Conversant Faith

For the last two months I’ve taken a break from blogging. I pulled the whole thing down, let it go dark, and spent sometime to reflect on what I’m trying to accomplish in my writing. I’ve always heard that those who believe in the God of resurrection shouldn’t be afraid to let things fall into the ground and die. In fact, Jesus invites us to follow Him precisely there (John 12:24-26). I don’t want to be overly dramatic but these last 2 months were somewhat an experiment in burial. During this time I had some good conversations with the Lord and also some affirming conversations with some brothers in the Lord whom I respect. All in all, I’m happy it happened, but I’m also happy to be back.

What’s in a Name?

I’ve changed my blog’s name from “life and building” to “conversant faith”, and despite being a little harder to say, I think it better captures what my blog is about.

Let me explain.

Conversant means:

  1. familiar or knowledgeable, as by study or experience: conversant with medieval history
  2. able to converse knowledgeably
  3. Archaic. having regular or frequent conversation

So conversant basically has the twofold sense of familiar with and able to talk about. There is an underlying thought with both definitions. The word “conversant” derives from the Latin word conversari,  which means “to live with, keep company with,” literally “turn about with,” from Latin con- “with” + versare, frequentative of vertere- “to turn”. It has the same Latin root as convert.

With this short and basic etymology let me list a few things that I’m intending “conversant faith” to mean.

1. A conversant faith is a faith that is familiar to and intimately known by the one who believes

We need to become thoroughly familiar with the object of our faith by turning to it (Him) again and again. This happens concretely in the pages of the Bible where we encounter the living Word of God and are converted afresh as we become familiar with His voice.

Diligent and consistent reading creates familiarity with the world of the Bible… We cannot venture into the Bible as tourists; we must become inhabitants of the land. We need to retrace our steps, stop and reflect at each site in order to explore it in depth. To become part of this world we must enter it, immerse ourselves in it in order to be absorbed by it.[1]

—Mariano Magrassi

The more I explore the Bible and become familiar with the content of the faith, the more I echo Augustine:

What wonderful profundity there is in your utterances! The surface meaning lies open before us and charms beginners. Yet the depth is amazing, my God, the depth is amazing.[2]

This blog attempts to bring out the amazing depths of God’s word and to help others become inhabitants of the land. The Lord Himself commands us to rise up and walk through the land (Gen. 13:17; Josh 1:3) in order to possess it.

2. A conversant faith is a faith that is able to speak knowledgeably

One of the greatest tragedies of American Christianity is that though many people believe, many believers are mute. Faith has made it to their heart, but not to their mouth. God moves by speaking, God works through our words, and God builds the church through our prophesying. However, many Christians can’t speak much more than “Jesus loves us and we should love others”. Some don’t think there is a need to speak, because, hey, that’s what pastors are for. And some are afraid to speak or hesitant to speak, because they relegate faith to the private sphere of life—it isn’t PC to speak of matters of belief. Where these conditions prevail, Barth was afraid that the church would become “the fellowship of the quiet” or worse, “a community of dumb dogs”.[3]

The more we become conversant (familiar) with the faith, both in its objective content and its subjective experience, the more we will desire to become conversant (able to talk knowledgeably) in the faith.

Both the Old Testament and New Testament people of God experienced a divine inability to refrain from speaking God’s word.

But if I say, I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name, then it is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, nor can I. –Jeremiah 20:9

For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. –Acts 4:20

Barth would answer the mute:

Do they not perceive that there are documents, such as the books of the New Testament, which compel men to speak at whatever cost, because they find in them that which urgently and finally concerns the very marrow of human civilization?[4]

This blog is an endeavor on my part not to remain mute. I talked about this in my very first blog post. The internet provides an unprecedented megaphone for the gospel where even the softest spoken Christian voice can reach the ends of the inhabited earth.

3. A conversant faith, a faith that speaks, presupposes a partner in conversation

Embedded in the etymology of conversation is the thought of repeatedly turning to another, to keep company with. This repeated turning to becomes a manner of life among others. It is this literal, archaic sense of the word that the King James translators had in mind when they translated 1 Peter 3:1,

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.

Conversation here means manner of life. The King James translators have preserved here an older meaning of the word conversation.

So in this sense, a conversant faith would be a faith that frequently turns to others. Christians are to engage the world with the message of the gospel. However, to engage in meaningful conversation there needs to be familiarity with the other view or perspective. Paul is the paragon of this in Acts 17 when he engages the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers on the Areopagus. He remarks that he has carefully observed the objects of their worship and then quotes two pagan poets to support his gospel message. Our faith (belief) itself must be conversant otherwise how can we engage other worldviews?

Faith should not end with inward, personal assurance; it should lead to engaging others in a conversation that is both affirming and clarifying for those in the faith (intramural) and confronting and challenging for those outside the faith (extramural).

Even among fellow Christians there needs to be constant conversation about the divine revelation until we all arrive at the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13).

To this end, I often try to engage various perspectives on this blog, such as Hans Küng, Karl Barth, Thomas Nagel, Mariano Magrassi. This doesn’t mean that I fully endorse their work. I believe it’s possible to appreciate a work, even greatly benefit from it, and yet maintain a critical distance from it. I feel this way about Küng’s work.

4. A conversant faith always maintains faith

It’s important to remember that in all the conversations, faith is not compromised. I am not talking about seeking faith in syncretism. A conversant faith above all is faith, belief. It is not a search for faith. Faith itself presupposes content, something we believe in. In his Dogmatics in Outline, Barth has three chapters entitled “Faith as Trust”, “Faith as Knowledge”, and “Faith as Confession”. I think these are three good points to emphasize.

5. Finally, a conversant faith should ultimately lead to conversion

Here is where the fact that converse and convert have the same root comes into play. The goal of being conversant is not just to thoroughly know or to endlessly talk. All our turning towards others is ultimately to bring them to turn towards the faith. However, it should be kept in mind that conversion is not proselytizing. All our conversation is carried out in sincerity, love, and respect.

To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. –Acts 26:18


 

1. Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible, p. 68
2. Augustine, Confessions 12.14.17
3. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, p. 31
4. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6 ed., p. 9

Prayer – Politics by Other Means

The recent election and more particularly the reactions to it in on my Facebook news feed, caused me to reflect on a book title I read in college- Politics by Other Means. The book was assigned for a government class called Comparative Models of Democracy. To the chagrin of my former professor, I retain only incomplete and elusive memories of this book. What really stuck with me was the intriguing and suggestive title.

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A Historical, Certain Whole

a certain faith, historical faith, christians on campus faith

Faith is not mental assent to irrefutable facts.

The classic, oft-quoted, and definitive verse on faith in the New Testament is Hebrews 11:1. And I love the Recovery Version’s translation here (following Darby’s precedent):

Now faith is the substantiation of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith is understood not as the substance itself but the substantiating ability that makes the divine reality real and experiential. Just like the eyes substantiate color, faith substantiates things hoped for. The organ (eye) itself is not the object (color) but the means to personally and concretely experience the object. This is why faith is related mainly to your spirit and not your mind. Paul calls it a “spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13).” The mind can at best process and interpret information. The human spirit can subjectively experience the reality that’s behind it.

Purely “historical faith” then is not saving faith. The results of scholarship are not truths of salvation merely because they are historically true.

-Hans Küng

In other words, I don’t believe ‘in’ research. I am not saved by scholarship. I believe ‘into’ a Person.

Thus, I don’t believe in Jesus the same way I believe in Alexander the Great or in valence electrons. The New Testament equates believing with receiving. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, to those who believe into His name.” People may be subdued by the best arguments but still not believe or receive Christ. Paul was aware of this in Corinth.

And my speech and my proclamation were not in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, in order that your faith would not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

-1 Cor. 2:4-5

Historical yet transcendent

The secular historians (Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus) can only bring us so close to the historical Jesus. Only a faint outline emerges. Still, enough is established to quell critical skepticism.

Even the inspired evangelists do not write an actual biography. They are not disinterested reports meant for the annals of Jerusalem. They are not trying to reprint all the information that would appear on a driver’s license or birth certificate. The genre is non-science, not anti-science.

They capture genuine history but transcend it, simultaneously.

The Gospels flush out who Jesus was intrinsically, not with the glasses of archeology to prove His existence but with the glasses of faith to prove His substance. They pull back the skin of this very real man and reveal His true character.

But you did not so learn Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him as the reality is in Jesus.

-Eph. 4:20-21

A Certain Whole

Hans Küng rounds off his chapter on The Real Christ with a very Proustian analogy:

The truth lies between shallow credulity which is closely related to superstition and radical skepticism which is frequently linked with an uncritical belief in hypotheses… What are more important than the historically proved authenticity of a particular saying are the ruling tendencies, the peculiar forms of behavior, the typical basic trends, the clearly dominating factors, what is not pressed into schemes and patterns but the “open” total picture. And in this respect we are not without an answer. That is to say, an answer is possible if we avoid the danger of not seeing the wood for the trees, the consensus for the diversities of opinion- a danger to which scholars preoccupied with exegetical details are sometimes exposed.

These discussions of exegetical details are about as important or unimportant as the question whether Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos were originally written for the Margrave of Brandenburg (they were not) or whether the Second in F Major should be played with the trumpet or the horn (and which), and so on. Certainly these are important differences, at least for the musical scholar. But there is no doubt about the name of the work and everyone knows the melody, whether it is played with trumpet or horn. And, although there may be some doubt about the details of the score, there can be none at all about the existence of the work and about the score as a whole. In fact, we can hear and enjoy the Brandenburg No. 2, even without knowing the problems of the history of music, although a little knowledge helps us to get more out of listening to it. Need we take any further the comparison with the Gospels and their theme?

Is Jesus for Real? The Certainty of Faith

christ myth, christians on campus

Liar, Lunatic, Lord? In my last post I presented a brief survey of this argument. A fourth option was eventually suggested as equally viable. Legend- Jesus is not a historical person but is a myth of some sort.

This is just the sort of argument that pseudo-intellectuals will bring up on college campuses. Or the sort of headline story you’d find in the grocery store check-out line. It is either a mark of ignorance or a strategy for sensational journalism and should not be seriously entertained.

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