Three months ago, Wade Stooksberry wrote a long article in the “Your Say” opinion-section defending the opinion that Christianity rests on our faith in “nouns” (such as Jesus, Resurrection and Grace), and not on “verbs” (such as feeding the hungry and helping the homeless find jobs, and our obligation to do these things.) His point was made 2,000 years ago by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans (Rom 3:28) but it was later condemned by St. James, the brother of Jesus (Jam 2:26). I agree with James.
However, I would like to take this up to the next level. I think both men are giving us “opinions.” When Paul tells us that “salvation comes to us when God sends us the grace of faith,” that’s Paul’s opinion. And when James says, “No, faith is not enough. We must earn salvation by the good works we do,” that’s the opinion of James.
Why is this so important? Because it is my opinion that faith is practically the same thing as opinion. What happens when I announce my faith in what you said or in “what God said” is identical to the stating of my opinion based on all the evidence I have available. That’s the definition of faith and the definition of opinion. Both statements are treated as the “truth” at this moment, but both can change with more evidence. We saw how the “Pauline opinion” on women changed in the same epistle (1Cor. 11 and 1Cor. 14).
My faith in the biblical “words of Jesus” has changed. I used to believe my four gospels gave me the exact words as he spoke them. (I guess I thought he spoke American.) Now I have evidence that he spoke to groups of illiterate peasants in Aramaic over a period of maybe three years. These peasants passed on what Jesus had told them; sometimes elaborating, sometimes shortening, sometimes in Hebrew, and sometimes in writing. Finally, about 40 years later, a man we call Mark gathered up all the scrolls he could find, and he wrote the first memories of Jesus — but this time in Greek.
Has my faith been ruined? Not at all. It is my opinion that our four gospel writers (and sometimes Paul) have passed down to us the essence or the core of the “Jesus Message” (Love your Neighbor) not word for word, but in stories and actions and parables, and this has formed the basis of my faith.
Now I know this is offensive to several of our readers. It is their opinion that faith requires an absolute confidence or trust in a set of nouns that cannot change. When these people quote the New Testament, they believe Jesus spoke these words exactly as they’re written here, translated several times, of course, into different languages, but watched over and changed if necessary, by the Holy Spirit who made certain no errors crept in.
That’s one way to interpret “inspiration.” It’s not my way. It is my opinion (there’s that word again) that God works inside his creation – not around it. That is, our scriptures were written by men; men who made lots of mistakes, and the Holy Spirit didn’t jump up and down to correct their work; she inspired them — but then let them go. That’s my opinion.
Which brings me back to Christianity. We all know it’s not a perfect system; in fact, it’s bungled beginning simply prefigured its fractured history. Remember James and his Jewish followers fighting with Paul with his anti-Jewish Greek and Roman converts, both claiming the true nouns and verbs of Jesus. This same internal “Christian fighting” has continued to this day.
But who cares? If the soup kitchen hums and we have enough beds for the homeless, Jesus lives!
Bill Cummings’ latest book “Oh My God” can be purchased on amazon.com.