Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Knowing whom to believe in

For decades, I have seen G.K. Chesterton quoted in various works, but, to my detriment, I have never read anything by him -- not his mystery novels, his works in Christian apologetics, or anything else. I say "to my detriment," as last night while browsing the selections at Barnes & Noble, I picked up his "Orthodoxy" and was arrested by the very first page. The following thoughts result from my reading only the first couple of pages -- reading the rest will come later.

Chesterton describes himself as walking down a London street with his publisher, who remarked that a person he was working with could go a long way if he just learned to believe in himself. Chesterton replied that insane asylums were filled with people who believed in themselves more than Napoleon or Caesar had believed in themselves. When the publisher challenged him to provide an alternative for people putting their faith in themselves, Chesterton decided to write a book.

Part of the reason that this drew my interest is that while Chesterton's conversation occurred over 100 years ago, it has a very modern feel. "Believe in yourself" is a modern mantra, and it is arguably the chief end not only of pop psychology, but also of much evangelicalism -- just before looking at Chesterton's book, I had flipped through the pages of Rev. Steven Furtick's execrable "Chatterbox," and the thinking of the books would not have been more different if Furtick were an atheist.

The Apostle's Creed, which was written well after the apostolic age but nonetheless summarizes in broad terms the historic faith of Protestants and Catholics alike, begins: "I believe in God the Father Almighty...." When Christians recite the creed, we tend to think of it as a series of propositions that we adhere to -- and it is at least that. However, Christians hold that this word "believe" does not affirm mere intellectual assent. Belief is a matter of both the intellect and the will. It is a matter of trust, as well as assent. As such, the Creed is the Christian's affirmation of both truth and ultimate value.

There is a sharp contrast here. Our culture -- including much of our religious culture -- tells us, with regard to our hopes and aspirations: "Believe in yourself!"  In the Creed I confess my belief in God. Why would I believe in myself as the basis for hope and aspiration, when I instead have the option of believing in God the Father Almighty? I choose the latter.

Of course, the modern religionist assures us that belief in God leads to belief in self, but this is nonsense that results from thinking out of the wrong categories. It is true that belief in God the Father Almighty leads his people to engage in bold and energetic enterprises. However, those who want to put believing in self alongside belief in God always end up making much of themselves and little of God. In that thinking, we always end up in the big roles, while God plays the supporting actor. However, God does not share his glory with his creatures, and our power is minuscule beside his. This making much of self is exactly opposite of the way it should be.

Why insist on believing in myself, when instead I can believe in God the Father Almighty?

We should be plain about forms of Christianity that encourage belief in self: they are anti-Christ. The goal of the Father from all eternity was that Christ would have the pre-eminence. The work of the Holy Spirit, as described by Jesus, is to speak of and glorify the Son of God. Christian teaching that is indeed Christian points to belief in -- trust in -- Christ. Teaching that urges belief in self is something else.

In myself, there is weakness and sin. Yet, I go forth in life. I don't trust in myself. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

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