My interest in the Christian faith is based on a couple of premises: first, I characterize myself as a monotheist; and, second, I have a tentative and complicated attraction to the myths, symbols, and traditions of the Christian faith. The first without the second would make me a monotheist, but without any particular connection to or interest in Christianity. Those myths and symbols are, as I see it, further expressed in two important ways: through the person of Jesus, and through the canon of scriptural texts that constitute the Christian Bible. Taken together, then all of this leaves me with three basic points of contact with Christianity: God, Jesus, and the Bible.
For me, this isn't about affirming certain propositions of faith. Saying that a point of contact with Christianity is that I believe in God leaves a lot of wiggle room as to what I might think about God's nature. Saying that Jesus is another point of contact says nothing about what my beliefs are concerning Jesus's nature or his relationship with God (it isn't, in other words, dependent on the Trinity, the resurrection, the virgin birth, salvation, or judgment day). And saying that the Bible is a point of contact doesn't say that I think the Bible is inerrant, that it doesn't contradict itself, or that it isn't just plain wrong about some things. Faith for me may not be about affirming what I think about Jesus's nature or God's nature, but, on the other hand, it may have a lot to do with community, spirit, faithfulness, and love.
Which brings me to this quote from Marcus Borg:
That Christian faith is about "belief" is a rather odd notion, when you think about it. It suggests that what God really cares about is the beliefs in our heads--as if "believing the right things" is what God is most looking for, as if having "correct beliefs" is what will save us. And if you have "incorrect beliefs", you may be in trouble. It's remarkable to think that God cares so much about "beliefs."This quote comes form a section in The Heart of Christianity in which Borg explores several different meanings of "faith", which he labels assensus, fiducia, fidelitas, and visio. Assensus, Borg argues, has been mis-characterized as being about affirming a set of "right" beliefs. After discussing the other ways of characterizing faith he finally does come around to assensus, but in particular he associates the word with the idea that there are three affirmations that are integral to Christianity: the reality of God, the utter centrality of Jesus, and the centrality of the Bible.
Moreover, when you think about it, faith as belief is relatively impotent, relatively powerless. You can believe all the right things and still be in bondage. You can believe all the right things and still be miserable. You can believe all the right things and still be in bondage. Believing a set of claims to be true has little transforming power. (The Heart of Christianity, pp 30-31).
Hmmm. Back to those three points of contact again. How about that?
Peter Rollins writes his book The Fidelity of Betrayal, "While certain beliefs are affirmed as a means of reflecting upon the faith of Jesus, these beliefs can never take the place of, or fully describe, that faith." (p. 136). He also writes:
Instead of forming churches that emphasize belief before behavior and behavior before belonging, there is a vast space within the tradition to form communities that celebrate belonging to one another in the undergoing and aftermath of the miracle, a belonging that manifests itself in communally agreed rituals, creeds, and activities. In the midst of all this these communities can also encourage lively, heated, and respectful discussions concerning the nature and form of belief. (p. 161).Imagine that--forming churches that don't emphasize belief before behavior and behavior before belonging. Sometimes I do get glimpses of that from various Christian churches; for example, I recently visited a church and was pleasantly surprised to hear one of the deacons tell me something along the lines of, "this is a good church if you are a doubter." If only I heard a message like that more often.