A Roadmap of Simple Faith

simplefaith_web_01172017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The New Testament pictures Jesus as someone who enters our life, calls us into discipleship, and gives us kingdom work to do. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus finds Peter and Andrew at work fishing and calls them with these words: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19) As a rabbi, Jesus offers his lifestyle and teaching as a model to follow, but, unlike other rabbis, Jesus seeks out his students and redirects their life in terms of what they are already doing. Their response is remarkable—they drop their nets and follow Jesus (Matt 4:20)—because their simple faith in Jesus amounts to only two things: obedience (responding to Jesus’ invitation) and action (following Jesus). Other than obedience and action, they only know that he is a rabbi (Matt 4:17). Their roadmap was the person of Jesus.

What is Faith?

Knowing only that Jesus was a rabbi and that he invited them to follow him suggests that their faith consisted of taking the risk of enrolling in a class of religious instruction. The content of Jesus’ instruction was not necessarily obvious nor was it obvious that this instruction would provide gainful employment, because Jesus not from the priestly tribe of Levi. Furthermore, Peter and Andrew were already Jews so their faith in Jesus did not constitute an obvious conversion experience. Jesus offered them a study opportunity and they accepted. No strings were attached; no tuition was required; Peter and Andrew just had to accept Jesus’ instruction. The fuller meaning of this instruction only comes later as Jesus’ full identity is revealed because knowing who Jesus is raises the stakes in accepting his instruction.

Why Epistemology?

This model of simple faith—obedience and action—extends also to us, but how do we know? In this age of suspicion and doubt, this question has particular significance because Jesus’ call—“follow me”—comes to us at least second hand. We read an English text translated from Greek which was itself copied by hand for almost two thousand years after the Apostle Matthew wrote it based on the testimony of others, having himself been called later (Matt 9:9), and, then, only after the resurrection made it obvious that these events had eternal significance. The epistemological question—how do we know?—is therefore a reasonable and interesting question worthy of study even in the absence of doubt.

The Four Philosophical Questions

The epistemological question is one of four questions typically posed in philosophy that must be addressed by any serious spirituality. Those questions are:

  • Metaphysics—who is God?
  • Anthropology—who are we?
  • Epistemology—how do we know?
  • Ethics—what do we do about it? (Kreeft 2007, 6)

As an author, my first two books—A Christian Guide to Spirituality and Life in Tension—address the metaphysical question and my third book—Called Along the Way—explores the anthropological question in the first person. In this book, I explore the epistemological question writing not as one with specialized training in philosophy (I have a master’s of divinity and a doctorate in economics) but as one cognizant of the need, both as a Christian and an author interested in Christian spirituality, to have a reasonable answer to the question—how do we know?

Simplicity

In approaching the epistemological question, it is easy to get lost in the weeds. But the young seeker curious about God and a hardened old atheist should take note. It is interesting that Copernicus’ observation that the planets revolved around the sun simplified the mathematics of planetary motion, because the earth was not the true center of the solar system.[1] In the same manner, our lives are simplified when we acknowledge that we are God’s creation, not the creators of our own universe. Simple is good; weeds are bad. As life is short, the need for a proper focus is instrumental to coping with life’s many adversities.[2]

What Does Holy Mean?

The act of knowing brings us closer to a holy God because holy means both sacred and set apart. Thinking sets us apart from the object of our reflection just like God was set apart from his creation, not part of it. Yet, knowledge is also at the heart of sin, as we learn in Genesis 3 when Satan tempts Eve. Scripture praises knowledge when its object is God, but cautions us when it leads to pride.[3] So we should take the attitude of the Apostle Paul vigorously defending the faith and pointing people to God (2 Cor 10:5-6).

Roadmap

In this writing project I propose to look at the epistemological question analytically by breaking it down into a series of questions, including:

  • How do we approach thinking?
  • What does the Bible Say About God?
  • How do we argue God’s existence?
  • What can we say about the criticisms of faith?
  • Why do we care?

This last question may seem out of place in this discussion, but it is, in fact, a critical to our evaluation of faith arguments. Faith is a life and death matter because, as human beings, we strive for meaning and cannot face life without it. When the Apostle Paul repeats an early Christian confession—

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:3-5)

—he starts by describing it as being “of first importance”. Paul is not writing about a philosophical hobby-horse. He is talking about faith as something worth dying for, which he later did. Faith is both our compass and our anchor. And anything worth dying for, is worth living for.

Soli Deo Gloria.

References

Kreeft, Peter. 2007. The Philosophy of Jesus. South Bend, IN: Saint Augustine Press.

Lotz, Anne Graham. 2000. Just Give Me Jesus. Nashville: Word Publishing.

Polanyi, Michael. 1962. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copernican_Revolution. Polanyi (1962, 3-5) argues somewhat differently: “This would imply that, of two forms of knowledge, we should consider as more objective that which relies to a greater measure on theory [Copernican theory] rather than on more immediate sensory experience [Ptolemaic system].”

[2] Some stories bear repeating. One story concerned a dinner party where Ruth Graham learned that an older gentleman sitting next to her was the former head of Scotland Yard, the British equivalent of the FBI. Because his responsibilities included dealing with counterfeit money, she remarked that he must have spent a lot of time examining counterfeit bills. “On the contrary, Mrs. Graham, I spent all of my time studying the genuine thing. That way, when I saw a counterfeit, I would immediately detect it.” (Lotz 2000, 3) The punch line here is that the best apologetic for the Gospel is Jesus himself.

[3] Compare, for example, (Prov 1:7; Isa 11:1; 2 Cor 4:6; Phil 1:9) with (1 Cor 8).

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Also see: Incentive to Examine Faith

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The Camera

ShipOfFools_web_10042015Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.

(Prov. 3:5)

The Camera

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At age fourteen in the fall of 1967, I began carrying the Daily News to earn money to attend Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico [1] . Because the guys I knew with daily routes seemed older and tougher than me, I feared that I could not handle a daily route and continued to deliver the Prince George’s Post (a weekly paper) as a backupthe Daily News was a serious paper. Not knowing the cost of the camp and buying the required gear—a fancy backpack, a larger canteen, a compass, and a lot of little things—that I did not own, I also feared that I would not earn enough money. In the end, my fears were exaggerated—I earned more than enough to pay for the ticket and the equipment. In fact, I had enough money left over that I was able to buy a range-finder, 35 mm camera—just like my Dad’s.

This camera was neat, but it had smaller aperture and better winding mechanism than my Dad’s camera.  A smaller aperture—1.7 mm verses 2.2 mm—allowed taking sharper pictures. The lever-action, film winding mechanism was faster than the older method which relied on twisting a knob with your index finger and thumb—it was tedious to twist film.

Film—1968 was all about film.

Video clips of Vietnam entered our living room every evening at 6 p.m. On the news, we saw the bodies being displayed, villages being burned, GIs fighting gun battles, and Green Berets jumping out of helicopters in rice paddies. At the time, it all seemed as normal as Hamburger Helper and Jello pudding.

Normal was shattered when the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive [2] in January. By March President LBJ [3] was quoting William Tecumseh Sherman: “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.” [4] His March 31 speech shocked everyone and transformed a sleepy presidential election into a horse race. It did not, however, end the war.

Tet exposed American military invincibility as a myth—right there on the evening news. The aura of victory in the Second World War finally faded flat—no one repeated the words, but the images were plain and clear and obvious. GIs died every night on television in a war that would not end and could not be won in the neat little box it had been made for it. No one in authority admitted the obvious truth so the fighting continued.

Television coverage of the war fascinated me: I watched every war movie available and aspired to becoming a fighter pilot.  During those days, I studied aviation, howto books on flying, and learned navigation—especially map reading. But I became increasingly conflicted between my ambitions to become a pilot and my religious beliefs—why did the United States care about Vietnam?  The futility of the war grew more obvious every day—if Vietnam was important why was the military restricted from pulling out all the stops?  If it was a just war, why were religious leaders protesting it?

I could not vote in 1968, but I handed out flyers at the county fair in Upper Marlboro for Richard Nixon—the peace candidate who had a secret plan to end the war. We were so excited, so proud that Nixon picked our Governor, Ted Agnew [5], as his running mate. It was thrilling to see Agnew with the President on the news.

With my new camera, in my own way I felt like a television journalist. My creative interest was people; I mostly took candid shots of friends and family, and mostly in black and white. I loved to develop my own film, cropping and enhancing my photographs in the darkroom.

One exception to my focus on photographing people was my fascination with open windows. Many of my photographs featured windows open to the sunlight and green oaks outside our church.  Open windows symbolized freedom and I felt closer to God in the great outdoors—hiking and camping, even in the dead of winter.

Sammi noticed my interest in photography.

Sammi invited me to photograph THE annual youth group retreat in June. It was after the church strawberry festival and after school let out at a camp with cabins and bunk beds on the Chesapeake bay. I had a job—I had to bring plenty of color film (black and white would not do) and I had to know what and who and when to photograph—because I was the official retreat photographer.

Against this backdrop, photographing Philmont became less important. I remember Philmont—not for the pictures, not for the bears, not for the sore feet, but for a radio broadcast from the moon on July 20th. We listened from the steps of a ranger station on top of a mountain in New Mexico. When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took small steps in a big way.[6]

That I remember.

 

[1] http://www.scouting.org/Philmont.aspx.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tet_Offensive (January 30, 1968).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1968 (LBJ withdraws March 31, 1968).

[4] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/williamtec101113.html#xu80Y4iWW2KgAcXj.99

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiro_Agnew.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_landing (July 20, 1968).

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JOHN 21: From Fish to Sheep

fish_12232013Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men and women (Matthew 4:19).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I worked in the hospital with psychiatric patients, I met a man with a huge Bible. When we spoke, he opened up this Bible and showed me the many color photographs. When he spoke with the other patients, they ridiculed him for his lessons which he had never applied to his own life. He fashioned himself as a fisherman, but he was no shepherd.

John 21 tells the story of the disciples going fishing on the Sea of Tiberius, but catching nothing all night long. In the morning, a man on the beach advises them to try again, but on the other side of the boat. When they do, they are overwhelmed with fish. At that point, they recognize that the man on the beach is Jesus.

After Jesus offers the disciples breakfast on the beach, he asks Peter a pointed question three times. He said: Simon, son of John, do you love me? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Tend my sheep (v 16). Because Peter had denied him three times on the night of his arrest, the three-fold question and response served to restore Peter to relationship with Jesus and leadership among the disciples. Both events took place in front of a charcoal fire (John 18:18; 21:9)

In Matthew 4:19, Jesus promises that if the disciples follow him, then he will make them fishers of men and women. Now, Jesus is asking Peter—and us—to give up fishing and become a shepherd. A fisherman catches fish with nets and hooks, but a shepherd feeds and protects sheep. This is a story about Christian leadership—the English word, pastor, originally meant shepherd.

The story continues. Jesus goes on to prophesy Peter’s death by crucifixion (v 18). At this point Peter’s rivalry with John rises to the surface. Peter asks: Lord, what about this man? (v 21) At this point, Jesus rebukes Peter: what is that to you? You follow me! (v 22) In other words, as Christian leaders we are to lead out of obedience to Christ, not rivalry with one another.

It is interesting that three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John) end with the disciples being given new responsibilities for evangelism. Matthews ends with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20); Mark ends with the disciples preaching everywhere and performing miracles (signs); John ends with a lesson on Christian leadership. Only in Luke do the disciples simply hang around the church. However, Luke is like an extended preface to the Book of Acts (also written by Luke) where virtually the entire book is about early church evangelism and the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel of John is not bashful about describing its objective.  John writes: these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).  My prayer is that his objective is accomplished.

QUESTIONS

  1. When and where does this chapter begin? Who is present? (vv 1-2)
  2. What were the disciples doing? Why? (v 3)  Were they successful?
  3. How does Jesus reveal himself to the disciples?(vv 4-6)
  4. Who recognized him first? (v 7) How?  How does Peter react?
  5. What does Jesus do for them? (vv 8-12)
  6. What two things does this breakfast menu bring to mind? (v 9; Hints: John 6:11; 18:18)
  7. What does Jesus ask Peter three times? (vv 15-17)Why is it significant?  What is the lesson?
  8. What does Jesus prophesy? (vv 18-19) What is the significance?
  9. Why does Peter ask Jesus about John? What is the response?  (vv 20-23) Why do we care?

10.Who wrote this gospel?  (vv 24-25)

 

JOHN 21: From Fish to Sheep

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

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