Shuck and Jive

Thursday, September 06, 2007


(Conversations with Bob! What is the essence of faith? Bob's up!)

Greek time! There are some words that just sound like what they are, words like squish. One of my favorite Greek words is above. Transliterated it is splankna. Literally it means guts, intestines. I always thought the word sounded like guts would sound like when dropped on a table. Therefore I just had to teach it to my younger brothers who have equally sick senses of humor. And they, of course, had to use it at dinner time and gross out my wife and mother. (Mother more than wife because even after 2 years of marriage wife was getting used to my sick sense of humor.)

The verb form, always in the middle voice, is splanknizomai, meaning to feel something down in your guts or to have compassion. Thus Jesus had compassion on the crowd when he and the disciples reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He called off the disciples’ vacation and taught the crowd and then fed them. (Mark 6:34)

So is compassion essential? Of course it is! But John are we only to list fruits of the Spirit as essentials? Why not go ahead and make a list then? Paul’s while not entirely complete is pretty good: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV)

So yes, the various fruits of the Spirit are essential emotions and behaviors. Can we achieve them all in completeness? Even with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit they take work. When a homeless person who hasn’t bathed in weeks comes into my office looking for help I try to hear the whole story and not just give some aid to get the person out the door. Like you said John, listening and understanding are vital parts of compassion.

But John, we can talk fruits of the Spirit for weeks. What I want to know is do you think there are any theological essentials of faith? I proclaim by faith that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. I proclaim by faith that his resurrection assures the resurrection of those who place their faith, (thoughts, feelings, words, actions and lives) in him. Are we never to talk of what we believe?

Grace and Peace



  1. Isn't spanka that thing with the phyllo dough and spinach and feta cheese? ;-)

    In answer to your final question, Bob (which you didn't ask me, but what the hell, it's the comment section of a blog), I think that collectively, we as mainline Presbyterians were so burned by the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the 20s that we still cringe today.

    I think it also has a lot to do with the way the mainline churches (Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopals, etc) have taken such a huge hit from the rise of the fundamentalist/evangelical megachurch movement. IMO, we still don't know how to react to it without losing our identity. In the PC(USA) in particular, we abhor a laundry list of beliefs and love to yak things to death (we loves our committees). As I mentioned earlier, we acknowledge in our confessions that "God alone is Lord of the conscience" and that any manmade doctrines can be fallible. If this has led to a Potter Stewart approach (the Supreme Court Justice who famously said--I paraphrase--"I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it.") toward doctrinal standards, then so be it. IMO it leads to a more honest probing of one's beliefs.

    To answer your question,

    Are we never to talk of what we believe?

    I would say of course not. However, we need to acknowledge that how we approach our beliefs will inevitably vary from person to person. Putting strict requirements into what one has to and cannot believe is dangerous. For example, one of Machen's Fundamentals was belief in the virgin birth. The problem with this kind of doctrinal tunnel vision is that it leads to a shakier faith. In other words, if someone were to find incontrovertible proof that Mary did in fact have sexual intercourse with someone before she gave birth to Jesus, does that mean that Christianity is meaningless? I actually know a bunch of people for whom that would be true.

    I've taken to trotting out my Latin lately:

    Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, secundu Verbum Dei.

    This motto of the reformers ("the Church reformed, always being reformed, after the Word of God") is an important statement to remember. We can, through study, prayer and discussion renew our faith and even break with tradition. Setting things in stone IMO diminishes the intent of the Reformation.

  2. Hi Pastor Bob,

    Here is where I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with this formulation of “theological essentials of faith.” I too believe and openly proclaim this belief that I think Jesus rose from the dead; and I do find hope in this belief, and it does enrich my spiritual experience. Recently my father passed away, and I was there, with my entire family, children and all, to minister to his last dying needs. My wife, who is Korean, and our children, were able to hold his hand, kiss him, and tell him how much they loved him and to say goodbye. And while we all grieved, underlying this grief was something greater, and that was faith and hope and the assurance that death is just a doorway to the worlds on high that God has prepared for us. I believe Jesus is indeed the divine Son of God, our Creator, and our Lord, and believe that the Father gave him the power to lay down his life and take it up again. These are things I believe about Jesus. They do enrich my faith-experience, but I do not believe they are the essence of my faith-experience. These beliefs in my view are the gospel about Jesus.

    The essence of my own personal faith-experience was born of hearing the gospel of Jesus: the truth that I was a child of God, that God loved me as a wise and compassionate Father loves all his children, and had indwelt me with his Spirit, and that by simple living faith I could realize, experience, and live this spiritual truth by being born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, taught by the Spirit, and living the Spirit filled life by faith, just such faith as Jesus of Nazareth lived by as the author and finisher of my faith. And it was this living experience that transformed a lost and confused soul such as I was, through grace and living faith, into a life of joy and liberty as a faith son of God. And the natural corollary of this living truth is that all my fellow humans are my spiritual brothers and sisters whom I have been led with joy and love to serve and minister to as Jesus so showed us to minister to one another.

    Of course, I cannot completely separate out my beliefs from my living faith; but the crucial difference for me is that I can live by faith, which can even overcome my theological doubts and uncertainties. In other words, I may preach a religion about Jesus, but to really experientially know Jesus I must live the religion of Jesus. One must be born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, taught by the Spirit, and yield the fruits of the Spirit in their Spirit filled lives if they are going to be part of the living vine. And this I believe is the meaning of his saying when he said:

    You will recognize them by the fruits they bear. Can grapes be picked from briars, or figs from thistles? (Matt.7.16) In the same way, a good tree always yields good fruit, and a poor tree bad fruit. (Matt.7.17) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit. (Matt.7.18) And when a tree does not yield good fruit it is cut down and burnt. (Matt.7.19) That is why I say you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matt.7.20) Not everyone who calls me "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly Father. (Matt.7.21)

    And what are then to say of those of other religions who yield the fruits of the Spirit in their lives? What then does this mean of the relationship between faith and belief?