I have been reading two books recently that have challenged me. One is The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee and the other is The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright. The two authors have very different styles. The Normal Christian Life is transcriptions of sermons. The style reflects an oral presentation. The Day the Revolution Began deals with the meaning of the crucifixion of Christ. It is very scholarly. Both books are intended to help followers of Christ to understand their faith better and more completely. For different reasons I have struggled with both.
When I entered college, I had a very simple faith. Some would have said that I had a simplistic faith. It was fairly black and white. Everything fit into neat categories. While I was in college, God worked at maturing my faith so that it was less black and white and more dynamic and vital. Then I went to seminary.
Seminary was a new experience. For the first time in my life I was looking seriously at “Theology” with a big “T”. Early in my first year at seminary, the President of the school warned us about a danger we would face. He said the danger was that we would become theologians and lose our faith. I didn’t fully grasp what he was telling us, but I think I do now. We can dig deeply into the many facets of theological study and lose our way in our personal, intimate relationship with Christ. Our faith can become more and more academic and less and less real world.
One of the hard realities of life is that once you become informed about something you cannot go back to your uninformed state. To put it a different way, once we have lost our pure innocence we can never regain it. Once I had been exposed to all of the wonders, challenges, controversies, and implications of theology, I could never go back a simple faith.
As I have been reading the above mentioned books, I have been struggling with a longing to go back to a simpler faith. Some may find wrestling with theology exhilarating. I often find it exhausting. As I read the New Testament, I see people taking Jesus at His word, at face value, and following Him, without all of the complications we have added to the mix. They definitely do not have a deep understanding of theology, as we know it, yet they had a deep faith in Jesus.
There is an incident recorded in the Gospels where people were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him bless them. His disciples saw this as an intrusion and shooed the children away. Jesus would have none of it. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:14-16
What I want you to see is verse 15, I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. How do little children accept things? By faith! They don’t have all of the background knowledge. They may not be able to explain everything. Instead they trust those who they look up to. By faith they accept the word of those authorities as right and true.
It is not wrong for us to delve deeply into the pathways of theology. There is spiritual gold to be mined there. But we need to recognize that there is danger there as well; the danger of dissecting our faith into its component parts and sacrificing the whole. On the other hand, there is no place for mindless, sentimental faith that has little bearing in truth and reality. The Bible is clear that we need to examine our faith and be sure that it is genuine. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6) Somewhere between a purely academic faith and a childish faith lays simple, genuine faith.
Our walk with Christ is a journey with many stages. I made a childlike commitment to Jesus Christ when I was five. I made a determined commitment to follow Christ when I was thirteen. I fully embraced my faith as my own when I was in college. In many ways, my faith was refined in seminary, and is still being refined today. When did my faith journey really begin? It began that day that I looked up to my Sunday School teacher with innocent eyes and said, yes I want to ask Jesus into my heart. Did I fully understand what I was doing? No. Did Jesus fully understand what I was doing? By all means!
I will never stop studying; challenging myself to gain a deeper fuller understanding of my faith. But I will always rest in the simple faith of taking God at His word.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”