Certainty-Seeking Faith

Kurt Willems shared the quote below from Greg Boyd’s book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (p.149):

One of the most unfortunate consequences of certainty-seeking faith is that, because it rewards people for feeling certain they’re right and discourages people from questioning their perspectives, it conditions people to insist that their maps are the territory. People who embrace this kind of faith will be more inclined to assume that their interpretation of a biblical verse is the meaning of the verse itself. So to disagree with their interpretation is to disagree with the verse itself. In fact, the mind-set that this model of faith produces inclines people to forget they’re interpreting at all. As an angry man told me in a theological dispute some years ago, “I don’t interpret the Bible. I just read it!”

Click through to read the rest of Kurt’s post. Click here to see Greg’s book on Amazon.com. And see too Chet Raymo’s post contrasting two types of religious people which he labels as “finders and seekers.”

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Conservative religious people with holy books that they deem to be the most inspired and/or inerrant revelations from the Divine are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either

    1) they admit some passages are beyond our present ability to interpret decisively, in which case an infinite Being that knows all could not speak or inspire a written record that was clear enough for people of all times and places, in which case it DOES NOT MATTER whether the text itself was “inspired or inerrant,” since it simply remains indeterminate, or God speaking with a lisp.

    OR,

    2) they identify whatever THEIR favorite interpretation and modern application of a passage is with the VOICE OF GOD, and then have to battle it out with other people’s favorite interpretations and modern day applications, people who are EQUALLY CERTAIN that their’s is the VOICE OF GOD.

  • http://ma-sblog.blogspot.com/ Alice

    I don’t really like certainty being called an idol as if it is wrong to want to be certain. If we are going to base our entire life on this religion, I want to be certain about it. I have been told that my thinking is too black and white….I agree.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I can understand the desire to be certain. But it is important to ask whether certainty about certain matters is possible and if so by what means. If it is not possible and yet we insist that it is, then it does indeed become an idol. And if being certain about metaphysical dogma is required in order for one to put the Golden Rule into practice, then that too may suggest that one understand religion to be about being right about ideas rather than other things.

      • http://ma-sblog.blogspot.com/ Alice

        If it is not possible and yet we insist that it is, then it does indeed become an idol.

        That is a good point. I am at the stage where I do believe it is not possible to be certain as far as dogmatic truth and the claims of Christianity. I’ve been told that if I could see things in a more nebulous way, I could still hold onto it, but I don’t really see why I would want to given so little evidence.

        The Golden rule can be put into practice by anyone not holding any kind of spirituality and that what makes it so…golden:)

    • newenglandsun

      Of course the author has to be certain that certainty is an idol.

  • joriss

    What is the problem with certainty as far as it is about spiritual safety? Can we trust God? We should be certain about that. Can we trust the words of Jesus? We should be certain about that. If we confess out sins sincerely, and take Jesus’ forgiveness, are we really forgiven? We sh. be cert. ab. that.
    Are we to be with Him one day, if we continue believing in Him and staying in Him? W.s.b.c.a.t.
    The christian faith invites us and encourages us to be very certain about things that are of crucial importance to our spiritual wellfare. Humans feel a need for certainty, why would we otherwise take insurances for all kinds of things if it was not for that need?
    The gospel of Jesus Christ wants to give us a reliable guide to full everlasting spiritual wellfare and we need it.
    Or better: it is our destiny, for it is the very reason why God created us, why Jesus founded his church: to be a loving community, connected with Him and with one another in everlasting love.

    So suppose this certainty didn’t exist. What could we say to a man, sentenced to death for committing a murder and in despair?

    God will judge you for your crime and your sinful life. But there is a chance He doesn’t exist.
    But for all security: confess your sins; if He exists He will forgive you. But there is a chance your sin was too bad and He won’t forgive you, in that case you will stay alone and unhappy forever, far away of everything that is good and everyone that is loving. What a poor message!

    Without certainty, there is no gospel. We need that certainty that God wants us to have. We can trust Him on that.
    Ofcourse there are many secondary matters with which certainty is of less importance, we may have different opinions about that kind of matters.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Trusting God is one thing, and trusting what human beings in the past have written is another. Different again is treating what human beings have written as though it is what God says. The latter is idolatry, and reflects the desire to be more certain than God has made it possible for us to be.

      • joriss

        “Trusting God is one thing, and trusting what human beings in the past have written is another.”

        Why would I trust God, if there are no reliable witnesses now and in the past?
        In 2 Cor 1:20 Paul says: For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

        What are these promises of God? Where can I find them? In the bible? How can I trust that these are real his promises, and not merely the words of man? How then can I trust these promises?
        And how can I even know if 2 Cor. 1:20 is the word of God? Was it not only Paul who wrote these words down?
        That’s the problem that, in my opinion, you create an unnecessary uncertainty, by emphasizing that, what is written, is not the word of God. So I’ m afraid it wil eventually cripple the gospel, although I’m convinced, that’s not what you intend to do.
        Idolatry begins at the point where we start to appreciate knowing the bibletexts and dogmas and doctrines of higher value than the fellowship with God and Jesus.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          If God is an entity that one has to rely on past authorities to know, then the issue of what it means to trust God and why it is appropriate still arises. Trying to treat past human authorities as though they themselves were the voice of God doesn’t really make the problem go away.

          If on the other hand we are talking about not one of many gods or ideas about the divine that compete for our allegiance, but the Ultimate which clearly must exist but whose nature will by definition elude our perception and comprehension, then even without the help of humans who responded in the past, one can sense the call to focus our lives on the ultimate rather than self, tribe, group, or other smaller potential objects of our allegiance.

          • joriss

            “If on the other hand we are talking about (……………….) the Ultimate which clearly must exist but whose nature will by definition elude our perception and comprehension, then even without the help of humans who responded in the past, one can sense the call to focus our lives on the ultimate rather than self, tribe, group, or other smaller potential objects of our allegiance.”

            Yes. And if we respond to that call and focus our lives on the Ultimate instead of living for our own, will that help us to enter in the presence of the Ultimate? Is that enough? What about sins, shortcomings, unholiness, that will always try to jeopardize our attempts to live in unselfishness and love and make us unclean before the eyes of the Ultimate? What or who will solve that problem?

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Unless one thinks that blood has magical properties without which it is impossible, or that there are strange laws whereby God cannot forgive without a complex penal substitution, then the solution is what I think it always has been: surrender to God, self-examination, repentance, and reconciliation.

              • joriss

                Ofcourse we have to examine ourselves and repent of our sins. But do you think that we christians are not reconciled with God by the death of Jesus, but by self-examination and repentance?

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  But what do you think that the death of Jesus accomplishes? And depending on your answer to that, it may be appropriate to ask why you think that Jesus called people to repentance rather than belief in his future sacrifice.

                  • joriss

                    The death of Jesus accomplishes a propitiation through faith in his blood.

                    We are reconciled with God by the death of Jesus

                    These things are told us very clearly by Paul in Romans 3 and 5

                    By our faith in Jesus we are justified; we can find that all over the New Testament.

                    Jesus called people to repentance, because repentance is the entrance to be able to receive the gospel; without repentance it is not even possible to see or enter the kingdom of God.
                    He said not only: repent, but also: and believe the gospel – Marc 1:15.

                    So the reconciliation is accomplished by Jesus. Our responsibility is to believe in Him. That Jesus could not fully speak about his sacrifice that was to come, is because that is applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who had not yet been poured out. But everybody that believed in Him, were filled by the Holy Spirit after his resurrection, who was to lead them to the full truth, as Jesus promised, before he died.

                    So the reconciliation is by Jesus, the entrance to this reconciliation is our faith, which is also a gift of God, and at the same time it is our responsibility to live by that faith.

                    But again: do you think we are reconciliated by self-examination, repentance and trying to live an unselfish loving life? Is that sufficient to enter the presence of the Holy One?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      You are taking one particular early Christian standpoint, that of the Gospel of John, and making its focus on belief in Jesus central. But the impression one gets of Jesus’ message from the Synoptic Gospels is different.

                      The early Christians made sense of Jesus’ death by interpreting it in terms that they had available, such as the notion of a martyr’s death atoning for the nation such as we see in 4 Maccabees. But as I’ve talked about on this blog on many occasions, the attempts to make sense of that in a way that works for moderns, such as the penal substitution theory of the atonement, creates more problems than it solves.

                    • joriss

                      So you reject the idea that Jesus’ death was necessary to enable God to justify us as sinners, without violating his righteousness. That seems a dangerous point of view to me, and in full contradiction with what Paul is saying in Romans 3: 23-26.
                      And also with many other parts of the New Testament, e.g. 2 Cor. 5:21, 1 John 1, 1 Peter, Ephesians, Revelation.
                      Is this not a new gospel, totally alienated from what it originally said and meant? In my opinion it is.
                      I don’t think 4 Maccabees will have too much to do with that.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Just curious, do you deny that God forgave people all the times it says in the Old Testament that he did? Or do you somehow view Jesus’ death as retroactively applying? Even so, it would seem that believing in Jesus’ death is not an essential component for forgiveness and reconciliation to occur, within the Bible as a whole. And so is it not better to view Jesus’ death as the supreme expression of God’s desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, rather than the sole act to ever make it possible?

                    • newenglandsun

                      You’re reading into his comment. He said to justify sinners, not to forgive sinners. I’m guessing this guy probably holds to St. Anselm’s theory of the atonement. God justified sinners in the sense of making them upright and restoring them back to him.

                      I don’t for certain if joriss holds to this but this is radically different than penal substitutionary theory of the atonement.

                    • joriss

                      “Just curious, do you deny that God forgave people all the times it says in the Old Testament that he did?”

                      Of course not.

                      “Or do you somehow view Jesus’ death as retroactively applying?”

                      Definitely.

                      “Even so, it would seem that believing in Jesus’ death is not an essential component for forgiveness and reconciliation to occur, within the Bible as a whole.”

                      I think you are right. But believing in God is. Abraham was justified by faith in God’s promises. But he could not, at his time, know how this justification works. We can, because in our time it is revealed, that it is based on Jesus’ sacrifice. Even the disciples were justified by faith in Jesus, although they didn’t understand how, and wanted to withhold Jesus from dying. But Jesus said to them: the Holy Spirit, whom I will send to you from the Father, will lead you in all truth. So only after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the full significance of his sacrifice was revealed to the church by the Holy Spirit.
                      So in our days, we, that know the gospel have no excuse whatsoever for not being aware how God’s justification works for us: by the sacrifice of Jesus. We can not return to the time of ignorance and be justified by belief in God outside Jesus, or without Jesus. We that know that there is only one name by which we can be saved.

                      It could very well be, that people in our days that believe in God, but in their place never heard about the name of Jesus, are saved in the same way as O.T. believers were justified, but even then it is on the mercy and merits of Jesus.

                      How could otherwise be fulfilled that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord?

                      “And so is it not better to view Jesus’ death as the supreme expression of God’s desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, rather than the sole act to ever make it possible?”

                      I don’t think it is “either….or”, but and…and. It’s the supreme expression of God’s desire for reconciliation a n d the sole act to ever make it possible.

                      “Just curious, do you deny that God forgave people all the times it says in the Old Testament that he did?”

                      Of course not.

                      “Or do you somehow view Jesus’ death as retroactively applying?”

                      Definitely.

                      “Even so, it would seem that believing in Jesus’ death is not an essential component for forgiveness and reconciliation to occur, within the Bible as a whole.”

                      I think you are right. But believing in God is. Abraham was justified by faith in God’s promises. But he could not, at his time, know how this justification works. We can, because in our time it is revealed, that it is based on Jesus’ sacrifice. Even the disciples were justified by faith in Jesus, although they didn’t understand how, and wanted to withhold Jesus from dying. But Jesus said to them: the Holy Spirit, whom I will send to you from the Father, will lead you in all truth. So only after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the full significance of his sacrifice was revealed to the church by the Holy Spirit.
                      So in our days, we, that know the gospel have no excuse whatsoever for not being aware how God’s justification works for us: by the sacrifice of Jesus. We can not return to the time of ignorance and be justified by belief in God outside Jesus, or without Jesus. We that know that there is only one name by which we can be saved.

                      It could very well be, that people in our days that believe in God, but in their place never heard about the name of Jesus, are saved in the same way as O.T. believers were justified, but even then it is on the mercy and merits of Jesus.

                      How could otherwise be fulfilled that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord?

                      “And so is it not better to view Jesus’ death as the supreme expression of God’s desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, rather than the sole act to ever make it possible?”

                      I don’t think it is “either….or”, but and…and. It’s the supreme expression of God’s desire for reconciliation a n d the sole act to ever make it possible.

                    • joriss

                      I don’t know why my comment is twofold….must have made a mistake. Not to emphasize my points anyway ;-) Anyway it won’t do harm…

                    • newenglandsun

                      “The early Christians made sense of Jesus’ death by interpreting it in terms that they had available, such as the notion of a martyr’s death atoning for the nation such as we see in 4 Maccabees.”

                      What early Christians are you referencing? The first century ones I’m assuming. But what of St. Irenaeus who holds to recapitulation theory of the atonement? Or the following…

                      “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh andspirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible— even Jesus Christ our Lord.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Ephesians, Ch. 7)

                      *Note this IS an *authentic* letter of his.

  • Anton

    I’m resigned to modern humanity’s lack of certainty. Science only gives us provisional truths about our world and universe, subject to revision when new information arises. The Why questions are the ones that we create, and we do that in full knowledge that we could be wrong.

    Miguel de Unamuno could have been describing my own faith when he said, “My religion is to look for truth in life and life in truth, even knowing that I may never find them while I am alive.”


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