Deadly Progression


This contribution to the discussion on the tension between faith and belief comes from Harvard professor Harvey Cox. In The Future of Faith he writes:

Faith is about deep-seated confidence. … Belief, on the other hand, is more like opinion. … Beliefs can be held lightly or with emotional intensity, but they are more propositional than existential. We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us, but we place our faith only in something that is vital for the way we live.

It is human nature to label and group things, so it didn’t take long for faith to be quantified and correlated into creeds.

Creeds are clusters of beliefs. But the history of Christianity is not a history of creeds. It is the story of a people of faith who sometimes cobbled together creeds out of beliefs. It is also a history of equally faithful people who questioned, altered, and discarded those same creeds. As with church buildings, from clapboard chapels to Gothic cathedrals, creeds are symbols by which Christians at times sought to represent their faith. But both the doctrinal cannons and the architectural constructions are means to an end. Making either the definitive element warps the underlying reality of faith.

Creeds codify truth and error; create orthodoxy and heresy: confer blessings and curses.

Priscillian holds an important distinction. He was the first Christian to be executed by his fellow Christians for his religious views (385 CE). But he was by no means the last. One historian estimates that in the two and a half centuries after Constantine, Christian imperial authorities put twenty-five thousand to death for their lack of creedal correctness.

Today we don’t kill heretics (i.e. those who disagree with us) but we often consign them to the outer regions—in this life and the next. Better to follow the counsel of Jesus to his overzealous disciples in Mark 9:38-41.

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One thought on “Deadly Progression

  1. Mike.

    I found this tonight. I will be getting your book. I miss hearing you speak. Seems like yesterday when I was sitting in Laurel Parks chapel and listening to you. Lin, my wife, and I were talking tonight about people that we admire. I told her about my little church and the men that influenced me. Thank you for being a wonderful part of my past. I will always remember you and your wonderful teaching, your freindship, and the walks that we use to take. I love thinking of those times that meant so much to me. It is funny how memories like these help in the present. Say hello to Sue…

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