Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Tulips, Photos, and Fish

A friend and I recently had a discussion on MSN that sparked some interesting thoughts in my mind. I thought I'd take the time to go over those ruminations.

One of the things that came out of our discussion was a sense that there is a weakness to a faith that can be so easily packaged in a few points. This would most obviously apply to so-called "5 Point Calvanism", summarized in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. For those who don't know those are Total depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Perseverance of the Saints. The acronym is helpful in that it gives a student a pretty easy Coles Notes version of Calvinism. But it is also an abstraction of Calvinist; it gains simplicity at the expense of detail.

Being able to package the Christian faith in a few points suffers from the same weakness. You really do lose a lot of the complexity (and I mean that in a good way) of the Bible when you abstract its total teaching to a few essential points. There are a lot of tensions in the Bible, and although the picture it gives us of God is cohesive, it isn't the limit of who and what God is. If you imagine a photograph, the Bible gives us a snapshot of God where the edges are not neatly cropped and you find yourself feeling that there is more to the picture, a feeling that only intensifies the longer you study the snap shot.

So on the one hand we need to be humble and admit that the bullet lists we often use to describe our faith are not the sum total of all that is Christian. On the other hand, we need to admit that there is nothing wrong with such lists per se, and that in fact they can be useful teaching tools.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that those who despise little bullet lists need to check their history. Today it is common to see little fish symbols on cars. Well, that symbol has been around to represent Christian faith for almost two thousand years. In Greek the word for fish is "Icthus," and it was used by early Christians as an easy little memory and teaching tool since, using the Greek alphabet, icthus made an acronym which translates to "Jesus Christ, God's Son, savior."

More on the discussion with my friend next time.

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