Joel Belz: People of faith


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 1st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. The phrase “people of faith” is an absolutely overused term in journalism. WORLD founder Joel Belz isn’t a fan of it, not least because it’s almost completely meaningless.

JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER. I’m not sure where the term “people of faith” came from but here’s my vote against it. I’ve heard the term used increasingly especially in the mainstream media when they want to talk about folks whose main distinctive is that they’re pretty religious. But even that’s a hard term to apply, so maybe these people of faith are folks who are serious about confessing a belief in a higher power. Let’s explore that for a minute or two.

So far we’ve included by definition all “Christians”—that’s Protestants and Catholics, evangelicals and liberal mainstream, fervent and nominal, Jews, Muslims and a number of others too numerous and diverse to mention.  But such terminology feels totally in making two important distinctions and is therefore both too broad and too narrow at the same time.

It assumes first that all people of faith belong in just one category, that what makes them alike is more important than any differences among them. And it assumes secondly, but very quietly,  that there is some critical distinction between so-called people of faith and people without faith. Both those assumptions are wrong. Trying to cram all people of faith into the same box is it best a meaningless exercise. At worst it’s like taking 1000 plants, some edible some poisonous, and stressing that their most important characteristic is that they all have roots. Never mind who dies as a result of such superficial classification.

At least two critical questions must be asked before a reference to faith means anything at all. What’s the purpose of that faith and who is the object of that faith? Part of what distinguishes Christian faith is it has everything to do with life and death. It’s not just a confidence picker upper or something that adds a little zing to your optimism. 

No, Biblical faith grapples with radical rather than superficial problems. Biblical faith calls for a desperate confession that we are in such serious straits that we need profound and specific help. It’s a transfer of trust from ourselves to someone else for everything that’s important.

So for starters, if a person doesn’t think of faith in such radical terms, if that person doesn’t think of faith quite literally as “saving faith”, then it doesn’t really matter that he or she associates with other people of faith. It’s a meaningless association. And second, it’s essential to ask who is this faith in? People always answer that in one of three ways: 

  1. The God of the Bible 
  2. Somebody or something else
  3. A combination of 1 and 2.

Biblically and historically Christianity has always declared any fudging on this matter constitutes heretical error. The Apostle Paul wasn’t terribly ecumenical when he said flatly that if anyone came bearing any message other than hope exclusively in Jesus Christ, that person should be accursed. Some of those heretics got pretty close to the truth but still missed it! 

Paul didn’t give them a fuzzy title of “people of faith” and neither should we. 

For WORLD Radio I’m Joel Belz.


(Photo/Creative Commons)

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