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Bishop Spong on “What is Faith”

Q&A With Bishop John Shelby Spong

Question & Answer


Q: By Russ

What do we mean by the word “faith?”  People, who would dismiss us as anti-intellectual, ridicule faith with the presumption that it means believing in things that are hard to believe in or believing in things that are contrary to known facts.  I know this is not what we Christians mean by that word (outside the evangelical fringe), but I don’t have good words to explain it. Can you help?

A: By Bishop John Shelby Spong

Dear Russ,

I can try. Faith in its original biblical meaning had more to do with trust than it does with believing.  This trust was not in the conviction that all would be well, but that whatever tomorrow brings, God would be present in it.  That is why the author of the epistle to the Hebrews could write that it was “by faith that Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees” to form a new nation in a new place.  It was “by faith” that Moses left the known of Egypt for the unknown of the wilderness.

Later in Christian history “faith” was connected with believing certain propositional statements.  That was when the creeds began to be called expressions of “the Faith.”  Actually, this was little more that idolatry.  Creeds represent the human and ecclesiastical assertion that the mystery and wonder of God can actually be captured in something that human beings have created.  That is in creeds, doctrines or dogmas.  This practice is also the source of the development of religious imperialism, which ultimately gave birth to the Inquisition, to religious persecution, to religious wars and many other evils.

Creeds are at the best pointers to the mystery of God.  They are not and should never have been allowed to become strait jackets that we were required to put on in order to pretend that we have captured the truth of God.

The first creed of the church was only three words.  It was an affirmation that “Jesus is Messiah” rather than a set of beliefs.  To call Jesus “messiah” was to claim that in the life of Jesus the transcendent power of the divine has been met and engaged.  I think this is still the best creed the church has ever formulated.

In a word (or two), I define faith as “having the courage to be.”

~ Bishop John Shelby Spong
   (December 8, 2011)

Originally published here

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