Lord, Increase our Faith!


Dear Friends:

I planned to have this post up last week. As it was, the ‘puter choked on a windoze update [thank-you Bill Gates] and landed a few days in the shop. Sorry, but these things can’t be helped. This won’t be the last time.

‘The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you. “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? “But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink ‘? “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” [Lu 17:5-10].

The ‘about‘ section in Darrell’s original Stuff Fundies Like blog says that the ‘five most commonly held fundamentals of the faith have been:’

The inspiration of the Bible by the Holy Spirit and the inerrancy of Scripture a a result of this.
The virgin birth of Christ.
The belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin.
The bodily resurrection of Christ.
The historical reality of Christ’s miracles.

Affirmed ubiquitously in IFB ‘what we believe’ documents in sects and websites, ‘Articles of Faith’ type ‘faith’ differ greatly from the meaning of faith in the sense that we trust Christ as our only comfort in life and in death. That ‘faith’ as ‘what we say we believe’ and ‘faith’ as a lifelong walk with Christ matters for this post.

In IFBdom, ‘faith’ tends to mean ‘converted.’ ‘Increasing in faith’ likely means bigger ‘faith-promise’ pledges. Or, you trust God to strengthen you to take on more ‘church jobs.’ Or you must stop questioning the pastor’s twist on some passage. It may mean that you should alter your preferred future to gain a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology to be a stay-at-home wife of an immature, self-centered, egotistic, narcissistic pastor’s son.

Beyond platitudes to ‘trust God’ and ‘lean not on your own understanding’ in such matters, ‘increased faith’ in IFBdom tends to devolve into sticking with the local sect/pastor through think and thin. The problem is, the IFB take on ‘faith’ doesn’t always look particularly like Bible faith.

Increased Faith — for What?

Lu 17:5-10 makes a good text for browbeating the unbelief of delinquent members who pay the pastor too little servility and obsequiousness. But in Lu 17:5ff, that isn’t what ‘faith’ means. Nor does it mean ordering around local mulberry trees as if they were members. ‘Increase our faith’ relates to what was just being discussed. And what was that?

‘”Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” [Lu 17:3-4].

Why would Jesus tie increased faith to forgiveness? Is he saying that it’s easier for us to command trees to move than it is for us to forgive?

‘And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him’ [Lu 17:4].

Increase our faith indeed!

But who gets Forgiven…

The last several previous posts focused on Lu 17:1-4. But who exactly are the ‘little ones’ in Lu 17:2? And what does that ‘stumbling’ mean?

‘Little ones’ translates ‘mikros.’ It can mean short people, young people, or insignificant people. I’ll go with the last group, further unpacked by such words as ‘lowly’ or ‘unimportant.’ Think of people without rank, standing or influence in society, or in church culture for that matter.

Perhaps most telling, Jesus defines them as those who need forgiveness over and over and over and over and over again. Theoretically, that means all of us. But this tends to be reserved for those on the margins — the unwed teen, the young man struggling with his homosexuality or with some addiction. We sometimes call them, ‘those people.’

It begs to be asked, ‘what if “THOSE” are the people we’re supposed to forgive time after time after time after time.’ What if NOT forgiving ‘THEM’ is the occasion of ‘scandal’ [stumbling] that makes them fall?

Yet as they repent, they are forgiven. Every time they get drunk. Every time they sell their body for bread. Every time they get caught cheating.

Lastly, imagine that after all this hard work of forgiving, confessing:

‘…we have done only what we ought to have done’ [Lu 17:10].

The great thing about the gospel is that it has plenty of ‘scandal’ for all.

It’s when we forget that and put ourselves above others that we blow it.

Stepping out in Faith and into Spiritual Growth

Stepping out in faith

Dear First time caller:

A few preliminaries out of the way, we move to the heart of your inquiry.

Discovering Growth

I have horrible instincts when it comes to knowing what He’s trying to say to me.

Many IFB and ex-IFBs feel this way. Yesterday’s post addresses the IFB pastor’s investment in membership self-flagellating.

But where you say you ‘have horrible instincts’ for discerning the Spirit’s voice, I see an insatiable thirst for knowledge. And for your questions and timidity, you’re better at this than you guess. You ask how you can learn to read Scripture with new eyes. What you don’t see is that your own post largely answers own question. Here is what I see in your post.

  • You strongly desire to read the Scriptures through new eyes.
  • You know that the Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures.
  • You are open to the possibility that God gives us new wine.

If you are seeking the starting point discerning the Spirit’s leading in the Scripture, I can offer no better council. But I also see how you interact with Scripture from your emotional life. Look at the words you use:

cautious, skeptical [a little], scary [a little].
much more gentle, love to read it, refreshing.

That, First time caller, is the stuff of which growth is made. It requires that we ‘step out in faith.’ And yes, that can be at least mildly scary. Yet we are not called to avoid dangers but to face them relying on the word and Spirit. Willingness to explore and test ideas is why the Bereans [the ones in Acts 17:10-11] were commended. A favorite text of mine:

‘We take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ’ [2Co 10:5].

Spiritual curiosity disciplined with Biblical-shaped caution is a wonderful gift, and it is a gift is much needed in the church. It is here that the church does some of her best theological work.

Even if somewhat scary, you’ve already made an huge step of faith with respect to how you ‘read’ Ph 2:12. In the process, you’ve touched something extremely important, with deep ramifications, and which is profoundly beautiful. It is also relevant to your inquiry as to HOW to read the Scriptures. It is also revealing of who you are as God’s image. But I’ll take up this in tomorrow’s post.


Ge 1-3, Fundamentalism and Authority

IVP Academic
John H. Walton, ‘The Lord World of Adam and Eve,’ pg 19.

If this post doesn’t convince you to buy and read John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve,’ perhaps comments here will.

Anyone encountering Evangelical/Fundamentalists learns quickly that the appeal in each case stands or falls on the Authority question.

…any challenge to scriptural integrity had the potential to undermine Christianity as they understood and practiced it.

That paragraph from Walton’s book identifies several errors to avoid. We are not to…

  • Read modern ideas into the text.
  • Arrogate authority to ourselves and our ideas.
  • Interpret the text as if it references modern science.
  • Define the role/function of authority outside the author’s intention and audience’s understanding [which would alter the text’s meaning].

Walton’s book might leave fundamentalists flummoxed. At the very least, it would be an expected turn. Fundamentalists: lectured for disrespecting Scripture… for undermining its authority by making it speak to modern, scientific questions? That sounds suspiciously like one of Ken Ham’s complaints with Pope Francis.

‘What the pope and many other religious leaders are saying is that God—and His Word—is open to change as society’s opinions change.’

Ken Ham censures Francis saying:

Pope Francis has compromised biblical authority in favor of man’s ideas in the area of origins.

I think Walton’s point is good. So as I see it, Ham falls under the censure of his own pen. Not that Ken Ham’s pen is so impressive.

So convincing are Ken Ham’s answers in ‘Answers in Genesis’ that Ian W. Panth adopted an evolutionary view of the cosmos because of him. Yet rather than ‘compromising’ biblical authority, Panth makes it clear that he was led to his conclusions by a rigorous study of Scripture. It was not his intent to overturn but to understand. A scholar in training, Ian Panth studied Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. His scholarship surpasses many Evangelical/Fundamentalists. And of Ken Ham, Ian Panth says:

He is not open to genuine dialogue with those he judges to be ‘compromised Christians.’

Unless one accepts Fundamentalism’s premises, there is little reason to embrace its conclusions. So this is about authority. When people think for themselves, when they question or offer alternatives to fundamentalism’s premises, the isolating/vilifying begins. This is especially damaging when the questions are asked honestly and seeking a way to believe…

Panth reads Walton with appreciation and recommends him to us. Ditto here. Like many others, Panth embraces a non-literal reading of Genesis 1-3 NOT to jettison faith, but to hold it fast. Panth also says that wherever Ken Ham’s version of things arises, it needs to be challenged vigorously on exegetical and theological grounds.

Well said!