Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Christian Believing, Ch.s 7-8

In these final chapters, Westerhoff and Holmes flesh out the "final core" of Christian belief--their word for it, which I resist, is "style". Committment to the final core of belief constitutes a "style of belief". Christian belief emerges from an ongoing, loving relationship with a divine person, Christ. The relationship is fundamental; although belief cannot help but condition our experience of Christ, those conditioning beliefs remain open to revision within limits based on our experience. That is, God can always break into our experience in such a way as to call certain of our beliefs about him into question.

I. On Westerhoff and Holmes
God chose Christ to reconcile the world to him--yet our understanding of Christ is always "clothed" in terms and concepts taken from our culture. Thus the New Testament witnesses to Christ in varied ways, each within the coordinates of a distinct cultural setting: (1) the Palestinian-Jewish Jesus, the risen Messiah who will return to judge all; (2) the Hellenistic-Jewish Jesus, the risen Messiah who now rules from heaven until his return; (3) the Gentile, Greek Jesus, the incarnate preexistent Son of God now ruling from heaven until his return.

Though (1), (2) and (3) are different, even contrary, beliefs, the authors claim they are consistent with the same faith. That is, I infer, people with contrary beliefs about the nature of Christ might nevertheless have an ongoing, loving, personal relationship to the same divine Person. Still, the Gentile Greek view won out in time--Christians learned to see the God of Scripture in Greek terms, as immutable and absolutely simple, "overwhelming" the God of Jewish culture. Recently, Christians have questioned the Greek understanding of God--is a divine person best understood as incapable of emotion? As outside of time?

The "Christ of faith" is beyond human culture; we should not be surprised to find our relationship with Christ resists and even subverts its cultural "accomodation" in dogma. The possibility of such resistance and subversion entails we should be willing to accept correction in our beliefs and practice. That is not to say everything is up for grabs--our experience of Christ remains consistent in promising the fulfillment of a future order, the Kingdom, wherein death is overcome through personal, bodily survival in resurrection. For Westerhoff and Holmes, this expectation of eternal life with Christ in the Kingdom seems part of the "final core". Such a moral order and fulfillment constitute a "criterion" by which we judge Christian belief. As the criterion cannot be demonstrated here below, our faith is a risk. We are committed to a "final core" of belief without "final assurance" that it is true.

Westerhoff and Holmes' "final core" is rather minimal, consistent with mutually repugnant elaborations--what one might call "pluriform belief" (not the authors' phrase) at a time or over time. Diverse or changing beliefs are consistent with the survival of the relationship of faith, and even with committment to a "final core" of doctrine. What is important: the change and diversity should be guided by the relationship of Christians to God. Thus "morality evolves" from the relationship with God, an "experience of God in our hearts" through which God "has a claim" on us, obligating us to respond.

The enemy of this relationship is the modern world's secularism, a pervasive way of life implying that there is nothing beyond the world of the senses, that God makes no self-disclosure to us in revelation, and that we may attain fulfillment through use of the world of our senses. Secularism either altogether eliminates the sacred, or implies that the sacred is "utterly hidden" from us.

II. Reflections
Westerhoff and Holmes exhibit an encouraging optimism about the same faith surviving in opposed pluralities of belief. At least in some philosophy of language, successful reference does not require descriptive veracity: we succeeded in referring to water for untold centuries before learning how to distinguish H2O from XYZ--and even while believing water was not H2O, but an element. Likewise, might we succeed at referring to God and Christ in our discourse and practice, even while entertaining false beliefs about them? If so, Anglican comprehensiveness stands on sturdy legs. Inasmuch as God wishes to be worshipped in truth, what matters more than holding to the earliest beliefs is retaining the humility to be open to correction and to change when corrected. What this openness requires is steadfast love for God; the ongoing personal relationship, faith, is fundamental.

It goes almost without saying that the late Anglican fashion for confession runs counter to the sentiments of Christian Believing. In Westerhoff and Holmes' terms, insofar as new confessions add beliefs on to the minimal final core, they run the risk of creating an obstinate attachment to falsehoods that might resist correction from our relationship with God. That is, the fashion for confession risks cultivating vices, pride sufficient to turn a deaf ear to God's claim on us, and cowardice that shrinks from obligatory change.


Post a Comment

<< Home