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Back to Belief & All

Ok, picking up where we left off last week discussing belief, specifically on the Biblical angle, I’d like to add in just a note about a theory of salvation that there wasn’t room to discuss in the previous post. This is the theory that Matthew and James could support salvation by faith plus “works”.

Rabbit trail – I put scare quotes around “works” because I think that James and Matthew are both talking about the same thing and that it isn’t just any kind of “works” that will do, but very specifically works of selfless love for others that are called for in those passages. Further aside, this view of a lifestyle characterized by a caring relationship with those around yourself is close to my own ethic.

Now, James is already pretty friendly with the view that salvation might come through faith and works – in fact a standard reading biases in favor of the notion that faith, but not faith alone, is necessary. Matthew, on the other hand, is more difficult. But, to reconcile it to the theory it could reasonably be suggested that Matthew portrays the sheep and goats of chapter 25 as being all believers (in the Johannine sense). Likewise, in chapter 7, many of those who are turned away are those who have “prophesied” and even done certain works in the name of the Lord. This would suggest that they are believers, and raise the possibility that the criterion of works required of them would not be sufficient for non-believers.

This is just a surface examination. I would guess believers might find it easier to harmonize this view of Matthew/James with Paul/John than the stricter dichotomy that I presented last week. There’s so much more to say on the subject… but I’m sick today & running low on time, so I’ll close with this:

I still maintain that ethics done right – and therefore religion done right – cannot lay too much importance on the intellectual function of belief.

16 comments to Back to Belief & All

  • I guess an obvious question would be how many works (in addition to faith) would be enough for salvation — and how many too little — and how would you know?

  • Bill, that is certainly a reasonable question. I suppose it could be approached in a similar fashion to the Jewish Midrasha, but I wouldn’t know how to begin.

    Of course, for me it isn’t about “salvation” so much as it is about living right, but I would answer that you don’t measure it by number works, but by weather the deeds of your life were consistent with the right kinds of relationship.

  • buck

    damn. now i have to google jewish midrasha

  • Buck, I think I used the wrong word. I meant that the question could be approached through a process like that of the Beth Midrash.

  • So you sit in a room full of books and try to figure it out?

    Not being snarky, just literally clueless.

    Oh, and I made my last comment from my Kindle. I did not realize that I could read blogs from the Kindle until last night. One of these days I am going to figure out all of the things I can do with it.

    Probably through a process not unlike the goyim midrasha. Maybe we could call it the Buck Midrash.

  • LOL – I don’t know enough about it to explain it. I always pictured a bunch of guys with long beards arguing and waving hands for hours on end. It’s some sort of process for working out theological difficulties, but I can honestly say I’ve never done it.

    I think I need a Kindle.

  • P.S. maybe not a room full of books…? (happened across this in my morning Google Reader readings)

  • I always find myself understanding complex subjects when I am in high places.

    After I come down they make sense no more.

  • I do the same thing when I’m asleep. And when I wake up I remember understanding but don’t remember how. Of course, I’m only dreaming that I understand, not actually dreaming the correct understanding.

  • Then you are left with the question, “was I dreaming then or am I dreaming now?”

    Understanding, like glory, is fleeting.

  • Me & Chuang Tzu both. Or me & that butterfly.

  • Jan

    Are you feeling better today? Hope you are not still sick.

    Many years ago I had puzzled over the references in the Bible that might indicate one has to work to earn salvation. It truly troubled me. I spent time studying and was still confused. I prayed about it and that very hour I read this:

    John 6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

    Now, after quite a few years of living it out, I realize that if we do this first “work of God”, believing with our heart, He will lead us into the works that are important. The belief completes the transaction, and the relationship will enable us to be productive.

  • I still have a monstrous cold – thanks for asking.

    I think your statements kind of set up what I am talking about. First “believe with our heart” – belief is first and foremost a “head” function – not a “heart” function. I agree that the “heart” functions are more important.

    Second “belief completes the transaction” – I think I can use this to illustrate my point – that it doesn’t make sense to say that belief “completes a transaction”. Completion of a transaction is volitional, but belief is not simply volitional. One cannot choose belief. One can choose to examine ideas or not – to listen to them or not – to criticize them or not… but the result of “belief” (or “unbelief”) is not chosen – it is the end result of all those other choices.

    So, we can’t say that belief completes a transaction any more than we can say dreams do the same. We do not choose our beliefs any more than we choose our dreams. The root word of “transaction” is “action” – and it is with action that we provide our agreed part of a bargain and therefore complete any transaction.

  • Jan

    You have a point and perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we commit ourselves to trusting that what God has said is true and in that sense it is volitional.

    I know that you know scripture and you will probably recall the passage in Mark chapter 9 when a father brought his son to the disciples and asked them to help his son, but they could not.

    The father then said to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

    Jesus first response was, “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

    Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

    Jesus response was to do what the father asked and drive out the evil spirit that had overtaken the lad.

    I think this story was included to teach us that if we have a minute amount of faith and we are willing to place that faith in the Lord, He will respond to us with favor. The father did not go into a lengthy speech about how he could believe certain parts of what Jesus said, but that he was unsure about other things. He asked Jesus to help him to believe. That was trust, even when he didn’t understand fully. Everyone can do that much and what a difference it makes in one’s life.

  • Jan

    PS. I am sorry you are sick. Please take care of yourself. <3

  • Thanks – I’m starting to clear up some!

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