by Tim Scorer with Diana Butler Bass
Diana lays out for us a powerful historical process of 500 years that has brought us to a very profound personal faith challenge for our time:
Before the Reformation the “What do you believe?” question wasn’t significant. It was assumed throughout Europe that everybody was Christian and Catholic and that everyone believed the same thing.
After 1600, when there were five traditions contending for the loyalty of people, they had to be very clear about what they believed. For 200 years Christians were organizing their belief systems so that it was clear what members of various denominational loyalties believed.
The answers were organized into creeds and doctrines so that if somebody asked you what you believed, you could hand them something printed from your denomination about what you believe. Our traditions are very used to responding to the “what” question.
A few years ago I realized that hardly anybody in my life had been asking me the question, “What do you believe?” or “What do Christians believe?” The “what” question is almost empty space in my life. People just assume that they know what I think when they hear I’m a Christian.
This is the way the question has changed. We’ve moved from the conventional question to an experiential (or spiritual) question that has to do with how we experience belief. People will ask me the question sometimes multiple times in a single day, “How do you believe that?”
- “I’d be a Christian like you, but I just don’t know how to believe in Jesus.”
- “I’d like to go to church but I don’t know how I could ever recite the creed. How do you do that?”
- “I don’t know how to be a Christian and believe science at the same time.”
- “How in the world do you believe in the virgin-birth thing and still seem like you’re a rational, intelligent and thoughtful human being in the 21st century?”
Ultimately, people are requesting us to tell our experience of being a Christian person and how we put these pieces together in our lives—in our theological and philosophical worldviews. They are not nearly as concerned about what we believe anymore; they are asking how we believe it.
When people used to ask what we believe, they weren’t asking us personally anything; they were simply asking us for information. We could hand them something printed that was fairly objective or we could tell them to talk to a priest or minister. We didn’t necessarily have to invest our own selves in the answer.
But now people are saying, “How do you do it?”
- “How do you make sense of this story that you claim marks your life—this story about Jesus?”
- “How does that story connect to your life in the world?”
- “How do you think about science, politics and the moral life?”
People are asking us, not just for our ideas about God, but are asking us to give them our story about the convictions that form our lives. That can be very intimidating for people to engage in.
This is a huge switch.
This is the new question.
This has become the primary faith question in our time.
What experience have you had personally in being required to speak about the convictions that form your life?
Embracing Spiritual Awakening: Diana Butler Bass on the Dynamics of Experiential Faith is the latest installment of the “Embracing series” from Morehouse Education Resources. This 5-session DVD and participant resource for small groups presents insights on Spiritual Awakening framed as five distinct topics of study: Waking Up, Believing, Behaving, Belonging, and Awakening.