Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Face(book) of My Faith

Is my faith best measured by those who believe like I do, or those who stand outside it looking in critically?

This was the question I asked on a tweet on New Year's Day.  Once my tweet made it across the not so great divide from Twitter to Facebook it turned into a discussion.  The thrusting and parrying of terms turned into a wildly different set of values about faith over the next 46 comments.

The comments can be divided up into four basic responses:

1) Our faith is personal.  No one should be able to judge it.
2) Those on the inside - who believe like we do are the only one's who have a valid judgment point from which to gauge the validity of our spiritual strength, and the stability of our faith.
3) Outsiders (those who do not believe as we do) are a better gauge of our faith than those who think just as we do.
4) a general "neither" with some leaning toward the idea that only God is a real judge of faith.

Then there were some random asides which were bunny trails off the main point.

The group of people responding was a combination of conservative Christians, liberal Christians, a couple Neo-Pagans, and some harder to define people. 

Faith as a personal unjudgeable element was held out as the option by those who were from every position - conservative and liberal Christian, and Neo-Pagan.  Responding "neither" was similarly spread across the demographic.  Responding that insiders and/or outsiders were the better judges came only from the conservative leaning evangelicals, with those who are most missional minded responding that outsiders were the better judges. 

My question was not presented as query about the general validity of measuring a person's faith, as much as a recognition that it happens in this world today whether we like it or not.  In typical missiological (missional for the more trackable pop term) consideration (since that is my bent) I wondered about this as it relates to the betterment of the faith system I value - Christianity - yet, not as a denominational system, but a more as mystical invisible line of demarcation - i.e those who know God generally as I know God, and follow Jesus in living measurable faith.

Off the Facebook grid, someone on Twitter responded that our faith was measured by our works.  Harkening back to our Bible buddy James we know that this is a biblical concept - so it fits into my worldview, but I am still left with the question, who judges those visible works of my faith best?  those who think like I do, or those who are critically evaluating my faith works (from here on out I will create a new word "faithworks") from an outsider's perspective?

The problem with an insider's perspective of my faithworks is that since they think like I do, they are far more likely to have the same blind spots, and myopic evaluations of Christianity that I have.  Their view of my faith will be tainted by the little cultural, western, 20th century, evangelical Christian paradigm I have lived within.  If our faith system has been off course by 2ยบ for a couple centuries we may be miles away from plumb, and not know it, because we have been told we are on the course of the straight and narrow our whole lives.  We have even been given scripture references and proof texts to validate our experience.

Now of course, the problem with the outsider's critical view is that their expectation of my faithworks may be tainted by a cultural bias against my traditions.  Sexual mores, theological misstatements by church leaders, abuse int he name of religion may all play a part in a skewed reference point, and an automatic rejection of my faith system as a completely broken and invalid system of belief.

Since I am missional and driven that way by a deep seated desire to adventure into faithworks I am less concerned with how my cronies view my faith.  This of course is dangerous.  It could get one excommunicated by golly!  But I want my faith to live in places where my "kind of faith" is typically lampooned.

Furthermore I choose (please note the word "choose") to view those who critically look at my faith as people who are typically well intentioned and in search of authenticity.  I tell myself that they have probably rejected Christianity for a good reason.  There are after all a couple reasons to do so.  Maybe a few.  Okay maybe a whole bunch.  If I truly view them as being on an authentic search then I place a mantle of nobility upon them.  In the course of the discussion it was observed that I appeared to place something that looked like the Romanticist's innocent savage moniker upon everyone who criticized Christianity.  I responded by saying that although I did not have a Rousseauan noble savage anthropology, looking for the noble in the savage appeared quite Christ-like to me.  (This will probably become a whole new post at some point soon.)

Now I know that on a person to person basis there will be Christians whose evaluation of my faith is beneficial and valuable.  I also know that there will be Christians who expect me to live up to some culturally established set of unwritten and silly rules.  Similarly these potentials will occur with those whose faith is different than my own, but this I do know:  I more frequently value the critique of my faith from those on the outside of it, more than those from the inside.

Some would say that this could lead to syncretism - that I might adapt my faith to fit their cultural and religious expectations.  To that insider's critique I say:  Do you think that we may have been off a couple of degrees for sometime now?  Maybe our friends on the outside looking in at Christianity have something valuable to say to us.

P.S.  I really liked Marshall's response, "Faith is always measured by ones self and enjoy(ed) or tested with others." I don't think Marshall would call himself a Christian.  Of course, I view my faith as being ultimately tested by God, but Marshall, your response rocks.


Jarred said...

One of the common threads I noted in most of those categories (I don't see it as much in #3, but that could just be because of your word choice) is the tendency to immediately equate measuring and criticizing one's faith with judging one's faith in order to determine it's validity. There's a potential universe of difference between the two concepts.

I can offer a criticism of your faith without commenting on its validity. I can offer points where I find your theology uncompelling or weak, but that doesn't necessarily mean your faith is invalid either. Those areas of your theology may just need to be adjusted to some degree or another. Or maybe they just need to be better explored to offer stronger, clearer explanations.

And of course, that also brings up the unfortunate tendency of some to take an "all-or-nothing" approach to faith. I can severely criticize one aspect of your faith without immediately taking that to mean the whole faith is complete horse-hockey with no value. As an example, I'm pretty sure we have fairly different sexual mores, and I certainly disagree with yours. But I can also say many positive things for your theological and practical stance on issues like compassion and hospitality. And I'm far more concerned with how you theologically work out how you should respond to those of us who do disagree with your sexual mores. ;)

Personally, I tend to think that critiques that come from members of your own faith group and those that come from those outside of it are both valuable, and most likely of equal value. It's just that they have different strengths and weaknesses. And I think it's fortunate that we don't actually have to live in a world where we can only have one or the other.

cern said...

I wonder why I had the feeling that the topic was one that would be revisited. :D

I happen to agree with your comment in response to Marshall at the end.... ultimately tested by God. But it could lead into an exploration of the true nature of that God (or gods) and whether we (any of us, regardless of our spiritual path) have any real understanding of what that God/those gods might be using as their benchmark for the tests.

I also think that taking that 'ultimate test' concept as a given, our focus can be allowed to shift back to a more 'earthbound' field.... does the positive or negative judgment of others really matter? I would ask 'Does my faith lead me to work for the well being of other beings on the planet, regardless of whether they are a part of my faith community or not?' From the Christian perspective, this could be answered by looking at the concept of God loving all his creations. Consequently, to work for the well being of all of those creations would be working in a way that God might approve of and, as a by product, might also result in positive judgments from those whose lives have been made better for coming into contact.

From my shamanic perspective my role is to serve the community. Why? Because that is what I was charged with when my guides took me to meet those in the upper worlds. Call them manifestations of deity/God as a way of understanding how I perceived those upper world beings. :) As someone living in a 'first world' capital city, I'm not living within a community that has been brought up to recognise shamanic techniques. My community, as I understand it though, is a global community as I perceive a connection between all 'life'. So who would judge MY faith? Given that I have also had those within my 'faith community' make critical comments about my faith as a result of my work with those from other faith communities, I try (with varying degrees of success) not to allow the judgments of others to influence me unless I see something within those judgments that identifies where I might have strayed from what I've understood of my 'calling'. That calling was a personal calling. So ultimately it is between me and my 'gods' to decide when the judgments of others need to be heeded. Interestingly, most of the time, the negative judgments act to reassure me that I am indeed working in accordance with my faith. :)



Anonymous said...

Having missed the earlier discussion (being on holidays and all) on reading your intro I most identified with position 4, with some qualifiers. God is the only real judge of faith, but then, if this faith is real, I'd expect some sort of life transformation as evidence. That being so it is still relevant to ask the question.

But then I run strait into problems. Firsly, having been misunderstood by outsiders on many occasions, I'd have to say outsiders are not always accurate observers. But, as you say, they also have an unnerving habbit of seeing past our blind spots, so they cannot be easily dismissed. And, having also been misunderstood by insiders, I can confidently say insiders aren't perfect observers either. Any yet, having that deeper appreciation for my tradition, they also have the unnerving habit of asking me hard questions.

And so I say, God first, but let's listen to everyone around us, insiders and outsiders, and be open to the possibility that God may be speaking through them.

Unknown said...

i have faith in santa claus...


Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen said...

Despair - Fear - ┼ - Hope - Faith

It seems, Phil used the word "faith" in terms of the content of “his” chosen set of beliefs as may be juxtaposed against and/or aligned with others - hence the outsider/insider debate, which I actually found quite unhelpful. Why? Because we all utilize “faith” in our daily lives regardless of its content and whether or not we have any finite understanding of its dynamics. I suspect the effectiveness (efficacy) of “faith” and/or “hope” in a person’s life could well be measured psycho-metrically given an appropriate and lengthy set of multiple-choice questions with proper controls. Even Atheists and Anti-theists utilize the dynamics of speaking faith (will, can and/or shall) in and over their lives and it’s quite normal for humans to form beliefs based upon information and/or experience with the intention to predict and determine outcomes. As you may have noted from my contribution, I would mostly identify with Phil’s forth (4th) position (see above), while minded, it is written that God’s spirit has been known to communicate through Balaam’s ass! ( Numbers 22:21-30 ), so insiders and/or outsiders (assuming some discernment from the listener) are probably fair game.

Pastor Phil said...


I agree with you that both can be helpful, as well as unhelpful. I also have a tendency to feel that the evaluation of a given faith system may in certain seasons be better served by outsiders, and at other times better served by insiders.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike (Cern),

I like your global versus local division of faith observation you make here. It challenges the concept at a whole new level.

Pastor Phil said...


Why do you have to be so smart and practical. :-) Agreeing with you - pretty much.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Jeremiah,

But did that faith bring you coal or goodies this year?

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Stephen,

Now just a second. My definition and debate were unhelpful? It seems you've got this backward.

I am the originator of the question, consequently how I define that faith (which the rest of the group appears to understands fully, evidenced by their answers) reigns supreme. To miss my definition is to miss the point of the very thing we are talking about. I am not saying my definition is the only existing one, but it is a common and fully acceptable definition for the word.

Furthermore the insider/outsider debate is the point of this whole post. What appears unhelpful to the discussion is redefining the words to do away with the points of tension completely. As you will notice from the original twitter post at the top of this post I call it "my faith" and set that in a comparison/contrast with outsiders and insiders.

This is critical because I do not view faith as a thing. It is a response, and held set of values, but not a literal "thing" in my view. Thus: the difficulty and paradox of measuring it.

This really wasn't meant to be helpful to you anyway. Actually only to me, and I did not expect the surge of responses. Self actualized encouragement is somewhat critical right now unfortunately.

Stephen said...

Phil, In my view, it might have been better, for all of us , if your personal understanding and use of those words "my faith" had at very first opportunity, been explicitly defined, rather than presuming we all fully understood what you meant; which clearly was not the case, as some apparently had little or no clue. Do you recall the plea, "I don't really know nor understand faith"? In my view, an open door and an opportunity missed.

No-one here I think (though I may stand corrected), doubts the origins of your personal question which clearly has validity for you and for all of us who made the time to provide you with our contributions. I merely offered you an alternative opinion for I believe there is another way of looking at "faith" that is fully compatible with our jointly held beliefs. And when people fully grasp its insight, may/can be extraordinarily helpful in their lives. I've spent a lifetime teaching it, helping children understand the power and dynamics of their own faith abilities.

I've not yet succumbed to following Twitter conversations to be able to give you any reasoned response to your third paragraph.

I place faith at the top end of a a bi-polar continuum with a cross at the middle. Faith may not be a thing but like hope, we can gain and loose sight of it. And when we do, the downward spiral invariably leads towards despair.

In writing Phil - I wasn't actually thinking for myself - at all, your initial sales pitch was actually very clever and went a long way towards clarifying my mind, not necessarily to agree with your starting point, but to offer both you and your readers some encouragement from my many years of learning about these very dynamics;where the consistent exercise of faith can work so wonderfully with such enormous power for good in all that we accomplish in our lives.

Kat said...

Thought-provoking. I liked your concept of "faithworks".

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Kat,

Thanks. and thanks for popping in here.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Stephen,

You appear to make an assumption about faith which I do not attribute to it. I could be wrong, but you appear to be making faith a thing with power. Perhaps you are simply attaching a power of positive thinking approach to it, and not actually making it a thing of force similarly to Crowley's definition of will.

In either case you seem to be making faith a stand alone component, which I do not do,and therefore we are back to a place of recognizing that "my faith" and "your faith" may not be the same at all. Your definition attempts to make them the same thing, but mine is re-separates them. This is neither good nor bad, it just is.

You also appear to be trying hard to find a way to stop the critiques of one faith against another. I on the other recognize that those critiques exist, despite John Lennon's imagination , and will not disappear. I therefore choose to embrace the discussion of differences in faith.

Stephen said...

Actually, I rarely assume anything Phil. My request, if you may recall from the outset, was to seek common understanding of our collective usage of that word, “faith” and I intentionally did not place any possessive prefix upon it.

I write from experience. And yes, “faith” like “hope” does appear to have power to transform peoples’ lives for the common good. Positive actions and/or works founded on positive words of faith do exactly that.

I recommend the work of Dale Carnegie post “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. You may even find it worth a read. Indeed, I find survival in the modern classroom has much to do with his notions of “positively thinking”; that is changing people's behaviour by changing one's own responses, often using a “paradoxical” approach within the established structures.

Though, I would hardly have thought of myself, a Thelemite or Gnostic as you apparently now suggest; a Stoic maybe, caught between notions of cosmic determinism and human freedom. As for John Lennon’s "imagination", as far as I’m aware, he was still searching for truth when his life was so tragically ended.

Why feel a need to place labels on anyone? Does it feel safer knowing who’s on the inside and whose with-out? Is that not simply an aspect of “divide and rule” – the “us/them” syndrome, that cause of so much needless pain, suffering and strife.

“My faith - your faith”? Surely, each person’s faith stands alone before any “seat of judgement”. So why would anyone want to make it an issue NOW during a time of Grace, when it’s written, God apparently doesn’t?

Will we see God’s hope and faithfulness by “your hope and faith” or by “my hope and faith”? Probably neither. His faithfulness is more likely to be seen by others, wrought through our own fears and/or despair. Is that what you are striving to achieve here?

Faith, “often moving beyond ease in defining” first and foremost, is the “confident belief in the truth, value, and/or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.”

Faith specifically utilizes the words “will, can and/or shall” which we are given to utter over much of our lives before and while actually doing something positive about it. As fare as I am aware, “Faithworks” as a term, was coined long before my youth and is much of what my life is all about. “Are we not what we say, and invariably, we say what we are.”?

That said, I wholeheartedly agree with Mike Crockett where he wrote: “I disavow any hint of a measurement of faith that claims a certain “amount” of faith makes a person extra special or that God can somehow be "conjured" into giving us what we want through the exercise of "faith" which is, in reality, sadly more often practised as "conceiving" and/or "believing" instead of exercising true "biblical" faith.