Extract from Putting Away Childish Things – Marcus Borg:
According to Niebuhr there are three primary meanings of ‘faith’ in the history of Christianity. To use the Latin words to name these meanings, they are assensus, fidelitas, and fiducia.
Assensus is faith as assenting to the truth of a claim or a set of claims. It is ‘believing that’ a statement or set of statements is true – the meaning of faith that, according to Smith, has been most emphasized since the Enlightenment.
The second, fidelitas, means faithfulness, as in our word ‘fidelity.’ It means faithfulness to a relationship. Fidelity isn’t just about ‘not straying.’ Positively, it means commitment, loyalty, allegiance, steadfastness, presence, attention. In a Christian context, this is faith as faithfulness to God – not to statements about God, but to God.
The third meaning of faith, Niebuhr says, is fiducia. The best English equivalent is the verb ‘trust’ – faith as ‘trust.’ Think about what ‘trust’ means. In a Christian context, and more generally in a religious context, faith as fiducia means trusting in God – or if the word ‘God’ is a problem, a trusting relationship with ‘what is.’
The opposite of faith as trust, Niebuhr says, is anxiety. Think about that for a moment – the opposite of faith as trust is not doubt or scepticism or unbelief, but anxiety, worry, and fear in your life. Just think about that for a minute.
To return to Niebuhr’s point, anxiety, worry and fear all flow from lack of trust. But faith as trust progressively diminishes anxiety and at its deepest level casts it out. But faith as trust progressively diminishes anxiety and at its deepest level casts it out. This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Why are you anxious, you of little faith?’ Anxiety and little faith, little trust, go together. A century and a half ago, Kierkegaard put this meaning of faith in this way: faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. Think of the image. Faith is trusting that the water will buoy you up. If you do, you’ll float. But if you thrash around or become rigid with fear, you’ll sink.
The same image is at the center of a poem by Denise Levertov, a poet who died a few years ago. It’s called ‘The Avowal,’ and I’m using it to illustrate this meaning of ‘faith.’ Listen to how the language works:
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them;
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
Read it aloud again, partly because it’s short, and partly because I think we often hear a poem better the second time through.
If we had fiducia, as trust in God, as trust in ‘what is,’ we wouldn’t be anxious or worried or fearful. Think of how great that would be. Think of what the anxiety-free life would be like. Think of how free you would be. Faith as trust generates, to use a phrase from Niebuhr’s contemporary Paul Tillich, ‘the courage to be.’
Now, finally, to make the obvious connection between the readings from Smith and Niebuhr: over the past couple centuries, the primary meanings of the words ‘believing’ and ‘faith’ have become assensus – giving your mental assent to a set of statements, biblical or doctrinal. But before Christianity and the Enlightenment collided, the most important meanings of ‘faith’ and ‘believing’ were fidelitas and fiducia – faithfulness to God and trust in God.
I hope you like that extract from Marcus Borg’s latest book and first novel: Putting Away Childish Things.
A word words thrown together from some of the people who read the book and commented on it:
A captivating story of faith for the modern believer, involving the reader emotionally and imaginatively, affecting our spiritual, intellectual, and professional aspirations at every level, leading Borg’s readers to the crucial insight that religious commitment is more than belief.
I recommend it not only as an insightful exploration of contemporary Christian thought but as a consistently lively and engaging story.
In Putting Away Childish Things we encounter thoughtful and conflicted characters talking honestly and intelligently about God, faith, doubt, sex, food, and life’s big decisions. A rewarding read!
They couldn’t have said it better.
Borg’s book was superb, and indeed one which engaged me, not only because of it’s effective stories and discussions in themselves, but because I connected so well with it. The book spoke of Genesis the day after I was assigned a Genesis essay for school, answered questions I’d thought about to myself a few hours before, and throwing in a character who was thinking about something I was or who after saying something was repeated the next day in my college for me to respond to!
It actually started to freak me out a bit! But then I’ve recognized so many things now which some would call ‘co-incidences’ which I realised were put there for reasons, which were not things which just happened to occur, but arranged moments from God to help me out!
But whether arrangements from God or repeatedly terrifyingly surprising co-incidences, I found this book remarkably helpful to my growth and understanding of so very many things in life.
An inspiring read which I highly recommend to all.
It includes a lot of Liberal thought, so I assume that it is more likely to be suited to Liberal readers!
Either way, food for thought. 🙂
The above extract I found myself connecting with especially after I was thinking of the phrase ‘fear not’ in the Bible which apparently appears 365 times. And I was thinking about my personal fears and how to get past them.
And here comes Borg in his novel telling of a faith without fear.
Paul Tillich’s the courage to be.
The courage to be.
To be yourself.
To not be afraid or anxious or unsettled, but to be at peace.
To float in the water and trust God to be the buoy in your life to guide you and keep you safe.
Trust, love, do not be afraid.
Live a life of faith without fear.
love, peace and prayers