Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Belief precedes believing

'To learn a belief without belief is to sing a song without a tune'

The quote is from novelist Ursula LeGuin and I came across it this morning while reading a paper by Joel Green on holiness in 1 Peter.

It stopped me in my tracks.

She goes on to say: 'A yielding, an obedience, a willingness to accept these notes as the right notes, this pattern as the right pattern, is the essential gesture of performance, translation and understanding.'

I find myself thinking something like this when I come across the debate between believing and unbelieving New Testament scholars over who is likely to be the more accurate. I found myself pondering it when watching a video of a debate recently staged in Sheffield between James Crossley and William Lane Craig about the historicity of the resurrection.

I guess the reason it stopped me in my tracks this morning is that it highlights an issue that ministers face on a regular basis. We can expound the content of our belief in a way that congregations understand on a semantic level. But unless they believe, they will not learn the belief we are expounding.

LeGuin goes on: 'the gesture need not be permanent, a lasting posture of the mind or heart; yet it is not false. It is more than the suspension of disbelief needed to watch a play, yet less than a conversion. It is a position, a posture in the dance.'

If we are going to read 1 Peter well, says Green, we need to put ourselves in the place where we adopt Peter's perspective on the world. Only there will we have any chance of seeing whether it makes sense or not; only if we believe what Peter is saying, will we be in a position to believe that it's true of us and that a posture can become a conversion.

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