JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 8, 2009 – Baptist identity stems from three understandings of faith, Timothy George said in a message delivered Oct. 7 at Union University.
George is founding dean at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. George’s message was part of the “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism” conference at Union Oct. 6-9.
Pointing to the text of Jude 3, George described faith in three senses: “the faith,” “my faith” and “the church’s faith.”
“‘The faith’ is the central content of the Christian (message),” George said. “It is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings, the way, the truth and the life.”
George recognized the value of creeds in holding to “the faith.” He said creeds are important to faith, but also said there should be no creed above the Bible. Furthermore, creeds should be open to revision and should not be imposed by civil sanction.
“We don’t want to elevate any human-constructed statement, however venerable or wonderful it may be, on an equal level — much less above — the written word of God in holy Scripture,” George said.
George told a story of driving through the Alps with his family to compare “the faith” to the guardrails that keep vehicles from sliding off mountain roads.
“Confessions of faith are like those guardrails,” George said. “Now, you don’t want to confuse the road with the guardrails and start driving on the guardrails. Then danger is imminent. Stay on the road. The road is Jesus Christ. … The guardrails keep us on the road, guided on by the light of the holy Scriptures.”
George said “the faith” is important because it is the foundation of “my faith,” the personal faith proclaimed by evangelicals. He used the story of Nicodemus to describe the importance of doctrine-based faith becoming personal.
“As long as ‘the faith’ is simply a system of doctrine codified by systematic theology — as long as ‘the faith’ is kept at arm’s length — then we’re like Nicodemus,” George said. “When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night … Jesus said to him, ‘Nicodemus, you must be born again.’”
The church cannot separate the confessed and personal faiths, or emphasize one over the other, George said. The two must work together.
“‘The faith’ without ‘my faith’ will issue in arid scholasticism, a joyless rationalism and a dead orthodoxy,” George said. “It has done so and will do so. On the other hand, ‘my faith’ without ‘the faith’ ends up in a sloppy sentimentalism and a groundless subjectivism. This is at the root of so much of the theology that has corroded the church of Jesus Christ over the past 150 years.”
George pulled “the church’s faith” into the mix. He discussed the history of catechisms in the Baptist tradition, and described the importance of the local and universal church in sharing the Gospel.
“The church has both a local and universal dimension, both a congregational and associational form, both a covenantal and ecumenical thrust,” George said. “Always, ever-grounded on our profession in the one God, who is forever Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the church’s faith is meant to be sung as well as said, and prayed as well as proclaimed.”
Audio from George’s address is available at www.uu.edu/audio/Detail.cfm?ID=432.
By Katie Shatzer (’10)