Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Newman on Faith

There is yet another great discussion going on at Called to Communion. Deep in the combo boxes but worth following for sure. Somebody posted a link to Newman's Faith and Private Judgment. A great little article. Here is a quote
Men might indeed use their reason in inquiring into the pretensions of the Apostles; they might inquire whether or not they did miracles; they might inquire whether they were predicted in the Old Testament as coming from God; but when they had ascertained this fairly in whatever way, they were to take all the Apostles said for granted without proof; they were to exercise their faith, they were to be saved by hearing. Hence, as you perhaps observed, St. Paul significantly calls the revealed doctrine "the word of hearing," in the passage I quoted; men came to hear, to accept, to obey, not to criticise what was said; and in accordance with this he asks elsewhere: "How shall they believe Him, whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."
Now, my dear brethren, consider, are not these two states or acts of mind quite distinct from each other;—to believe simply what a living authority tells you, and to take a book, such as Scripture, and to use it as you please, to master it, that is, to make yourself the master of it, to interpret it for yourself, and to admit just what you choose to see in it, and nothing more? Are not these two procedures distinct in this, that in the former you submit, in the latter you judge? At this moment I am not asking you which is the better, I am not asking whether this or that is practicable now, but are they not two ways of taking {200} up a doctrine, and not one? is not submission quite contrary to judging? Now, is it not certain that faith in the time of the Apostles consisted in submitting? and is it not certain that it did not consist in judging for one's self.

He has an excellent point. As a protestant I didn't contemplate the church when the apostles were still alive so much. But I did generally contemplate the idea that the covenant relationship between God and man changed at the reformation. That the church as the covenant community was understood in such a radically different way that it could only be described as bringing a new and better covenant between God and man.

The trouble with this was that it did not fit my theology. Old Testament covenants came one after the other, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David all had covenants that improved on the previous covenant. But the covenant Jesus brought was to be the final one. Jesus is God so nobody could institute a better covenant than He could.

This is a problem Newman points out here. There is not just a change in a few doctrines. There is a change in the basic understanding of how Christianity works. If you say it is a change for the better yo really say Luther is better than Jesus. That he brought a new and better covenant. That is unthinkable but how do you avoid it? Newman states it well. The process of how to approach questions of faith and morals is very different. Aside from whether the change is for the better or for the worse the fact that there is a change is hard to dispute.

Now Newman is too hard on protestants at some points. He says they have no faith. I get his point. I think for many of the protestants Newman interacted with this was true. They accepted truth if and only if it seemed reasonable to them. But this is more true for the intellectual elite. Ordinary protestants do accept things on faith. They treat their tradition like it is the Sacred Tradition. Not all the time but often. I know I tried to do that as a protestant. You just sense something is from God and you accept it. You can be wrong but I think it is an act of faith. I think pastors and certainly theologians are less likely to do that. They will tend to look at all the exegetical data and make up their own mind. That is to use reason rather than faith.

So I think it is fair to say that protestant leaders lack faith. They lead by reasoning from the scriptures and not by accepting something or someone they cannot control as being sent by God. But many of the protestant faithful do have faith. They just have faith in the wrong leaders. The fact that they have faith is seen as a weakness. To do more critical thinking is seen as growing in your faith by protestants. But in truth it means replacing faith with reason.

Catholics can do more thinking. They can and should learn the reasons the faith teaches what it does. But when reason leads them to conclusions contrary to the faith they need to change their reasoning and not their faith. They need to learn to think with the church. In truth, this frees the mind to think not only rightly but also safely. People worry that if young people get too much education they will lose their faith. If it is truly faith they cannot lose it. They can lose their religion only if it was really based on reason. Sadly for many protestants and Catholics that is the case.

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