Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Reasonable Faith

In the Theology 101 study I'm leading for the church, we're reading Ronald Osborn's classic (for Disciples) The Faith We Affirm: Basic Beliefs of Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press 1979). Osborn is an old-style liberal Disciple, and one of the key leaders when the Disciples went through what we call re-structure in the 1960s. Basically, we became a full-fledged denomination just as denominations were going out of style!

In the first chapter of the book, entitled "The Light of Scripture," Osborn suggests that the Disciples mind is biblical, reasonable, empirical, pragmatic, and ecumenical. I'd like to consider the second of these modifiers of the Disciples mind -- the idea that ours is a reasonable mind.

Although he suggests that this commitment of ours to reason doesn't eliminate all mystery, for Disciples the key to faith is understanding. That is our goal. Thus, he writes:

Disciples have taken pride in advocating a common sense religion. We seek an approach which is sane as well as biblical, rational as well as practical. Here is an understanding of the faith which our pioneer leaders could be readily explained to ordinary folk, and which they could embrace with their intelligence as well as their hearts. Sometimes we have made our little systems too tight, too simple. But the genius of the Disciples mentality has held that we do not love God as we ought unless we examine the claims of religion with rational minds. (Faith We Affirm, p. 16).

That idea of common sense religion goes back to the philosophical foundations of the Campbells and Barton Stone -- a perspective that was very popular at the beginning of the 19th century. At times rational religion can become stale and rigid, but having spent some time in the Pentecostal tradition, I've seen the other side. Ultimately I became a Disciple in part because I felt the need to keep my head in the game.

The Disciples tradition is an exemplar of Enlightenment faith -- but if we are moving into a post-Enlightenment phase, does the mind matter like it once did? I hope so, but I raise the question.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can see why the Disciples reorganized in the 1960's given the extremism of the Church of Christ non-instrumental, etc. It is interesting to note that the desire to be a NT church even led to division which is true to today also.

Just how close does the Disciples' emphasis on the place or reason and Wesley's desire to unite vital piety and knowledge?

I do find it a bit difficult to consider Pentecostalism a rational faith since like other revivalist movements they have been anti-intellectual. Pentecostals and Charismatics tend to put subjective religious experience first and then think deductively to find proof texts to support their experience instead of inductively looking into the Bible to examine their experience from a more reasonable perspective and judge it in that light.

The anti-intellectualism is changing a bit with the AoG starting their own seminary.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

In the early days the Disciples and the Methodists were in competition on the frontier. The DOC folk put more emphasis on reason, the Methodists more on experience. As time has gone on, the DOC have sought to incorporate more experience, and I would guess the Methodists have sought to incorporate more reason. DOC's were very much evidentialist -- in the Baconian tradition.

You mention deductive reasoning, Campbell put a lot of emphasis on induction.

My sense is that within Pentecostalism there is a bifurcation between those wanting to bring in the intellectual component and those that don't.