More than Believing

In her book Christianity after Religion Diana Butler Bass tells a story of sitting at a graduation listening to a strong-minded evangelical claim that someday everyone would bow before Jesus as the Lord because Jesus, like Caesar, was indeed Lord. Diana tells us the event was momentous for her and she fell into the “belief gap,” which I take to be a condition of ironic faith: she’s a Christian but traditional Christian beliefs are held at some distance.

Her alternative is to see faith, not as belief that something is true but belief as living.

What do you think of her distinction between “What” and “How” in believing?

Her chp routinely expresses the dismay of many about traditional Christian doctrines and the creed. “Masses of people now reject belief” (108). “Masses” is fuzzy enough to be neither wrong nor demonstrable. Her reading of Christian history is that of Harvey Cox, in his recent book The Future of Faith that sees three periods in church history: Age of Faith (until c. 400 CE) is marked by faith in Jesus and the creeds; the Age of Belief (c. 1900 CE) is marked by creeds; and the Age of the Spirit is marked not by faith in Jesus or about Jesus but experience of Jesus. It is “nondogmatic, noninstitutional, and non-hierarchical Christianity” (109). This is flat-out colonizing by liberal progressive Christianity of the history of the church. There is plenty of creedal faith prior to Nicea; plenty of spirited faith throughout the church; and there is plenty of Belief in the modern age — in fact, it’s all over the place today. The problem is exaggeration; there is afoot today what Cox calls the Age of the Spirit, Ellenism (earlier post on this book), and the SBNR type (spiritual but not religious). My contention last post and this one is numbers.

Diana is prone to see all of this leading to a new day and that “Christianity is moving from a religion about God to being an experience of God” (110), and I see this as a false dichotomy: plenty are creedal and full of religious affections, not unlike Jonathan Edwards (she used Edwards more on her side of the ledger of this debate, that surprised me). But her “about” to “of” God stuff makes me wonder what makes an experience of God distinctly Christian.

Diana sees the Religious Question to be What do I believe? And this is creedal, and religious, and dogmatic, and institutional.

The What question is giving way to the How questions. They are two-fold: How do I believe? (hands-on deeper and experiential) and Who do I believe? (those with whom one has a relationship and those in whom one finds authenticity).

Then she relies on Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s distinction between belief and trust, and argues true belief is experiential trust.  I would take issue in this section with her history, which seems intent on showing Cox’s groupings. This kind of faith is both spiritual and religious. She believes the Creed came hundreds of years later but to me it is quite clear that the Creed (Nicea, Apostles’, etc) emerged on the basis of a long history of creedal expressions, especially found in baptismal liturgies — so creedal Christianity is very early and there are already creeds at work in the NT.

The Creed is then revisited here: the issue is not do I believe that Jesus was raised but “Do I trust in the resurrection?” (129).

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