Thursday, November 13, 2008

Beliefs and Ideas

Often I hear that our preaching needs to have more application. I struggle with this, not because I think application shouldn't be a crucial element, but because of the kind of application people seem to be after. Many people are wont to look at the scriptures as if they were a manual for life. They want teaching that goes from the big ideas, but then breaks it down into outcomes and procedures. The problem is, the scriptures stubbornly refuse that kind of application.

It's not that that kind of application is wrong, or shouldn't be done. It's rather that, I consider it to be a far more individual and specific kind of application, that needs the application to a person's context. And that is not the kind of application one can meaningfully make in large-group teaching.

On the other hand, I think one of the consistent rhetorical and ideological strategies of the biblical texts is to teach us to see things differently. By re-orienting and re-constructing our vision of reality, we come to hold different beliefs. And that is what I want to achieve in sermons and other large-group teaching practices - to change beliefs.

I suspect the desire for application comes because of a disconnect in belief and ideas in the western mind. If you believe something, it will change the way you act. If you hold notional ideas, you can be as correct as you want, but nothing will change in the way you act. This distinction is very helpful, because it goes a long way to explaining the constant battle over 'intellectual faith' that people tend to toss around. People readily understand the gospel, readily hold the idea of the gospel, but if they truly believed the gospel you would see it in their lives.

This also goes a long way to explaining the concerns over whether a person can lose their salvation. So long as we conflate belief and idea-holding, we'll have this conflict. But if a person believes the gospel, they will live it out and they will persevere, and so the question is a dead question. Belief is evident by its fruit, Ideas are only evident in confession. The great danger, is that gospel Ideas can be held by people who hold beliefs that are vaguely christianesque, and result in behaviour that counterfeits gospel-action. Both a belief in the gospel and a belief in works-righteousness, for example, will play themselves out in good works, but from such different motives! and with such different results!

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