Self-Critical Faith

The unexamined faith is not worth having. Religion has had many critics from without, and still does. But one characteristic feature of the Biblical tradition is that it is full of critics from within, those who examine their own tradition and challenge themselves first, and then their contemporaries, to rethink it and to live it differently.

There are those who would like to avoid such critical introspection and self-examination, perhaps at all costs. “Leave us alone”, they might say, “we’re happy as we are.” But just as one might believe oneself happy living in ignorance of one’s wife’s affair, for example, it can also be argued that the “happiness” in such cases is illusory. One’s alleged happiness is maintained at the cost of a failing marriage and a decaying relationship infested with deceit. And presumably, were the wife happy and the relationship healthy, the affair would not be occuring. And so in such cases one is in fact valuing one’s own deluded happiness over the happiness and well-being of others.

Be that as it may, if someone else wishes to live in uncritical self-deception (or at least the risk thereof) they are free to do so. I’d prefer to have a healthy marriage, an honest faith, and a critical approach to life. And so, if you’d prefer not to be aware of potential difficulties with Biblical inerrancy, amd historical uncertainties about the stories contained therein, and other things that often get noticed when one examines the Bible critically, then this blog is not for you. You are under no obligation to ask the questions I am asking about my faith, any more than you are obliged to accept my answers. But don’t begrudge those of us who do ask them, or who answer them differently than you might.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08342566023774158670 Cliff Martin

    Because I also ask hard questions, and because I constantly deal with my own on-board skeptic, I find myself striving to answer critical questions which no one else (among my nearby friends, that is) is asking. So, I press the question, sound like an unbeliever, and offend my friends. It has become my routine.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11335631079939764763 Bob MacDonald

    You might enjoy this comment by God to Job – from Robert Frost:You realize by now the part you playedTo stultify the DeuteronomistAnd change the tenor of religious thought

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Bob, do let me know the poem’s title. I’d love to read the whole thing…or was that it? :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11335631079939764763 Bob MacDonald

    The title of the poem is A Masque of Reason – cited in Clines Word Biblical Commentary on Job 1-20 as one of many testimonia. E.g. here or here

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08891402278361538353 Truth Unites… and Divides

    Steve Hays has blogged a response to “Self-Critical Faith” titled On the Quest for Shell Beach.To obtain greater context into this engagement please click on this link to a post titled Trapped in the Matrix.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    James,I have been following the little spat you have been having with Triablogue for a while now, but I’m failing to understand why they irk you so?I admire that you’ve taken the time to write about your beginnings in faith and to open your ideas to criticism and inspection.Of course, that’s what we bloggers do.. it is partly the reason I blog under a pseudonym to protect myself and those close to me who may not benefit from association.It’s also been insightful for me to understand where you are coming from, and now helps me to understand our previous discussions on the wilful acceptance of what we are told to believe.Having said all that now, I must say that reading over at the Triablogue, though some of the criticism can be considered personal and rude, a lot of what they say is true.I’m quite amazed at how ready you are to ditch or reinterpret parts of the ancient texts to suit what you consider more fitting with your own world-view, but that you will unconditionally and without challenge, accept anything that spouted by naturalists and scientists – of which you are a self-confessed amateur at best.I would at least expect someone like you, who is willing to question even your own core beliefs, to question other disciplines too, especially when it is shown they have their own radicals and fundamentalists who act as hostile evangelists for their cause, using ridicule as a method.It does occur to me now that you are far from being a Christian – and this is not from anything that Triablogue has written, though they called it first. It is from your own testimony.It occurs to me you have more in common with the gnostics, or possibly Buddhism.You’re ‘conversion’ experience amounts to a heightened experience – an “inner sense of feeling”. You were touched by some Christian worship music – many people outside the faith are, at times, my mother included.It’s not a criticism or a put-down to say you are not a Christian, but I think it requires a little more self-analysis and acceptance that you have moved beyond it.I started reading your blog after reading the debate you had with someone by the nom de plume of Skeptical and was impressed by your defence of the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus – but it seems that this is about as far as you will allow allegiance to the living God incarnate to go.But the thing which finally led me to this conclusion, was the fact that in proving your own faith, you continually reference back to your early conversion experience and offer nothing else to support your belief in a god.Any Christian should be able to tell you that a relationship with God through Christ, is one which continues past the point of conversion. If asked, a Christian should be able to tell you of the latest ‘experience’ they have had with God, what they feel God is revealing to them. What revelation they have recently had or what new thing they have learnt from study of the bible (no matter how scholastically).(Even someone who has fallen out of faith should be able to distinguish their condition from someone who still has it).Do you have a recent testimony? A revelation recently? Do you consider the great commission important, do you consider it at all? And do you have consider yourself to be filled with the Holy Spirit, or at least consider the Holy Spirit to be dwelling within you?It’s not a negative, it’s not a put-down of your beliefs, but it is something that a person who considers themselves to be intellectually honest should realise.It’s not that being a Christian doesn’t mean you can’t question your faith, or that you shouldn’t study other faiths, philosophies or texts. What it does mean is you have the ability to distinguish between what you believe and what others believe – and that is where your definition loses its… defining points.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11335631079939764763 Bob MacDonald

    James, I doubt you need my support. The propositionalists are digging in to you with fear and pressure tactics just like Job’s comforters. Truth is preferable to fearmongeringFaith refuses definitionIt is not a matter of which mortal group measures the depth of your conviction or the power of your experienceSometimes I think the fearful have no gospel. Not everyone who says to me …

  • Kip Ingram

    Lex Fear wrote:”But the thing which finally led me to this conclusion, was the fact that in proving your own faith, you continually reference back to your early conversion experience and offer nothing else to support your belief in a god.Any Christian should be able to tell you that a relationship with God through Christ, is one which continues past the point of conversion. If asked, a Christian should be able to tell you of the latest ‘experience’ they have had with God, what they feel God is revealing to them. What revelation they have recently had or what new thing they have learnt from study of the bible (no matter how scholastically).”Wow! Really? I’ve been following this blog off and on for awhile, and I enjoy James’ posts about the Sunday School class he teaches, and the experiences in worship he has in his church. He regularly blogs about involvement and experiences in his faith. I realize that these realities do not fit into the framework in which you want to squeeze him, but how about some humility and generosity in “reading” someone online? Kip

  • Anonymous

    Jesus said God will judge people with the measure by which they measure other people. So if you believe Jesus, God doesn’t have one standard by which to judge people.The implication is that only God knows the standard by which to judge people. Put another way, the very act of judging precludes those dolts from being Christians, according to Jesus.Stupid busybodies who think they can detect the “salvation” of others should just go suck an egg. An Easter egg.pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Lex, I greatly appreciated your comment. I could tell a lot of stories about moments when I believed God was teaching me something, or had miraculously provided. But I think the most important thing God has taught me is that I am prone to think God is teaching me something when I’m really hearing my own thoughts and voice. Of course, perhaps that’s just my own thinking…I am involved more in dialogue with other Christians than dialogue with scientists, mainly because I teach religion (primarily Bible) and am involved in the life of a church. As you pointed out, I’m not a professional scientist – and the biggest problem of movements like “creation science” is that its advocates are people like me with expertise in all sorts of fields but the relevant ones, with only a small number of exceptions. And so I dare to speak outside my area of expertise about science from time to time, because there are others doing the same thing in ways that seem to me harmful. I see my role in relation to scientists as being to do what little I can to undo the damage that others have done to the reputation of Christianity, by providing an example (but by no means the only one) of the possibility for a well-informed Christian faith that does not either dismiss genuine science or peddle pseudoscience.I am persuaded neither by religious fundamentalists nor by atheist reductionists, although there are individuals with more moderate points of view in both camps with whom I can have meaningful conversations, even if we end up disagreeing on various matters. My own viewpoint is more in line with the sort of emphasis on emergence that can be found in the writings of the many theologians involved in the religion-science dialogue, and I believe it represents a genuine tertium quid between dualism and reductionistic materialism.I suppose, to the extent that I am concerned about the reputation of my own faith tradition, I could even be called an “apologist” – but perhaps only in the ancient rather than in the modern sense. Individuals like Justin Martyr were engaged in dialogue with other points of view than their own, and they served not only to mediate Christianity to the surrounding world, but they also mediated philosophy and other influences to the church. This is not surprising, since one cannot mediate knowledge or communicate convictions effectively without understanding those with whom one is seeking to communicate, and one must have some common ground to serve as a meeting place.Christianity has never been an entity hermetically sealed off from other points of view and perspectives. Tertullian famously asked what Athens has to do with Jerusalem, but he also famously introduced the language of “substance” into discussion of the Trinity, reflecting his background in Stoic philosophy. I thus have learned from Tertullian the danger that when we think we are pure of influences from others we deceive ourselves. I prefer to acknowledge that I am influenced, that I am in conversation, and that I find there to be much of value in modern science and in reason as well as in the Christian tradition. I cannot claim that my mixture thereof is the “right” one or in any sense optimum. But I do think that it represents an expression of Christianity. And it is the denial of that which most irked me about the Triablogue encounter.Thanks to everyone who has commented here – I hope you find these conversations as valuable and as helpful as I do!

  • http://www.abandonallfear.co.uk Lex Fear

    James,Thanks for replying, I think you’ve defended yourself patiently and though I disagree with what you say, I think you manage to be gracious enough when saying it.I’m not so concerned with philosophy at this point, no matter which ideas we subscribe to within the context of the Christian faith, it is not philosophy which is an issue here.From your previous writings it does appear as though you are saying the only reason you are a Christian is because this is what you were raised as.Surely I do not need to point out that having Christian parents, being American and going to church does not make you a Christian.Furthermore, unless I have understood you wrong, I don’t understand how you can still claim to be a Christian and reject the virgin birth and the resurrection (as well as downgrade parts that don’t fit your interpretation).These are fundamental elements that make up the doctrine of the Christian church. This is the Apostles creed we are talking about, and the Nicene creed. Written ~1700 years before your blog.There’s nothing wrong with being a reformer, there’s nothing wrong with going against church tradition or challenging widely held beliefs.Every catholic* church split that has ever taken place in history – going right back to Martin Luthers reformation has been over interpretation of the original scriptures, their intended use and our relationship to God through Christ.However, the difference here is that the reformers were not trying to dilute the bible with sacred texts from other religions, or even to claim certain parts were exaggerated. They were about trying to interpret and follow the scriptures better or more closely than previous – and give more access to the people.Instead of junking certain passages or books that were difficult to grasp, they asked why it was there in the first place.On the subject of science, now that you have made clear your intentions – I can fully empathise with you about the damage done to Christianity by the religious right. However this is strictly an American problem and you should realise this.However I have come to an understanding myself that this is all meaningless. What gain is there from arguing with a scientist or a religious individual over such things? Particularly when you are not an expert on the subject matter.Where possible, I prefer to point out what Christianity is, not what it is not. I also feel that there is no need to apologise for science, since I am not a scientist.The struggle you are always going to come up against is that Christ came for all people – and all people can become Christians – even the slow ones. But not all people are qualified enough to become scientists or historians. I don’t think Jesus wants it that way either – Christ never intended for his followers to be elite, or that they should obtain degrees in science or religion.*small C – original use.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11335631079939764763 Bob MacDonald

    Christ came for all people? Jesus says he came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He came so that all should become Christians? Surely he came to draw all people to himself – that’s hardly ‘being Christian’. The Bible does not support the arguments Lex Fear is making – just so many words. Resurrection is not a talk show – it’s about what you do in the Anointing and by the Spirit – and it is not subject to creeds that arose 300 years after the fact. Who wants to be Christian? Better to belong to the Beloved.But perhaps no one need feel threatened by these labels and threats people want to attach to others: Christian, apostate, believe before it’s too late etc. Maybe the fearful lawgiver is not threatening anyone with eternal damnation – who knows? since he is pseudonymous.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks for your reply, Lex! I may write more in response at some point, but for now I just thought I’d try to clarify one point. First, I grew up in the Catholic church, but had a conversion/born again experience in a Pentecostal church. My point about upbringing was simply that there was a broader Christian cultural context that was already there in my experience, and in the framework of which I interpreted and made sense of the experience that I had.Gotta run for now…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    OK, now that I have a little more time, let me reply to a couple of other points. I wouldn’t say I “reject” the virgin birth and the resurrection as a physical event. What I would say is that I do not find myself able, based on the evidence, to feel confident that either represents a historical fact. I’ve given the reasons in other posts and so won’t repeat them here (although I’d be happy to upon request, if finding older posts on this subject is a hassle and you are wondering why I view things this way). And so the challenge for me lately has been what I ought to say as a Christian who doesn’t find it possible to affirm a virgin birth or physical resurrection with confidence based on historical investigation, and who equally does not feel that he can bypass historical methods and say “Jesus must have been raised in a physical body, because I’ve had this life-changing experience”.What I’ve found is that there seem to be other Christians, including in the earliest church, who were able to affirm their Christian faith without these components. The Gospels of Mark and John don’t mention a virginal conception. Mark doesn’t mention resurrection appearances, and neither Mark nor Matthew claims that the Easter experiences were physical in nature. Paul never mentions the virgin birth, and says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”. I could go on. But my point is that it does seem to me that it is possible to be a Christian and not affirm these doctrines. It is not that I deny them on principle. It is simply that I don’t feel that I have any way to confirm them, and must figure out what it means to be a Christian when I cannot prove these things, and what it is I am to proclaim as a Christian in this circumstance.Is there a danger of dilution of Christianity in my standpoint? It is absolutely a peril, one that has always been there. When I interact with, and sometimes learn from, other religious traditions, philosophies and the natural sciences, it is not clear that I’m doing something fundamentally different than the early church did with respect to Platonism, or the medieval church with respect to Aristotle. The natural sciences, after all, were once under the heading of “philosophy”, and it is not clear that Buddhism, for example, is a “religion” while Plato’s teachings were a “philosophy” – both seem to belong in both categories.If there is a danger to those who interact with contemporary thought, there is a danger for those who claim not to. One danger is that denying being affected by one’s cultural and historical context simply leaves one blind to how much one reflects these very influences. The other danger is the placing of non-essential stumbling blocks before people when presenting the Gospel, as though Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up the cross and follow me – and believe that the world is no more than 10,000 years old”. But of course, we all agree that we can disagree about non-essentials – the problem is that we don’t agree about what is essential and what isn’t! :)Let me end by pointing readers to two recent posts by other bloggers that touch on these subjects, one at Jesus Creed, the other at Hevel.org.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.co.uk Lex Fear

    Well, I appreciate your standpoint.I see what you are trying to do in reconciling contradictions between the gospel accounts.So now that we are almost on same page here – I guess our main difference is on the weight we ascribe to each set of evidence.I don’t want to get into an exegetical debate so lets just KISS.There are certain discrepancies that I’m willing to let slide as they are not central to my faith as I’m sure you will agree. For these discrepancies, I am happy to wait until later to find out what exactly took place (or why it was written a certain way).But you have to admit that just because something wasn’t repeated 4 times in the New Testament, doesn’t mean that it isn’t relevant or didn’t happen.I realise that you subscribe to the view that the more distance between a historical source and it’s actual event, the less reliable it is. But I do not think this is a good way to approach historical sources. Do I need to go into examples? Probably not because you are probably aware but if you wish I can.So it comes down to weights. Do you accept the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles and the rest of the New Testament that came after the gospels. Obviously I do, I’m guessing that again there are certain books you would dismiss – this is why I asserted you have more in common with a gnostic – no offense intended.You see, this blog you are writing, it comes ~2000 years after the events taking place in the gospels if the gospels are to be believed in whole or part.How can the studies that you have done, the testimony that you write, be more credible than a source like Romans that came ~60 years after the events of the gospel.If we were to apply such high standards to everything then we would find almost nothing can be believed. After all, if we take into account written word can be exaggerated, we must also take into account photographs can be ‘shopped and tv images can be edited.Is a news story fake if only one news channel reports it?Ultimately, it may come down to what we accept as reality, as opposed to how ‘real’ a testimony is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks for the reply. I think the historical-critical method is soundly biblical, in one sense, since even when one is evaluating a claim made by contemporaries, one ought to look for “2-3 witnesses”. And in Mark 14:57-59 it seems to be allowed that there might be some agreement even between false witnesses.I suppose the question it comes down to is whether it is appropriate to trust ancient sources, and if so on what basis. If we don’t distinguish between earlier and later, then why should we not trust the extracanonical Gospels and Acts from significantly later? What about sources from other parts of the world and other religious traditions? If not, why not?Historical-critical tools inevitably end up leaving as unproven things that happened, just as in a court of law there are some guilty people who go free because of lack of evidence. But what is the alternative? If we fail to come up with some critical procedure for evaluating evidence fairly, I fear that we may leave ourselves open to being misled (and perhaps imprison the innocent).Let me conclude by saying that the historical method involves more than simply distinguishing between early and late material. Historians regularly judge details that are only attested in later sources to have a high probability of authenticity based on other criteria.I’ve also been made aware that another blog – Clever Badger – has also joined in the bloggersation (or diablogue, or whatever it is one calls this sort of thing).

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    I wasn’t sure I was going to carry on at this point but there are a couple of things in your last comment that made me think so I feel I should share that:Before I start, I think what The CB has highlighted is the fact for a definition of “Christian” – which is why in my second comment I tried to go back to the earliest consensus – made by the catholic church at the time and before Mohamed came along – and that consensus, to me, seems to be between the nicene and the apostles creed.Anything above that – creationism, sexuality, culture, denominations, which side of the road you drive your car – are secondary and not core to the faith of a Christian.On the other hand, I believe people who are not explicitly Christian can still identify the Christ and believe – The thief on the cross, the Ethiopian, the Roman soldier and many more before and after Christ’s resurrection.So can you not be a Christian and believe in Christ – even be “saved” for want of a better word – I guess I we have to accept that.But the matter at hand here is what it is to be a Christian explicitly- and of course the evidence for those things that a Christian ought to believe.You stated:I suppose the question it comes down to is whether it is appropriate to trust ancient sources, and if so on what basis. If we don’t distinguish between earlier and later, then why should we not trust the extracanonical Gospels and Acts from significantly later? What about sources from other parts of the world and other religious traditions? If not, why not?Firstly, I do not see the scriptures merely as a historical document – we both know something beyond what is natural happened back then. You believe in God, this I know so it’s fair to say you do believe in the supernatural – you are just more selective than the average God-believer in elements of the supernatural.So we know something supernatural happened just under 2000 years ago and that people there at the time- also partakers wrote about it a bit later. This is not the same as a census or documenting a war that happened- this is important and core to followers of Jesus – so it was important for the disciples/apostles to pass on that information, enough of it, for future generations when they realised that Jesus wasn’t returning straight away.I highlighted that last part to address the reason why there is a few years after Christ before they started writing.With regards to sources from other religions and those thousands of miles away in other lands – well now you confuse me.On the one hand you would argue that we don’t put equal weight in all of the gospel accounts and the new testament – on the other you are now saying that we should put equal weights on other religions when it comes to interpreting God/Jesus.Well at this point, I must fall back on the promise of the Holy Spirit, my personal experience and the fact that the internet didn’t exist 2000 years ago so the people who were writing the bible would have had little exposure to the Eastern religions compared to what we in the West have access to now with our internet and our air travel.In short, if I’m going to put my belief in Jesus first and align myself to what we define as Christianity – then I am going to prefer the supernatural events in the New Testament to the supernatural events of the Quran.Of course, if I started to explore the Quran, and felt that “hey, this makes more sense to me than the gospels!” – then I would have to start questioning my chosen religion.If I then chose to prefer the accounts in the Quran over the gospels, I would have to honestly say that I am no longer a Christian (though I may still believe in the prophet Jesus) – and though I may not be a muslim – I perhaps fall somewhere in between.So you see now why I questioned your definition and why I stated that I didn’t think you were a Christian.Wouldn’t you agree that if you are going to ride under a flag there has to be some kind of defining principle(s) that make the flag relevant?I know many people got offended on your behalf when I stated this, but the truth is, I know more people who are agnostics and/or are the same position as you and get offended at being clasified as a “Christian”.But let me rephrase the whole question to put it into context:-What would it take for you to not define yourself as a Christian? How far would you have to venture into universalism?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11335631079939764763 Bob MacDonald

    Lex – you are making the conversation more interesting”How far would you have to venture into universalism”Do you presuppose that universalism is somehow against being ‘Christian’? God so loved the world – being drawn to Christ and even believing in Christ are not necessarily negating your cultural history or environment though it will surely be changed (in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye).You mention the Ethiopian etc – were they ‘Christian’? All it says of him is that he went on his way rejoicing. His way. Not my way. not even ‘The Way’.You raise also the issue of canon – large issue. Sufficiency, not ‘exclusive truth’ is the catchword for canon for me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I only have a few moments, so I’ll just try to clarify one point for now. My point about other religions was not that we should trust their sources over those in the New Testament. My point was that many Christians (at least most Protestants) would agree in prizing the New Testament’s viewpoint not only above the Qur’an or the Gnostic Gospels but above the Didache, the early Church Fathers, and at least theoretically even above the creeds. There seems to be an implicit recognition that, if we want to be able to distinguish between original and secondary, between things which are historically “authentic” and later (re-)interpretations, we try to get back to the earliest sources.In pointing this out, all I meant to suggest is that, on the one hand, the historical approach simply allows that distinction between early and late to continue even into the New Testament itself. On the other hand, if one doesn’t adopt a historical approach, then one’s choice of one sacred text or set of texts over another seems arbitrary. Why not look to the Qur’an for information about Jesus? “Because that isn’t our text” doesn’t seem like an adequate answer.If the uncritical use of the Bible among conservatives peeves me, the combination of a critical approach to the Bible while uncritically utilizing materials from other traditions is a pitfall many have fallen into at the other end of the spectrum. I thought I’d mention that for the sake of fairness, if nothing else!Having said that, I do think that it is possible to learn from and appreciate elements of another tradition without sacrificing one’s own religious identity – as for instance when Paul is depicted as quoting “pagan” poets in Acts 17, or contemplates the possibility of righteous Gentiles in Romans 2, or when the concept of the Logos is adopted by Jews and then later by Jewish Christians (e.g. Philo and the author of the Fourth Gospel). There will always be the question of whether something is taking that interaction and embrace too far. As for the question of at what point one has gone “too far” and is no longer a Christian, I’m tempted to adopt a principle from the marriage debates and suggest that perhaps people who don’t subscribe to the details of the creeds and other historic definitions could simply call themselves “followers of Jesus” rather than “Christians”. But I think that the latter might come to resent that too, and all the while the Protestants and Catholics would still be fighting with each other, and amongst themselves, over the claim to the title “Christian”. And as Bob just pointed out (he posted his comment when I had already written the above), some went on “their way”, while others were on “The Way”, and the nickname “Christian” came on the scene after the movement already existed, and so historically speaking, the first “Christians” weren’t “Christians”! It is these historical complexities that make me inclined not to essentialize. Even if we were to adopt the Apostle’s Creed as a bare minimum, I still wonder whether all Christians thus defined would agree on denying the title to those who subscribe to every affirmation except the virgin birth, for instance, or the descent into hell. Let me close this comment by expressing my appreciation to those involved in this conversation at the moment. I’ve seen some rather heated discussions of topics like this one, and I’ve never found one of those heated ones to help me to learn and grow the way discussions like this one do, in which there is genuine disagreement but it is expressed clearly and without personal animosity. Thank you!

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    Well one thing I can agree on with you – a good point you raise is that of the early “Christians” who would more likely associate with the label “Cult of the Nazarene” than that of the Roman nickname.I thought I had pointed out that it’s possible for those not “Christians” per se to be followers of Christ. How much of this is semantics and how much is actually down to revelation is the blur.It really is all about revelation I think. It’s not as though someone must learn and accept A, B and C to be forgiven and follow Christ, but I think if you are not going anywhere (ie. you are not hanging on a cross yourself and waiting to die) then there is an expectation that you will (a) become more familiar with creed/doctrine, (b) stick within creed/doctrine that you have received so far (through revelation), and (c) produce good works – a by-product of genuine faith.(These things require a balance of guidance from the Holy Spirit and interpretation of the bible as a whole).The only point I wish to reiterate and elaborate on is this. The creeds are ~1700 years older than any of us and material we have written (as an aside, any ideas that you or I come up with are not going to be new ideas – the only difference is level of popularity at the time they are espoused).If you don’t agree with everything written by Paul, or in the creeds (and downgrade them to second-source interpretations) then your own second-source interpretation can only be looked at as another alternative source written in AD 2009 exhorting followers of Christ to do it a different way – the Book of McGrath, if you will (which leads one to question how are you so sure you have it right?).The creeds, for me, sum up the critical points in the gospels and the epistles, critical points to Christian faith that are universal (for Christians) that can be unrevealed but cannot be denied – if you put equal weight on the teachings of the gospels, Paul, James et al. (And yes we all know that women do not need to wear head-scarfs and men can grow long hair – cultural sensibilities).Of course, in the end, assuming Paul is right – even those who received no revelations and did not know Christ will be judged based on the revelation they have received through the natural world around them – so in case anyone missed it, the discussion here was never about salvation.Finally, I apologise for my extremely long comments – I find it hard to type at the rate my brain processes information which is why I try to keep my words simple and why I end up writing a book just to get one point across).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I can say with great confidence that the Book of McGrath is full of errors, although due to the limitations of my historical, cultural and personal horizon, as well as my proximity to its subject, I am unable to see clearly the flaws it contains. Otherwise I’d warn people about them more specifically!

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    James,LOL. Okay I call it a tie.


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