Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Reflecting on ‘The Love That Matters’ by Charles Featherstone (7) A Muslim’s Take on "Faith vs. Works"

This is the 7th in a series of posts reflecting on The Love That Matters by Charles Featherstone.  1st post here.

Islam is a religion of deeds and actions, and there is no great argument among Muslims about the distinction between faith and practice, at least not among the Sunnis I worshiped with.  I had always found the Protestant arguments about faith and works to be both smug and pointless, especially since the formulation most Protestants used – saved by faith in grace apart from works – always seemed to make the faith that saves the believer’s faith.  If I’m saved by my faith in God, then I’m saved by something I do, and not by God’s action.  Isn’t that faith a work in and of itself?  It certainly seemed that way to me.  (p 103)
There is no need to be overly sophisticated in his observations.  No need to obscure things through fancy theological words & concepts.  Despite Christian assertions that “faith” and “works” are opposed to one another, Charles sees Christian “faith” functioning as a type of “work”.

Another way to put it might be to say that it's all just wordplay.  That is, the debate identifies (or perhaps it's more accurate to say "creates"?) a fundamental problem that can best articulated in the form of a dichotomy between "faith" and "works", and then purports to resolve the problem.  From Charles' standpoint as a Muslim, this is just nonsense.  It doesn't really do either.  Later Lutheran Charles might approach these questions in a different way.  Perhaps radically different.

But that doesn't distract from the fact that his questions here are very basic and very important?

Hidden here, perhaps, is the fundamental question of "what is faith"?  Is it a kind of "earning"?  A kind of "mental work"?  Is it "trust"?  Is the object of faith only trustworthy if I believe that they are trustworthy?  Believe what, exactly?  And if that's the case, are they really even trustworthy?  After all, am I finally worthy of trust or "faithful" to my daughter if she believes me to be so?  Am I finally bound by her conscious thoughts and level of certainty about my trustworthiness?  Whose "faith" are we talking about anyways?  

There is a degree of overfamiliarity with these concepts, particularly within Protestantism.  Speaking of faith in these ways makes it all seem like a "work".  A sort of game.  Or a math equation.  Things seem too formulaic.  Or like an economic transaction where "faith" is a sort of currency.  Faith becomes a means of earning some end rather than a means of participating and manifesting that end.  Some abstract sort of thing (primarily a set of beliefs or sacramental participation) that a person has to have to get on God's good side.  It's hard for me to articulate.

So good observations, Charles.  The semantic content of "faith" within the Christian narrative has the potential to really get things off track depending on the context that it's placed within and the problem that it purports to solve.


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