Belief vs Knowledge

This post was first published on my old blog on 26 July 2005

Here’s something your church lives by, but never says: you don’t have to believe what you learn here.

A few years ago, I visited an emerging (more experimental, actually) church for their evening service. One of Christianity’s foremost thinkers and philosophers was there that evening, Dallas Willard. I have been a great fan of his writings, and as a collector of signed books, I took the opportunity to drive across town to get him to sign the books (I don’t often hold out hope that great authors will also be great speakers, so I must be honest that I didn’t expect too much).

Dallas was great. I found some random notes I scribbled down that night, and one of them hit me hard. This is what Dallas had to say:

We spend way too much time sitting in classes (and churches) learning things we don’t need to know. Even worse, we are not required to believe what we learn.

Imagine if our theological colleges had exams which said “write only what you believe”.

So, we learn the right answers to predetermined questions. There is little focus on actual belief. (And therefore there is a definite lack of application and life change). Which is why we forget it all so quickly.

Problem – this is how we approach Christianity. Our focus is not on belief which affects action, rather the focus is on learning the right answers, so that when we meet God we can get the answers right.

A comment was added to the original posting which deserves to be part of this thought:

Marcus Borg explores this idea even further (in his book -The Heart of Christianity-). He suggests that one of the problems of Christianity today is that we worry too much about belief – getting the ideas or -answers- (as you put it) right, and not enough on doing the right things. He compares the idea of believing with the idea of -beloving- -that Christianity is not so much about what you believe (not that you can just believe anything – what we believe is important, but not to -get any answers right-, rather because belief influences character and action), but rather about how we love and continue to grow better at loving Jesus-style, which is a practical, healing and transforming love. I must confess – Borg’s got me buying what he’s selling!

I agree. After all: Education is what remains when what has been taught has been forgotten.

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