Tag: faith

Grace-faith leads to love-hope

The road to a better life begins by acknowledging where one stands.

The truth is that for those of us who seek to follow Christ, there is a certain disappointment in how well we are living with Christ. We don’t measure up to what we hoped when we started the faith journey.

Hannah Whitall Smith said this about the Christian life:

“Your victories have been few and brief, your defeats many and disastrous. You have not lived as you feel children of God ought to live. You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power. You have rejoiced in your knowledge of the things revealed in the Scriptures, but have not had a living realization of the things themselves, consciously felt in the soul.”

If she was writing this today, maybe she would have begun with, “Let’s get real.” I think anyone who really desires to follow Christ will feel, at least at times, the truth of Smith’s words. (Those who just wanted a ticket out of Hell may not understand it, but that is another issue.)

I especially like Smith’s sentence, “You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power.”

We act as if the correctness of our doctrine is what saves us. We don’t say that, but it’s kind of lingering in the background. Of course, that doctrine differs widely when you get into the weeds, even among committed Christians. We, with our varied theologies, cannot all be right.

Which gets us to what the New Testament says is the key to life with God in Christ — grace and faith and love and hope. We keep it simple or we get it wrong.

As I have written multiple times, we are not saved by correct theology, we are saved by God’s grace through our faith.

The grace-faith life leads to love-hope.

Back to Smith:

“Christ is believed in, talked about, and served. However, He is not known as the very life of the soul, abiding there forever, and revealing Himself there continually in His beauty.”

Today’s is my birthday. My birthday wish for us all is that we would all grow in the “life of the soul.” That grace-faith will lead us to love-hope.

My family and friends, I love you because God first loved me. Thanks for enriching my life.

A prayer for lawmakers, a hope for our nation

Christopher Coons ’92 M.A.R., ’92 J.D. is a United States Senator of Delaware. Elected in 2010, he serves on the Foreign Relations, Judiciary, Energy & Natural Resources, and Budget committees.

“Open the eyes and hearts of our lawmakers so that they will know and do Your will. . . . Help them to think of each other as fellow Americans seeking Your best for our Nation rather than enemy parties seeking to defeat each other. Replace distrust in each other with a deep commitment to creative compromise.”

Those are the words of a prayer uttered by Rear Admiral Barry Black, chaplain of the U.S. Senate. They are recalled in a piece written by Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware for Yale Divinity School’s Reflections publication. It is a prayer many of us are praying.

Coons has written a hopeful article, and that hope arises from the religious faith of many of the Senate’s members. Several members of the Senate gather each week for a nondenominational prayer breakfast.

“With no staff, no lobbyists, and no pretense, these meetings are rare opportunities for us to get to know each other as people: as parents, as children, as spouses, and as individuals shaped by life’s great triumphs and tragedies. When we see each other this way – as more than two-dimensional cutouts mapped to preconceived expectations – we can begin to focus on what brings us together, rather than what drives us apart.”

On the outside, we tend to only see the “two-dimensional cutouts” shaped by partisan politics. Coons gives a deeper look.

“In Senate prayer breakfasts, I have witnessed acts of extraordinary kindness and genuine compassion for each other as fellow human beings, rather than as walking distributors of party-line talking points. These weekly sessions are powerful reminders that from the most liberal to the most conservative, we share a love of family and country that far exceeds any policy or political disagreement. . . .

“Modern politics has pulled just a few threads from the cloth of faith tradition and made them points of division. In recent years, more often than not, faith has contributed to the divisiveness of our politics.

“That has not always been the case. The history of churches and political change in America is long and distinguished, and makes good on our obligation to ‘learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed’ (Isaiah 1:17). From the American Revolution to the end of slavery, from women’s suffrage to the movements for civil and labor rights, positive, progressive paradigm shifts have been centrally informed or directly led by faith groups.

“Our faith traditions – even the same faith tradition – can inform our politics in diametrically opposing ways. Yet the opportunities to find common cause are not as rare as some might think, and I have seen moments where interdenominational faith-based and secular leadership have come together to unite members of the Senate who might not otherwise see eye to eye. . . .

“We may disagree on policy and ideology, but share a view of humanity that is rooted in a calling and a commitment to those we serve – and that is a good place to start.”

Thank you, Sen. Coons, for reminding us that government in the United States is more than partisan wrangling; it is about serving.

This is the first of several posts I am going to write related to the this current issue of Reflections.

Review: Making Faith-Sense

A CRITICAL REVIEW OF

MAKING FAITH-SENSE

 Introduction

There is often a great disconnect between the formal teachings of Christianity and the life that is lived by each individual Christian. Robert L. Kinast offers a process for restoring the connection. It is a means of making sense of life today through the perspective of faith, thus “making faith-sense.” It provides a way for the ancient teachings of the faith to become relevant in the lives of today’s followers of Christ. Equally important, it provides a means by which to discover divine truth in the laboratory of life.

The Author

            Kinast is a pastoral theologian specializing “in the practice of theological reflection within ministry training programs.”[1] He is director of the Center for Theological Reflection in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida.[2] Kinast holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in systematic theology from Emory University and has taught pastoral/practical theology at the Catholic University of America and at the Washington Theological Union. He is the author of ten books and more than seventy articles on practical theology, lay ministry and process theology.[3]

Summary of Contents

            Kinast offers a process for recognizing the “signs of God’s presence in everyday events and to shape one’s life accordingly.”[4] He lays out a step-by-step. “Making faith-sense means fitting one’s life into the pattern of faith values, beliefs, and ideals that have been handed on from previous generations,” Kinast writes. “However, ‘fitting in’ does not mean slavish conformity to the past or rationalizing your actions artificially. It means creating a personal, practical way of living, consistent with a faith view of life.”[5]

            Making faith-sense requires reflection on everyday experience.[6] That reflection is accomplished by selecting an experience for evaluation, which utilizes four steps—narration, analysis, meaning, and enactment.[7] Much of the book is occupied with explaining those steps.

            Narration means simply telling what happened.[8] The primary goal is to “describe your experience factually” without personal interpretation.[9] This pursuit of facts “can sometimes clobber your ideals and cherished wishes, but they can also bring you closer to the truth and that is the ultimate goal of making faith-sense.”[10]

            Analysis is a means of uncovering the reasons why an experience occurred as it did.[11] “The purpose of analyzing an experience for faith-sense is to enter it with greater attentiveness and to let the experience reveal all that it has to offer,” Kinast writes. “A well-analyzed experience is the best basis for making faith-sense because it provides a true-to-life standard for the spiritual or theological meaning you may claim.”[12]

            The third step is to determine the spiritual meaning of an experience, and Kinast calls it the heart of making faith-sense.[13] It will lead a person to one of three ways of making faith-sense of the experience—affirmation, adaption, or conversion of what one believes.[14] Most people make faith-sense of events by “interpreting them as an affirmation or illustration of what they already believe.”[15] Some events, however, do not “confirm your faith so much as confront it with questions and challenges.”[16] Such an experience will require a person to modify his/her understanding, rearrange priorities or add a new perspective. If affirmation and adaptation are not adequate for understanding an experience, then conversion becomes necessary in a person’s ideas, values, and behavior.

            Step four is enactment, which is “integral to the whole process. In fact, you have not made faith-sense until you have turned your reflection into action.” Christianity is a way of life, “not a philosophical or theoretical system of ideas.”[17]

Critical Analysis

Analysis of Content

            Kinast offers a clearly reasoned approach to developing an understanding of faith that is authentic for an individual living in community. It pushes a perspective to theological formation that goes beyond formal, systematic understandings of the faith. The author has coined a term, “making faith-sense,” that is odd but better understood by saying it is a way making sense of life from a faith perspective.

The book offers an alternative to two less productive ways of relating life to faith. It is common to either take one’s faith tradition without challenge or to reject it altogether in the face of life’s challenges. Kinast has offered a way forward that involves thoughtful engagement with one’s own experience and faith. It seeks an honesty of understanding that acknowledges the validity of both the faith tradition and the unique experience of each person. “Making faith-sense is more than putting a few ideas together or simply reacting to things that happen. It is thoughtful, deliberate consideration of your experience.”[18] He does not devalue formal theological reflection; rather, he says: “… [A]cademic understanding of theology is not the same as making faith-sense. Formal theology … is a marvelous resource for quick, efficient learning, but it is not the way life occurs or the way theological meaning appears in everyday experience.”[19]

Kinast’s approach is not common in the Baptist tradition, which places Scripture, and a certain tradition of understanding it, at a loftier height than one’s individual experience. For instance, in discussing the benefits of conversion in one’s beliefs, Kinast says:

“When really new experiences challenge your faith, they call for really new responses. This in turn requires a greater degree of creativity as you search for alternatives, explore new possibilities, and put together a fresh way of thinking, valuing, and acting. A creative faith is a living faith and much more likely to enhance your experience than a routine, familiar, and unchanging system of beliefs.”[20]

Southern Baptists would typically not speak of seeking to have a “creative faith.” The desire would be to have a biblical faith, as if there was only one faith and it was to be discovered in Scripture, not in one’s experience. While this disconnect with Baptist language is noted, it can also be said that Kinast’s approach should fit smoothly into Baptist life because of the stress placed on the priesthood of the believer in the free church movement. Also, Baptists tacitly acknowledge the impact of experience on theological understanding because of the varied biblical interpretations that arise in their tradition. For instance, Kinast follows the statement above immediately with the following statement:

“At the same time, creativity cultivates a spirit of freedom with regard to your faith. This does not mean that ‘anything goes’ or that you can make the faith be anything you want. It means that you do not feel rigidly bound to the formulas and practices you inherited and learned, much less that you feel afraid to question or change them.”[21]

This statement squares neatly with Baptist sensibilities even if the word “creativity” is not normally used by Baptists in reference to their theological interpretations. In short, while Kinast’s approach may sound odd or even wrong to some Baptist ears, it actually is an approach consistent with historic Baptist principles.

            Kinast’s thesis is built upon a number of principles. In chapter two, he lays out an important distinction between meaning and facts.     “Making faith-sense … tries to honor the twin claims of meaning and facts. … Meaning is roughly equivalent to or located on the subjective side of a situation. It refers to how you feel. … Facts are on the objective side.”[22] Meaning and facts influence each other. “Making faith-sense tries to wed meaning and facts. You can start with either one, but it is important to include the claims of both.”[23] This model of recognizing the difference between meaning and facts, while still connecting the two, is extremely helpful in seeking to understand theological reflection. By separating the two, one theoretically is more ready to do a better job of understanding the two.

            Chapter three is said to be the “heart of the matter,” and this is clearly the case. It deals with the results of seeking to make faith-sense of life—affirmation, adaptation, and conversion. Affirmation is the most common and, one could say, the easiest, but Kinast makes an important distinction about its importance when done so thoughtfully. “The more you practice the skill of making faith-sense, the more you recognize your beliefs in the day-to-day events of your life. As a result, your faith and the rest of your life become more integrated.”[24] In other words, affirmation is a means of connecting one’s day-to-day life with what one says he/she believes.

            Adaptation is a much more dynamic process, one that is required when the experiences of life challenge one’s beliefs. Challenging experiences push a person “beyond the status quo of your faith-sense and make you wrestle with your beliefs in order to make sense of your experience.”[25] This section is extremely helpful because it shows how a person can change without abandoning one’s faith. It can be assumed that some people abandon faith when their experience does not match their initial, often childlike understandings of faith. This shows another way forward—a way of growth.

            Conversion provides a similar way forward. It provides an alternative to living with a faith that doesn’t make sense and no faith at all. This requires more substantial change in one’s beliefs, but it is usually the result of “deep-rooted, substantial occurrences that affect your life.”[26] Because such change is difficult, Kinast points to the benefits of pursuing it. “A creative faith is a living faith and much more likely to enhance your experience than a routine, familiar, and unchanging system of beliefs.”[27] The absence of this could explain why so many Christians seem to have a shallow faith experience; they have let their faith wallow in routine, familiar, and unchanging beliefs.

Analysis of Writing Style

            Kinast writes clearly and builds his case well, using stories effectively to illustrate his points. Since the author is coining a phrase, “making faith-sense,” it does make for difficulty in understanding during the early portions of the book. He could have done a better job of explaining the term at the beginning, but he does develop it throughout the book.

Contribution to Peer Group

            This book could be of great help to Baptist ministers because it reflects a way of thinking about theology that is rather foreign to their faith tradition. It expresses realities that Southern Baptists do not like to face—that what is said about God and Scripture from pulpits is not always consistent with what people are experiencing in their daily lives. Theological understanding is more malleable than most Baptist ministers want to admit, and this book could be of great help in expanding that understanding.

Conclusion

            Kinast has done the church a great service. He has sought to build a bridge between the long-established faith understandings expressed by faith traditions and the reality of life as experienced by each person. The need for this bridge is not even recognized by many believers, whether minister or layperson. This disconnect is a significant reason for the lack of relevancy of the church in many people’s lives, therefore, this book offers a path to helping rebuild that relevancy. Beyond those practical implications for the church, Kinast has offered Christians a way for moving forward in understanding the truth of God in today’s terms—a truly worthy goal.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Kinast, Robert L. Making Faith-Sense: Theological Reflection in Everyday Life. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1999.

University of St. Thomas. “Founder of Center for Theological Reflection to speak here tomorrow.” University of St. Thomas web site. http://www.stthomas.edu/bulletin/2004/03/30/founder-of-center-for-theological-reflection-to-speak-here-tomorrow/ (accessed October 16, 2011).


[1] Robert L. Kinast, Making Faith-Sense: Theological Reflection in Everyday Life (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1999), back cover.

[2] Mission Consultants, “Kinast to Leas,” http://www.missionconsultants.ucaqld.com.au/k-l.htm (accessed October 16, 2011).

[3] University of St. Thomas, “Founder of Center for Theological Reflection to speak here tomorrow,” http://www.stthomas.edu/bulletin/2004/03/30/founder-of-center-for-theological-reflection-to-speak-here-tomorrow/ (accessed October 16, 2011).

[4] Kinast, ix.

[5] Ibid., 3.

[6] Ibid., 9.

[7] Ibid., 20.

[8] Ibid., 20.

[9] Ibid., 22.

[10] Ibid., 24.

[11] Ibid., 28.

[12] Ibid., 30-31.

[13] Ibid., 33.

[14] Ibid., 35.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 47.

[17] Ibid., 75.

[18] Ibid., 16.

[19] Ibid., 33.

[20] Ibid., 70.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 5-6.

[23] Ibid., 7.

[24] Ibid., 43.

[25] Ibid., 48.

[26] Ibid., 69.

[27] Ibid., 70.

Keller: Peace, beauty, and justice

“God is a craftsman, an artisan,” says Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice (p.172).

Timothy Keller

The story of creation told in the Bible is different from other ancient creation stories, Keller says. The biblical account does not have the world coming into being out of a battle or struggle; the God of the Bible is depicted as an artist or sculptor. Keller focuses on the biblical metaphor of creation as a fabric.

“… [T]he world is not like a lava cone, the product of powerful random eruptions, but rather like a fabric. Woven cloth consists of innumerable threads interlaced with one another. … [T]he fabric metaphor conveys the importance of relationship. … The threads must be rightly and intimately related to one another in literally a million ways. Each thread must go over, under, around, and through the others at thousands of points. Only then do you get a fabric that is beautiful and strong, that covers, fits, holds, shelters, and delights.” (p.173)

But the fabric of this creation has been torn by sin. It has removed shalom. We tend to translate shalom as “peace,” Keller says, but it “means far more” and is better captured by “complete reconciliation” in all relationships

“Because our relationship with God has broken down, shalom is gone–spiritually, psychologically, socially, and physically.” (p.177)

So, how does this relate to justice?

“In general, to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor.

“… The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it.” (p.177)

“The strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks. (p.180)

Keller then turns to beauty and its relation to justice–a connection I had never seen and I wrote about it recently.

“It takes an experience of beauty to knock us out of our self-centeredness and induce us to become just.” (p.183)

As Keller begins to bring the book to a close, he has a great section titled “God in the Face of the Poor.”

“… [I]n the incarnation and death of Jesus we see God identifying with the poor and marginal liberally. Jesus was born in a feed trough. When his parents had him circumcised the offering they made–two pigeons–was that prescribed for the poorest class of people in the society. He lived among the poor and the marginalized, who were drawn to him even as the respectable were repulsed by him. We see the kind of life he led when he said, ‘Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his lead’ (Luke 9:58). At the end of his life he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, spent his last evening in a borrowed room, and when he died he was laid in a borrowed tomb. They cast lots for his only possession, his robe, for there on the cross he was stripped of everything. He died naked and penniless. he had little the world valued and the little he had was taken. He was discarded–thrown away. But only because of Him do we have any hope.

“In Jesus Christ God identified not only with the poor, but also with those who are denied justice. … Jesus identifies with the millions of nameless people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, robbed of their possessions, tortured, and slaughtered.” (pp.185-186)

“He not only became one of the actually poor and marginalized, he stood in the place of all those of us in spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt.

“Now that is a thing of beauty. To take that into the center of your life and heart will make you one of the just.” (p.188)

Referring to Proverbs 14:31, Keller concludes the book by saying, “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” (p.189)

Thank you, Timothy Keller, for enriching our lives through this book. May we better know Jesus and do justice.

(This is my ninth post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)