Monday, June 04, 2007

The Ancients: Augustine

Considering the comments I've made before about the role of religion in society and the pervasiveness of faith in every aspect of it (from science to pop-culture, everyone believing something), I find it very interesting that Augustine, in the fifth century, said:

"Nothing would remain stable in human society if we determined to believe only what can be held with absolute certainty."

After Sunday School the other day a guy told me that my class was making him think, which he thought was a good thing. He said when he first became a Christian his pastor confronted him saying he was a "lazy thinker". He is a retiral-aged man at my church now and I can say he has thought and is still thinking. Good for him. Good for that pastor too. I think a lot of pastors today have caved to the consumeristic pressures and are the ones dumbing it down rather than speaking from the Word for the maturation of their congregations. Motivational speeches instead of sermons.

But let's not pretend that we aren't thinking. We are just thinking lazy.

Augustine said: "No one believes anything unless one first thought it believable. . . . Everything that is believed is believed after being preceded by thought. . . . Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking."

I think a lot of evangelicals in my tradition do not think of themselves as theologians. But they are. The thing is that a lot of us simply accept certain teachings on the basis of accepted authority. This might seem shocking to many to realize this, since many of them cringe at the Catholic concept of papal authority, but we accept certain truths based on a mixed-bag of authorities, mostly determined by bookstores and dynamic church leaders in our own era rather than on some sort of dialogue with church tradition as a whole---i.e. theology.

So we think from Lucado and Yancey, Hybels and Bell, instead of through them to everything behind them. Of course, you have to start somewhere, but we start from a few decades ago and move towards today instead of starting today and moving back into the faith that was entrusted to those before us; those from whom we've inherited this faith. I sometimes think evangelicals are alot like the Mormons, who think there was nothing useful between Peter and Josef Smith.

I sometimes wonder: Who is our Josef Smith and where do we get off thinking we can get to the pristine nature of the biblical faith and ignore all thought regarding about how it got to us in the first place? The Bible did not come to us without tradition. Tradition not only brought us to our current understanding of it but brought us the Bible we have to begin with. What ended up in the Bible was determined by the church of the first four centuries.

But we skip all that and pretend to believe in the Bible alone. But there is no such thing. We all think from somewhere. So will you think from Christian top 40 or from Christianity as a whole? It may be a difficult road forward, but evangelicals need to get about the hard work of reuniting with the faith of our heritage, rather than a truncated version of it.

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