Faith in the Storyteller
From Story to Author
In Proper Confidence [affiliate link], missiologist, minister, missionary, and theologian Lesslie Newbigin wrote:
If the place where we look for ultimate truth is in a story and if (as is the case) we are still in the middle of the story, then it follows that we walk by faith and not by sight. If ultimate truth is sought in an idea, a formula, or a set of timeless laws or principles, then we do not have to recognize the possibility that something totally unexpected may happen. Insofar as our knowledge is accurate, we shall be able to predict the future. Future and past are governed by the same laws, the same principles, and the same realities. But if we find ultimate truth in a story that has not yet been finished, we do not have that kind of certainty. The certainty we have rests on the faithfulness of the one whose story it is. We walk by faith.
This quotation comes from Newbigin’s introductory chapter, “Faith as the Way to Knowledge.” Addressing the fundamentalist/liberal divide, and naming the different approaches of each to faith and knowledge, Newbigin charts a third way by explaining that faith and knowledge can be understood in ways that are complementary to, not antithetical of, one another. Faith is more than mere belief. It is confidence in and allegiance to, and conceptually, it is indicative of a relationship between parties. Thus, there is a knowing involved in the act and exercise of faith.
Knowledge, similarly, is more than mere thought. Knowledge goes beyond the cold, hard facts. It is more than comprehension, understanding, or grasping with the mind. Newbigin argues that in the ancient world, the Christian story subverted and supplanted former understandings of knowledge through the fact of the incarnation, the claim that Christ, as logos (word, reason) entered the world in the flesh. He could be seen, touched, and heard. As a result, knowledge now not only concerned thought, but relationship. 1 John 1:1-4 points in this direction:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
In the quotation from Newbigin above, we are pointed toward story. The story itself is vitally important, as is one’s understanding of what that story is, where it points, and how we fit within it. But of even greater importance is the storyteller, and our faith in the “faithfulness of the one whose story it is.”
Thankfully, the faithfulness of God as revealed in the Bible, the story that we return to as normative for our faith, points us toward a God that is good, who can be trusted, who desires to be in relationship with us, who demonstrates love for us, and who not only authors our story, but enters our story, alongside and for us.
Still reading Ron Chernow’s Washington.
I finished Seneca’s Selected Letters. My next ancient philosopher? I’m thinking Plato.
I finished Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen’s Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. I gleaned wisdom from this book that I’m applying, particularly concerning the three conversations that are ongoing in every difficult exchange. What are those three conversations?
How do you navigate difficult conversations effectively? By being aware of the three conversations and then establishing a third story that accounts for each party’s answers to the questions raised above. It also helps to then bring to the conversation a posture of learning and discovery that factors contributions to the problem. Finally, being open to shared solutions makes a tremendous difference, rather than casting blame.
I’m very much enjoying Dallas Willard’s Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks. Please, if you haven’t read Willard, just ask me where to begin and I’ll point the way. What an incredible Christian mind.
I continue to progress through David Foster Wallace’s encyclopedic novel Infinite Jest.
Sights and Sounds
I watched You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008), Doom (2005), Funny People (2009), and Jurassic World Dominion (2022).
In watching Doom, a sci-fi horror action adventure starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karl Urban, and Rosamund Pike, I was surprised to discover an illustration of Christian spiritual formation. The basic premise of the film is taken from a 1993 first-person shooter game that ran on MS-DOS. I never had the game on PC, but I had friends who did.
The movie and the game are set on Mars. Soldiers must fight off monsters and undead human beings. In the video game, the labyrinthine base has a direct connection to hell. In the movie, a blood borne contagion infects human DNA, rendering a monstrous mutation that not only leaves victims bodily transformed, but zombie-like. On top of that, the blood contagion is selective, transmitting the infection to humans that it detects to possess sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies. Rosamund Pike’s character, Dr. Samantha Grimm, explains that the contagion selects for evil, thereby unleashing hell on earth.
That’s all setup to say this: one of the characters, code-name Goat (played by Ben Daniels) is shown to be a religious man. He reads the Bible, quotes Scripture, and self-flagellates when he commits a sin (in the film, his transgression is taking the Lord’s name in vain). But it is also revealed that in his former life he had done terrible things and had turned to what we conclude is the Christian religion (by imagery and suggestion) as a way of penance and self-correction. His religiosity was a way of keeping his sinful tendencies in check, reorienting his moral compass.
Well, Goat gets infected. His fellow soldiers think he is dead. But he reanimates. And when he does, he is a zombie. But as he sees his reflection, and as it appears to dawn on him what he is becoming, he crosses himself and with force runs his body, specifically his skull, into a hard surface until he is really, fully dead.
Why does he do this? Dr. Grimm theorizes, “Goat knew he was turning.”
Why would he run counter to the contagion’s programming? Because he had been on the receiving end of a different spiritual formation, one that sought to combat evil through self-sacrifice.
On the music front, I shared my September tunes.
On the blog: Thomas Merton writes about our proper chief care and with Dallas Willard’s help I meditate on how we plan toward spiritual growth.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - On the Baylor campus.