I Do [Not] Believe

I am a Christian minister, but I don’t believe in Hell. I don’t believe in angels or demons, either. Neither do I believe in the authority of Scripture.

If you are still reading, I want to say that I actually consider myself fairly conservative theologically on all of these issues. I am not a universalist for instance. It is an appealing position for obvious reasons but I just do not think it holds up Biblically or theologically. I also think that angels and demons most likely exist. I have never understood why Christians who profess belief in resurrection and in an invisible deity suddenly become scientific rationalists on the issue of demons and angels. In for a penny, in for a pound, I say! I also am a serious biblicist who believes that God still can and does speak through Holy Scripture.

Here is the issue with Fundamentalism: Fundamentalism famously reduced the faith to five precepts, or fundamentals. These fundamentals are (1) inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, (2) the Virgin birth, (3) Christ’s death as atonement, (4) bodily resurrection of Christ, and (5) the historical reality of miracles. Most of these I agree with absolutely no problems whatsoever. The Virgin birth, for instance, is an essential doctrine that demonstrates not only Christ’s parentage, but also that salvation could never come through humanity’s own machinations. It would have to be an act of God.

Yet, I don’t believe in these things. I believe in the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. I believe that God was in Christ reconciling the world. It is God, not specific doctrinal stances, who is the object of my belief. I am not simply splitting hairs. The fact that many Christians today speak of doctrines — whether it be Heaven, Hell, a personal devil, marriage, or whatever — as their object of belief betrays a serious misunderstanding of what it truly means to believe.

Belief is not just a cognitive activity. Belief does not mean just agreeing to certain things. Belief does not imply intellectual certitude. Belief, in short, does not happen all in the head. Belief or faith (these words are typically used interchangably for the same Greek word) is understood primarily in relational terms. Although faith sometimes involves the head, it is a lifelong faithfulness to a person, namely God.

Faith, first of all, means faithfulness, or fidelity. It can also mean trust. It is difficult, if not impossible, to put our trust in an abstract idea. We don’t trust concepts; we trust people. Look, for instance, at the archetype of faith in the Old Testament, Abraham. The faithfulness Abraham of Genesis 15, where it is written that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,” is a belief rooted in trust. It is trust in a God who follows through on his promises.

It is no mistake that the Apostle’s Creed, one of the church’s oldest belief statement, is centered around statements concerned with each member of the Trinity. Here, it is God who is the object of our beliefs, not doctrines.

Once we remember what, or rather who, is the true object of faith, we no longer need to fear anything. We no longer need to feel threatened by those who question our doctrines. Of course, I would always reiterate the importance of many of those doctrines but, in the end, they really only help us illumine and therefore grow closer to the God of faith. We should never set them up as an idol to worship instead. Without the God of Abraham, these doctrines fall flat on the page, they neither have life nor can they offer life to anyone. Only the God of resurrection can do that.

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  • Sean

    Credo in triplicate – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thanks for writing the article – it reminded me of “Tokens of Trust” from our first year at Duke.

  • Carrie Rae Duley Ainsworth

    russ, I remember when u were very small, growing up in church. hell is real, so are angel, demons and authority of scripture. what happens is,….. satan twists Gods truth. I love you…. still remember how you liked my meatloaf over your moms that day, do you remember? carrie rae Dixon Ainsworth im remarried Mitchell chapel cog.