Culture

Faith: Simple or simple-minded?

Faith is a simple matter. But simplicity cannot be an excuse for ignorance

by Kenneth Chew // December 30, 2016, 1:21 pm

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It’s sad how we are called to unity, yet nothing divides like religion. When confronted with doubt and growing cultural opposition to organised religion, Christians may be tempted to respond in the four following ways:

1. TAKE IT (BLINDLY)

Guard your mind, the Bible says. So you go to the extreme of rejecting knowledge and science altogether. Allowing Christian groupthink and confirmation bias to soothe the turmoil in your heart. Pray away the doubt. Don’t study certain subjects, lest they stumble you. Block out the bad/worldly stuff. Simple faith, right?

Please don’t be that “Christian”. That isn’t being faithful – it’s being faithless, the servant who tells the master, “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matt 25:25). The ignorant Christian has lost all credibility when engaging the world.

2. LEAVE IT

“Oh, I believe in God, I just don’t go to Church because …” There is a tendency for modern Christians to crucify their “faith” on the altar of practicality and adopt a culturally popular worldview in its place.

In this age of “reason”, it’s all about proof. With the emphasis on strong rationality it doesn’t take much to write off Christianity as nothing more than an outdated childhood tradition used to accumulate power. So many choose to move on to something more rigorous, tangible, evidential.

3. COMPARTMENTALISE IT

Here’s where most of us are, thanks to our culture of specialisation. We segregate our lives into different boxes, each to be opened for a certain activity or day, and closed thereafter.

In church, we open the box of faith and give God praise. But when the school week begins, we open the box of academia, because your professors like the atheist stance in your essays. But always pack up properly before you move to the next activity so you’ll never have to confront the notion that your beliefs are inconsistent.

Before long, we move towards theological apathy because, well, our faith isn’t real to begin with apart from on Sunday and Christmas. We pick up the practice and tradition of Christianity without knowing what anything means beyond a simple axiom or because my senior pastor said so.

Congregations of theologically apathetic Christians form a theologically apathetic church.

4. INTEGRATE IT

What we should seek is integration – where we ingest and internalise principles of faith together with anything else you learn (science, history, philosophy, accounting, and so on). You want to develop a holistic worldview where faith is life and power in all that you do.

Great!

Unfortunately, in our bid to integrate all this, well-meaning Christians may also emphasise the tolerant and experiential aspects of the faith while downplaying orthodoxy. These days, it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. But is it entirely accurate to describe our faith that way?

Oh come on! What theology? That’s archaic stuff. Just know that God is good. It’s what you feel. Jump right into ministry, sing your love songs, and have simple faith – learn anything but doctrine, which is legalistic and outdated. Amazing Grace, remember? Because of Jesus, you can taste salvation with John 3:16 and sheer willpower. Jesus is my Saviour, I can do all things, and He has plans to prosper me.

Meanwhile, the big questions remain unanswered, and doubt lingers in closets and under old rugs. If we really struggle with a concept – say, the idea of the Trinity – we might talk to a especially learned pastor, or search the archives for an old book written by Augustine of Hippo or Athanasius of Alexandria. Any more than that, we say, is beyond us.

But don’t you see something wrong? The outsourced approach is ineffective because faith is a personal affair.

The key to that integration ideal is a deep personal grasp of Christian theology – an honest and critical study of God, primarily revealed in the Bible. We need to be able to connect the dots ourselves, not have them connected by someone who may or may not know what they’re talking about.

FOR EVERYONE, THEOLOGY IS INEVITABLE

Without guidance and direction, faith is just mystical and an abstract, empty shell of spirituality. We believe what we want to believe, disregarding truth altogether.

This isn’t a call to legalism, but understanding. Though it cost all you have, get understanding (Proverbs 4:7).

It’s time to take ownership of our faith. It’s time to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have.

We struggle to understand concepts that are abstract, variable to interpretation, and out of context. We cannot effectively apply without understanding.

Neglecting theology – the study and understanding of God – is dangerous, for theology gives the contextual meaning to faith, relationship, the person of Jesus, the call to ministry, our purpose in life, and spiritual experiences.

It’s time to take ownership of our faith. It’s time to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15).

Thank God for theologians, but it’s time we became theologians too. Why settle for feeding on others’ scraps? Why subscribe only to a faith for the simple-minded?

Open your mind to the vast body of truth personally revealed to generations of believers gone before us, and behold the fullness of the new life. Simple faith is merely the beginning.

About the author

Kenneth Chew

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.