Micah’s exhortation “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” (if their ideology even gives any credence to that passage).

So yes, I’m trying to be fair to Damon.

But from here it becomes more and more apparent that even though he’s not familiar with the term, Damon knows a lot about fundamentalism.

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