Study Guide: Toppling the House of Cards

Sunday January 30, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Questions can sometimes topple faith like a house of cards. In this sermon, we introduce the idea that following Jesus is the central aspect of faith. This frees us to question and critique different aspects of our faith, without losing that faith.

Extended Summary:

It seems that we regularly find people who have lost their faith because of inconsistencies within the bible or between the bible and science. This is the exact same way that Greg Boyd had lost his faith at one point in time. When someone builds a house of cards, the cards all link together, and if one of the cards is removed, the whole house falls. Faith can be done the exact same way. All parts of their faith–from their relationship to Christ, to scripture, doctrines, and theology—can be given up if one part doesn’t align with the rest. For example, if there is an inconsistency within Scripture, then a person who follows this theology might question Jesus’s consistency.

Faith then becomes a package deal. It’s all or nothing. If any part of this faith is wrong, then the whole faith is wrong and everything needs to be thrown out. It puts equal importance into every aspect of faith. However, this is simply not how faith should work as it puts a wrong standard on faith.
Ancient writers don’t write like writers of today. They often wrote stories that were non-literal in order to make a point. They also had inaccuracies–whether it was two different numbers on a census account, or differing accounts of the Resurrection in the gospels. Scripture reflects the worldview of the writers’ day. It’s not accurate by modern standards. See “Across the Spectrum” written by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy for more on this topic.

In our information age, our views on faith will be challenged. Someone would have to wear earplugs and hum a tune the rest of their lives to not run into questions or contradictions about their faith. This house of cards faith makes a thoughtful and curious person vulnerable. If this type of faith is taught, and someone has questions, they can quickly see their house tumble and fall, and then their entire faith is in doubt. This is why so many bible believing Christians don’t survive college with their faith intact, and it’s also the reason many thoughtful people refuse Christianity.

To combat this precarious faith, we must realize that not all beliefs are equally important. Jesus said that his testimony was weightier than John’s. Jesus also told the Pharisees they were not following the important parts of the law, and instead, they were concentrating on the smaller parts. We should not make small parts of our faith the same as larger parts. Let us offer up an alternative to the house of cards. Try thinking of faith as concentric circles instead of a house of cards.

Within the innermost ring, we have Jesus Christ. Jesus embodied the invisible God, and Jesus also was a human being. He was a person who could be followed. As we’ve talked about in previous weeks, faith is a relational term founded in covenant. This relationship with Jesus is where faith is most profoundly expressed, and it is the most important. Without this faith in Jesus Christ, the rest of our faith is just a mental exercise of right and wrong. Jesus asked people to follow him, without a theology test beforehand. Pledging our trust and trustworthiness to Christ is the center of our faith.

In the next ring, we have scripture and all scripture points towards Jesus. The Old Testament laid the groundwork for the life of Jesus. The coming of the messiah, which culminates the story of God with Israel, was told in the life of Jesus. Scripture is important, but it is not as important as our relationship and faith in Jesus Christ. There can be scriptural inaccuracies and differing accounts, but that shouldn’t change our bedrock of faith in Jesus. It can be a book that is “un-scientific” and not “perfect” by today’s standards, and that is ok. There are good reasons why it isn’t, and our relational faith should be centered on a person and not a book.

The third ring reflects core doctrines. These are the ways to live out a Christian life, and there are many different ideas of how to do that. All of them seem to have scriptural support, and we define our view of the world on these doctrines. However, it is important to remember that we don’t get LIFE from being “right” about these things. There should always be a healthy debate about the best way to serve the world around us as Christians, but it shouldn’t be a divisive debate and it most certainly should not cause our faith in Jesus to crumble.

Finally, the fourth ring should be labeled as theological opinions. These are the particular beliefs that Christians have always disagreed over. “What does Providence look like?” “How does pre-destination work?” These topics can be important because they affect how people view Jesus and God, but they are not as important as following Jesus. Everyone is growing and shaping their theology, and no one person has the right answer for everything. Even if some say they do. Theological opinions should be openly discussed and should never be feared because our faith is not contingent on our understandings of these matters. Our faith is contingent upon the life of Jesus, and that makes it a beautiful faith.

Avoid a house of cards theology by having Christ at the center of everything. Do not be afraid of being thoughtful and curious about your faith, as Jesus was never afraid to hear what people had to say about him. Enjoy a God who simply says “follow me”. Next week, we’ll go over how to live out the importance of Christ being at the center of your faith.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. What are your thoughts on Greg’s “House of Cards faith”? Do you see this as a problem in this world?
  3. Do you believe there are differing levels of importance when it comes to our relationship with Christ, scripture, core doctrines, and theological opinions?
  4. Have you ever had questions or comments that you feared to answer because it might shake your faith? Does Greg’s understanding of importance help you in facing those questions?
  5. Resolve to ask some of the questions that you may have avoided in the past. Are there other people around you that could help you in asking these questions? How can you incorporate them into your journey of curious and thoughtful faith?