Many scholars over the years have pointed out that what is usually translated in St Paul’s letters as ‘faith in Christ’ would be more accurately translated as ‘the faith of Christ.’ It’s more than a change of prepositions. It means we are all participating in the faith journey that Jesus has already walked. We are forever carried inside of the ‘Corporate Personality’ that Jesus always is for Paul (citations too numerous to count!). That’s a very different understanding of faith than most Christians enjoy.
Most people think having faith means ‘to believe in Jesus.’ But, ‘to share in the faith of Jesus’ is a much richer concept. It is not so much an invitation as it is a cosmic declaration about the very shape of reality. By myself, I don’t know how to have faith in God, but once we know that Jesus is the corporate stand in for everybody, we know we have already been taken on the ride through death and back to life. (It is rather hard to read Paul and not get this point.) All we can do now is make what is objectively true fully conscious for us. We are all participating in Jesus’ faith walk with varying degrees of resistance and consent.
Remember, it’s God in you that loves God. You, on your own, don’t really know how to love God. It’s Christ in you that recognizes Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit, whose temple you are (see 1 Corinthians 3.16), that responds to the Holy Spirit. Like recognises like. That’s why all true cognition is really recognition (‘re-cognition’ or knowing something again). Only so far as you have surrendered to Christ and allowed the Christ in you to come to fullness can you love Christ. It’s Christ in you that recognises and loves Christ.
‘Faith’ is not an affirmation of a creed, an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true or orthodox (although those things might well be good). Yet that seems to be what many Christians have whittled faith down to. Such faith does not usually change your heart or your lifestyle. I’m convinced that much modern atheism is a result of such a heady and really ineffective definition of faith. We defined faith intellectually, so people came up with intellectual arguments against it and then said, ‘I don’t believe in God.’
Both Jesus’ and Paul’s notion of faith is much better translated as foundational confidence or trust that God cares about what is happening right now. This is clearly the quality that Jesus fully represents and then praises in other people.
God refuses to be known intellectually. God can only be loved and known in the act of love; God can only be experienced in communion. This is why Jesus ‘commands’ us to move toward love and fully abide there. Love is like a living organism, an active force-field upon which we can rely, from which we can draw, and we can allow to pass through us. Read 1 Corinthians 13, St Paul’s masterpiece on the eternal state of love, as if you are reading it for the first time, and you will see that he equates confidence in God and confidence in love as the same thing. I am afraid you can believe doctrines (e.g., virgin birth, biblical inerrancy, Real Presence in bread and wine, etc.) to be true and not enjoy such a radical confidence in love or God at all. I have met many such merely intellectual believers.
This reflective article, by Franciscan Richard Rohr, OFM, is this week’s offering on the site of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Westminster, London.
Fr. Richard offers his view of the problems of purely classroom ‘Intellectual Belief’, which he believes to be insufficient to carry one through into the experience of understanding what it is to be ‘en Christo – the necessary transformation from an arid intellectual faith into an active, Spirit-filled faith.
Participation with Christ, is missionally much more important then the mere intellectual pursuit of ‘knowledge about’ Christ. This may be what is missing in today’s ‘sola Scriptura’ under-standing of gender and sexuality issues , whereby sole reliance on the words of Scripture, rather than the participation in and experience of the living Word-made-flesh in the Eucharist – may provide only an intellectual appreciation, rather than a vital, incarnational experience of the Jesus encountered in the Gospels
It reminds me of the old adage: “An ounce of experience is worth a tonne of theory”.