A Helpful Falsehood

Recently I began reading A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, which is a book about the need for slow, consistent Christian discipleship in a fast-paced, inconsistent world. Written by Eugene Peterson, who is something of a contemplative spirit, and who, in ages past, would likely have been a mystic, a hermit, or a monk, Long Obedience offers the following thought: “We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.” To which I replied in the margins of my book, “This is a helpful false dichotomy.”

We cannot divorce faith from information. Faith must possess an object; it must look outside itself to something else in which it trusts. If I step out onto a frozen pond, I am placing my faith in ice, trusting that it is capable of holding my weight. If my information about that ice is incorrect (if I overestimate its thickness), then my misplaced faith will be rewarded with an unpleasant bath in ice water. If, however, my information about the ice is correct (I have rightly estimated its thickness), then my rightly directed faith will be rewarded with a walk upon ice that holds.

If, then, I trust in Christ for salvation, I am not acquiring skills to the neglect of acquiring information. Rather, it is precisely because of the reliable information I have been given, which tells me who Jesus is and what He did to secure my salvation, that I trust in Him. He is the ice, and it is only because I have the right information about Him that I trust Him to support my weight.

Nonetheless, Peterson’s false dichotomy is helpful, for it offers something of a needed correction in emphasis. Too often I find myself to be a technical expert in matters of theology, but a poor practitioner of my beliefs. I am a pitcher who knows how to work the count and where to place pitches, who correctly identifies an individual batter’s tendencies, and who knows what pitch to throw at any particular point in the count, but who has an erratic wind up, who can’t throw the ball straight twice in a row, who hangs every other curve ball, and whose fastball maxes out at 82MPH. I possess all the knowledge that a theologian and pastor ought to possess, while at the same time I apply that knowledge inadequately and inconsistently. As Peterson suggests, I need skills in living my faith, and not necessarily more information about it. If wisdom is indeed the right application of knowledge, and biblically I believe that it is, then it might be better to say that I need wisdom. We cannot and ought not to divorce information from the practical living out of our faith, but we can offer an emphasis that encourages us to cultivate wisdom.

How are you doing acquiring not just information, but also wisdom?

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