Is the belief dangerous or helpful?
It is discussed again: Bible understanding, ethics or understanding of the church. Sometimes there is a lot going on on social media and that's a good thing (apart from a few negative dropouts). While some refer to the clarity and unambiguity of the Holy Scriptures, especially in confusing times, others insist that a belief must come of age in plural times in order to ward off fundamentalist tendencies, for example. But there is a great deal of disagreement about a “mature faith”. How much maturity and freedom is good? Or do we need limits and rules, especially for the younger generation? And here we are on an exciting topic, because “mature belief” leaves room for one's own thinking and questioning and promotes a tolerance of ambiguity, which can also allow opinions to stand side by side. But for some this does not seem possible at the moment.
Does mature faith lead young Christians off the “right path”?
Almost exactly three years ago, together with my colleagues Tobias Künkler and Martin Hofmann, I published the book “Why we are allowed to believe: ways to a resilient life of faith”. The book deals with the development of faith in one's own life. It is about all the topics that we deal with in our life of faith and that have a significant influence on our faith, such as power, sexuality, honorary office, maturity, doubt, 'new atheism' or, of course, the understanding of the Bible. The credo of the authors is very different. However, it was desirable for everyone to develop their own beliefs, that is, to become mature, attentive and resilient. In addition to many positive voices, there were also some critical voices, which was good because mature belief seeks to confront other opinions. In summary, there were two main objections from the critics. They say: a) Faith is always a gift and thus, for example, does not develop with the personality (against, for example, Fowler and the levels of faith) and b) a mature faith overtaxes many young Christians in particular and thus becomes “Gateway” to a liberal theology and thus leads Christians astray.
Is it more complicated after all?
First of all, I have to agree with the critics, because mature belief can also be dangerous or, let's say, involve a certain risk. In addition, many people have very different personalities, intellectual abilities, emotional empathy, etc. For some, the further development of their faith is a necessity in order to save it for them (see also the study “Why I do not believe anymore”), but for others it can also be too demanding, because they constantly feel overwhelmed by developing their own faith to have to. Church and community can be a help, but also an obstacle. I experience again and again that especially young Christians who set out to question their own faith and also their beliefs, encounter incomprehension in communities, yes, there is even a certain shame because one feels bad, doubts and a good one Christian doesn't know that. The result is often that these Christians leave the congregation because they do not feel understood and accepted and are spiritually supplied with podcasts etc. As good and helpful as I find, for example, Hossa Talk or Wordaus, they are not a substitute for a community. On the contrary, both complement each other well, we need a new one between analog and digital networks, especially when it comes to “risk factors” of belief. Maybe you could set up a word house group for a limited period in which the word speeches are heard and then critically discussed. At a time when religious education is in a state of upheaval, we need new formats and methods to strengthen faith and make it mature.
The crucial question: what is mature faith?
When we ask what faith actually is, we first come across the fact that faith has to do with trust and is a concept of relationship that is shown in the New Testament in a very practical way in discipleship. Faith is not something, an object or a construct that can easily change hands from generation to generation, but rather a relationship event. Faith is trust in a person and is associated with the decision to want to approach and trust that person. However, trust cannot be enforced because relationships presuppose freedom. So it is not a static, but a relational term and thus one that lives and also brings with it a certain risk, as the story in Matthew 14 shows, for example. There Jesus challenges Peter on the Sea of Galilee to get out of the boat - and Peter trusts, believes and goes. The Tübingen theologian Eberhard Jüngel has found a very sensible and apt definition in his impressive work "The Secret of the World": Faith means de-security. And of course it is a gift of grace or the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 9) that we can believe at all. And yet this belief can develop, grow or even be lost again. Paul writes to his brothers and sisters in Corinth, who were an outspoken spiritual community, rich in spiritual gifts and miracles. And yet Paul accuses them of immaturity and says that they only eat milk instead of solid food. 1 Cor 3: 1-4: However, dear brothers and sisters, I could not talk to you as I did with spiritually mature people. You have let yourself be determined by the ideas and desires of your own nature so that you have behaved like underage children when it comes to your faith in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, because you couldn't tolerate it yet. Even today you cannot stand it because you still let your own nature determine you. Or is your life ruled by the Spirit of God while there is still rivalry and strife among you? Rather, does such behavior not prove that you are following what is customary among men?Paul calls the Corinthians saints, role models, and yet he criticizes their behavior. Spiritual gifts neither presuppose mature faith, nor are they a guarantee for it. Because spiritual growth is not to be equated with social behavior, rather one sees our spiritual growth in social behavior. Paul also describes this very practically and very clearly in the 5th chapter of Galatians: The fruit, on the other hand, that the Spirit of God produces is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, kindness, loyalty, consideration and self-control.Here it becomes clear once again that mature faith shows itself very practically in our social structures / relationships in everyday life.
Self-confidence as idolatry
If one's own belief moves away from one's own life, an increasing dissonance arises, which can manifest itself cognitively and emotionally. Mature faith shows up exactly where this dissonance is overcome and the relationship level with God, with people and with myself is lived (Mt 22). Maturity is shown very practically in my behavior in these relationship levels. And here we are again at the "de-security" and where we as humans are looking for so much security and certainty today. This is entirely legitimate, because we can and may feel secure with and in Christ. But there is no such thing as absolute certainty. Luther recognized this and called it the securitas. God is used to gain security, support and orientation. This turns the legitimate search for security into an idol. This is precisely why it is important to test and develop your own faith. The theologian Roger Mielke once put it this way: "Freedom of belief means that in a process of lifelong development, change and maturation I become who I am in the eyes of God."
Whether this process can now be tied to a certain stage model can certainly be discussed, but I find the reflection of one's own faith in certain phases of life helpful in both Fowler, Guardini and Streib. Mainly for the reason that I develop myself, in my personality, my character, my intellectual abilities etc. My belief is interwoven in all these things, yes, sometimes I cannot separate it from my personality because it is through my biography was so formative and was so shaped. Faith is not an “extra thing”, but a living part of my life. And precisely because my context and my life are changing, it is important to think about your own frame of reference, to reflect on your own way of life and to ask to what extent my spirituality is authentic and how, for example, ethical convictions show up in my life. This is where we start if we want to promote a spiritually mature faith. Some characteristics of a mature faith will now be presented. In doing so, I am guided by the consequences of our study “Why I don't believe anymore. Why Young Adults Are Losing Their Faith ”.
Eight characteristics of a mature faith:
- A mature belief knows that every person, despite all sinfulness and all fallen being, is created in the image of God (Imago Dei) and is therefore valuable in and before God regardless of his origin, his status or his sexual orientation.
- A mature belief knows that one's own image of God is also shaped by one's own socialization and experience and is therefore allowed to develop further in the relationship with God, people and oneself.
- A mature belief does not have a compensatory effect. This means that it does not serve to cover up deficits in personal development. A person with a mature faith is in a development in which he is less and less dependent on fooling himself and others.
- A mature belief cannot be pressed into a rigid and fixed set of rules, but needs freedom in order to develop.
- A mature faith shows itself not (only) through human strength or success, but above all through one's own weakness.
- A mature faith manifests itself in a process of reconciliation which, through the power of the cross and resurrection, lasts a whole life and encompasses all levels of human life and coexistence.
- A mature belief promotes independent and critical thinking. He thus helps to check one's own positions as well as the position of the community. This creates a testing and appropriation process that defends itself against blind obedience and spiritual appropriation and at the same time promotes the development of one's own faith.
- A mature belief has room for reflection and doubt. They are part of the process of appropriation, are normal and not a sign of unbelief or even sin.
A mature faith is thus a dynamic event in which God acts in his love for people and endures questions and doubts. A mature belief might want to overcome the dualism between conservative and liberal and look for its own way. Perhaps we can learn from history, for example from the Jesuit Father Markantun de Dominis, who said in the midst of great theological disputes: "In what is necessary, unanimity prevails, in doubtful freedom, in everything, however, charity."
I realize that this is a path that is also dangerous. Bithya has also made a great course for the book “Why we are allowed to come of age”, which reflects the book and one's own belief in six parts. It is a great opportunity to ponder some things personally or in a small group. Thank you Bithya!
With this in mind, I am looking forward to many fruitful discussions….
Here are the six episodes in detail:
Book Launch 1 - A book to shock and wake you up.
Book launch 2: Doubt, Belief, Atheism
Book presentation 3 - The book of life with seven seals
Book presentation 4 - The other testimony
Book launch 5 - you and me
Book presentation 6: A small sociology excursion
Image: © by Constanze Zorn: “Mündig”
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