From Faith to Follow

I keep coming back to Confessions of Faith. As I dance around this (repeatedly) there’s one major thing I’m trying go get to: we as Christians have regularly created the impression that being a Christian is defined by thinking/believing the right things.

Thinking the right things isn’t bad. At some level it’s necessary. But I don’t want to say with, say, Philip Schaff, that belief in the content of the creeds is “necessary and sufficient” for salvation.

So what if our recitations of our shared narrative began with a phrase other than, “I believe,” a phrase that was was self-involving in a different way?

What if we recited together, instead, something like this?

I worship God the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who brought us up out of the house of bondage, the God who did not spare his own son but delivered him up for us all and raised him from the dead;

And I follow Jesus the Messiah, his only begotten son, who was anointed son of God by the Spirit, taught us with authority, healed the sick, fed the hungry, embraced the outcast and the sinner, cast out demons, beckoned us to follow, took up his cross, loved me and gave himself for me, reconciled the world to God, was raised from the dead and enthroned as Lord and King, and sent his followers and Spirit out into the world;

I receive the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ, given by Christ that I might walk in faithfulness, receive forgiveness, crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, and receive a share in Jesus’ own sonship, speak in God’s name, extend forgiveness, make peace among people, heal the sick, feed the hungry, embrace the outcast and sinner, cast out demons, take up the cross and pour myself out in self-giving love for the good of my neighbor, be raised to newness of life, and thus live and reign with him forever.

That’s what I’m getting at. There are lots of good, true things in our statements. But how do we talk and think about who we are such that we are always remembering that our statements are self-involving? Not merely involving of our minds, or our “hearts,” or our beliefs, but summoning us to participate in the narrative of the coming reign of God?

Thoughts?

38 thoughts on “From Faith to Follow”

  1. ‘…reconciled the world to God…’

    You got that right. The standard evangelical thinking is that Jesus reconciled God to the world, by paying him off so that he could ‘forgive’ us; but Paul puts it the right way round. It is the world that needs to be reconciled, the world that needs to be changed, not God.

  2. I like where you’re going with this. In brain-speak, this has to do with the different hemispheres. Generally, our belief/knowledge is in the left half, our experiences/emotions are in the right half. We can “believe” all sorts of things to be true, but what we are actually experiencing in our lives might not match up to those beliefs at all. We spout all kinds of “Truth” but are actually living out of lies that are more “real” to us than the truths we believe. Our emotions tell us an awful lot about what’s really going on. (Have you read Dan Allender’s “The Cry of the Soul”?) Part of the ministry I like to do is to help people get the two halves of their brains aligned, so that emotions/experiences actually match up to all of the knowledge/beliefs that are already there. it’s amazing how much we say we know and believe but don’t actually live out or feel. Would be fun to talk more about this sometime.

    I really like the notion of declaring communally what we are purposing to do rather than just what we believe. Though, like so many things, I think there’s room for the both/and. :)

    1. I agree – my church would *love* to use this in one of our services! “I worship… I follow… I receive… I walk” this resounds with my soul in a much deeper way – although I would be happy to say “I believe” as well. That’s what I’ve said my whole life, but I also want to take it further.

      Do we have your permission to use this publicly in church? (I assume from publishing it on a blog that you want it to be out there in the world, but thought it best to check…)

  3. I love this and love the implication of action (not just mental assent). I think the words are invoked with power. I know there is much to say, of course, but I might add (which seems to be a significant point in the proclamation of Jesus) something of the following: Under God the father – “who will judge the world in justice/righteousness” (Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:16); under Jesus – “who has been appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 10:30). His judgment, of course, is not just negative but will bring about justice for the downtrodden & disenfranchised.

    I think these words you unfold are packed with great power – as the Word of God (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12-13; Isa. 55:10-11; 1Thess. 1:5-6) – power for new life as well as world changing. Thanks. They would make a great Sunday devotional (Or any day!).

  4. i really like the narrative (re)framing of the creeds & the “Judaizing” of them to counter-act their Greek-ness of the Fathers. & i even like the “worship” “follow” “receive” language as appropriate responsaries to the economic trinity (or as phenomenal language that moves us away from an over doctrinal/propositionalist view of faith). but i also wonder if that language commits us to a tri-theist &/or and subordinationist/monarchialist understanding of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

    the so-called doctrine of the economic trinity emerges from the earliest christians’ concrete expereince of God in Jesus of Nazareth – culminating w/ the coming of the Holy Spirit @ pentecost. what is/was if significance for the concept of God is that each of the Spirit & the Son were equally worshipped with the Father. the my point is just that that language shift either changes or signals a change in our practice(s), which changes our understanding of God in a fairly fundamental way. maybe it’s time for the change(s) or not. but it’s not as if the language-beliefs-practices can be absolutely separated from each other.

  5. I typically think of “I believe” in the creeds as “I try to live as if.” So I like your words, but an advantage of “I believe” is that it admits that we may fail to worship, follow, or receive.

      1. Great point Daniel! I know this sounds simplistic, but years ago, when I decided to read the entire NT in greek for the first time, I was taken most by the prepositions in and into. The text is filled with injunctions to believe-put our faith in and into,(en and eis) Christ, not simply upon (epi) Him. The point seemed obvious to me. I wasn’t being asked merely to believe upon a historical event. I was being called into a “believing participation” with the actual life of Christ. This is a life that is “present” to us through faith, offering the possibility of our participation if we dare.

        1. This reminds me of an idea I read once, in one of the Ender’s Game series of books, of belief in Christ not as “I believe He is real” but the way you believe in a friend or loved one- trusting that he can and will love and help you. It totally turned my religious thinking on its head, and has stuck with me a decade later.

          1. ‘Faith’ is faithfulness. God is said to be faithful; that doesn’t mean he believes things in the way that our Western thought has come to regard believing. Perhaps the best word to use is fidelity. Think of that in terms of hi-fi — that is the highest, most accurate possible reproduction of the original recorded sound. That gives some idea of the biblical term faith. This view makes much more sense of Jesus’s saying concerning the law in Matt 23:23 — ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
            This properly biblical understanding of faith as fidelity demolishes at a stroke the entire Lutheran/Protestant edifice of setting faith against works. Faith is works, or it is nothing — just like the body without the spirit.

    1. I think it can be used in the aspirational or “promissory” sense – much like wedding vows. We don’t always “love and cherish” as we hoped we would on the wedding day – but the ideal is there, and the important part is that we keep coming back to it. There is a similar theme in baptism vows – “I turn away from all that is evil”. We know we won’t actually do this every day, yet the idea is powerful.

      And one final simile (to go from the sublime to the ridiculous) is given by Yoda in Star Wars. My study group used this a lot right before our exams: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” The point being that a *commitment* to doing something (even if we fail) is lot stronger self-talk and more likely to lead to success/action than saying “I will try to do this…”

  6. I just finished teaching a Sunday School class on the progression of thinking of the early church fathers leading up to the Nicene Creed. I am going to present this as a followup. Good job.

  7. I agree that belief without action is a problem. But I also am concerned that saying “I follow Jesus…” is not always a true statement even if it is an ideal of mine.

    Is there a sense of “believe” that implies action? I think I’ve heard it used that way in an athletic context when an athlete demonstrates their belief by achieving some feat.

  8. I think this might be an inescapable (or, perhaps better, eschatological) problem. Here is the question: at its irreducible core, is Christianity an ethic or a promise, an imperative or an indicative, a belief or a life? You’ve correctly identified the problem with the bulk of evangelicalism: reducing it without remainder to the indicative belief side, which leaves out the self-involvement you rightly emphasize. But to say that the answer is pushing the definition of Christianity to the other side of the impasse has a slew of its own problems. It removes the judgment God has in fact rendered in the gospel that no one is righteous, none seek God, making the kind of declarations you’ve got in your creed of voluntary righteous worship and obedience amount to Pelagianism (I actually really do appreciate your lack of nervousness about Pelagianism in protesting intellectualized/creedal evangelicalism). I’ve just got to think the answer is that the gospel refuses reduction, refuses comprehensive logical schematization, defies our attempts to boil it down. Your preference for narrative has the strength of (at least apparently) resisting such reductionism. My question is whether the mind really can escape such categorical constructions; it seems their value is in laying bare our most basic presuppositions.

    1. Adam, I am very sympathetic to the quandry you present. I wonder if you see the possibility of dualism as a legitimate answer? To me, the seeming paradox of what you have presented is inescapable. To me, Christ is the King of contradiction. God and man. A crucified one who lives. A prince of peace who casts a fire upon the earth. A lamb and a Lion. He who comes to save the world and He who is about to judge the world. Unilateral statements about God’s nature or salvation are just unrealistic to me. Part of being a christian to me, is being able to embrace these contradictions in my God.

    2. I don’t think I agree that our only two choices are Creedal Evangelicalism or Pelagianism, as you seem to imply here. Phil 2:13 says it is God who works in us, and Col 1:29 has this same theme that as I work, God works in/through me.

      But then, I would also say that Christianity is a way of life and not just a belief, so perhaps I’m already on this “other side of the impasse” that you speak of. I don’t actually see it as a problem, however, to say that Christianity is both ethic and promise, belief and life…

  9. What’s all this talk about “believing” and “following” and “worshipping”? I thought all you had to do was pray the sinner’s prayer and you were good to go no matter what.

    Of course, I’m joking, but I know too many people who profess to be Christian who would respond in exactly that way but in earnest.

  10. I’ve been having my theology students read Vincent Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai. A Masai elder didn’t like his translation of “faith” into a word that meant “to agree to” because “that was similar to a white hunter shooting an animal… from a great distance. Only his eyes and his fingers took part in the act… He said for a man really to believe is like a lion going after his prey… All the power in his body is involved… and as the animal goes down the lion envelopes it in his arms, pull sit to himself, and makes it part of himself… This is the way a man believes. This is what faith is… You told us of the HIgh God, how we must search for him, even leave our land and our people to find him. But we have NOT done this… He has searched us out and found US. All the time we think we are the lion. In the end, the lion is God.”

  11. It is impossible today to dismiss belief as a cognitive exercise when we have discovered so much more about the brain than they knew back then creeds are being made. MRIs have brought a measurability into the world about how brains work, so we need to be mindful in how we arrive at what we’ve got. Daniel, you are on the right track by identifying our experience as more than thinking.

  12. While as a card-carrying member of the Church of England, there’s no way I’d abandon the formal creeds of the Church, I do like this. Do we have your permission to use your Adoro (if that’s the correct Latin for ‘I worship’) in public?

      1. Ooops – sorry, should have read the whole comment thread before I posted. Thanks for that – we’ll be using it too!

  13. Hello, Daniel,

    Is it productive to continue saying “I” in creed-like communication?

    Using collective “we” rather than individual “I” seems more apt, upbuilding, and inviting in shared-narrative recitation.

    We worship…; we follow…; we receive…

    Here are some reasons:

    1) Naturally (in Adam), a human is an enslaved being in isolation. God the Father’s call of faithing into participation with Christ through the Spirit transfers and transforms each individual into new creation. The old “I” ego has been crucified with Christ.

    2) Incorporated Christ-life is fellowship and togetherness–becoming free persons in loving communion with God and relational cohesion within God’s new-covenant community. New “I” is Christ living within and among the family of faith–the “we-ness” of communion through the Spirit.

    3) “We” embraces the diversity of grace that the Spirit bestows and allocates among God’s people. “I” tends to imply that each Christ follower must strive, perhaps apart from community, to do everything (gifted or not) that you thoughtfully encapsulated.

    4) “We” positions those actions of serving others as collective outcomes of Spirit-led togetherness.

    5) Early Christian creeds may have been culturally biased towards the individual. As you well recognize, Paul’s epistles typically addressed Christians in the plural “we” or “you all” sense of one people.

    My suggestion of togetherness over individualism should in no way diminish the powerful contribution of your shared narrative. Thank you.

    –John

      1. I hope you can say more about this “I” vs. “we”. Some (like me) were raised apart from a community of faith, or find themselves separated from any particular community for one reason or another. Insisting on a communal confession seems premodern (there’s all that authority business again), but I don’t suppose a life of faith is something one can do on their own, either. Which comes first, the confession or the community?

        1. Marshall,

          I also look forward to more of Daniel’s insights. He has been remarkably kind and generous to encourage our active exchange of relevant ideas on his blog.

          While I personally prefer public worship in the collective “we” sense, to *insist* upon this practice would be counter to the freedom that the Spirit brings.

          God’s grace in Christ unleashes surprising power without coercion, particularly in weakness. Whether alone or with a group, to worship God in spirit and in truth is Spirit-led response to divine grace. “We” includes the “I” participation.

          When you are physically apart from a local, believing community, you remain spiritually connected with Christians across the world (and beyond, Hebrews 12:22-23). “We” applies, since each person remains united in Christ.

          Generally speaking, Christian confession (orthodoxy) and communal action (orthopraxy) mutually interact in a gradual spiral–possibly similar to a double helix.

          –John

  14. I felt a couple of things were missing, or sounded odd, so in all humbleness here’s my take:

    I worship Yahweh, God the Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who brought my ancestors up out of the house of bondage, the God who did not spare his own son but delivered him to death on the cross for all believers and raised him from the dead;

    I follow Jesus the Messiah, Yahweh’s only begotten son, who was anointed Son of God by the Spirit, taught our ancestors with authority, healed the sick, fed the hungry, embraced the outcast and the sinner, cast out demons, beckoned all to follow his life and example, took up his cross, loved all of us and gave himself for us, reconciled the world to God, was raised from the dead and enthroned as Lord and King, and sent his followers and Spirit out into the world;

    I receive the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ, given by Christ that I might walk in faithfulness, receive forgiveness, crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, and receive a share in Jesus’ own sonship, speak in God’s name, extend forgiveness, make peace among people, heal the sick, feed the hungry, embrace the outcast and sinner, cast out demons, take up the cross and pour myself out in self-giving love for the good of my neighbor, be raised to newness of life, and thus live and reign with him forever.

    I join other believers in a weekly celebration and remembrance of this Good News of Jesus because where two or three are gathered there Jesus is King, there sins are fogiven, peace is restored, what is broken is made whole, and I look forward to Jesus’ triumphal return and of the joining of believers from the past and future in one, holy, universal church with Jesus as Head.

  15. “You believe that there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe, and shudder.”

    I think this is tapping directly into James’ theology in a wonderful way. I first misread your assertion, “Christians have regularly created the impression that being a Christian is defined by thinking/believing the right things” as to say, Christians believe in not just the historicity of the Gospel, but to “believe” in “being good” as a uniquely Christian compulsion. But do Christians have the monopoly on ethics? Or is it that we are instead called to acknowledge that we require grace and mercy?

    But I think your proposal covers both interpretations! If nothing else the exercise certainly reminds us, ‘knowledge does not appropriation make’!

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