Faith is important to me. My column is called Faith Matters for two reasons. One, I attempt to write about matters of faith. But the other reason is that I believe faith matters, it makes a difference what we believe and how we believe.
We are in a strange time in regard to faith. There are some unusual ideas out there about what faith is and how it ought to express itself. I suppose we should be grateful that there is so much discussion; I just stay concerned about the misinformation.
For that reason, I believe it is necessary for anyone who cares about faith issues, who believes that faith matters, to think clearly and carefully about these matters.
In an effort to make a contribution to that effort, I would like to suggest that faith might be classified into to two major categories – disembodied faith and embodied faith.
What I mean by disembodied faith is the notion that faith is something that sort of floats around like a ghost or some kind of spiritual force. All we need to do to help people find faith is to get them to a place where the force can get hold of them.
Some examples of disembodied faith would include putting Bibles in motel rooms, building monuments to the Ten Commandments and putting them on display in courthouses and classrooms.
Disembodied faith also includes sprinkling God’s name around in certain venues, such as “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or “In God We Trust” on our dollars.
I am not sure, but I think one reason these things are so popular and have such a powerful hold on people is that they allow us to promote faith without actually having to get involved with people.
Which brings me to the second type of faith – what I call embodied faith, faith that is fleshed out. Embodied faith is part of a community of faith. There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger believer. Embodied faith is a part of church. It frustrates me how much local churches are ignored as “public demonstrations of religion.”
There are many believers who spend a lot of time trying to get their faith acknowledged by the state but ignore the value of the local church.
Embodied faith is also relational faith; it is involved with people. Embodied faith cares about people and their needs. I stand in awe sometimes as I listen to folk who claim to be Christian argue against taking steps to care for the least of these in our midst.
Embodied faith is also reflective faith; it is faith that has been subjected to critical reason and careful thought. You realize snake handlers have great faith, but they are not very reflective.
Embodied faith is taught, not caught. Embodied faith is a faith passed on from one generation to the next. It takes place in story, in tradition, in Scripture and in song.
The other side of course is to realize that embodied faith is a living faith. Though passed along from one generation to the next, it embraces the present time and addresses the needs of the moment.
An embodied faith is not afraid to use the language of the present to express the hope and beliefs handed down from generations before.
A disembodied faith may make us feel good about doing something of value, but an embodied faith actually does something of value. And it contributes to the foundation for generations of faithful yet to come.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.