Friday, September 15, 2006

the virtue of humble confidence: what's a faithmap?

tim challies criticizes the premium that the emerging church puts on doubt, uncertainty, and mystery.

i do believe balance is necessary. i tried to address this in a brief article I wrote several years ago - "What is a faithmap?" - text below:


A faithmap highlights known reference points on the terrain, but it does not detail every particular. And - most importantly - a faithmap is designed to be used while going somewhere.

One of the critiques of a modernized evangelicalism is that it has collapsed theology to mere information. Our use of the metaphor "faithmap" reflects our desire to make three statements about Christian theology and praxis.

1 - "A faithmap...does not detail every particular."

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Proverbs 25:2 (all references are in English Standard Version)

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29

The modern program is that man can discern everything and is the arbiter of truth. We are suggesting that perhaps this has influenced evangelicals by moving us to desire to answer every question about God and to believe that our theological formulations are exhaustive. Postmodern thinkers help us to understand that we frame reality in paradigm and that language symbolically represents reality. Similarly, a map cannot possibly detail every aspect of the land to which it refers. A faithmap does not pretend to completely plumb the depths of the knowledge of God. It leaves room for mystery and exploration.

2 - "A faithmap highlights known reference points on the terrain"

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

2 Timothy 1:13, 14

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

2 Thessalonians 2:15

Nevertheless, just because the boundaries of paradigm and language limit what we know, the inability to know exhaustively should not be confused with the inability to know reliably. God has given us language and has revealed information about Himself. This information is reliable and certain. It is certain not because of the omnicompetence of our minds but because of God's ability and character. To understate: He is a reliable source of information. Similarly on a map there are known reference points that help the traveler make her way. A faithmap marks for us known reference points - markers we can know.

3 - "a faithmap is designed to be used while going somewhere."

8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Eph. 2:8-10

When someone asked Jesus, "which is the greatest commandment in the Law" He replied

"`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.'
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)

Note Jesus' last comment.

"The Law and the Prophets" was a technical term Jesus used to represent the Bible as it existed in His day, the Old Testament. Jesus affirms that the very foundation of the Scriptures was to love God with everything within and to love one's neighbor as oneself. All the information we can garner about God from the Scriptures is for the purpose of loving God and others. And if our accumulation of knowledge does not result in these activities then we are wasting our time and not using the Scriptures as they were designed to be used. A map is used for going somewhere. A faithmap is used to guide us as we travel from one instantiation of love to another.

So a faithmap marks certain things we know, leaves much for future exploration, and is used for traveling.

One does not study a map just to have a better understanding of a map. In the same way a faithmap is useless if it's not teleological.


The need for humble confidence was also addressed by the great Reformed exegete John Murray in a quote I mentioned in Are there Emerging Church Shibboleths?

Here's the quote:

"However epochal have been the advances made at certain periods and however great the contributions of particular men we may not suppose that theological construction ever reaches definitive finality. There is the danger of a stagnant traditionalism and we must be alert to this danger, on the one hand, as to that of discarding our historical moorings, on the other."

Murray continues, "When any generation is content to rely upon its theological heritage and refuses to explore for itself the riches of divine revelation, then declension is already under way and heterodoxy will be the lot of the succeeding generation.... A theology that does not build on the past ignores our debt to history and naively overlooks the fact that the present is conditioned by history. A theology that relies on the past evades the demands of the present"

(emphasis mine, from his article "Systematic Theology" - see Looking Beyond the Facade of Modernity, Part 2).


Hepzibah said...

Some time ago in a very naive way, I told God that I wanted to know everything about him. His laughing answer was "You can't handle everything, but I promise to reveal more and more to you as long as you stay close to me."

I loved your concept of a faith map because it has been true in my life. Revelation is a walk across the river achieved by one stepping stone at a time.

May God bless you indeed.

Stephen said...


I appreciated your comment!