Study Guide: This We Believe

Sunday March 5, 2023 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

In a culture where the foundations of truth are unraveling, Greg offers a framework that equips us to focus on Jesus and walk with others who might see things differently than we do.

Extended Summary:

What does it mean to have faith in a world that is unraveling, when truth seems to have no meaning? Greg seeks to address this question in two ways. First, he talks about what it means to believe in God. When we ask someone if they believe in God, we must recognize that there are different levels of meaning with this question. There is the social meaning, which pertains to the shared assumptions within a culture. However, beneath that social meaning is the mental conception a person has about God.

At the level of mental conception two people might mean very different things when they say “God.” One person might see God as loving and have affectionate emotions as a result. Another person might see God as angry or distant, which would result in a different set of emotions. Whatever our mental picture of God is, it can never completely capture the reality of God. This is a reference to the fact that the “map is not the territory.” Our picture of God is a map that interprets the reality of God, but the reality and the map are not the same. This calls for a degree of humility as we are always moving toward the reality and submitting our maps to God’s revelation.

We must keep this in mind when we talk to people about “God.” If someone says “I don’t believe in God” or, “I hate church,” it makes sense to find out what mental picture of God  or church they are rejecting.

The second point helps us process how religious beliefs work in our unraveling world. Traditionally, Christians have thought of their beliefs as a bounded set, where one belongs to a group if they believe a common list of shared doctrines. If you agree with this list you are in, but if you don’t you are out. In the bounded set way of thinking, all beliefs inside the boundary are equally important. This bounded set way of holding onto beliefs worked pretty well throughout most of church history because most Christians weren’t around people who could seriously challenge any of their beliefs.

But that is not the case today. We now live in a diverse, cosmopolitan world in which all of our beliefs are regularly challenged. The idea that you happen to belong to the group that happens to believe all the right doctrines seems absurd. Instead, we should think in terms of faith as centered set, with concentric circles. At the center is Jesus on the cross.  The cross defines the ultimate revelation of God’s love for us. Throughout the New Testament, the cross is held up as the final and fullest revelation of God’s character and will.

At the next ring out from the center is Scripture. We trust Jesus as Lord and because he embraced the Scriptures as having authority, so must we. Faith in Scripture is anchored in Jesus’ lordship. Therefore, if we discover contradictions or historical problems in the Bible, we can find comfort because avoiding contradictions or historical errors was apparently not part of God’s purpose for inspiring Scripture.

The third ring is what we call dogma, which is the set of beliefs that are reflected in the Church’s oldest creeds. These are the confessions that all Christians have always affirmed.

At the fourth level is doctrine, which refers to beliefs that various Christian groups have held, but which aren’t shared by the “one holy catholic church.” These are beliefs that various Christian groups have disagreed over, and the majority of them are related to different ways groups have interpreted dogma.

Finally, in the fourth ring outside the center we place opinion. These are beliefs that various individual Christians have held, but have never adopted as official belief of any major Christian group. Most opinions are about how to interpret particular passages or particular themes of Scripture.

Reflection Questions: