Symptomatic Theology: Five Fundamentals

Here it is again. I didn’t come up with a better way to say this, so I might as well say it in some way at least. (This is an interesting exercise. Please do not blow it out of proportion.)

The Fundamentalists’ Fundamentals aren’t that interesting to me. Some of them are answering questions I’m not asking and not very interested in (Mary’s virginity), some are usually not well-defined (“inerrancy” is a wiggly word that means a number of things, surprisingly), and some aren’t even consistent (is it Christ’s miracles or his pre-millennial second coming?).

Its led me to the audacious task of naming my five fundamentals of Christian faith – five things that I think are sort of the “Christian minimum”. This is an odd task because of the great deal of weight I usually give to self-identification (if you call yourself a Christian I’m very likely to give you the benefit of the doubt), but its an interesting exercise. I’ll also try to put them in some sort of logical order.

Here they are – the Fundamentals!

1. God exists in a way that is not reducible to something else we can define

This is my issue and probably not an issue for many of you, but this is crucial to my faith. There are so many ways to account for religious and spiritual experiences, so many ways to interpret sacred texts and historical traditions, without believing that they are meaningful on any grand scale. This plays into my problems with orthodoxy when it is presented as objective truth – if I buy into “objectivity”, there are a Hell of a lot of ways to account for everything under the umbrella of religion without any need for God at all. And I’m not prepared to go there – I’m not there anymore, perhaps, is a better way of putting it. So, as I’ve said in my comment threads before – God in mystery, God in paradox, or no God at all. And because of this, I discipline myself as much as I possibly can to be agnostic about my own beliefs and statements. I’ve been accused of false humility before – whatever. Its where I am, whether its humility or not.

2. God loves creation and love is God’s motivation when God acts

I am simply not willing to worship a God who is evil. I will not bow down to a monster under any circumstances. This means that God cannot be in favor of torture or rape or genocide. I will not preach a God who is in favor of evil, or promotes evil, or accepts evil without calling us to resist with ever fiber of our being.

Even more than that, I will preach and teach a God of love. I will do this for a number of reasons, the most important being that this is the God who I know and love, who I believe knows me and who I believe, in my better moments, loves me. If I cannot account for an ‘act’ of God from the standpoint of God’s love, then I do not accept it as God’s action. This is a limitation that I am perfectly comfortable with. If God is not good then God is not God – if God is not good, God is merely another in a long line of ten thousand tribal gods who manifests the violence and ego of human beings writ large.

Do I realize that I am holding God to my moral and ethical standards? Absolutely. (Everyone does this, whether they admit it or not.) I am viscerally unable to worship a monster. If this means I am worshiping a figment of my imagination, at least it will be a figment of love rather than malice. There are a lot of worse things I can do with my time.

3. God is present to our experience primarily as the Holy Spirit

This is just stolen from scripture and the witness of the Church. If you want to know about what I think on this topic, ask. Why this is a fundamental is that you will note that I did not say “God is present to our experience primarily as Scripture.” This is very intentional. I see way too many instances where the Holy Spirit gets subjugated to Scripture, and I think it is a dire problem. Scripture is one vehicle through which the Holy Spirit approaches us. Anybody who thinks She is locked up in there needs to get out more.

Or, to put it another way, if the Bible had never been written, God would still be present to us. How? We can speculate if you want, but I don’t want to take up the space here.

4. God is most knowable through Jesus Christ

I say “most” but I do not mean “fully” because I think that Christ, being God, is un-knowable. Our minds can’t even really grasp the enormity of our planet, and our planet is a tiny blue dot in a field of billions of dots dim and bright. We cannot possibly understand all there is to understand about God – not even close. We cannot even understand all there is to understand about a molecule. What’s a tiny fraction of infinity? If you do the math, its essentially nothing. That’s why our endeavour is described by terms like faith, hope and love. We are not dealing in definitives.

That being said, I do think that one can come to know God to some degree through Jesus Christ – enough to have a relationship, enough to change your life, enough to be “saved” if I must use that hijacked term. I say this out of faith, not out of any pretense to objective knowledge of some sort. I say this because I have seen it happen, because I have been told it has happened, and because I have experienced some of it myself.

5. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God is making us more like Jesus Christ

This is, to be blunt, the point. Justification and sanctification. Being made more fully into the image of God, being adopted to be co-heirs with Christ; greater things shall we do than Jesus did – all that. Yes. That is what we is about. If it isn’t happening, we are wasting our time. Our depravity is not more powerful than God. Our sin is not more powerful than God. Our fear and hatred are not more power than God’s love. These are, again, statements of hope, of trust. But if we are not actually being made new, then this is a waste of time.

What is conspicuous by its absence:

Anything about the virgin birth

I don’t think that sin lives in the female birth canal. That is a Medieval problem that we don’t have to address anymore because we have a much better idea of where babies come from. I don’t think that procreation contaminates us, and so I am agnostic as to Mary’s virginity. It makes no difference to my faith either way. If its important to you, that’s fine with me.

Anything specific about scripture

I’m not about to start telling everyone how they must interpret Scripture. In fact, I don’t think anyone should have that job. There isn’t a key or a glossary appended to the end of any of the books.

We have to grapple with Scripture – not bludgeon with it. I do not take well to being bludgeoned, and I will not bludgeon.

Anything about miracles, the pre-millennial second coming, etc.

On these topics I stay agnostic. My own experience, which has lacked any direct experience of a miracle, forces me to believe in God whether the miracle accounts are perfectly historically accurate or not – if I am to insist on believing in God, which I do.

The problem is, if you study world religions, you find that every culture is full of claims of miracles in its past. Present practitioners of every religion you can think of claim miraculous occurrences. Every single tradition has its claims. I have never found a compelling reason to believe that only our miracle claims are true. For those who want to cram God into their own little box, I say: “Good luck with that. Let me know how it goes.”

On the other hand, I would never close the door on miracles. Well, that hasn’t always been true for me, but it is true now. So, as I said, I remain agnostic on things like miracles and the second coming.

If, by the way, you can show me a genuine miracle, you will get to try to convince me, but you will no longer be able to win a million dollars.

3 thoughts on “Symptomatic Theology: Five Fundamentals

  1. Interestingly, my minimum would be even less restrictive than your minimum. For example, implicit in the fundamentals you list is the notion of Jesus’s divinity, and your description of the Holy Spirit does seem to imply the acceptance of the Trinity. On point 3, I would even go further than you and simply say that <>for many people<> God is best known through Jesus, but for others there may be other means that work better for them, for reasons of culture, upbringing, personal inclination, or whatever.


  2. That is interesting. If I think about it for a moment, I would say that I think that knowing God through Jesus is a Christian distinctive, so to speak. I’m certainly not in the business of excommunication. I also guess its interesting that I didn’t use a specific formulation of the Trinity, but it is in there, that’s true.


  3. Doug,Interesting 5, not sure I buy them totally. But it’s a nice summary. N.T. Wright addresses a your comments about miracles and scripture pretty well, although I doubt you would agree.


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