Too much emphasis on belief?

July 18, 2005 at 11:21 pm Leave a comment

I don’t know his name, only that he is a student at KSU, and a neo-pagan.

“Christianity,” he said, explaining his choice of worldview, “focuses so much on belief. You have to believe in order to be saved. But belief doesn’t actually get you anywhere. We focus more on action.”

He’s right, of course, about the emphasis on belief. That’s the element that makes Christianity different from any other world religion. Believe in Christ, and you will be saved–believe, not do.

My immediate reaction was to say that this emphasis on believing is absolutely justified. Salvation is based on belief in someone else’s work for you. After all, how far are we going to get by trying to fix ourselves? Christian or not, you have to admit that Paul is right: We do what we don’t want to do, and we don’t do what we do want to do. The locus of redemption from this vicious cycle HAS to be outside ourselves.

But then it occured to me that maybe he had a valid point–maybe his quizzicalness was justified. After all, I can see him asking, what do you mean “believe in” someone? How does mere belief help anything? And why would believing in someone save you?

And in this sense…well, Christianity’s preoccupation with belief does seem strange. Is it really belief that saves us? And if so, how? And why? And what does that mean?

Part of me knows it is true that belief is the cornerstone of Christianity, and that this is so for legitimate reason. After all, the whole problem with sinners, right from the beginning with Eve and the apple, is lack of recognition that God actually tells the truth. So it makes sense that belief, not behavior, was the problem, and is the solution.

The other part of me wonders if we have made belief in Christ too much of an intellectual assent, rather than an act of commitment involving the whole self.

Or, alternatively, maybe we make it into something mystical–something beyond what Christ intended as a simple acceptance that what God says about Himself is true. (I don’t think this is an idle concern, either. At least down here in the South, where people regularly speak of the moment where they “got saved,” the moment of belief regularly comes across as a mystical, mysterious experience.)

These extremes, if claimed as the basis of salvation, are a distortion. And in that case, was this student’s critique accurate? Do we emphasize belief too much–or at least emphasize the wrong things about it?

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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