Category Archives: church

How much do we believe?

A short while ago I posted a piece about Daniel Dennett and his rant against religion and faith. This week he cropped up again in a similar vein. He recently wrote an article for the Washington Post entitled Non-believing clergy: Now what will we do? The thrust of the article is that Dennett, along with his co-writer Linda LaScola have found clergymen who say that they don’t believe the doctrines that they preach from the pulpit. He has found five such individuals, and questions almost gleefully, whether this is the tip of an ice-berg.

I am sure Mr Dennett is a charming and intelligent man, but he certainly seems to have an axe to grind against the church in general and the clergy in particular. Although I don’t share his views on faith, I have to admit that his piece reminded me of a lady from an evangelical church in my home town who proclaimed secretively but knowingly “There are some Church of Scotland ministers who aren’t saved!” Now, for those not familiar with Scottish presbyterianism, the national church isn’t known for being evangelical.

Two things strike me about Dennett’s article: The first is that it is hardly news that there are some members of the clergy who have questions about their faith. This can be put even more strongly. If there is any clergyman or woman, in any denomination, who has no doubts whatever about their faith then they are either saints or have missed the point somewhere. As I understand my faith and the theology that underpins it, it is difficult to think that any of us will ever have perfect understanding, and complete confidence, before we see eternity. There are many of course who understand far more than I do, although I suspect I still see further into Mr Dennett’s chosen subject than he does.

The second thought that came to my mind was a sermon I once heard which highlighted exactly what Dennett is trying to poke at. The speaker was telling of how he had been engaged in a conversation with someone on the subject of faith. This other person had said to him “Oh, you must be one of those born-again Christians”, to which our preacher replied “Is there another kind of Christian?”

Now, when I heard this I understood exactly what the preacher was saying but have been surprised over the years at the reaction to the story when I have told it. I am certain that I saw our previous minister’s eyebrows shoot up in horror. This is one of those sensitive areas in church life where it is unseemly to question one another’s faith. And of course, we shouldn’t. We should encourage one another in love. Even if they are our minister, pastor or priest.

But when we come to deal with those, like Daniel Dennett, who would seek to criticise, how should we stand? The best answer is probably to ignore these people, confident in what we know. As one minister said to me once, “When we get to heaven, the most surprising thing won’t be the people we recognise. It will be the people we expected to see that are missing!”

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Faith and religion

One of the hardest things for me to understand about the Christian faith is probably one of the simplest. How do we live out a life of faith? How do we carry our Sunday piousness into the hustle and bustle of the other six days of the week? More to the point, how do we do it and not fall into the legalistic trap that caught the Jews?

I am sure that I am not the first to ask these questions, and if I have found any answers, I’m sure I am not the first on that score either. But while there are many who live admirable and worthy Christian lives that are recognisably just that, I still have a niggle at the back of my mind that behind these questions lies a small can of worms. I call it faith versus religion.

In our travels we have come across a whole spectrum of Christianity from Presbyterians in Scotland to the Coptics in Egypt and Pentecostals further south. Personally, I like the style of preachers such as John Ortberg and Erwin McManus who put faith into a modern context admirably. They represent yet another church. Who is to say that any one of these styles of church is any more or less virtuous than the the others in God’s eyes? I am certainly making no such suggestion here.

Yet I am confident in my own mind that Christ only intended one kind of disciple, regardless of how they worship. If I am right then the unity that Christians across the planet have through their shared faith is surely greater than any unity found between the churches. There are atheist writers who use the words faith and religion as if they were synonymous. I have come to the conclusion that one of the primary tasks of Christians should be to explain to the world that they are not.

That might explain faith to the world, but what would the churches say? Answers on a postcard please.

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