I grew up in what some people still call a faith tradition. I was taught that it is by grace we have been saved (read Romans) and that grace is sort of activated through faith. That is standard 4 year old Sunday School terminology in the Evangelical world.
It was reinforced in every grade and every age until I went to college where over time faith took a back seat to every Wesleyan’s favorite buzz word, “love.” In college and seminary we talked a lot about love. Love became that word that both began and ended all theological discussions and debates.
So now when I read Scripture my head just naturally bolds and underlines the word “love” in the text. If love appears in any pericope, I know what my sermon is going to be about. If it doesn’t appear, I try hard to make it appear, sometimes a bit too hard.
And I think our tradition is justified in that hermeneutic. After all the great Apostle Paul himself said, “Now three things remain: Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” Love is more important than faith, more important than grace, more important than doctrine and knowledge and data. Love is the crowning virtue, the eternal truth, the reconciling doctrine. See, just that one verse is enough to get me waxing poetic about love. I guess you could say that I am in love with love.
And to my great frustration, it would seem the other half of evangelicalism, namely the Calvinist half, doesn’t agree with us Wesleyans on that. Actually the Calvinists have become so numerous in Evangelical circles that they are not half of us. They are 9/10s of the movement.
And this huge majority just likes faith better than love. They talk about it more. They bold and underline “faith” in the text. if faith isn’t in the text they find a way to put it there. And every one of their sermons quickly follow behind, adopting the mantra, “believe or be damned.” Now, I know that is not a fair generalization but it does seem to at least describe the majority of their tradition.
Lately as I have been reading and studying Exodus, and through Exodus revisiting what Paul has to say about laws, works, circumcision, Abraham, Moses and the old covenant, I have rediscovered they may be onto something. Faith has incredible value. After all, “Abraham had faith in God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
As I have studied that one verse and how Paul uses it, I have come to believe that faith didn’t allow God to overlook Abraham’s sins, but faith made Abraham stop sinning. Faith is what makes us holy and righteous. Faith is what makes us innocent, though we be guilty. Simply put, as a good Arminian, this is imparted righteousness, not just imputed.
If I am right about this, that means faith is about holiness and holiness, in turn, is activated by faith. If we want to express holy love, we must first trust God. In fact, love without trust is not very loving. You might say that faith without works is dead and love without faith is six feet under.
And therein lies one of the problems of the entire Evangelical tradition. The great Reformers, Luther and Calvin and Zwingli, fully understood that faith meant trust. But their heirs, gradually over many centuries, started defining faith as a mental assent to doctrine. So now when we talk about faith, we are not preaching trust, we are instead claiming that “by correct doctrine you are saved, not works.”
As I have talked to people who preach this false faith, I have come to believe that they think the entrance room to heaven is going to be an SAT exam room. You will be given a test with a bunch of true false and multiple choice questions and if you don’t pass it, you are going the other way.
But faith isn’t about doctrine. It is about trust. We trust God like we would trust any employer, any parent, hopefully any spouse. We trust that God has our best and the best of the world in mind. We trust that God created the cosmos and so can save said cosmos. We trust God to provide for us when we are starving in a desert. We trust God not to kill us for petty reasons. We trust this God to heal us, if not in the present, than in eternity. And, yes, we trust God to raise us from the dead after sin has claimed our mortal lives.
Faith is all about trust. And when we trust God enough to enter into a loving relationship with God, we become holy. God’s holy love emanates out to us and saturates us so that we become a people not defined by our hatreds or lusts but by a trusting obedience in the God who created us and everything else.
Correct doctrine will not save you. The tongues of men and of angels will not save you. Good works definitely won’t save you. Only God will save you and only if you trust Him and out of that trust, obey.