Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Empirical Faith?

The definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1 would seem to suggest that the title of this post is an oxymoron: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (NRSV). If faith is concerned with things hoped for and not seen, then it would seem to contradict the idea that faith could be empirical. The Campbells, however, were concerned that faith had become so focused on feelings/experience that people lacked certainty of God's forgiveness and grace.

Ronald Osborn, whom I turned to in an earlier post on a reasonable faith, offers this observation.

Many people ask: How do you know you are saved? Disciples insist that religious assurance is not a matter of feeling. Rather they contend that God has promised salvation to all who confess Jesus Christ and are baptized in faith and repentance. The highest form of spiritual experience offered by Christian faith is positive and objective, rather than mystical and charismatic. It centers in a public act, a corporate act, a visible action -- the breaking of bread by the congregation gathered about the Lord's table. (Osborn, The Faith We Affirm, Chalice Press, 1979, p. 19).

Now, Osborn points out that some of the ideas of the Founders are no longer adequate, but he pointed to the honesty of their minds and their reasonableness. But what is interesting here, and suggests why the Disciples practice believer's baptism, is that you have a very objective experience to point to -- you were baptized in obedience to Christ's call. That is the "proof" that you are a disciple.

Where their views may no longer hold up include their view of the New Testament being the "divinely given constitution for the church." They simply took the things written in the New Testament, especially in Acts, at face value and assumed that this represented the practices everywhere in the first century church. But, if we follow their example, we will seek out the truth, seeking to honestly ask questions of our faith, and establish this faith not in reaction to science and history, but in relationship to it.


John said...

But there is a serious contradiction between faith and reason: we believe in certain truths which cannot be "proved" by reason and/or science. We accept these "truths" on the strength of our faith, and our faith is a feeling, an emotion, a good and honest emotion, but still an emotion. This emotion says: 'we will accept this idea as true because we trust those who told us it was true ("those" being the writers of Scripture) or because we trust the personal revelation which the Spirit has given to us, or as I like to think: which God has written on my heart.

If we could reason out our beliefs they would no longer be matters of faith but matters of evidential verification - science.

There is a genuine disconnect here, and faithful honesty requires that it be acknowledged and honored.

What I believe is that science helps us discern the awesome and humbling complexity of what God has wrought and helps us distinguish mere superstition and prejudice from genuine articles of faith.

Science is not an enemy of faith but a touchstone.


Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Is there a contradiction between faith and reason, or do they approach reality from different angles.

And, does not science require us to, at times, rethink what we believe -- matters of faith.

Although I accept the Hebrews 1 definition of faith, I, for instance, do not believe in a 6 day creation, a literal Adam and Eve, a world-wide flood and Noah's Ark. These are legend/saga with theological intent. I don't believe that Moses parted the Red Sea or the Reed Sea for that matter. Historical/scientific research makes this a difficult proposition.

But, even though God might be invisible to me, I still have faith that God is and that God acts.