Yesterday Kevin Corcoran, a philosophy professor at Calvin College, kindly responded to my previous post about my unanswered question at the Symposium of Worship’s Emergent panel. I think that his long and thoughtful response deserves its own page rather than to be buried in the comments section, so I am reposting it here, along with his initial interchange with Bill N. and Doug Phillips.
I am busy for the next few days in Ohio, but I will try to jump in as I am able. I’m glad that we can finally have this conversation, and thankful to Kevin for joining it. Here is Kevin’s post:
As one member of the panel at Thursday’s Worship Symposium I was hoping I might address your question again. For it seems to me that your question did get answered by each of the panelists but not in such a way as you are prepared to accept.
Before I address your question (and a couple of the comments you make in this post) let me first say how much I appreciated your presence on the panel and the hospitality you showed to each of us. It was a delight to share the table with you.
Okay, the question is whether there were/are any beliefs that were/are necessary to follow Jesus. If so, what are they? And if not, why not?
My resistance to the question as it was posed on Thursday is that there are assumptions built into the question that I have serious reservations about and I felt I had little time to unpack those reservations. Here I have both the time and the space for unpacking. So, first my answer and then some explanation. My answer is, no; there are no beliefs necessary to follow Jesus.
Now the explanation and the reservations. The privileging of belief, especially of the sort you mention here in the post, e.g., belief THAT we are sinners and THAT the Lord Jesus saves us from our sin, as well as THAT God is a Trinity of persons, THAT Jesus was both human and divine, etc, represents an overly intellectualized and overly cognitive view of belief. It seems abundantly clear to me that someone could possess all of the BELIEFS THAT that you mention and fail to be a Christian. After all, even the demons believe in that sense. God, I take it, is not interested in belief of this sort. God is interested, one might say, in the total reorientation and rearrangement of our lives, our loves, our desires our entire way of being in the world.
Second, nearly all of the beliefs on your list were ones that the first followers of Jesus never held. Jesus called them, “Come, follow me.” And some did. And those that did did so without believing THAT Jesus saves us from sin, THAT God is a Trinity, THAT Jesus was both human and divine, etc. They didn’t believe those things BEFORE answering the call and, in the case of the first disciples anyway, it’s not likely that they ever believed those things since those “beliefs” weren’t even codified until hundreds of year AFTER people were already following Jesus.
Third, and following on this point, I told the story on Thursday about the guy who told Pascal that he really wanted to become a Christian and and that Pascal’s response was not to tell him what to believe; rather, he told him to “go to Mass and take the Eucharist.” The point Pascal was making was that engaging in Christian practices can and sometimes does lead to belief. If the question is, does belief lead to following Jesus or does following Jesus lead to belief, I think we should say that beliefs of the sort you refer to DO NOT always lead to following Jesus and that following Jesus sometimes does lead to belief.
I suppose the main point is that all of the beliefs you cite were the result of the retroactive reflections of those whose lives had FIRST been transformed by an encounter with the risen Christ that radically transformed their lives. The radically altered life produced the beliefs; the beliefs did not produce the radically altered life.
Now, you say in your post that all of the things we discussed at the Symposium and with which you agreed in large measure were “merely window dressing unless my question was answered.” I suppose one might consider them window dressing only if one has a highly intellectualized and overly cognitive view of faith. Absent that view what we were discussing was the very substance of faith.
You also say in your post that you agree with me that salvation is a journey, but you want to insist that there is a moment in time when we pass from death to life, from darkness into light. I don’t deny that. What I deny is that that momentous, life-altering event is the result of belief. Rather, I would suggest that beliefs of the sort you cite are the result of that momentous, life-altering event.