Borg on the three meanings of “faith”

I’ve taken these three points, quotes, and ideas from a poignant sermon by Marcus Borg. It’s on the meanings of the word “faith,” and what the differences between these three conceptions mean for the Christian life.

Definitions of Faith

  1. Assent (or assensus): Faith as believing that something is true.
    • It’s opposite is doubt or disbelief.
  2. Fidelity (or fidelitas): Faith as commitment.
    • It’s opposite is adultery.
  3. Fiducia (or fiduciary): Faith as trust.
    • It’s opposite is anxiety.

Believe as Belove

“I’ve already mentioned that for many modern people, “belief” means believing something to be true, though there are reasons to think otherwise. If you go back to the English language before the Enlightenment, Shakespeare and before, the word “believe” invariably means “love.” You see this in the Middle English word believen. That is where you get the modern English word “believe.” Believen means to belove, so that ultimately, what you believe really means what you belove.”

A Quick Thought

What’s a stronger expression of faith than obedience amidst doubt? Even stronger, I think, than obedience amidst certainty. Because certainty is not something won or achieved, but something granted by nature (or God).

Also, I think of William Cowper—a tortured man who seemed unduly obsessed with Christian assensus (and his failure, ultimately, to assent). I highly recommend David Cecil’s biography of Cowper. He was an obedient man, anxious though he was. In this context, he had intense fidelitas to God.

Another Marcus Borg selection

I’m on a Marcus Borg kick.

Here’s another quote from a superb interview. He’s answering the question:

How do you respond to the criticism that many contemporary scholars are taking away so much. We’ve lost the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of the Scriptures, no virgin birth, our understanding of the resurrection has been modified. People feel like we don’t believe anything any longer. It’s all gone.

First, if believing in the virgin birth, believing that the tomb was really empty, that Jesus walked on the water — if that has not become a problem for you, there’s no reason for you to change your beliefs. If the Spirit of God is working through that belief system to lead you into a deeper relationship with God and growth and compassion in your life, there’s no reason to change your beliefs about that.

The second thing I want to say is, what do you say to the millions of people who can’t take the Bible literally, who can’t believe that the earth is young as a literal reading of Genesis suggests, who are skeptical that God relates to the world in the interventionist way presupposed by the plagues of the Exodus story and the splitting of the seas, who are skeptical that anyone is ever born without a human father? Do you simply say to those folks, “Sorry, you can’t be Christians, because the right way to believe is to believe all this literally.”

Now I am not suggesting that we ought to water down the Christian story to what a modern reductionistic skeptic could accept. I think a robust affirmation of the reality of God is utterly foundational to Christianity. But I think a kind of humility about whether our stories of the spectacular are factual or metaphorical is very much in order.

For Christians to say, for example, “Our stories of the spectacular are factual. The stories of the spectacular in other religions are myth or metaphorical” — to me, that makes no sense.

There’s a story of the Buddha walking on water. If someone wants to say, “I believe the Buddha could walk on water,” then I have no problem with that person saying, “And I believe Jesus walked on water.” What I think has become an intellectual obstacle for many people, including people whom we would very much like to attract into the life of the church, is the privileging of the Christian stories, so that our stories are factual, but the stories of all other traditions are not. I don’t know of many thoughtful people who can accept that claim. So insisting on the literal, factual meanings of these stories has become one of the intellectual stumbling blocks that’s also an artificial burden that’s hard to bear in our time.

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg: What is God?

I only just discovered Marcus Borg.

He’s a “progressive Christian,” I suppose. A liberal theologian, though that meant something different 30 years ago (when he was most active) than it does today.

But I’m not drawn to his teaching because of that label. I didn’t know who he was until I saw this video. What attracts me is his honest—with himself, his audience, fellow believers.

What is God? How does our conception of God affect the way we live? What about our conception of God is rooted in Scripture vs. products of our own imaginations? And how much does that matter?

Here’s a good quote:

The way of Jesus is thus not a set of beliefs about Jesus. That people ever thought it was is strange, when we think about it — as if one entered new life by believing certain things to be true, or as if the only people who can be saved are those who know the word “Jesus”. Thinking that way virtually amounts to salvation by syllables.

Rather, the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection — the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being. To use the language of incarnation that is so central to John, Jesus incarnates the way. Incarnation means embodiment. Jesus is what the way embodied in a human life looks like.

Marcus Borg