What I Believe
|Associate Professor of Computer
Sauk Valley Community College
(815) 288-5511 x 251
Office: Room 2E17
I don't have a personal "statement of faith", but let me describe briefly what beliefs are most central to me.
Doctrinally I accept the basic teachings of orthodox Christianity, including the love and justice of God, the existence of both heaven and hell, that Jesus was fully human and fully God, that He died on the cross, rose again, and will come back one day. When I call myself "born again" I mean more than that. There was a day when these doctrines came together in a way that made them immediate and real to me. I finally admitted that the God I professed to worship had every right to claim me as His creature, that He owned me; that all my best choices up to then had only been expressions of a subtle rejection of His Godship; and that there was utter futility in trying to be a good enough person to merit His favor. I realized all at once that Jesus' voluntary death on the cross was an expression of His personal love for me, that His resurrection meant that He was alive and watching my every move, and that He was offering me complete forgiveness. So when I say I was born again, I mean that on that day I stopped trusting in anything I could do or be or even believe to somehow get me into God's good graces, and instead just surrendered myself to needing Jesus for it all. I abandoned my self-justifications and my inward independence and instead let God redefine me as belonging to Him.
I find that when I read the Bible with a humble and listening heart, God speaks to me through it. I believe that the power of the Bible to direct me through its wisdom, encourage me, kindle my creativity, articulate the cries of my heart, expose my rationalizations and disturb me with its questions is due to God's voice in it. We are fallen people who once rejected God; we do not begin the Christian life as blank slates but as those whose perspectives are filled with error and distortion. God uses the Scriptures to systematically transform every area of our thinking. Through them He wants to challenge and change not only our doctrinal stances but also how we feel, what we value, what we imagine, and whatever else contributes to our worldview.
Technically, I believe in Biblical inerrancy, grammatical-historical interpretation and the traditional Protestant canon. In practice, I think the really important issue is simply whether Christians allow the Scripture to speak authoritatively in their lives. If so, and if they spend time pondering Scriptural passages, then the issues of interpretation and inerrancy and canon will gradually straighten themselves out.
One of the most important things about the Bible for Christian growth is its objectivity. If I can make up my spiritual life as I go along, there is always the danger of lapsing into narcissistic delusion, of gradually moving farther and farther off the path, and ending up with a highly personal religion that is completely disconnected from reality. Relying on the Bible, especially if I am using the highly objective grammatical-historical ("literal") method of interpretation, forces me to justify my views and decisions to other Christians in arguments that they will accept based on Scriptures they themselves can see and interpret.
However, the very objectivity of the Bible can become a trap. It makes it convenient to define Christianity only in terms that are easy to articulate, test and prove in external, objective ways. Obedience begins to take precedence over worship, sacrifice over love, actions over heart, and the ability to state doctrine accurately over an intimate knowledge of God's character. As Christianity becomes systematized and measurable, two things happen. The first is that it is now possible for someone who is not even truly born again to live the Christian life quite well. The second and more serious one is that it is also easy for someone who is born again to live the Christian life without ever needing to rely on the Holy Spirit's direction and power.
The result of all this is that many Christians and Christian churches have lost their spiritual edge while remaining doctrinally solid. The tragedy is that they usually don't know it, and wouldn't believe it if they were told. Since they define Christian success in terms of how faithful they stay to key doctrinal statements and behavioral checklists, they don't see themselves as missing anything.
The antidote? Take one tablespoon of knowledge of and adherence to an objective Scripture. Add to it a tablespoon of continual vulnerability to the Holy Spirit's leading. God is usually up to something in our lives which ought to frighten us a little (!) and if we stay spontaneous, flexible, courageous and humble we can usually see what it is. I'm increasingly aware of how much I need the Holy Spirit to guide my thinking and desires as I pray and study and serve. Otherwise I end up doing everything except the one thing God wanted me to really focus on.
We tend to use the word "salvation" to refer to an event -- the moment when a person is converted to Christ -- but the New Testament uses it to refer to the entire ongoing work of God in the life of a Christian. Being born again establishes a person's salvation but does not complete it. In addition to justification (finding forgiveness at conversion), and glorification (complete freedom from sin and death in heaven), salvation also involves sanctification, or spiritual growth. To be born again and expect no spiritual growth afterwards would be like going through a wedding ceremony without planning to actually lead a married life.
Scripture says the goal of God's work in us is to make us like Christ (like Him in His humanity, not like Him in His deity). This means not only that we learn to separate more and more from those things that are sinful, but also that we become more and more characterized by the kind of open, generous, extreme love that His ministry on earth displayed. It requires further that we let God change our internal attitudes as well as our outward behavior patterns.
Our initial entrance into the Christian life was based on acknowledging Christ as Savior and Lord, but without understanding very much about what this meant. Subsequent spiritual growth is built upon a series of turning points that mirror that initial conversion. That is, God brings to our attention some specific area of our actions, attitudes, or desires in which we need to more fully acknowledge Christ's authority as Lord and more completely trust His saving power and love. Thus it is critical for our spiritual growth that we be open to accepting God's reproof in our lives. We need to quickly admit when we are wrong and agree with Him about what needs to change. Further, deep change comes only as we walk in the Spirit, which means nothing more complex than yielding the control of our lives and hearts to God's Spirit and depending on Him. Walking in the Spirit (or not) is something we can choose to do moment by moment. Having surrendered our hearts to the Spirit regarding some issue, we must then begin to rebuild habits of thought and action in that area until they reflect God's ideal. As we persevere, we gradually begin to reap the consequences of making better choices and what was once unnatural to us begins to be something we do without conscious effort.
It is not even possible to enter into the Christian life without coming to terms with God's grace. To be born again means to cast oneself wholly on the forgiveness and mercy of Christ without relying in any measure on one's own goodness. The process of Christian growth, too, demands that we continually recognize our utter dependence on God's goodness to live as we should. Because God's grace and love call us into a life of responsibility it is often easy to drift into the false perspective that somehow we must fulfill a list of requirements to earn God's help and support for living. As we observe the daily consequences of our choices, both good and bad, and as we notice the benefits that come from willpower and sacrificial commitment, it is easy to replace the central Christian virtues of humility and surrender with the more humanistic virtues of commitment and discipline. We find that it is easier to motivate ourselves and control others if we let a living relationship with God slip to the periphery and concentrate instead on building private lists of rules for how to live. The result of all this is to reduce the supernatural work of God to human effort. We must resist anything that obscures the goodness and joy of knowing God.
Every Christian has a special calling to ministry. God has a purpose for each of us, which He wants us to begin discovering from the very first day of our Christian lives. One difficulty for American Christians in discovering this calling is the individualistic focus in our country. God hasnít called us to serve Him individually but corporately; that is, we are called into a family, into a spiritual nation, into a body, consisting of the true church (which is not any single denomination or sect but rather all the born-again Christians around the world wherever they are). My ministry will only make sense when I see it as a part of the ministry to which God has called the whole church.
Specifically, God uses each of us in different ways, accomplishing different aspects of His overall plan for the church's work in the world. To accomplish the purposes He has called us to, He grants us various charismata, or spiritual gifts, as needed -- essentially, He blesses our efforts with specific acts of grace, turning what would otherwise be merely human into something tinged with the divinely supernatural.
This implies that I will be most fulfilled and most effective for God in this world if I do two things. First, I must find out how God has called me to serve Him and throw myself into that service with all my heart and soul. Second, I must accept my utter dependence on the ministry of every other Christian to make my own meaningful. Only as we work together can we have the impact on our world that God desires us to have. This means I must embrace the diversity and unity of the Christian church, both in theory and in the practical sphere of my relationship to a local congregation of believers.
I am increasingly convinced that part of my responsibility before God is to analyze issues, ask tricky questions, work out theories, try to understand opposing points of view and in general to think as Christianly as possible about the questions I encounter in life. I certainly realize there are many Christians who are smarter than I am and who think better -- but nonetheless I trust that God wants to contribute something through me.
While every Christian needs to think honestly, not every Christian has the responsibility to spend lots of time researching abstruse questions of doctrine and practice. Education and intellectualism in general do not bring any particular spiritual advantage; on the contrary, they become an impediment to spiritual growth if they lead to pride or self-reliance. Spiritual wisdom depends upon humble, childlike faith.
The world today is filled with many different voices, some quite opposed to Christianity, others distorting it. My first responsibility as a Christian thinker is to be a good listener to these different voices. I need to be sure I understand not just the statements people make but the heart-cries that can be faintly heard beneath their words. Many Christians love to provide intellectual defenses of the Christian faith, but I find most of these defenses unsatisfying because they seem to me to listen inadequately to the objections people were really trying to voice.
My most important task as a listener is to listen to the Scriptures themselves. I believe that God expects me to work hard at interpreting and reinterpreting Scriptural passages to be sure I've got them right (as far as possible for me). When I observe standard practices or doctrines in Christian circles I have a responsibility to measure them against Scripture itself. Sometimes perspectives accepted in Christian circles as thoroughly Biblical are in reality the product of our culture apart from Christianity.
A frequent controversy among Christians is whether Scripture is all we need as a source of truth, or whether we need to add to our Scriptural understanding by also considering the findings of psychology, chemistry, etc. I find the question misleading. On the one hand I believe strongly that Scripture speaks relevantly to the central issues of every human question. On the other, I find that in order to avoid compartmentalizing Scriptural truths, boxing them up in an isolated corner of my mind, I must rub them against the various questions and claims and challenges that I encounter in every other walk of life. I must spend time "thinking Christianly" about findings in psychology or physics, about works of art and literature, about what I hear from the media and from the people around me. I must do this not because I think Scripture has omitted any essential truth, but because only in this way can I figure out how Scripture applies to the world in which we live today.
I've gradually become aware that the things I love to think about most are mainly philosophical questions. Philosophy is about the fundamental questions every person asks at some time or another -- questions about what is true, what is right, and how I can know; about what is worth living for, or what kind of society we should be aiming for. Philosophy belongs to everybody who wants to think about these things. Although professional philosophers may shed some light on these questions, no expert can take away your right to work out your own answers to them. So I suppose you could say that I aspire to be a Christian philosopher.