“Believing with Our Feet: The Politics of Discipleship” by Dr. Tim Gaines

Posted: October 7, 2015 in Book and Article Reviews, Church, Theology and Faith
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The Christian faith is weird. It’s just different. All the way down. As many times as I can say this, I continually come to realize that I don’t get it. At least, I don’t get it in a depth that really shapes me as deeply as it ought to.

These days, a large majority of my ministry involves teaching college students. I talk with them a lot about how different the Christian faith is. It’s different in the way it conceives of God because it confesses that God was revealed in flesh, and so we know God by an encounter with a person, rather than through metaphysical reasoning alone. And one of the most different things about the way know God is that the person through whom we come to know God was crucified.

The more I say things like this in my teaching, and the more I consider what that means for the way I know God as a person, the more strange it seems. We normally look for God in ideas, high and lofty metaphysical concepts of God. But God wants us to be known through becoming a human, and so we know God by encountering a person. Weird.

Belief is also strange for Christians. Normally, we consider belief to be the intellectual ascent to an idea. When we believe in something, we typically mean that we agree with an idea. When we say we believe in God, it often means that we intellectually agree that there is a God, and that this God is involved in creation in certain ways. But Christians believe in strange ways. We don’t just believe with our heads; we believe with our feet. Ours is a belief of following. Why? Because for Christians, God is not known as an idea, but as a Person.

Jesus words in John 14, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” set a strange pattern for our believing, mainly because we tend to think of truth as a set of concepts, rather than as a person. But Jesus does something fascinating here: he ties ‘way’ to ‘truth,’ and locates both of those in himself. That means that truth is not a concept for Christians – truth is a Person. To believe in truth, therefore, means that we can’t simply intellectually ascent to an idea, because truth isn’t a mere idea. Truth is a Person, and we believe in that Person by following. We believe with our feet.

Believing with our feet makes us primarily followers of the Way. To believe with our feet makes us disciples. But here is the really simple and strange thing about believing with our feet: we are following a peculiar and particular way that isn’t like all of the other ways around us. The peculiar way of Jesus had a lot to do with not simply following one of the given ‘ways’ of the day, but transcending those ways. But lest we forget the cross, ‘transcendence’ even takes on a different kind of meaning – to transcend something in the strange way of Jesus also meant to be killed by it. Why is that important? Because it demonstrates for us just how different the politics of discipleship are.

I probably don’t need to rehearse the given political ‘ways’ in detail here. There are parties and issues and candidates. But the thread running through all of them is that there is a particular way of doing politics: you win. You conquer. You vanquish. Consider the discussion surrounding political debates these days. Most of what I hear is not even about the issues so much as who won the debate. The issues become mere weapons in the hands of those who enter the debate ring as contenders. The whole point is to win.

As disciples of Jesus, though, our purpose isn’t really to win. It isn’t to climb in the ring or throw our support behind one of the contenders. It’s to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life, to hear him teach us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, and to align ourselves with that coming Kingdom, even though it is thoroughly different. To believe with our feet is to walk in the way of the Crucified, and to take seriously the strangeness of the way God has chosen to redeem the world. And that probably means that the way of our politics – the way we think about it, the way we think about what politics is, what it does and what it’s for – will be awfully different. And for that difference, I say thanks be to God.

Tim Gaines is asst. professor of religion at Trevecca Nazarene University and adjunct professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary. His latest book, written with Shawna Songer Gaines, deals with a faithful approach to politics and is called Kings and Presidents: Politics and the Kingdom of God.

TimandShawna

Tim and Shawna Gaines used their time as co-pastors of Bakersfield First Church of the Nazarene to seek distinctly Christian approaches to pressing contemporary issues, and to apply those responses to faithful and creative ways in the local church setting. Tim now serves as assistant professor of religion at Trevecca Nazarene University. Shawna is a frequent speaker, author, and blogger. Her work can be accessed at shawnasongergaines.com

You can find their new book here: http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/bhol/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135314&nid=srch&catalogId=NA&catSecCd=NA&subCatSecCd=NA&subSubCatSecCd=NA

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