Wednesday, October 27, 2004

About that Jim Wallis Quotation

Last week, I said I might come back to that Jim Wallis quote at the end of "Without a Doubt".

"But when [faith is] designed to certify our righteousness -- that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There's no reflection. Where people often get lost is on this very point. Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not -- not ever -- to the thing we as humans so very much want.'

And what is that?

''Easy certainty.''

In thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that Wallis had confused a lack of certainty with humility.

My first thoughts were towards Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (NIV) On the surface, at least, this flatly contradicts Wallis' statement. Faith not only leads to certainty, it is certainty.

And there is nothing wrong with certainty. I am certain in my belief in the central tenets of Christianity: in the innateness of human sin and our inability to overcome it on our own; in the mighty redemptive work of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, on the cross; in the utter perfection of God's love and mercy, grace and justice; among others. This is an entirely appropriate attitude for a Christian: why half-believe?

Certainty is not arrogrance, however. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, remember. It's not our truth we are proclaiming, it's God's. And there's nothing that we did to deserve to possess it; it's only by God's mercy that we come into it. It brings to mind the second verse of the Newsboys' Step Up to the Microphone:

i say hello
to anyone who's listening
the message ain't nothing new
i don't decide what's true
so when the stones get thrown
they either miss or
they turn to glory
here's the story as far as i know
It also brings to mind this poem by Maya Angelou, especially:

When I say..."I am a Christian"
I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble
and need CHRIST to be my guide.

So I think Wallis is quite wrong in what he says in the tail end of his quote. There's nothing wrong with certainty (the easy I'm not quite sure what to do with).

However, when at the beginning of this quotation, where he talks of a faith that "certif[ies] our righteousness[, and] pushes self-criticism aside," I think he almost has a good point. It is definitely possible to have a self-regard that puffs up our egos, that makes us forget our fallenness, that makes us think that somehow we in ourselves are good and godly -- in short, to have the self-importance, self-centeredness, and self-securedness of a Pharisee.

But that is not faith. That is sin.


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