Archive for November, 2013
Time: Sunrise – 6:45 a.m.
Temperature: 28 degrees
Place: Tredegar Ironworks, north bank of the James River
People: 50 fellow RVA runners
Yesterday was Coach Dan’s THKS Pipeline 10K. The James River overflowed the pipeline this year and standing ice patches were scattered about, but there was no better way to start Thanksgiving Day. Coach Dan likes it warm. Give me the cold any day. It was early and it was cold, but we were thankful that we were able to run and enjoy each others fellowship.
Coach Dan & Bruce
A brief post wishing everyone a wonderful, faith-filled Thanksgiving. I can do little more than point you to my friends recent Faith & Values column – written for today and this day.
Click here to see Bill Mims’ article: “Faith & Values: Thanksgiving – the four Fs”
Yesterday, our post was “Doubt, Faith, and Truth in The Race Before Us.“ The same day RZIM circulated the “Slice of Infinity” below, coincidentally on essentially the same topic as we addressed in my first class. RZIM is Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Ravi’s books and CDs and downloads played a big part in the spiritual journey in The Race Before Us. RZIM helped establish the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, where I studied my “six weeks in Oxford” earlier this year. RZIM sponsored the conference in India I spoke at in September. You can find a wealth of resources and you can contribute to RZIM at http://www.rzim.org. You can also subscribe to the daily Slice of Infinity email at that website. (If you mention my name, they will send you the email each day for no charge.)
Returning to today’s post, this “Slice” addresses the same question we tackled in class Sunday and I attempted to summarize yesterday. Margaret Manning does a much better job. (This will be required reading for class this Sunday.)
A final note about “coincidences.” As I have mentioned here before, I am becoming increasingly skeptical of coincidences.
A final note about posts this week – unusual volume, but what better week to offer more. Two more posts this week and hopefully Coach Dan will be back next week.
What Is the Nature of Faith?
What is the nature of faith? Is faith the sort of thing that is like an impenetrable fortress? Is it a sense of absolute certainty, as is found in mathematical formulae, with consistent and guaranteed results? Or is the nature of faith like the feeling one gets when barely hanging on—fingers fatigued, sweaty, and slowly slipping off of whatever prop, cliff, or ledge that holds one from falling into the abyss of disbelief?
I wonder about the nature of faith as I encounter so many different perspectives and experiences with faith. After profound loss, for example, many individuals suffer what is described as a ‘crisis of faith.’ All that seemed a sure foundation before the loss crumbles under the weight of crisis. For others, faith seems a swinging pendulum that vacillates between certainty and doubt. The poet Emily Dickinson wrote that “we both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour…”.(1) Still for others faith is a constant assurance, a sense of strength and repose regardless of the assaults to it.
Of course, to ask about the nature of faith is to inquire about the nature of trust and belief. As such, it is not simply a conversation among religious adherents, but a real question over which humans wrestle whether they acknowledge it explicitly or not. We make decisions each and every day about whether or not we will trust the bus driver and the bus to get us to work. We make decisions to trust other drivers on the highway that they will keep their vehicles under control and not careen into our lane of traffic. We make decisions to trust individuals—spouses, children, friends, employers. The exercise of trust is a basic requirement for relationships and for living in this world.
This is why it is so interesting to me that talk of ‘faith’ is often relegated to the margin that is religious discourse. To have ‘faith’ or ‘trust’ or ‘belief’ in scientific studies is simply assumed because science has become the standard by which truth is measured. And yet, even scientists exercise ‘faith’ in a relationship to a tradition of knowledge. Assumptions, assured findings from the past, and the methods of science all become a part of the relationship between faith and knowledge. Sometimes, even this relationship comes under testing when what were once considered ‘true’ results are called into question by new assumptions and new data.(2) Relationships are dynamic; going through ebbs and flows, ups and downs, changes and stasis. As such, it seems a complete category mistake to speak of faith and certainty in the same sentence-even in the realm of science. As author Philip Yancey asserts about the necessary uncertainty of faith, “Doubt always coexists with faith, for in the presence of certainty who would need faith at all?”(3)
It is reasonable, then, to wonder aloud about the nature of faith. One ought to be wary of arriving at a simple definition. For C.S. Lewis, one of the great spokesmen on behalf of the Christianity, the nature of faith was complicated and something that was not easily understood. In his heart-wrenching memoir, A Grief Observed, Lewis writes: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box.”(4) I believe Lewis articulates a profound dynamic of faith—one never really knows what it is until it is tested. Yet, once tested the true nature of one’s faith is revealed-even when it is revealed to be wanting. In these times, we can reflect honestly about that in which we’ve placed our trust and whether the subject or object of trust is warranted.
Yet, even here where one’s faith might be revealed for what it is and what it is not, there is room for growth and for hope. Philip Yancey reflects that, “What gives me hope, though, is that Jesus worked with whatever grain of faith a person might muster. He did, after all honor the faith of everyone who asked, from the bold centurion to doubting Thomas to the distraught father who cried, ‘I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!’”(5)
The true nature of faith is inextricably bound to relationship. As such, it is subject to all of the intricacies and complexities of relationship. At times unshakable and strong, and at other times revealed to be flabby and weak, the nature of faith is dynamic. But entering into a relationship of trust with the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth assures me that despite the complexities, and despite my often small offering of faith, I am welcomed into a relationship anyway. And as my faith is tested, its true nature is progressively revealed.
Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
(1) From a letter to Otis Lord, April 30, 1882; Thomas H. Johnson, ed., The Letters of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge: Belknap, 1958), 728.
(2) As is seen in the recent studies that showed a new gauge for cholesterol was flawed. Cardiologists learned that a new online calculator meant to help them determine a patient’s suitability for cholesterol treatment was flawed, doubling the estimated risk of heart attack or stroke for the average patient. See Gina Kolata, “Flawed gauge for cholesterol risk poses new challenge,” NY Times, November 18, 2013.
(3) Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God: What Do We Expect to Find? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 41.
(4) C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperCollins ebooks, 2009), loc 326-329.
(5) Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God: What Do We Expect to Find, 40.
This past Sunday at church I taught a class based upon my book: “Doubt, Faith and Truth in The Race Before Us.” I thought I’d share some of that class, which is in two parts. This is Part I: “Doubt & Faith.”
As we discussed in class, “doubt & faith” can often be viewed as two sides to the same coin. Arguably, the more we doubt, the weaker our faith is – and we acknowledged that most of us have questions of doubt from time to time. We took a moment to realize that we should not lose heart or stress too much when we have our doubts because many others in a better position to have confidence have questioned their faith. We briefly looked at John the Baptist sending his own disciples to ask Jesus if He (Jesus) was the true messiah (“are you the one who is to come?”). The curiosity there (the question of doubt) is that earlier in Jesus’ life (in the same gospel) it was this same John who baptized Jesus and was greeted by God saying “this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV).
As I attempted to do in my journey and in The Race Before Us, the class took the time to consider – what does it mean to have faith? This may seem simple, but it caused a fair bit of confusion and anxiety for me. You see, somewhere along the way, I had accepted unconsciously a modern, secular definition (arguably a “redefinition”) of the word “faith.” For much of contemporary society, particularly atheists and skeptics, “faith” is believing in something unsupported by evidence or even despite evidence to the contrary – making a “leap of faith.” I also learned in my Sunday School class and during my journey, that many Christians accept this as the correct formulation of the meaning of “faith.” But it is not correct and any conversation that begins with that assumption is not going to turn out well for the believer. (Stated differently, it is neither admirable nor biblical to insist that the strength of your faith is measured by how little evidence may exist to support it. During my journey and as explained in The Race Before Us, I learned that great contemporary Christian thinkers like Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller go to great lengths to show how and why belief is wholly rational.)
So, if faith is not believing despite the evidence, what is a correct definition for “faith” in the context of Christian belief? That is precisely what I asked myself and here is how I addressed it (in class and) in my book:
I wrote down what I thought was the clearest statement of faith in the Bible, Hebrews 11:1: “Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” If this is the test, what was it that “we hope for” and what is it that “we do not see”? As I was struggling with this issue, I listened to an interview on the Apologetics 315 website during which the guest mentioned that the word faith had lost its meaning in contemporary society and that confident trust is a good substitute for the word faith. That reference reminded me of a message by Alistair Begg entitled “What is Faith?”
I found that podcast still in my iTunes library, and during my next morning run, I listened to it again. Probably the reason I made the connection was that Begg said something similar about faith. Central to faith, he said, is trust in what Christ has done. He said “Faith is knowledge, assent to the knowledge, and trust on the basis of the knowledge to which I’ve given assent.”
“Knowledge and assent,” he continued, “are less than trust.” Begg then used the analogy of a title deed. Christians have been given a title deed to heaven that they have not seen. Just as we trust that property represented by a deed is real even if we haven’t seen it, we need to trust that heaven and all the promises of Christ are real even if we have not seen them.
Our class concluded by looking at what [I now know] are well-recognized “steps to faith” – specifically, Christian faith involves three steps:
1. knowledge of Christ and what He has done
2. assent to the truth (or accuracy) of that knowledge
3. personal trust in the knowledge to which is given intellectual assent
The better way, therefore, to look at “faith” is to think of it as a process of placing one’s trust in something – and for the Christian, it is in the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, making that decision to so place your trust is a rational act – there are many reasons to believe, which is really the study of apologetics – something for another day and many other posts.
Editor’s Note: Last week I actually tried to practice what I wrote in my Faith & Values column – I became a spectator, coach, cheering squad, and tour guide at the Richmond Marathon for two runners attempting their first marathon runs – my niece Caitlin and my daughter’s boyfriend Matt. I had a great time with family and friends watching and cheering and celebrating accomplishment. In this post The Race Before Us asks Matt some questions about his first 26.2 mile run.
1. What surprised you the most about running the marathon?
The fact that it helped me eliminate “I can’t” from my dictionary. I started at the beginning of this fall as a casual runner with usually a 10k max distance (although I did two half marathon distance runs just sort of messing around previously). Looking at the training plan I found online and seeing runs of distances that I had never even attempted, I couldn’t help but sometimes think “there is no way I can ever be able to do this”. But, I took the long runs a week at a time and soon was running distances I never imagined possible. The thing that really surprised me was that I was able to push through all of the challenges of training for and actually running in a marathon while beating the overall goal I set out to run the marathon in (Goal: 3:45, actual time: 3:43:48). It really boosted my self-confidence and showed myself that if I can accomplish this, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.
2. What was most fun? What was toughest?
The most fun was defiantly the race itself. Never having run in a competitive race, the entire atmosphere aided with the spectators as well as my family/friends cheering me on really made it great. [Editor’s Note: Matt had never run in an organized race before – no 5Ks or 10Ks and no 1/2 marathons. Matt started with 26.2 and not only finished in 3:44, but had a goal of 3:45.] Getting to run all over Richmond was also a blast. From running Downtown to along the James, the entire race was always filled with great scenery.
The toughest would most certainly be all of the training. I started seriously training the last week of August and put in 317 miles before race day. Running in the cold, heat, rain, wind, etc, wasn’t always fun, so getting myself motivated was sometimes a struggle.
3. What did you enjoy about training, or the race itself, the most?
The thing I enjoyed most was seeing my family/friends as I rounded the last corner towards the finish line. Miles 22-25 were really a struggle physically and mentally, so seeing everyone plus the finish line was really one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.
4. What role did The Race Before Us play in your race?
It really helped me feel better reading that someone else struggled with some of the same issues I was having. I almost always didn’t have an “itch” to get out there and run, like Mr. Matson, but I almost always felt better after a run. Also, a big part The Race played was helping me realize that saying “I don’t have time to run” really isn’t a valid excuse. Everyone is busy, but setting aside that time to run really helped me center myself after a tough day, as well as stay in shape, so finding a way to set aside that time is really pretty essential.
This excerpt from The Race Before Us begins with a quotation from C.S. Lewis (perhaps one of his most famous):
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [The Race Before Us, p. 106 – quoting C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone Books, 1996), 56.]
So that’s the ultimate question. Having concluded that one thing I knew was that Jesus was a real person of history, these questions obviously followed: If Jesus Christ actually existed, was he also the Son of Man? Was he God? He had existed, but did exist today? How can I find the answer these questions? How can I determine if Jesus is Lord or lunatic? I wondered, what would persuade me that Jesus was who he claimed to be. (excerpt from The Race Before Us)
This post is meant only to be a brief introduction to C.S. Lewis and to point you to a great new — FREE — resource about C.S. Lewis, whose writings had a profound impact on me. His book Mere Christianity (which was the answer to my contest when I was “six weeks in Oxford”) is one of the most read of all books on Christianity and may be credited with bringing more to Christ than any other book (other than the Bible itself). Lewis is also well-known for his works of fiction, including children’s fiction such as the Chronicles of Narnia. For much more about C.S. Lewis, click on this link.
To help commemorate the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death, the C.S. Lewis Institute is offering this book – C.S. Lewis: A Profile in Faith – to anyone as an e-book download for free. Just click here or on the book image below and you will be able to download your own copy. (Curiously, Lewis died on the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated – fifty years ago this past Friday.)
Disclosure: Bruce serves on the board of the C.S. Lewis Institute. To learn more, sign up for free newsletters or to get other resources go to C.S Lewis Institute or click on the image below.
A final note – some people avoid reading material from “older” sources believing that what’s new or “modern” is by its very nature better or superior. Lewis referred to this tendency as “chronological snobbery.” Here’s one of his comments on this topic, taken from his autobiographical memoir, Surprised by Joy:
|“||Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my “chronological snobbery,” the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.||”|
I mention this only because one misses some extraordinary — and relevant — writing by falling victim to chronological snobbery and overlooking C.S. Lewis.