Faith Onion


“Faith” is both a verb and a noun. Imagine Christian faith (noun) as an onion. Forget that it can bring tears to our eyes at times or that its sharp odor can drive others away. Focus on its layers. Let these represent our beliefs and practices.

How many of these could we shed before we reach a solid core—I know onions don’t have cores but go with me on this—a kernel of “onion-ness” that makes this an onion and not an artichoke or cabbage.

What is the irreducible content of faith? The minimum one has to know, believe and affirm to be a Christian? Many churches identify their cores in their creeds. To affirm the entire creed is to be orthodox; to disagree on any point is to be heretical.

During times of opposition, a coalition of churches and individuals may circle their wagons to protect non-negotiable truths. A century ago a group calling themselves “fundamentalists” identified five such fundamentals:

  • Inerrancy of the Bible
  • Virgin birth of Christ
  • Substitutionary atonement of Christ
  • Bodily resurrection of Christ
  • Imminent return of Christ

Jesus Christ is central, as it should be in a faith that bears his name. But are these the most salient points about him? And does inerrancy deserve to be at the head of the list?

If you had to select five fundamentals for which you would go to the stake, what would they be?

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3 thoughts on “Faith Onion

  1. 1. God’s unconditional love for each of us
    2. God is worthy not only of our praise, but our whole life
    3. Jesus is the only way to God
    4. The Holy Spirit is active today
    5. My life depends on him

    Not sure if that’s exactly what you wanted, but it’s my list and I’m sticking to it!

  2. Some of the roads we find ourselves on are roads we cannot remember getting on. If asked to prove that we, in fact, did get onto this road, we can’t do it. And yet, here we are, manifestly ON this road!
    Many Christian conversions are like this. There is no going down to the altar at a revival meeting. No praying a “sinner’s prayer” with someone who “led us to Christ” at a specific moment in time. And yet it is clear that we do, indeed, have faith in the Savior and that we love Him. Does it really matter exactly how it happened?
    I think the same thing obtains in the endless regress of trying to get to the root of the Christian faith itself. Which came first, the Bible or the church? Well, the church did. But how do we know what the church is or ought to be without the Bible?
    Protestants are quick to tell Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians that they are wrong in elevating church tradition to a level of authority alongside the Bible. But we forget that, without the apostolic authority of the church, we would have no Bible. Yet we find, as Luther did, that somewhere along the way, in the story of the church, it becomes obvious that we have to give prime authority to the Scriptures–over even the church.
    I’m not sure how we got on this road where the authority of the Scriptures must necessarily trump the authority of the church. I couldn’t point to a specific moment in history when it happened. But we are manifestly ON this road.
    We must pay respectful attention to other loci of authority, of course. And the most important of these, in my opinion, is that of the church. That is one reason the early creeds hold such sway in my thought. But also there are things like our own reason and experience which must also be acknowledged. And then there are things like the “findings” of various sciences (I would prefer to say that we should pay attention to the ongoing conversation of the sciences). All these others, however, must be subject to the prime authority of Scripture–else, we are lost at sea in an unending storm of opinion. (This does not mean that I cling to the Bible out of fear, though it may sound that way.)
    The inerrancy debate is, in my opinion, wrongheaded. For one thing, the fundamentalist position on inerrancy suffers from the same anemia that vitiates atheism–namely, the inability to affirm via negation. The question isn’t what the Bible is NOT; the question is what it IS. And my answer is: It is God’s gift to us of an utterly reliable source of apostolic (and prophetic) teaching. It is His message to us, the living story of the living Christ.
    I would like to say that this is my one “fundamental.” But life is not really like that. This understanding of the Scriptures is certainly at the heart of what could be called a fundamental core, but in the day-to-day moving through life in this world, I rely rather heavily on other things, such as church authority. Sometimes, it’s all a swirl, but I still know that it is all from God.
    His Spirit testifies to my spirit that I am His child, and reassures me that in relying on His word and His people to guide me, I am in goods hands–in fact, they turn out to be His.

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