November 12th, 2015
Every effort to distill Christianity down to its essence is problematic. Any one predication of what best describes this faith once delivered inevitably invites qualification.
But if you had to choose between these two categories which would you say is more accurate?
- Christianity is primarily a set of beliefs.
- Christianity is primarily a set of practices.
James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College (and who’s come to our aid before), would politely but firmly argue it’s the latter. It’s not that faith in Christ doesn’t rest on particular beliefs, particularly understood. It’s just that those beliefs are only credibly believed insofar as they manifest in particular practices–prayer, worship, good works, even confession. The practices are no substitute for the beliefs. But the beliefs are evidenced by the practices.
When I was laid out last week, having lost all interest in food and yet trying to express some gratitude for an immune system that was fighting for me, this lecture by Smith kept my attention.
It deals in some categories that for many Protestants may be, as he admits at the beginning, unfamiliar, if not uncomfortable, given how what he argues for in the way of discipleship are things typically found in Roman Catholic or Orthodox settings. But he makes a credible case for how the practices we keep have significant effect on the shape of our character.
To be clear, his is no subtle argument for replacing our faith in the justifying work of Christ with mere behavioral technique. Rather he advocates using the fulness of what God offers us–including our own bodies–for the sake of impressing more deeply upon us that Work of God that could only be done for us.
Listen to a little or the whole thing here.
Kevin and I have already begun thinking about how we might observe Lent next year (I know, I know–let’s get to Advent first). We’d like to spend that season not just thinking about what we explore in sermons, but in practicing, what Smith elsewhere calls, a whole liturgy of life–a set of practices that might help form us in ways listening to sermons can’t.
Smith writes elsewhere that we all follow a liturgy. That is, we all have embraced a pattern for living that expresses our beliefs–many times unconscious beliefs–but also serves to reinforce them. The change we’d like to see in us can only occur when we begin to embrace a new liturgy–new forms of using our time and responding to our circumstances.
I know we’ve covered before the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis, and specifically how that friendship was the context in which Lewis would come to faith. But with the presence of a guest among us last Sunday who humbly disclosed her atheism, but who came on account of the deep respect she had for a regular attendee of CtK, I can’t imagine a more probative example of the cruciality of friendship in the act of bearing witness.
So this article by Brett and Kate McKay about the (sadly declining) art of conversation, typified by the friendship between the Inklings, is worth your time in hearing afresh how finding space, time, courage, and openness are irreducible elements of the conversations that enable sharing matters of consequence. What’s more, conversation can embody the very love that is their subject of discourse. In Lewis’ own words:
Those are the golden sessions … when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give.
Our Q&A last Sunday only reconfirmed how there are certain conventional perceptions of religious sensibilities that make smaller the likelihood of someone without faith darkening the doorstep of a local church. Inversely proportional to that likelihood is the importance of friendship as not just the “final apologetic” but the first.
A couple weeks back we took note of the persecuted brethren throughout the world, participating in the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church.
But there’s no day the church isn’t being persecuted.
Here’s a word from on the ground in Iraq where the Christian population has been decimated through displacement and death on a level unprecedented.
It is just this sort of sobering item that (hopefully) puts in perspective the season about to overtake us–the one defined by, and built on, our penchant for acquisitiveness.
In such a season when it’s easy to follow the herd-instinct, the only hope is to be offered an alternative. The Samaritan’s Purse gift catalog came recommended to us at our quarterly presbytery meeting last weekend. It represents a very different kind of gift-giving, participation in which might help just a little to pry away unconscious embrace of the trivial and self-indulgent. Sending money to the variety of causes SP oversees is no substitute for becoming personally involved where you can (a point our new Mercy Cohort will be seeking to underscore in the coming months). But these kinds of investments surely resonate more with the Gift of the Incarnation.