I write for those for whom such teaching as the doctrine of substitution has folded in a cloud through which they cannot see the stars of heaven, so that some of them even doubt if there be any stars of heaven. For the holy ones who believed and taught these things in days gone by, all is well. Many of the holiest of them cast the lies from them long ere the present teachers of them were born. Many who would never have invented such lies for themselves, yet receiving them with the seals affixed of so many good men, took them in their humility as recognized truths, instead of inventions of men; and, oppressed by the authority of men far inferior to themselves, did not dare dispute them, but proceeded to order their lives by what truths they found in their company, and so had their reward, the reward of obedience, in being by that obedience brought to know God, which knowledge broke for them the net of a presumptuous self-styled orthodoxy. Every man who tries to obey the Master is my brother, whether he counts me such or not, and I revere him; but dare I give quarter to what I see to be a lie, because my brother believes it? The lie is not of God, whoever may hold it.
“Well, then,” many will say, “If you thus cast to the winds the doctrine of vicarious sacrifice, what theory do you propose to substitute in its place?” In the name of truth: None. I will send out no theory of mine to rouse fresh little whirlwinds of dialogistic dust, mixed with dirt and straws and holy words, hiding the Master in talk about him.
by Diane Adams
“I called on God, and he helped me”, a friend with a chronic, deadly illness told me the other night. “I believe in God, what I cannot seem to believe is the Bible”, he said in frustration. “That’s funny”, I said. “Because nowhere does Jesus tell us to believe in a book. He tells us to believe in him.”
Can having the right set of beliefs, placing your trust in an idea, save your soul? Jesus did not seem to indicate that this is the case. He repeated, over and over, one ought to believe in him, a person, not a set of truths understood with the mind. Nowhere does he mention having the right theology as a means to be saved from sin.
We like to be comfortable. We want to map it all out so that we can know the whole issue of evil-doing and punishment is wrapped up and packaged already. Theology delivers this in a way that allows reason to remain on the throne of the soul, confident that our interpretation of what God does and why is the right one, regardless of what kind of bent deity we’re forced to scrape together as a result. We can know and that’s what we want. But this is not God we want to know, per se, but rather a way to know all ‘about’ him. Having the ‘right’ knowledge in our heads leaves us content that we’ve wrapped up the spiritual part of life. We can continue to live as we always have, now that we’ve got the right set of theories about our theories.
Elevating ideology over relationship seems a clever way to insert the self between a God who lives, who asks for relationship over every idea, actual experience in knowing him from the inside of the self, rather than a lot of studying from the armchair. Using a set of beliefs, we can minimize contact, predict the future, and sit in judgement above the rest of humanity because we have it right and they do not.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Knowledge puffs up, love builds up.” Jesus was much more concerned with what we do than he ever was with what we think. “Go then and makes disciples’. ‘Come, follow me’, ‘Take up your pallet and walk’. He lived his life by doing what his father asked him to do and telling us to do the same. Having the right set of beliefs is nowhere mentioned. If we are saved by ideas rather than experience, it might have been expedient for God to mention it.
As it is, Jesus came to save us from sin, not from believing the wrong things about God. Believing or not believing every detail in the Bible doesn’t seem to me to have a lot to do with that. We either stop sinning, or we do not. We either learn to love like God did, or we do not. No amount of theological acrobatics can change the simple revelation of Jesus to his followers. It is not reason he appeals to, it is the person inside, the soul, he is reaching for. “I am the way, the truth and the life”, he said. Not this idea or that understanding but the person of God himself. Let the ideas follow or not follow as they will. But do not place your faith in an idea, a book, or a set of beliefs. Trust the living God to show you the way, to give you truth in your innermost being. God is not an idea, but the one who brings comfort in the night when the body is sick. He is the one who speaks peace over a storm and brings light into the darkest recesses of the human soul, in actual experience. This is how we know him.