Q & R: Faith

Here’s the Q:

I just finished “A New Kind of Christianity”. I really enjoyed it and so did my wife. We both have been on a spiritual search for sometime, and your ideas struck a responsive chord in us.
As I reflect on the difference between a more traditional view of Christianity and your ideas, there is one aspect that I can’t seem to get past. As you know, “faith” or “believing” plays a huge role in both the gospels and the epistles, and is also there in the Old Testament, although in less obvious a fashion.
Just to quote the obvious passages…”believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”…”your faith has saved you”… “for by grace are you saved, through faith”…and you know all the rest. But in reading your book, although I agree with so much, I’m not seeing the role of faith in this new paradigm. Unless you addressed it and I just missed it.
In your opinion, what is the role of faith? Faith in what or who? Why is faith such a key concept in the New Testament? (Now abide faith, hope, and love…) What is the consequence of a lack of faith? If you could give me a few thought-starters on this, I’d really appreciate it.
BTW, you and I are the same age. I saw on your website that you were born in 1956, as was I (Jan. 8th). I’ve always thought those of us in the same age cohort need to stick together! (Tom Hanks is also a ’56’er).

R: Great question. First, I absolutely agree with you – and the Scriptures! – that faith is absolutely essential. Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. Faith moves mountains. Faith liberates us. The only thing that counts is faith working through love.
It’s important, though, to reflect on what we mean by faith and related words. For example, in the quote you mentioned from Acts 16, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” – does the word “faith” mean “hold correct doctrinal beliefs about Jesus Christ and you will go to heaven when you die?” I used to think so – that’s what I was taught – but now I’ve questioned some assumptions behind how key words in that text were defined. Now I see faith as a matter of confidence, and saved – well, you know my thinking on salvation (in relation to the Exodus narrative) from reading the book.
Similarly, when speaking of faith, does Jesus mean, “Your correct doctrinal belief has saved you,” or does Paul mean “for by grace you are saved, through correct doctrinal belief”? Now I’m all for good beliefs. Bad beliefs literally kill, and good beliefs literally save lives. But I think we make a mistake to equate “faith” with “hold correct beliefs or doctrines.”
Your second question – why faith is so important – is also really helpful. If something is true but I don’t believe it, I will not align my life with that truth or derive full benefit from it. If something is not true but I believe it is true, I will suffer the consequences of basing my choices on an illusion. But if something is true and I believe it, then I will align my life with it …
I hope that helps. BTW – I hope you’re enjoying your 50’s as much as I am. Best decade of life so far, I’d say. All the 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings have a lot to look forward to!