Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Honest and Safe Places of Refuge for the Journey of Faith

I recently read In Search of a Confident Faith: Overcoming Barriers to Trusting in God by J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler (IVP, 2008).  In the first chapter they speak about "What Faith Is...and What It Isn't."  They tease out the differences between unbelief ("a willful and sinful setting of oneself against a biblical teaching") and doubt ("an intellectual, emotional or psychological hindrance to a more secure confidence in some teaching or in God himself--I believe something but just have doubts").   Moreland and Issler address the need of being able to deal with doubt--both intellectual and emotional--in realistic ways.  In the process they state these words which I found profoundly moving and challenging (both at an individual level as well as at a church level):
Thus, we now have a stifling, stagnating situation in the evangelical community: People do not feel safe in expressing doubt or lack of belief about some doctrinal point—even the question of whether they actually believe in God.  The result is that people hide what they actually believe from others, and even from themselves, all the while continuing to use faith-talk to avoid being socially ostracized in their local fellowship.  Because we do not fully understand assensus (and fiducia; see below), we have unintentionally created a situation in which people do not know how to distinguish what they believe from what they say they believe.  Thus, they substitute community jargon for authentic trust.  To effectively address this situation, we must create safe, honest, nondefensive fellowships in which people are given permission to be  on a faith journey, with all the warts, messiness and setbacks that are part of such a journey.  We must also address general and specific intellectual doubts, provide insights about the affective, emotional hindrances to growth in confidence in God, and become more intentional about bearing credible witnesses to each other regarding answers to prayer and other supernatural experiences that strengthen faith.  (p. 22) 
"They substitute community jargon for authentic trust"--powerfully true!  This happens in the church and it happens in families of believers.  We need to be aware of this dynamic.  "Fighting the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6.12) deserves so much more than "community jargon."