Faith Requires Revelation, Conviction, and Humility

Right after my last blog offering, our president chimed on the issue of gay marriage, thus making the topic even more front in center for our culture, and necessitating the conversation for all people of faith.  The many comments on my last post included pleas for ‘clarification’ on my part, so I’ll try to do that briefly.  But the main point of this post is ponder, with you, the implications of the fact that people who love Christ see things differently.  I’d argue that there are three elements necessary for living out any set of faith convictions.

Revelation is the starting point because every life of faith is a continual response to revelation.  God reveals, through creation, fellowship, scripture, and we respond to that revelation.  Christ’s followers all believe that the Bible is core and foundational revelation to which we respond.  God has spoken, and it is ours to discern what God is saying to us through the book given us, a book of history, poetry, law, letters, and records of dreams and revelations.  There are many people for whom the previous conversation will have little meaning, because this fundamental starting point can’t be accepted.  Still, it’s where we who follow Christ begin.

Conviction means that we’re called to respond to revelation.  The entire book is filled with God saying, in many ways, “life works best if you do it my way!”, beginning in the garden of Genesis, moving through the life of Israel, and later the church.  So it obedience becomes our calling, so to speak.  We’re trying to understand what God is saying, and follow it.  When I study what the Bible has to say about marriage, I see that everyone throughout the Bible appeals back to Genesis 2 as the reference point, and that’s where it’s “one man and one woman”.  Paul gives the import of the man and the woman theological weight in Ephesians 5, when speaks about the couple’s calling to be a living illustration of Christ and the church.  Some comments wrote that the church has so “mangled marriage” over the centuries, that it’s hypocritical to appeal to God’s ideal as the starting point.   But even within the Bible there are glaring failures to fulfill God’s vision for marriage, including Solomon’s 300 wives, David’s adultery, and God’s accommodation of divorce.  We have a hard time getting it right.  That’s no reason to lower the bar or change the vision, or change the precedent of God’s ideal.  To the contrary, our collective failure begs for a return to God’s vision, because such returning is called repentance. That means I need to uphold Genesis 2, and Jesus’ and Paul’s definition of marriage as a pastor, or I won’t be following my own convictions.  If, in our fear of being wrong in our convictions, we refused to hold to them, then we’re not really living by faith – we’re living by fear.

But convictions are tricky, because not everyone who loves Christ shares my convictions, on this, or a thousand other issues.  Some people don’t mind car loans, others do, based on this.  Some people own big guns and keep them under their beds.  Others don’t, based on this.  Some people think women can lead churches based on this.  Others don’t, based on this.  The church argued, in its early days about whether Gentiles could become Christ followers.  Then they argued about circumcision as a requirement for the gospel.  Then they argued about eating certain meats.  It’s no newsflash that this early church, empowered as they were by the Holy Spirit, didn’t agree on everything all the time.  Why should things be any different, now that the gospel has taken on a million iterations as it has expanded to fill the globe, adapting to various cultural expressions and sometimes losing its essence for a while, only to be recovered later.  The fact that good people disagree doesn’t mean both are right, or that God is absent.  It just means this:  good people aren’t really that good.  Our capacity to know truth is tainted.  Yes, we have the Spirit, but a quick look at church history tells us that people still missed the mark consistently, because we don’t only have the Holy Spirit, we have blind spots, and fallen natures.

How then should we live?  Should we abandon our convictions?  No!  Instead, we need to live faithful to our convictions, but we need to do so, always, with a key ingredient:

Humility is the acknowledgement that this is how I understand, and am responding to God’s revelation.  I’m trying to listen faithfully to the Holy Spirit, trying to do my homework, taking into account sound principles of Bible study and the view of the church historically on the given issue or text.  But then, having arrived at my conviction, I need to be careful to say, “this is my belief”.  Of course I believe I’m right.  So do you.  But humility is a posture that’s concerned about refining truth, purifying truth, discovering truth.. more than it’s concerned about defending itself.  Humility proves itself valuable, for without it, we’d still have a wrong reading of Genesis 9, and slavery would be the result.

Humility doesn’t mean a lack of conviction.  Nor does it mean a lack of spirited debate.  It simply means that I’m continuing to look for truth, continually open to my understanding of God’s Word being reordered by further revelation.  The best comments on the previous blog post displayed this kind of humility, and were evident from both the left and the right.   This conversation, though, is very different from a culture war, because though we live our convictions with boldness, and are willing to pay the price, we do so with the belief that we’ve not yet arrived at a perfect understanding of the gospel.  Those who want a pastor with a perfect understanding, a 140 character answer to every question, and a quick clever response that silences all those who disagree with him, don’t want me as their pastor.  As long as I’m a pastor and a writer, I’ll articulate my convictions, and seek to live them out faithfully.  I’ll also listen to your different view respectfully, and maybe, in the process, we’ll both become more like Jesus.

Note: I haven’t addressed, in this post, a response to requests regarding my reading of Romans 1.  I’ll do that in the comments section of the previous post… hopefully tonight.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Mark Abbott

    Thanks for your thoughts on this complex subject. Especially thanks for referencing the conversation back to Genesis. There, in the Bible’s introduction are imbedded basic perspectives evident in the rest of the book. And no, we don’t live up to the high ideals. That comes out of Genesis 3. But everyone is worthy of deep respect because of the image of God, regardless of whether or not we approve of others’ choices and lifestyles.
    We as Christ-followers need to continue working at living humbly but with conviction in a world where often people don’t agree with us or with one another. I also think we need to work at living beyond fear which often leads to anger and paranoia so evident in how many of us respond to gay marriage. The big threat to marriage as we have understood it is not gay marriage, but the failure of straight marriages.

  • Roy

    Adam & Eve, someone being created from a rib, talking snakes….these are the reasons we should accept for not supporting gay & lesbian people to marry? How in the world are we supposed to have conversation when that is the basis for a point of view?

    • Richard Dahlstrom

      the challenge, Roy, is that this story is Jesus’ reference point, and Paul’s, and the church’s reference point historically. Is there some other reference point to which we should appeal? I’m not aware of it. The argument, by the way, has nothing to do with the historicity of Genesis (which is another important conversation), but everything to do with the question: ‘what is our source of authority?’

      • Glenda

        I think what Roy is trying to say–forgive the paraphrase, old boy–is that this selfsame reference point carries different values depending on where we happen to be standing, having equal potential to be as poignant as it is sometimes absurd. Is it possible for our creation mythologies to be both instructive and authoritative, but still leave room for non-literal interpretations?

      • Roy

        Honestly, I don’t see how the historicity of the multiple Genesis accts of creation don’t have anything to do with this. That would seem to have a lot to do with it. Jesus also referenced the ark and the flood but most scientific info I’ve read on that claims it couldn’t have happened. I suppose all of this doesn’t matter. If someone can’t see that two people of the same sex wanting to join together in marriage want the same things in their lives that two people of opposite sex do, or if you can see it and it just doesn’t matter, there really isn’t much to say.

        • Richard Dahlstrom

          But Roy, your GCN network thinks that what the text has to say matters, no matter which side of the argument they choose. http://www.gaychristian.net/greatdebate.php At stake here, from my perspective at least, is how one church, the one in which I have some authority, views the word and connotations of “marriage”. I can easily appeal to any number of sources for a definition of marriage, but if I claim faith in Christ, then I need to wrestle with what the Bible has to say about marriage. It’s not, therefore, a matter of seeing or not seeing what two people want. It’s a matter of answering the authority question, and then trying to determine what the authority says.

          • Lisa

            Obviously not all particpants of GCN are in agreement over the role of scripture.

            I think it’s dangerous to get lost in these scriptural debates if we do so at the cost of losing sight of the bigger picture. We can easily lose the forest for the trees here. I also think it’s easy to get lost in the woods of what happened and whether or not it’s historically accident if we fail to seek out the point of the story. The ancient authors weren’t really in the business of telling us point by point exactly what happened most of the time. They were conveying important ideas not giving us bullet points. So what questions can get at the point of the story instead of trying to extract supposed “facts?”

            A good question, for instance, might be, By the accounts of creation in Gensis did God mean to teach us that the only legitimate form of intimate relationship is opposite sex? Or, Was God trying to reveal something of God’s character? Or, Was God teaching us about the value of companionship? Or, Was God, through the author, giving an example of the kind of relationship that most people would know was familiar to illustrate a larger point?

            I think that when we start asking the less obvious questions we recognize just how narrow our view of scripture can be and how we limit it’s impact on our lives by hammering away at the same positions we’ve built and keep trying to defend. Finally, I think that if we’re honest none of us can truly answer these questions with any certainty.

          • J. Boyd

            Thank you for this post and responses. Very helpful.

  • sp

    “Those who want a pastor with a perfect understanding, a 140 character answer to every question, and a quick clever response that silences all those who disagree with him, don’t want me as their pastor.”

    …thank you for that reminder. I want you as my pastor, and part of the reason has to do with you not acting like a “pastor” at all (in the ways that I might traditionally view them), but a human who struggles along with some of the same questions that we all have to grapple with, as we look at our faith in one hand, and the world as it is in the other.

    I was one of the guys who cried out for you to clarify yourself in your blog last week. And while that may have been real frustration on my part….at the same time, it really is a treasure to have a pastor who wrestles with this stuff, even if it may be fairly raw.

  • Justice

    Richard,
    Thank you for your thoughtful post and allowing us to see into your heart on such a difficult subject in our world today. I also support and appreciate your conviction and your belief on the subject of marriage. I do however wrestle with your support (correct me if I’m wrong) of civil unions. If your stance on marriage is that God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman, isn’t it hypocritical to support civil unions for committed homosexuals? Isn’t it affirming their sexuality? However, it is good to recognize the act of commitment involved and encourage an attitude of commitment; although, if on one hand you are supporting or affirming “same sex” unions, is it right, is it biblical? If this is a moral argument and you believe our convictions should transfer into the political system, how is it okay to affirm committed homosexuals in civil unions? Sorry if you answered this already, I may have missed it.

    • John Doe

      I don’t think it’s our responsiblity as Christians to make the law look like the Bible. There are plenty of things we find immoral that are not illegal. When someone tells a lie, they are not locked up in jail (unless under oath, etc.). When someone has an affair, there is no legal punishment. We would say these are sins, and argue that they are morally wrong, but I would certainly not advocate a legal punishment for them.

      The same can be said for civil unions. We allow people to legally make immoral choices, because that’s the type of society we have created (and by the way, it’s also the choice God gives us). They will have to live with the consequences and decide for themselves what is right. God will be the ultimate judge. But even in giving them that choice, we as Christians are leaving the door open for them to ultimately engage the church in a greater conversation, whereas by arguing against civil unions, swe cause many people close their hearts to the church forever.

  • greg

    Hi Richard, thanks for this post. I appreciated your thoughts about humility, conviction, and faithfulness.

  • http://www.HypFoods.com CatB

    Not to go plunging into the other issues before I’ve had time to think through my response, but a flyby contribution to SP’s remarks above: I do think Richard behaves as I would like to see more pastors behave; thus, I wouldn’t say he doesn’t act like a pastor. If you had said he doesn’t act like an authoritarian power-monger, I would have agreed, but then — those folks are not acting like shepherds at all, IMO


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