A Mindless Faith

It seems that people are thinking less and less. I see it in my kids’ classes, I see it in politics and popular media, and worst of all I see it in the church. Few people care what what the bible says. Even fewer know what the bible actually means. The bible has become a grab bag of quotes that we use like fortunes from cookies to build our own theology. From the same book, we see people build prosperity theology and poverty theology. From the same book, people argue for and against alcohol. Opponents and proponents of slavery referred to the same book. What the bible says actually can be known, but it takes more than reading t-shirts and bumper stickers to understand it. Are you willing to invest the time?

The future of the health of Christianity in America is fundamentally going to depend upon whether believers are able to defend their faith. This is not a value that we hold. We value worship, the scriptures, giving to the poor, confessing sin, and having good solid families, but we [Christians] tend to be an intellectually lazy people. – JP Moreland

When I posted the above quote on my Facebook wall, Anthony Weber made the following statement:

It’s tough to love God with all your mind when you don’t use it. Intelligence is a gift (one which we share with God Himself), and yet we too often sacrifice it on the altar of emotion. A faith with no heart is cold, but a faith with no brains is stupid.

Romans 12:2 tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It does not say we should seek spiritual growth by the overwhelming of your emotions or by shared experiences. Yet, what do we do by and large? Feeling is easier. It is passive. All we have to do is react. Many books and theologies today come as a result of being emotionally moved rather than by an infusion of knowledge.

Paul instructs us to have the mind of Christ. That is both our starting point and our goal. We are not told to have the feelings of Christ. If we think as he thinks, we will be moved in the same way he is moved. If you have the mind of Christ, you can’t help it. Emotions are not unimportant, but they are secondary; they should not be the root of our faith.

Here are some quotes recently posted by Anthony Weber from a book called “God is Not One” by Stephen Prothero, followed by Anthony’s closing thoughts:

“Doctrine is particularly important to Christians…”

“For the most part, early Christians defined themselves theologically…”

“The major schisms in church history have been driven to a great extent by doctrinal disagreements, and Christians have had few qualms, at least until modern times, about rooting out heretics through institutions such as the Inquisition. Today the price of admission to the Christian family continues to be orthodoxy (right thought) rather than orthopraxy (right practice.)”

“Because of the Protestant’s insistence that all could (and should) read the Bible in their own language, by the light of individual conscience and with minimal (if any) reference to tradition, Protestantism itself splintered.”

“As evangelicalism expanded its footprint, experience and emotion trumped doctrine and the intellect.  Though more Christians came to see the Bible as the inspired Word of God, fewer seemed interested in what God had to say…Anti-intellectuals boasted of their homespun ignorance, and Christians embraced a Scarecrow faith, their hearts overpowering their brains….evangelicalism was an insurrection of the heart against the mind.”

“Like fundamentalism, with which it is often confused, Pentacostalism is a twentieth-century invention.  Unlike fundamentalism, which accents doctrine, Pentacostalism accents experience…”

“Whereas Luther liberated Christians from what had become for many a tyranny of good works, Pentacostalism liberates Christianity from the tyranny of belief…experience mattered more than doctrine.  And experience is Pentacostalism’s bread and butter – the experience of being inhabited by the awesome power of God.”

His claim is that Christianity is moving from a faith-based religion of orthodoxy to an experientially-based religion in which orthodox adherence to creeds is no longer significant. Assuming he is correct, here is my question:

Does it matter that experience is replacing doctrine as the foundation for our relationship with God?

  • This isn’t really a response to your specific question, but I think Christians are thinking more and more. The danger is that we’re thinking about the fact that some of the objections to Christianity are becoming more and more reasonable to us. We don’t know how to resolve, and we’re ridiculed more and more for blind faith, so we desperately seek to find a type of Christianity that reconciles more easily with non-Christian worldview. We’re not actually digging into the Scriptures, because we no longer fully trust them. We THINK a lot, we don’t seek God as we should. And I am the chief of sinners.

  • This isn’t really a response to your specific question, but I think Christians are thinking more and more. The danger is that we’re thinking about the fact that some of the objections to Christianity are becoming more and more reasonable to us. We don’t know how to resolve, and we’re ridiculed more and more for blind faith, so we desperately seek to find a type of Christianity that reconciles more easily with non-Christian worldview. We’re not actually digging into the Scriptures, because we no longer fully trust them. We THINK a lot, we don’t seek God as we should. And I am the chief of sinners.

  • Hey Bernard – thanks.
    I hear what you’re saying. In the scenario you describe though, I’m not sure I’d call that thinking; at least not in the sense I’m using. It’s more like reacting, or spinning. It’s more a political enterprise than it is an honest attempt to find truth. Sure, mental processes are involved, but they aren’t actively engaging in how to defend the faith, they are trying to figure out a way to make it more palatable. If we’re compromising in order to reconcile wolrdviews rather than dealing with these things objectively, is that “thinking” of any real value?

  • Yep, you’re right. It’s a tough situation.

  • To add to that, this is part of why I am personally convoluted about “things”. I don’t experience the emotional “high” that I once did relative to things “churchy”. I find myself falling more and more on “creedal” thinking because experience is failing me. Yet, I don’t do very well with that, either 🙂

  • I can sympathize. I find myself in the same place.

  • Does it matter? Of course it matters. Tell me how you can have reliable and measurable content when all you are relying on is an emotional experience.
    Satan has done great damage to the church by playing “bait-and-switch” and substituting the Holy Spirit with adrenalin and endorphins.

  • Wow. Love your last sentence. Too true.

  • Great stuff and impressive points. It is fascinating how that word experiential is integrated with the Bible. Kudos to your approach.

  • Thanks Anthony! I appreciate it!

  • I’m with you, Bernard. Scott and I have had a short discussion on “creeds” recently. I find them inadequate because the traditional creeds, such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, have themselves become corrupted by a variety of diseases, mostly wrong thinking (for lack of a better word). Referring to “one holy and catholic church” doesn’t bring to mind what the original author intended, nor does the addition of the phrase “apostolic.” Both terms are now understood quite differently from their original meanings, which twists the whole thing into a doctrinal knot.

    Relying on the “emotional high” doesn’t work, either, because emotions are even less reliable than any sort of personal or public creed. As somebody who has clinical depression along with panic disorder & general anxiety disorder (with the somewhat-frequent social anxiety disorder lurking backstage), I’ve “experienced” first-hand how much of a roller coaster emotions become. My wife, who was raised steeped in the Pentecostal Holiness movement (think “legalistic to the max” and “major emotional high” simultaneously, if it doesn’t completely snap your synapses [pun intended]), is now realizing the lie that lies behind the emotional high being referred to as “having church.”

    I may be wrong, but I believe that, outside of the skin (or, rather, inside it), the brain is the biggest organ in our bodies. Maybe that’s a clue?

  • I’m saving that last sentence for reference. Major truth there!!!

  • I’m saving that last sentence for reference. Major truth there!!!

  • Good stuff Joe. Though you and I will likely continue to disagree on the creeds. 😉

  • Understood. I guess you never had the experience of having the liturgical — which included the two classic creeds I mentioned — drain the living Spirit out of you. Be thankful for that.

    Meanwhile I’ll continue to deal with the feeling that “catholic” and “apostolic” brings up.

  • True enough.

    I’ll hold to the creeds and their underlying source – not their abuse that you experienced. If we throw them out because of nonsensical interpretations rooted in misuse of words, then we ought to throw out the Constitution because “promoting the general welfare” has taken on a whole new meaning. How ’bout we band together and throw out all the lunatics? 🙂

  • For me, I find a more solid comfort in the creeds because they don’t change relative to my feelings. I find emotionally based “worship” to be extremely disconcerting, but I don’t disapprove of it just because it’s emotional. I just have a hard time trusting it.

  • Well, we need to think about creed(s), rather than make them part of the “mindless faith” you speak of in this post. (How’s that for getting back on-topic? 😀 )

    I wouldn’t equate a creed with the Constitution, though. The Constitution doesn’t merely describe the foundation of our country; it is the foundation document of our country. I’d equate the Bible to the Constitution, at least in terms of importance to the thing to which each is related. (OK, that’s not quite accurate, either, but I hope you get the idea.) In other words, I don’t base my faith on a creed; I base it in the Bible. As that one article you pointed me to says, a creed provides an important summary of one’s faith. When it becomes the foundation of one’s faith, you have lost sight of what’s important.

  • You actually described my opinion of the Apostle’s & Nicene Creeds quite well. I find worship that include the recitation of one or both of those “extremely disconcerting,” but I don’t disapprove of it just because it’s rote recitation. I just have a hard time trusting it.

    On the other hand, I feel the same way about pedal-to-the-metal emotional Charismaniac chaos.

  • Hmmm … Disqus should’ve noticed the link from my blog post to this one as a trackback. (sigh) I see now why you went with WordPress.

  • And we’ll definitely agree that “extremely disconcerting” is a problematic situation, regardless of why it occurs. I’ve never really “done” creedal recitations – my point in leaning in that direction is that I’m interested in exploring a bit of that because I can’t trust my emotions in general, since they hardly exist.