What’s so great about faith?

What’s so great about faith?  It depends on what you mean.  Most people today seem to regard faith as a so-called “leap of faith,”  in which we simply choose to believe something that can’t be demonstrated or proven.  Society, or one’s own needy self, says that I need to believe, and I do, keeping quiet about my doubts, if I even let myself have any.

Real faith is given by the grace of God.  We don’t choose faith; faith chooses us.  Nevertheless, there are things we can do to receive it.  Prime among these is humility, and living as Christ would have us live, as though we were men or women who deserve grace.

But how do I know if I have received grace?

There are two answers.  If you have to ask, you haven’t.  If you think you have received grace, you haven’t.  Just continue to live as though you were worthy of grace.  In the end perhaps this is the most we can hope for.  What’s more important: to know that you have grace, or to be worthy of it?

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A sociologist who turned to God, but never understood faith: Peter Berger

A sociologist who turned to God, but never understood faith: Peter Berger, March 17, 1929-June 27, 2017.

When I was in graduate school many years ago, The Social Construction of Reality, by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, published in 1966, was my bible, and I was not alone.  Berger and Luckmann argued that what we experience as reality is socially constructed by men and women.  Over time, this construction is forgotten and the reality taken as given.  It’s a good argument, but it doesn’t work very well with God.  Berger acknowledged as much in a book written a few years later, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, published in 1970. 

Where Berger was right

Berger seems right that what has failed in modernity is not a belief in God, but belief in “another reality.”  Some theologians seem to have gone along with this.  Paul Tillich understood the task of theology in terms of the “method of correlation,” by which he meant the interpretation of Christianity in the language of philosophical and psychological thought (p 11). 

Rudolf Bultmann exaggerates, but has the right idea when he says that no one who uses electricity and listens to the radio can any longer believe in the miracle world of the New Testament.  His response was to translate the Christian tradition into the contemporary language of existentialism (p. 41).

Bultmann’s definition of the disease has proven useful.  Today many of us are enthralled with the things humans have made, like smart phones.  (Confession: I bought my first smart phone a couple of weeks ago, and something about it is compelling.)  So how should religion respond?

Berger’s answer is that we should not capitulate to modernity, but anchor belief in God in human experience. Good diagnosis, poor remedy.

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Kierkegaard and the tragedy of grace

Kierkegaard and the tragedy of grace.

God grants us grace, but we have to accept it. I argue that bad social conditions close some people to grace.  Kierkegaard would disagree.

Most Christians agree that we cannot save ourselves.  God offers his grace freely, not because we merit it, but because God loves us.   Paul writes,

For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves.  It is the gift of God—not by works.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The difference among Christians is how we earn grace.  Faith or works is the usual distinction, but of course that is too crude.  I’m going to follow Kierkegaard (as far as I can), who is generally considered the first existentialist.  So, choice must be important. 

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Kierkegaard and the leap to faith

Kierkegaard and the leap to faith.

I’ve decided that the only way to understand religion is in terms of what Søren Kierkegaard called the “leap.” (CUP, p 340)  He never used the term “leap of faith.”  I’m still struggling with Kierkegaard.  My post is a series of comments on some important ideas of his.  There are others. 

I am particularly interested in the religious implications of his earlier works, those not explicitly Christian.  When people refer to Kierkegaard as the first existentialist, it is to these earlier works that they refer. 

One influence on my decision to study Kierkegaard was reading some of Reinhold Niebuhr’s sermons, prayers, and religious essays (2015).  Far from being a “Christian realist,” as I may have portrayed him here, Niebuhr was first of all a man of faith.  But what does this mean? 

Truth as subjectivity

It means that through an act of “imaginative reorientation,” one chooses to see the world as gift, and Christ as our savior, because doing so makes life more meaningful.  Reasons can be given, but the world as gift and Christ as savior becomes a reality by acting as if it were so.  This is what Kierkegaard means by “truth as subjectivity.”

Truth is not just a proposition.  Truth becomes a way of life.  This is exemplified in Christ’s claim that “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  Christ not only claims to teach the truth; His life is the truth (Evans, p 62).  Our lives can never be the truth, but we can seek to make the ideals represented by Christ’s life and teachings our own, in so far as this is humanly possible.  In this way faith becomes a reality. 

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