Faith Seeking Understanding

Faith Seeking Understanding: A Confident Journey by John Butterfield


Subtitled "You don't have to be a conservative Christian to be confident in your faith" this book shows that the pilgrimage of faith exploration is a confident journey which involves intellectual freedom, a prophetic passion for justice and peace, and a deep spirituality. Christian confidence is about knowing what you believe and integrating that belief into your whole life. For conservative Christians confidence involves the assurance of arrival at a destination. For me the journey of faith is the faith itself rather than events on the way to an end place. That journey of faith is a continual search for understanding, undertaken with confidence, as we are continually confronted with the mystery of God. The book also contains four creeds written by contemporary church groups. The title "Faith Seeking Understanding" comes from Anselm who lived from 1033-1109 and was Archbishop of Canterbury. ("fides quaerens intellectum".)

This book is my response to Lois, who asked me the question: “How can we be more confident as Christians.” Lois is a thinking church member who admits to doubts and problems with many aspects of traditional Christianity yet at the same time she has a deep, creative and spiritual faith. She also has a passion for justice, fair trade, world development, peace, and inclusion and has given freely of her limited spare time to helping at the church and social campaigning. Yet despite this commitment and passion for justice and obvious marks of following Jesus she felt she lacked confidence as a Christian. Perhaps this was because she was comparing herself to some of those people from the Baptist church whose faith seemed much more assured because it was different. It was also because she was frustrated with the media image of Christianity as a group of right-wing narrow-minded individuals with a hatred of social campaigns and minority groups, especially gays.

So what does it take to be a confident Christian if you are the sort of person who:

wants to question things,

uses your brain,

avoids glossing over things that are hard to believe,

studies the bible but recognises that it is not all equally useful,

thinks a sense of search is more important than belief and who celebrates mystery

has a faith that allows for honest doubts.

If this description fits you then you are on a well-travelled path that fearless explorers have taken over the centuries to push forward our human understanding of God and look at the new things that God is doing in the world. We have the label of liberals or progressive Christians. We experience and know God through our human intellect and emotions and as, over the years, we have become more aware of the way the universe works so human ideas about God have changed. This is not an evolution of God, just a growing revelation of human understanding about God. I believe we are on a journey of faith as we journey through life and that there are many fellow travellers on the Christian path I follow and on parallel pathways. This journey of faith proceeds as we question the nature of the world as we find it and look for God and evidence of God's presence in the world. A liberal Christian faith should be an exciting pilgrimage into the colourful multifaceted God.

Liberal churches have in recent years been plagued by a lack of confidence in what they believe and how they believe it. Look at it from the viewpoint of those who argue against Christianity. The Times columnist and religious debunker Matthew Parris only ever engages with conservative and extreme types of Christianity, regarding, for example, middle-of-the-road liberals not worthy of his contempt. Of course any opponent of Christian faith has a vested interest in portraying that faith in its most unbelievable forms, and treating any that might be remotely believable as merely wishy-washy. Likewise Richard Dawkins always attacks simplistic and fundamentalist varieties of Christianity as though they were the norm, and thinks he has demolished Christian faith when he has shown the absurdity of a literal belief in Adam and Eve. But neither of these opponents of religious faith is merely foolish in this, for it is indeed in extreme religion that passionate commitment is mostly to be found. There is little point in attacking people who are not convinced of the truth of their own beliefs. As I will show later this is a superficial charge because unlike conservative Christians a sense of the search is more than the content of belief and we can celebrate mystery. We do not necessarily view ourselves as having arrived at a destination but see the fact of our being on the journey of faith as more important. I believe that all religion should be subjected to a vigorous critique, but too often Dawkins’ arrogant atheism wastes time knocking down imaginary straw men. It's right for religion to concede ground to science to explain natural processes. But at the same time, science has to concede that despite its huge advances it still cannot answer questions about the nature of the universe - such as whether we are freak chances of evolution in an indifferent cosmos.

This study is my attempt to redress the balance and point out that liberal Christians have every reason to be confident in what we believe and the process of belief that our faith involves. But if we are looking at how we can be confident thinking Christians we need first to define what we mean by confidence.

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