Faith and the Possibilities of Doctrinal Plurality

Words of wisdom from my former I.C.S. prof, Jim Olthuis:  

“We are creatures of faith who lives each day in trust.  Always implicitly, and at times explicitly, we give testimony to who we are and in whom we believe…These testimonies may be made consciously, although they are often enacted unconsciously.  They have particular, immediate, performative, full-bodied character.  One confesses something to someone and to oneself.

At the same time, as creatures in community, we are called to give an account of faith that we live by.  The existential immediacy of “I believe in” affirmations is turned into the “I believe that” assertions of creeds and doctrines.  In confessing about (as distinct from confessing to), some distance sets in, and we being to think about what we are confessing, and a process of generalizing takes place.  We focus, conceptualize, arrange, and formulate in an effort to put together a coherent statement of beliefs that can serve as a focus of communal witness and provide faith guidance for life.  In making creeds, particular communities in terms of their histories, existential crises, dispositions, socioeconomic location, and so on will inescapably and ineluctibly give priority to some aspects of the faith, in the process making others secondary and tertiary (i.e. the way some neo-Reformed people make everything about a particular understanding of justification and substitutionary atonement?  my question).  Thus, competing faith traditions develop around diverse central organizing metaphors such as Trinity, church, kingdom.  Attending to the distinction between ‘believing-in’ and ‘believing-that’ enables us to envision creedal and doctrinal plurality, not simple and principally as a threat we can only grudgingly accept, but as a positive feature that expresses and gives shape to the particularities of persons, places, and times of the confessing communities (emphasis mine).

James Olthuis, “Afterword”, Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition, p. 282.

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