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The current installment of the COEC began meeting in 2007.

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2.15.2011

Beliefs. What is an emergent faith?

My name is Zack for those of you that don't know me. I'm Jesse's brother, and I love the COEC, but I live in Cambodia now so haven't been able to attend any of the meetings lately. Anyway Nancy expressed some interest in discussing beliefs in a recent comment, and that's been a topic on my mind a lot lately (especially regarding the belief in hell), and I just recently wrote this about it:

You know those pictures of the universe, the sun, and other astrological bodies. When I see those pictures I “believe” that’s what it’s like, but I also know that’s not exactly what it looks like. I know the picture is just a representation of the real thing. Maybe the image was taken using radio waves or ultraviolet light to form the picture, and that if I really looked at the sun with my naked eyes I wouldn’t see solar flares popping out. I know if I was really a zillion miles away the universe or Milky Way wouldn’t look like that picture because it’s just a mathematical model made in lab. My belief in the accuracy of that picture is also tied with unbelief, and uncertainty. If someone tried to tell me that Saturn actually has gold bands around it, and showed me a picture to prove it, I would say “No I don’t believe those are actual bands they are just clumps of rocks that look like bands in this picture.” I have some ambiguity about it of how many rocks or how close etc. but I also have a certain amount of firm belief that the picture is wrong at the same time as belief that it is right.

My belief in hell is similar in some ways. I believe Jesus, and the apostles were talking about a spiritual reality, but hell is a spiritual reality that we can’t easily see or understand. So Jesus talked about it in metaphors – a fiery furnace, a lake of fire, the trash dump, the underworld, destruction, death etc. These are all pictures of a spiritual reality that I believe exists, but at the same time I have uncertainty about the pictures, and some belief that they are incorrect. I don’t think there will be an actual furnace or a literal lake that is on fire. I’m uncertain about the specifics of who goes there, and for how long, and the technicalities of how justification works. I believe Jesus when He speaks about hell in the Bible, I also don't believe it. I believe more strongly that God is love, that love wins, and that I am to embody that love and share that love with others.

I think one of the major things I think I've learned from Emergent is more how to believe then specifically what to believe. I know Rob Bell uses the analogy of springs vs bricks in Velvet Elvis (although I haven't read the book). This also reminds me of a past post by Nancy about where to even begin.

What do you guys think? Is there a line of becoming so relativistic that you can't even speak truth? How do you hold your beliefs and convictions with humility, and passion without them becoming bricks? I've been criticized for letting my feelings get in the way of my interpretation of the Bible, but I don't see that as a problem. How do YOU believe? Where do you start? What does an Emergent FAITH look like?

8 comments:

NancyJ said...

Thanks for this post Zack. I loved the question “How do you hold your beliefs and convictions with humility, and passion without them becoming bricks?”

My own answer to that is I have some beliefs that are actually ‘brick’ like. My beliefs about prayer, loving others, God’s involvement in my life and surrender all drive my actions and attitudes about how I live my life.

Alternatively, some beliefs (like Hell) are no longer solid at all. In fact I remain open to thinking more, listening from others and learning more. I liked what you wrote.

And there are beliefs I want to hold onto—like Jesus’ miracles. I don’t know if they actually literally happened, but I want to believe they did.

So in summary--there are beliefs that have become my solid truths that I live and make decisions out of and there are beliefs that I am open to growing and changing with in the future.

This happened because I decided to write down all the things I have believed in the past and then one by one checked in with myself…where am I now on this belief.

It was a helpful exercise.

Nancy

P.S. I have been praying for you and Eve like crazy lately!

Eve said...

not really adding to the post here but Nancy thank you for your prayers. They are much needed right now.

Jesse said...

Hey Zack - I really like the analogy that you wrote. I think it is very helpful in explaining how we hold our beliefs in an open hand.

Another point of connection with the analogy is that the sun, the planets and the stars are all millions of miles away. We cannot actually get close enough to see them, draw them, touch and feel them.

In the same way things like heaven, hell, miracles, prayer, the afterlife, etc. - these are all "far away" from us, and we have not experienced some of them yet firsthand, so our descriptions are just our best guesses "from far away."

Thank you again for this analogy. I'll be thinking about it all day.

Adam Newby said...

Zack,
I really like your analogy and description of your belief in hell. It is very helpful to me in figuring out how I believe. I don't how to answer your questions. I do think the idea of "truth" has been distorted throughout the modern age (which is one reason I welcome the postmodern way thought). I think "truth" is much more than what is "correct." I think that Modern Christianity is way too preoccupied with getting things "correct", even those things that are really impossible to know due to our lack of first hand knowledge or experience. I find interesting that you don't see the ancient Hebrew writers so preoccupied with things like "heaven" or the afterlife or "hell". They were more concerned with actions, how one lives, how to treat one another, how to connect with an Almighty God. Having lived my life and taught in a modern way of thought, I haven't fully developed a way of thinking of "truth" outside of "correct" or "right". But I keep trying.

Tracy said...

I read the article to the right on "Big Tent Christianity". I really like this quote "Separation is easy. It is far easier to divide over and over again until we form our specialized camps made up of people “just like us.” The work of unity in the face of glaring differences is a much more complicated and arduos task."

Brother Curt said...

Great posts! You've all made my grey matter light up a little bit. Sometimes that's not easy!

I was raised in a very Christian family. There was talk of Heaven but we never talked about Hell. It was a rather unidentifiable place to me, but I thought it existed. Now that I'm an old man, I have come to my current conclusion that Hell is irrelavent. Jesus included everyone at His table. Scripture says that the Kingdom of God is right here. We realize that by our belief in Jesus and by giving our lives to Him. When thinking about Hell the only thing I can think of that would be Hell is not having Jesus. I believed in Him at a very young age so I really don't know what life without him is like. There are so many terrifying events and circumstances in this world that I can't help but believe that without Jesus life would be extremely frightening. It would lead me to doing things out of fear rather than out of faith. Life without God has to be Hell! When we put our faith in God, we know that things will work out in His will. Life might not be easy but it brings us strength instead of fear.

Scripture talks about the refiner's fire. Perhaps when we die there is a time of purgation of all of the sins (mistakes) we have made. Our spirits might experience some anguish but we will also know that the purification after is what makes the next stage so blissful. Without the purge we would not be able to appreciate wherever it is that we go.

I don't know for sure so I'll keep this idea fluid so that I don't get stuck in concrete thinking.

Blessings!
Br. Curt

Jenni said...

I know I havent come to the Cohort for a while now but I am so intruiged by this post and really enjoyed reading your thoughts Zack. I know there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty around hell and its a lot easier for us to not think about it than to think about it so its good that this discussion is taking place!
I had a question in response to something you said Zack. You said you believe that God is love and that love conquers all and thats what you want to focus on. But my question is, if hell isnt real or if it isnt what the Bible describes, why does it need to conquer anything? Why does God need to be love? Why are we even here or feel the need to minister God's love around the world?
To me, it confirms that there is absolutely that we're fighting against. I'm not sure if the hell described in the Bible is literal (like an actual lake of fire) but I do believe it exists.
Anyway, I kind of rambled. :) I'm excited to hear other's thoughts on this as well!
Btw, this is Jenni Kupsky.

Zack Schroeder said...

Hey Jenni,
Thanks for responding.

You asked why does God need to conquer anything if Hell isn't real? I guess my answer would be that there is plenty of evil and pain in this world now for God to conquer. I feel called to spread His love because there is weeping and gnashing of teeth now, people are experience hell on earth now, and whatever happens when they die they need to experience God's grace today. There is enough hell on earth now, that isn't going to just go away on it's own for all those verses about hell to not lose their seriousness or sense of urgency for me.

And a question back if after-death some of us are in heaven, and most of us are in eternal torment - then has God really won? Has love won? Would you be able to be really happy in a heavenly afterlife that also included a torture chamber for all your friends who didn't accept Jesus during their lives?

Also an aside I recently read this article by Brian McLaren that I thought was pretty interesting about "Making eschatology personal