Thursday, December 12, 2013

Faith vs. Ideology? What is the difference?

Below is a paragraph that I wrote a couple of years ago when I was reading through some literature about ideology for my dissertation. How can we distinguish between godly faith and political ideology in the public square? 

"How can religious ideology be distinguished from religious faith? Ideology contains certainties; faith contains mysteries. Ideology promotes militancy; faith promotes humility. Ideology must be implemented with energetic human force; faith rests in the providence of God. Ideology produces antagonism between opposing parties; faith produces love for one’s enemy that bridges oppositions."

Holding a political philosophy or ideology is not necessarily wrong, in fact, it may be necessary in order to participate in the public square. But how do we keep our political ideology distinct from our faith? How do we make room for brothers and sisters to share our faith (one faith) but respect them if they choose to identify with the opposing political ideology?  

How do we advocate for our political ideology in the public square without confusing the public about our faith? 


  1. I like the paragraph you developed, as well as the question at the end of the above post. Maybe we could run a test case with your paragraph: abortion. When it comes to this issue, how would you distinguish between the certainties that characterize ideology and the mysteries that characterize faith? Clearly, folks who bomb clinics or murder doctors who perform abortions would be ideologues in the negative sense, right? In a political debate, it seems that those who operate from certainties will generally prevail (politically) over those whose best offer is something "mysterious."

  2. the problem is, both sides of the public debate (pro-life, and pro-choice) are held with with absolute and opposing certainty -- there is no room allowed for humility or mystery.

  3. So ... let me take a stab at it. The mystery comes in perhaps when a pro-lifer is willing to recognize that there is some room for debate about when life truly begins. Does it really begin at conception? or perhaps when the egg is implanted in the wall of the uterus?

    Perhaps there can be humility in recognizing that female believer might find abortion personally abhorrent, but choose to take a 'pro-choice' position on public policy on libertarian or feminist grounds ... the pro-choicer is not necessarily advocating abortion -- but advocating that the woman must have a voice in her own body rather than giving the entire authority over to the state.

    I am not saying that "faith" can replace a political philosophy or ideology ... but perhaps faith can allow us to see some of the more nuanced issues and give us ears to hear the underlying concerns of the opposition. And perhaps allow more room for compromise.

    Someone else feel free to take a stab at it....

  4. There is a statement that I believe came from the Moravians: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in ALL things love." Of course, the problem comes in identifying which things are essential. The Bible seems to identify only a few things that are essential to determining whether or not we are in Christ -- and then it calls us to love our enemies.

    I think there is a lot of truth in Joseph's statement above. Somehow, we need to be able to have our own convictions (even very firmly held convictions) and still love and respect those who disagree.

  5. As to the much depends on our attitudes. If we have an attitude of humility, we will be willing to listen to others, even if we strongly disagree. And we will be willing to leave the "winning" in the hands of God.

    Much of what Joseph described in the statement above has to do with attitudes of the heart. "Meekness" has been described as strength under discipline. Jesus was meek, in that sense, and we are called to follow His example. If we are truly meek, we can have strong convictions, yet keep those convictions under the higher law of loving God and loving our neighbor.

  6. John Churchill, a dear friend and Baptist pastor/church planter, holds very strong spiritual AND political convictions. And yet, he is one of the meekest men I have ever met, which is ironic, considering he is a retired Lt. Colonel from the army and knows how to command. Yes indeed Dan, meekness is strength "under" control

  7. Let me add another thought ... most Christians (liberal or conservative) would likely agree that unwanted pregnancies are to be avoided and that ending one with an abortion is tragic if not wrong.

    However, the assumption that we can make it "illegal" and use the power of the state to enforce a ban on abortions presupposes that we live in a society with a government based on a Christian worldview.

    This goes to the heart of the Christian Nation viewpoint. Such a presupposition only holds water if the U.S. was, or is indeed a Christian nation.

    When believers in the early church found abandoned baby girls who were unwanted by their Roman parents, they had so such presupposition or expectation of the Roman Empire ... instead they took matters into their own hands by rescuing the infants and raising them as their own.

  8. Joseph, here are some thoughts in response to your example:

    For the individual believer, I agree that it is more important that we bring our own actions under the Lordship of Jesus than that we try to establish what we consider to be just laws in our nation. As you point out, the Roman Christians were good examples of that.

    However, we do live in a country with a "representative" government, in which we have the right and, perhaps, the responsibility as citizens to vote for those who support laws that we believe are most just. So I don't see it as wrong to do that. We just don't need to make it a religious issue.

    As to the point about using the power of the state to enforce something: Doesn't that get down to the fundamental issue of determining the basis for our laws, in the first place? Because all laws use the power of the state to enforce some form of "morality." If my basis for morality comes from a Judeo-Christian worldview, and someone else's comes from some other worldview, is there anything wrong with me voting for a law that aligns with my worldview, as long as I show respect for those who vote otherwise. So, for example, if I believe that abortion is murdering a vulnerable, defenseless child, I can vote for a law that would align with that viewpoint, while accepting someone who votes against it.

    I see the "Christian Nation" issue as a little different than whether I vote for laws that align with my convictions. I think the Christian nation concept becomes a problem when we try to make it our "Christian mission" to change our laws, based on the idea that this was, is, or should be a Christian nation.

    As a Christian believer and a citizen of the US, I should be able to express my views and vote according to my conscience, while treating others with the respect and humility that we spoke about above.


  9. I thought I would add this quote from Pope Francis that I thought fit into this conversation and some of the books we have been reading.

    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis has said men studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood should be properly trained or the Church could risk "creating little monsters" more concerned with their careers than serving people.

    In comments made in November but only published on Friday, Francis also said priests should leave their comfort zone and get out among people on the margins of society, otherwise they may turn into "abstract ideologists".

  10. Michael, thank you. Pope Francis seems to be "stirring it up" in a quite positive way. One of my friends,, a strongly committed atheist female in her late 20s ... has been deeply impressed by some of his comments. It has been the first time she has ever had anything positive to say about Christians .... we should keep him in our prayers