I have previously written about whether or not a reasonable faith exists. Today, I’d like to share a few thoughts inspired by the book Finding Faith by Brian McLaren.
In Chapter 1, titled Does It Really Matter What I Believe, McLaren distinguishes between good and bad faith. What I found interesting is that his descriptors for bad faith perfectly label my experience of faith in the churches I’ve attended, while his descriptors for good faith are the things I’ve desired but rarely found. The descriptors for bad faith are as follows:
- Bad faith is based solely on unquestioned authority.
A rather wicked use of scripture for this assertion is “touch not God’s anointed”.
- Bad faith is based on pressure or coercion.
If you’ve ever been to see the production of Heaven’s Gate Hell’s Flames, you’ll know about this one. That is a terrible dramatic presentation utilizing fear and guilt to coerce people to believe.
- Bad faith is often the result of a psychological need for belonging.
This is likely the primary reason why my family came to faith. Churches can be a wonderful place of friendship and potential courtship for singles, particularly given the individualism of our time.
- Bad faith appeals to self-interest and base motives.
The prosperity gospel and appeals to miracles demonstrate this perfectly.
- Bad faith is arrogant and unteachable.
Try questioning most prominent evangelical preachers and this is what you will likely find. ‘I am right because God says so.’ How pitifully ignorant.
- Bad faith is dishonest.
I’ve mainly witnessed this with the many ways the character of God is justified in his many inhumane acts in the Bible, or in describing suffering.
- Bad faith is apathetic.
This is probably my pet peeve. Ever since my early days as a Christian, I wanted a relevant faith, one which inspires me to action. Yet the church was nothing more than an activity of learning and focus on the afterlife.
- Bad faith is a step backward.
It certainly was for me. Rather than developing my character, I spent too many years in ignorance, fear, and guilt. Instead of becoming a better person, I just found another channel to be selfish.
Naturally, good faith is the inverse of the above:
- Good faith is humble, teachable, and inquisitive.
- Good faith is grateful (or, worth celebrating).
- Good faith is honest.
- Good faith is communal.
- Good faith is active.
- Good faith is tough (able to cope with rigorous challenge).
- Good faith is relational (involves a human-divine relationship).
I have seen hints of the above, but nothing substantial, hence my lack of comments. Given the fact that I don’t really have faith at present, I am not sure whether I can assert if good faith does exist. I am open to it, which is the reason for reading this book.
In chapter 3, Brian McLaren answers the question, How Does Faith Grow?. He gives us a rich description of four stages of faith, with each subsequent stage being a transition from the previous. I will summarise these stages below.
Stage 1: Simplicity
This appears to be the majority position in Christianity – fundamentalism, being right, authoritarianism, dualistic.
Stage 2: Complexity
This stage is concerned with pragmatism; efficiency; achievement. It’s more focused on ways of living than on right doctrine. It can be moved to through disillusion with the previous stage.
Stage 3: Perplexity
I’d say I sit here. This is where questions are asked, where uncertainty takes the stage. This tends to be relativistic, as it finds no universal or absolute truth. It occurs through finding the previous stages to be superficial and lacking of substance and depth.
Stage 4: Humility
This stage is a synthesis of the previous stages, concerned with wisdom and some basic truth. However, it is a different relationship to authority, living, and certainty. There seems to be with this stage an openness to life within a depth of trust in God.
As I consider these stages, I am wondering whether I have known anyone personally who has moved through all stages. The groups I have been amongst would have sat primarily in the first two stages. I have been dabbling in that second stage lately, though I am coming to a realization that it is just too superficial for a rich life. One group, leaning more on the liberal side, was pretty much stuck in stage 3. McLaren, Pete Rollins, and others within the emergent crew seem to display stage 4 characteristics. To me, this stage embodies what I have always dreamed faith could be.
I almost reached the end of Finding Faith. However, I decided to stop reading and gave the book to a secondhand bookshop. While I was enthusiastic with the opening chapters, I felt the flow slowly go down into the same territory that I have already found dissatisfying. God, as a personal deity, is expected to be trusted no matter what. Doubt and disbelief in such a God is seen as an anomaly, as a kind of sickness that requires healing.