I will try not to repeat the questions and comments from Bill and Doug, which I agree with, but will attempt to respond to your points and concerns with a few observations. Thanks again for indulging us and our questions. Your responses have helped me to better appreciate your perspective and what you heard in my question. Even if we decide that we disagree, it has still been a fun and learning experience for me. So thanks!
1. I think that my view that followers of Jesus need both right belief and right practice is a moderate, balanced position rather than the extreme which you caricature. I clearly prefaced my question at the symposium with the statement that beliefs by themselves will not save, for even demons believe and tremble. Of course our beliefs must be embodied in Christian practice. I said so at the symposium, and no one I know would dispute it. I’m simply asking if merely loving our neighbor and caring for the poor is sufficient to be considered a Christian, or must followers of Christ also know and put their trust in him?
I do not understand how this question leads you to conclude that I have “a highly intellectualized and overly cognitive view of faith” and think that “being a Christian is fundamentally and primarily about beliefs in such facts.” Perhaps painting me as a cognitive extremist makes it easier for you to take the other extreme that beliefs are not necessary, but let’s be clear that I am not arguing for the position that you are discrediting.
I do think that your view is an extreme. You say that “given the choice between settling all the theological facts/debating at the level of rarefied reflection and being the location of transformation, becoming an agent of reconciliation and hope for the world, I’d choose the latter.” I agree, but you have set up a false dualism, caricatured the side you’re against (“rarefied reflection”) and then said that you’ll have the other. If these are the only two choices, then I’m with you. But why think that these are our only options?
2. I agree with you that beliefs and actions are inter-related, with beliefs leading to actions and actions leading to beliefs. My argument is not about which must come first, but whether both are necessary to be a Christian.
3. As the other comments indicate, you can open your New Testament just about anywhere and find passages that indicate our need to both believe and obey the gospel. To take just one example, 1 John 3:23 says that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” Do you think that John suffers from “a highly intellectualized and overly cognitive view of faith” because he said that we must “believe in the Son”? Please tell me how my question is anything other than a restatement of this verse.
4. Regarding the first disciples of Jesus, I agree that their understanding of God and Jesus were not as developed as ours who live after the councils of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. Revelation is progressive and theology does develop across time. Your argument that the Trinity and the deity/humanity of Jesus are not essential for Christians today because they weren’t spelled out by the original disciples ignores the progress of theology.
At the symposium I cited Paul’s response to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-31. When asked what he must do to be saved, Paul said that the jailer must believe in the Lord Jesus. So I conclude that Paul thought that those who want to follow Jesus must at least believe that they are sinners who are saved by the Lord Jesus. All Christians must believe this, and, once we learn of them, we must also not reject the church’s orthodox statements on the Trinity and person of Jesus (see the Athanasian Creed).
5. I would be interested in hearing your answer to the question, “what makes someone a follower of Jesus”? If believing in Jesus is not essential, then what is?
6. I don’t mean this to be nitpicky, but am asking merely for the sake of clarity. You said that everyone on the panel would affirm that “Christ came in the flesh.” I am glad to hear it, but I wonder, given Pete’s statements on revelation and his refusal to say directly whether he believes that Jesus physically rose from the dead, would he say that Jesus Christ is “the Son come in the flesh”? I.e., is Jesus ontologically both God and man? I hope that he would affirm this, but it wouldn’t easily cohere with other statements that he has made. I like Pete a lot, and I hope that you or he can affirm that he does in fact believe this.