Thursday, April 9, 2009

Salvation By Grace Through Faith (?)

First, the confession -- this little series of blogs on the process of salvation has been a Lenten Discipline of mine. Holy Week is waning, so I must hop to with my final post.

Salvation -- not just forgiveness, but a healing and wholeness -- is a gift, not a wage, not an award, not a personal accomplishment (for if it were, then the whole process of ego-trancendence would clench in a Catch 22) but a gift -- received through "faith."

I was on a plane recently sitting beside a woman who was saying how her mother had insisted that certain things must be believed unquestioningly, unthinkingly, because religous teachings are based on "faith" -- meaning blind acceptance of things unevidenced, unreasoned, and not understood. She justifiably objected to such an epistemology.

One test of good religion vs bad religion is whether it grows or diminishes its adherents. A religion that shuts down the mind diminishes it adherents. Thankfully, that is not what "faith" has traditionally meant.

"Faith" is not an opinion embraced or assent to an intellectual truth claim. Faith is an orientation of the heart toward the ultimate mystery. It is not faith that certain facts are true, but trust in the Giver of grace. Faith is actually the opposite of dogmatism. It may be expressed in formularies but the faith is not in the forumlaries. Faith is in the Giver toward whom the formularies feebly point. (I say this as one who is rabidly committed to the regular recitation of the Ancient Creeds.)

Faith is not a closed mind. It is an open heart. Faith is not the opposite of doubt. But faith does insist that when we doubt grace, we doubt our doubt, and so remain open the possibility of miracle and wonder. That openness to possiblity is the open gate through which the grace of salvation passes.


Karl Gustafson said...

I've enjoyed reading your meditations on salvation. The final paragraph really strikes home.

Bishop Dan said...

Thanks Karl. Some traditions speak of the Great Doubt which undercuts our little doubts, and leaves us humble and reverent before the mysterious majesty of God.

Rev. Clelia Pinza-Garrity said...

Bishop Dan, thank you so much for these reflections - when troubled or doubting, I always remember Henri Nouwen's reflection on the Road to Emmaus in which he urges us to keep our heart open to Christ, even in our most difficult moments, so as not to let him pass us by.

Bishop Dan said...

Nouwen covered so many things so well. That is lovely. If faith is the opposite of fear (which is why the most frequent commandment of Jesus is "fear not" echoing so many angels over the centuries), then faith is a heart open to new truth -- a heart not closed in fear of change, the unknown, or the other. Nouwen is right. Jesus comes as the unrecognized stranger on the road telling us the Scriptures mean something entirely different than we had been taught and always unquestioningly assumed. Grace is so often a surprise.

Matthew said...

I also loved the last paragraph. However, I'm not sure I'd like to recite the Athanasian Creed on a regular basis. Matthew

Bishop Dan said...

The Athanasian Creed is a tongue twister and a mind twister. I'll settle for the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Apostle's.