Faith, God and Story - the principles of faith as story
The second in the six part series The Emmaus Road Experience by Baptist ministers John Rackley and John Weaver. The series explores how their lived Christian lives shape their theology. This piece is authored by John Rackley
It is common to describe life as a journey. But it is also helpful to describe our experience of our faith as a journey too.
Each person is the story of their life. At whatever age we have reached we are the sum of all our experiences, discoveries and relationships. Each of us has a background in the culture, family and society which have shaped us throughout our life.
Our faith in Jesus Christ cannot be separated from that journey through life. This is the foundation principle for looking at faith as a story. Although it might be helpful at times to separate life into the sacred and the secular, in reality we live one life.
A story is made up of different chapters. There is a plot. There are different characters which emerge and then may disappear. It will have a beginning and a conclusion – although none of us can write our own ending. The story of our faith will have all these elements. We live the story of our life and that is also the story of our faith.
But what are we meaning when we talk of ‘faith’? Faith and belief do not need to mean the same thing. Belief describes the content of what we believe about God, for example, or Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God is righteous. Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter. Faith then describes our attitude toward such beliefs. Faith describes the behaviour that emerges from such beliefs.
Faith is about trust and trustworthiness. Faith is a commitment to what cannot be seen (Hebrews 11:1). Belief is what we hold important. Faith is who we give our heart to. Our story is about both belief and faith, but faith has a priority.
As a 17-year-old I read The True Wilderness, by Harry Williams who was Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge. In its introduction Williams writes:
I decided, therefore, that alongside of teaching academic theology …. I would try to ask myself how far and in what way a doctrine of the creed or a saying of Christ has become part of what I am …. I resolved that I would not preach about any aspect of Christian belief unless it had become part of my own life blood. For I realised that the Christian truth I tried to proclaim would speak to those who listened only to the degree in which it was an expression of my own identity. All I could speak of were those things which I had proved true in my own experience by living them and thus knowing them at first hand.
These words of Harry Williams had a profound effect on me then and have become an important way-marker in my own faith story. They pointed me towards a non-propositional faith whilst at the same time reminding me of the historical layers of Christian belief upon which this belief system has developed.
They released me from the need to deferentially give assent to everything that the Church told me to believe through its creeds and confessions of faith and various streams of community. We need to recognise that any creed or series of propositions about God are an attempt to describe the impact of God on our world. They are a response to the activity of God.
But more than that they invited me to wonder what sort of life arises from a statement of belief. How do creeds shape behaviour? And more crucially what have they to do with my faith in God?
At that very young age I believe I was being introduced to the wind of the Universal Spirit which is not ours to control but blows where she wills.
Not many of us are preachers and have a public profile but all Christians are called to live within full view of the public. Whilst it is true that it is by our fruits we are known it is also equally true that we are called at anytime to give an account of the hope that is in us. (1 Peter 3:15).
In his letter Peter emphasises that giving an account of our hope needs to arise from ‘hearts which sanctify Jesus as Lord’ and should be described with gentleness and reverence. Our story is a description of our encounter with God.
Our story of faith is a gift in the hands of God. The testimony of a person who can say what their faith means to them is the raw material which the Holy Spirit can use in drawing people to Christ.
Talking about God requires humility and courage. The two disciples on the Emmaus Road both needed to meet the Risen Lord. They were entering an experience which was completely novel. What they had believed was not enabling them to cope with that experience. But once they saw what Jesus did with the bread they realised they had to tell others. Courage followed the humility which let God work in their lives.
In recent years I have been introduced to the Ministry of Spiritual Direction and have come to these conclusions:
God is more than a good idea.
Faith is more than a series of beliefs.
God is intimately engaging with the details of our life.
Faith is the story of our life seen through our relationship with Jesus
God can reach others as we share with them our faith story.
My conversations with John Weaver have confirmed them and the next article describes some of what went on when we started talking to each other.
Baptist ministers John Rackley and John Weaver have been working for four years on their lived Christian lives shaping their theology, in a project entitled 'Faith Journey as Theology'. They first presented this at Theology Live at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in January 2019. From this meeting others have joined them in reflecting on faith journey as theology.
They are now at the stage of putting these discussions together. The six part series includes:
Jesus the Emmaus Road Companion
Faith, God and Story - the principles of faith as story
Travelling together - the story of our conversations
The unending conversation
The Emmaus story as a model for ministry
Faith Journey as Story: an invitation for self reflection
Image | Photo by Patrick Fore | Unsplash
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