“Right Belief” vs. “Believing the Right Way”

“To love is to know God precisely because God is love. The emerging community, at its best, can teach us again that love must be the first word on our lips and also the last, and that we must seek to incarnate that sacred word in the world. I recently heard a well-known speaker say that if faith does not cost us something, then it is nothing. Only much later could I respond: if faith does not cost us everything, it is nothing. Orthodoxy as right belief will cost us little; indeed, it will allow us to sit back with our Pharisaic doctrines, guarding the “truth” with the purity of our interpretations. But orthodoxy, as believing in the right way, as bringing love to the world around us and within us…..that will cost us everything. For to live by that sword, as we all know, is to die by it.”

— Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God

The distinction that Rollins makes here between right belief and believing in the right way might seem like a small one but it is truly profound difference when taking a closer look.

In order to work through the various differences found in the global Christian community, we must trust that regardless of our perspectives or world-views, that we all want to make the world around us a better place. If that trust doesn’t exist, then there can be no unity in the midst of our smaller conflicts.

As I interact with various people in my life who happen to be conservative, I can understand why they believe what they believe. While I find myself in disagreement with the conservative view in both politics and religion, I can also admit that what generally drives one towards conservatism is valid. As Andrew Sullivan so eloquently wrote in his most recent book, “If we never knew loss, we would never feel the need to conserve, which is the essence of any conservatism. Our lives, a series of unconnected moments of experience, would simply move effortlessly on, leave the past behind with barely a look back. But being human, being self-conscious, having memory, forces us to confront what has gone and what might have been. And in those moments of confrontation with time, we are all conservatives.”

I can understand why they believe what they believe, but I’m ultimately repelled by how they believe what they believe. In my experiences, the people you most want to be around don’t necessarily agree with you on everything, but they are the ones who hold their convictions with an open hand, not to shoo you away with their absolutely certain evangelism. To hold these sacred convictions we posses in humility, in open hands instead of a clenched fist, is a paradox that is often all too rare.

And in fairness, progressives can also rule with their iron fists, not willing to concede that the other side is to be trusted and befriended. I must constantly allow Rollins critique here to shed light on my own “right belief.” All of us, conservatives and progressives, are called to this posture, both allowing our convictions to shape us in profound ways, yet holding those convictions with humility and trust for our fellow brothers and sisters.

I highly recommend this book.


2 thoughts on ““Right Belief” vs. “Believing the Right Way”

  1. To encapsulate some of what you are saying here, we can’t stop with the content of our belief, but but push that to answer the question, how do we live it? I look at the world through a pragmatist lens which means that there has to be some real correspondence with what we believe and the reality that is the world in which we live. Reality needs to shape belief in as much as belief can shape reality. Atheists go too far on the former, orthodox theologians go too far on the latter. But if you put yourself smack in the middle, it means you have to change. That is, I think, what both the radical atheist and the evangelical fundamentalist equally resist.

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