Everyone has a personal faith. Some people place their faith in traditional religions while others collect ideas from various sources and create a unique, personal faith. Sometimes people put their faith in social or political movements. Still others place their faith in progress or technology, that is the future. Not everyone has a well thought out faith, not everyone recognizes what their faith is, but everyone lives by some sort of faith. In 2020 I made some updates to this page. The core of my faith hasn’t changed, but a number of the references needed to be updated and I added a bit of what the last 30 years has taught me since first writing this post.
So what is faith? It is trusting in something you can’t prove. That’s not to say that faith is irrational, or that there isn’t evidence backing your conclusion, just that you have to go beyond what you can see. Even the pure “rationalist” has to make a “leap of faith” to trust their thinking as discussed by Timothy Keller in his Authors@Google talk. A great illustration of this comes from the book Flatland. Just as the two dimensional residents of Flatland struggled to imagine the greater reality of three dimensional space, so we struggle to see the full reality that goes beyond what we can see with our eyes. C.S. Lewis’ discussed this struggle in his wonderful sermon The Weight of Glory. There is a spiritual dimension that anyone can discover, but no one sees naturally.
Faith in What?
For me, the one word answer is “Jesus”. In a sentence it would be Jesus loves me and gave me a new life which I didn’t deserve. I think it’s important to say Jesus rather than Christian because in the mind of many people, the term Christian is link to very un-Christian images. Saying follower of Jesus brings front stage that the Christian faith is centered on a personal relationship, not a system of beliefs, a strict code of ethics, nor is it an alignment with the political left or right. I appreciate the attempt to recapture the word Christian in Carol Wimmer’s poem entitled When I Say “I am a Christian”.
My personal theology is more expansive that the Nicene Creed or Missional Manifesto, but I am much less dogmatic about “my” additional details. I recognize that many of my beliefs are my opinion, not fact, and not so important that I should let them separate me from others. As my friend Danny Hall says, “there are very few beliefs I would be prepared to die for.”
How I “Found Faith”
I grew up in a secular Jewish home. I had faith that I was a good person who could make a difference in the world. In my teens I discovered that I wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I could be selfish or cruel when I wanted to be gracious and kind. I started to fear there was more evil in the world than good, and wondered if there was any hope. Would mankind destroy ourselves and our planet?
I read the scriptures of many faith traditions and several philosophical systems from Autobiography of a Yogi to Zen Mind, with Mere Christianity and many others books in-between. Nothing gave me the answers I was looking for. I decided that there must not be a God. Then one night I felt the need to pray for a friend (who I later learned was in grave danger). It was odd, praying to a God I didn’t believe in. Over the next couple of years I found myself continuing to talk to God, even though I wasn’t sure there was a personal God, nor did I hear any reply.
One day a friend succeeded in getting me to a bible study after persisting for months. The study made sense. One of the observations the teacher made was that if Christianity was true, it should make a huge difference in people’s lives. I thought “Exactly… that’s why Christianity must not be true, Christians are such hypocrites”. I looked around the study. There were people I had known for several years. I was fairly self-righteous, and thought I was better than they were. Yet, I could see a love, a unity in that community that I couldn’t explain, and that I wanted. I later learned the Bible (John 13:35) noted “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. Maybe there was something more to Christianity than the hypocrisy I was so quick to point out. The teacher called for people to commit themselves to Jesus. All of a sudden, everything I read in the last few years snapped into focus: foremost the amazing life of Jesus described in the the book of John and C.S. Lewis’ Liar, Lunatic, Lord argument. That night I became a follower of Jesus.
Over the next few months I continued to examine my new faith. Did it truly make sense, or was it an emotional reaction to a meeting? I learned much of the material found in Discovering God which convinced me that I could trust the Bible. The more I investigated my new faith, the more it made sense. I concluded that I really did think the Christian faith was true. I started to see God’s hand in the world. Decades later, I find the core of my faith unchanged. I still encounter things I just can’t get my head around. Life is filled with paradoxes which defy understanding. When I encounter something that is beyond me, I have learned to admit I don’t understand and then I choose to wait for God to make it clear.
If you want see the heart of classic Christianity I would suggest reading the “book” of John found in the Bible. The books A Search for the Spiritual by James White and Discovering God by Dennis McCallam are brief but excellent guides to the process of exploring spiritual issues. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller clearly addresses the most common questions related to the Christian God. The identity of Jesus is the single most important issue when considering Christianity. Is there credible evidence that Jesus is the Son of God? The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel attempts to answer this question. Basic Christianity by John Stott has one of the clearest explanations of the core of the Christian faith. I think the good and beautiful series is one of the best descriptions of how to live out Christianity.
in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respectI Peter 3:15 (ESV)
How Faith Shapes My Life?
I think people often make the “Christian” life too complex. They have a long list of rules, things that they should do, things they should avoid. I think it’s much simpler. One of my favorite Bible passages that gets at the core of how following Jesus should effect our life:
He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your Lord.Micah 6:8
A similarly brief formulation was provided by Jesus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)
How does this work? The life of a follower of Jesus is spent learning about who Jesus is, understanding His love, and letting His love set them free to live a meaningful and loving life. As you grow to know a friend, and to appreciate them, your life changes a bit and you take on some of their characteristics. A follower of Jesus will slowly have their life changed so that it looks more like the life of love that Jesus lived. Not because they are now following an external set of rules like the Ten Commandments, but because they have love in their heart. Book of Galatians which can be found in the Bible’s New Testament says that the fruit of the Spirit, that is the result of God working in a Christian’s life, should be love. Then this book goes on to enumerate what this love looks like: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Jesus himself said that people will know we are His followers by the love which is manifest in their community.
Key with following Jesus is remembering that we are responding to His love. Grace, not works!! God initiated not us. My breath prayer is “Lord so fill me with your love that it overflows on others”. We shouldn’t be surprised when we fall short. The gospel is at the core of not just being “saved”, but also how we live. A few months after I had starting following Jesus, a dear friend shared an observation which has shaped my life.
The sign of maturity is not the lack of sin because in this life you will never be free of sin, but how quickly you return to the throne of grace.Doug Lawver
After I decided to follow Jesus I attended Fish House Fellowship (later called Xenos, and now Dwell Community Church). During my twelve years this church I lead small groups, planted a house church, with others started a ministry to international students, establish a missions program, and sent teams to Brazil and to Southeast Asia. Xenos provided a great foundation of both practical and systematic theology, advanced hermeneutics and provided an effective framework for service. I then moved to the SF Bay Area and attended Penisula Bible Church which helped me trust God more deeply in day to day life and to find common ground with people who embraced different traditions and beliefs thanks to the example of Doug Goins and several other people of faith. At PBC I co-lead small groups, served and provided mentorship to college students, young adults, and young married couples. I coordinated the Perspectives class several times and co-lead our missions team and I participated in PBC’s intern program. I moved to Menlo Church, Cafe Campus to join Jackie and her daughter. At Menlo I was involved with small groups and Stephen Ministry. When Menlo closed the Cafe campus Jackie and I started to search for a new spiritual home. No decision yet, but we have been intrigued by spark church.
Caring for “The Other”
The heart of orthodox Christianity is caring for others. Our identity, allegiance, and citizenship is as a member of God kingdom, not the nation/state here on earth, or tribe, our political party, or other any other human organization. We are called to care for and treat all people the same, not to favor people like “us” and be against “them” which was is eloquently explored in several of Miroslav Volk’s writings such as Exclusion and Embrace. Alas, evangelical churches are breaking apart due to political tensions because people have forgotten that we are Jesus’ people, not the follower of some political ideology or a political personality. The universal call to love “others” has been replaced with a political identity which is being used to separate people rather than to promote reconciliation… the mission Jesus wants us to attend to. I believe a huge issue is that the church in the USA has been victim of what Os Guinness called “cultural containment” thinking our culture is Christian without looking for how our faith and culture are in tension.
What’s a Good Church?
A church should be devoted to following Jesus. This means loving each other and finding true unity through that love. This is a theme well explored in Francis Schaeffer’s short book The Mark of the Christian. The church should be an actual community which shares life together, has an emphasis of knowing the scripture, practices the “ministry of the saints” – e.g. everyone has a contribution not just the “clergy”, and lives out God’s calling daily – majoring in the major themes (like care for those without power which appears more than 1000 times in the Bible). I believe for a church to do these things they need to have a combination of personal discipleship, triads, and/or home groups. Alas, churches seem to either gather people on Sunday and otherwise leave them to do whatever the rest of the week, or they are “serious”, and ultimately become “religious” and/or controlling, forgetting that we live by grace and that Jesus is the head of the church, not those who hold power.
In the past I would look for a number of “programs” a church had which would indicate a balanced in the church:
- Hosts Perspectives class with it’s emphasis on our mission being rooted in God’s nature, and that we are called to humbling share the gospel with all people, not push our culture.
- Promotes Renovare material which encourages a balance between the six streams of spirituality
- Has a Stephen Ministries or other “lay” staffed program to providing loving support to the community.
- Serves the local community, with attention to the poor, widows, orphans, and sojourner (e.g. immigrants/refugees).
- Has program(s) which help people learn and growth. This could be a well structured discipleship training, an accessible internship, challenging adult education, and/or a collaboration with seminary / bible school to make classes available to church members.
These days I am starting to think the best way to evaluate churches is to see how they teach key passages. For example, Luke 15. Here is my rating system:
|-1||Only talks about the prodigal son that leaves home for a sinful life who then returns home to his father. They are likely “religious” and judgmental.|
|0||Talks about the prodigal sons, pointing out that the older son has as many issues as the younger son. They have likely been exposed to Tim Keller or Henri Nouwen writings.|
|1||Talks about how the older son is the primary focus… the parable is asking “Will you celebrate/repent?”. Likely read Ken Bailey’s writings.|
|2||The focus is on the Father’s heart. The party is for the Father, not the sons. Ah, they really understand!|
There are countless resources and books to explore different belief systems. It would be hopeless to try and keep a good list. When I first wrote this post one of the best sites was Websites about Religion: originally created by Wabash Center. These days I would say use a search engine.
There are a number of other books have been pivotal in shaping my world view. Some of the most significant authors that have shaped my faith have been C.S. Lewis, Dennis McCallum, Watchman Nee, John White, Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, Larry Crabb, J. Oswald Sanders, Ralph Winter, Richard Foster, Kenneth Bailey, D.A. Carson, Os Guinness, Dan Allender, Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard, Timothy Keller, and Miroslav Volk. I have benefited from many of the ideas popularized by Renovare.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.Hebrews 11:1-3 ESV