You have heard it said: You are justified by faith. Or, as some notions say, you are saved by faith. Faith is what will save you. If you are a believer, you are saved. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. Some people use the word "believer" as a synonym for "Christian". Faith means believing certain things; and if you believe the right things, you are saved.
Marcus Borg, in his book, THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY (HarperSanFrancisco: 2003), pp. 25-42, tells of a conversation with a woman sitting next to him on a plane:
"I'm much more interested inBuddhism and Sufism than I am in Christianity." When I asked why, she said, "Because they're about a way of life, and Christianity is all about believing.
Her statement reflects a way many people in the Western world think of Christianity (Xnty). To be a Christian (Xn) means to hold to certain beliefs. In England the word "believer" is synonomous with "Christian". To think of Xnty as a set of beliefs turns Xnty into a "head" matter. Fath becomes primarily a set of beliefs you hold in your head.
Prior to the last two hundred years "faith" was mainly a matter of the heart. Borg then delinieates four meanings of the word "faith".
Faith as Assensus
Assensus in English means assent, or, agreeing with some proposition, believing that some statement is true. It is primarily a "head" matter. It is the dominant understanding of "faith" inside and outside of the church. After the Protestant Reformation, different denominations distinguished themselves from each other by their "beliefs". We thus came to have "right" beliefs and "wrong" beliefs.
The advent of scientific thinking greatly influenced this idea of faith as assensus. Science identified truth with "factuality": truth is what can be verified as factual. And this kind of thinking called into question parts of the Bible. Faith came to mean "believing an opinion or conviction' that may not be true, or "believing "iffy" things to be true.
The opposite of faith as assensus became doubt, or even stronger, disbelief. This understanding of "faith" implies that what God wants from us is "belief" and if we doubt or do not believe, we are sinful.
But just think about this kind of "faith". You can believe all the right things and still be in bondage, or be miserable. You can be relatively impotent and powerless, even though you are very orthodox in your belief.
Faith as Fiducia
The closest English word for fiducia is trust
Borg uses a methophor from Soren Kierkegaard: faith is like floating in the very deep part of the ocean. If you struggle and thrash about , you will eventually sink. But if you relax and trust, you will float. Teaching a child to swim involves getting the child to relax and trust their bouyancy in the water.
Faith as fiducia is trusting in God as one's fortress and rock. Trusting in God as our foundation, our ground, our safe place.
The opposite of trust is anxiety and worry. Again and again Jesus said to his followers, "do not worry". And often he would add the words, "you of little faith". Worry and anxiety go hand in hand with "little faith". If we have a lot of worry and anxiety in our lives, we have little faith.
Faith as radical trust has a transformative effect on our lives. It frees us up to live fully in the present moment, to be able to love without reservation.
Faith as Fidelitas
The English equivalent is "fidelity" or faithfulness. We use the word to talk about our faithfulness to God and to our dearest human companions: loyalty, allegiance, the commitment fo the self at its deepest levels, the commitment of the heart.
Fidelitas refers to a radical centering in God. Its opposite is adultery. When the prophets talked about "this evil and adulterous generation" they were not usually talking about human relaionships, but they were pointing to the unfaithfulness to God and God's covenant.
The word idolaltry means we have been unfaithful to God. We have put our ultimate faithfulness into something other than God. The Christian faith means loyalty to Jesus as Lord, and not to the seductive would-be lords of our lives, whether the nation, the pursuit of wealth, acheivement, family or desire.
To be faithful to God means that we love what God loves--the neighbor and and all creation. There is an ethical imperative for our behavior in faith as fidelitus.
Faith as visio
The English equivalent of visio is vision and this meaning of faith has to do with the way we see the world (iniverse) and all that is in it.
There are three ways of looking at the whole of life, and each goes with a particular way we respond to life:
- We can see reality as threatening and hostile. It may be considered dangerous and "out to get us". We respond to this vision of life defensively. We become security-conscious and take care to be self-protective. Religiously we may become very "salvation-conscious" being very careful to fulfill the requirements for salvation.
- We might see the reality of life as indifferent. The enviornment, the universe, "life itself" may be considered as neutral and uncaring about us. This is the most prevalent modern secular viewpoint. The swirling forces of the universe are made of matter and energy that are indifferent to human activity. Our response more than likely is also somewhat protective and security-oriented.
- We can see reality as life-giving and "nourishing. It has given us our life and sustains us. It is gracious. It refllects Jesus' words about the birdsand the flowers. God feeds them, clothes them. God is generous. Seeing life this way leads to radical trust. It frees us from anxiety and worry and self-preoccupation. It generates a "spend and be-spent" philosophy of living.
Some may say this vision of life is naively optimistic. The point is that what we "see" radically affects the way we choose to live our lives.
Borg concluded this chapter by saying that he was rather hard on assunsus earlier and he would like to offer three affirmations (beliefs) that do matter. They are foundational:
- Being Christian means affirming the reality of God.
- Being Christian means affirming the utter centrality of Jesus.
- Christian faith means affirming the centrality of the Bible
---The above material relied upon Chapter Two of Marcus Borg's book: THE HEART OF CHRISTIAINITY (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.
Chapter Headings for that book are:
1. The Heart of Christianity in a time of Change
Part One. Seeing the Christian Tradition Again
2. Faith: the way of the heart
3. The Bible: The Heart of the Tradition
4. God: The Heart of Reality
5. Jesus: the Heart of God
Part Two. Seeing the Christian Life Again
6. Born Again: A New Heart
7. The Kingdom of God: the Heart of Justice
8. Thin Places: Opening the Heart
9. Sin and Salvation: Transforming the Heart
10. The Heart of the Matter: Practice
11.. Heart and Home: Being Christian in an Age of Pluralism