Over at Confessing Evangelical, there was a post about what causes people to change their beliefs. “The typical pattern seems to be for a ‘crisis event’ to complete (or make manifest) a process that has taken place during a more prolonged ‘period of immersion’.”
When I was in high school, i stumbled onto the precursor to the current blogosphere: message boards. I’m not sure if blogs just didn’t exist or if I hadn’t discovered them yet, but I spent most of my online time on the Theology message boards over at Christian Guitar Resources. I discovered something: the most coherent, logical arguments came from those who used terms such as “Calvinist,” “Reformed,” and/or “Postmillenialist” when referring to themselves and the most emotional, sensational arguments came from those who did not use those terms. (I’m not referring to those who hold any certain doctrine as either reasonable or sensational, just describing what I saw in that specific place, when I was 16). This was stuff that I had never heard about in church, stuff that seemed far removed from what I had always believed. It made sense to me, more than what I had always been taught… and it was somewhat controversial. And being a “good kid,” who didn’t dabble into partying and the like, I needed some way to “rebel.” And I did. I began to proclaim my Calvinism from the rooftops. I probably drove my youth pastor crazy… not only did I give him a hard time about stuff myself, but the questions that were asked of him by my peers who I had gotten ahold of probably drove him to find another church. (not because he couldn’t answer them, because he could, but I think it really got on his nerves).
So that “change” in belief came not merely from reason, but from rebellion. I wanted to be rebellious. And I made alot of people mad. I’m a little ashamed of it, really. I knew people who went to college and became extremely liberal (theologically, politically, economically, etc.) not because they really believed all of that, but because they knew their parents would be shocked and appalled, along with their youth pastors. Rebellion. I’m convinced that some people, among my generation, anyways, decide to “believe” certain things in order to rebel against their parents or the community in which they grew up.
When I got to college back in 2003, I noticed that there were a few different types of people at the school, among the Christian Studies majors, anyways. (it was a christian college) There were the preacher boys, who wanted to impress the faculty and admin and who would probably try to be the president of the SBC someday. They wore suits far too often. I stayed away from them. There were the slacker Youth Ministry majors, who apparently had a really cool and fun youth pastor and wanted to spend the rest of their lives goofing off with teenagers. A worthy goal, I might add. I was too much of a Calvinist to hang out with those guys. Then I found my crew.
There were a group of people who, like me, had never read a word by John Calvin, but wore t-shirts with his face on it. These guys were cool. These guys were intelligent. These guys had beards. I (as best I could) joined them. I went to the controversial reformed bible study. I smoked a pipe. Eventually, I grew a beard (the best decision I ever made, btw). I carried around an ESV and a copy of something by Sproul or Piper or White or something. In retrospect, I realized that many of the people who called themselves a calvinist at North Greenville hadn’t done much research or study or anything in order to come to call themselves that. Rather, they thought it made them look smart. or cool. or whatever.
For a lot of people, “belief” was part of an attempt to make them look intelligent or to make them fit in to a certain group or community. I think a lot of my friends have left the faith not because they don’t believe it, but because as a Christian they did not appear to be intelligent to professors or peers or whatever. Or because it was cramping their style.
Luckily, that whole clique thing got old pretty quick in college.
Finally, a third reason that people “believe” things. Someone told them to. In my own case, I find myself saying, “one of my professors said _____,” quite frequently. In fact, I hear that all the time from college educated friends. A variation is when someone reads a book and all of a sudden agrees with everything the author says. Another: when a pastor says something from the pulpit, its often taken as gospel by those who hear it. Another: many teenagers decide to be “agnostics” or “atheists” because their favorite band is. You get the point. It happens everyday. The Bereans must have very few descendants.
So lets recap.
1. People “believe” things because its rebellious.
2. People “believe” things because it makes them appear intelligent or cool or insert adjective here.
3. People “believe” things because someone whom they believe to be intelligent or cool or insert adjective here believe them.
4. It also seems that some people “believe” things because they actually seem reasonable or are presented in some sort of emotional way. The old logos and ethos or whatever it is.
So through these means, people come to an acceptance that something is true. Thats the dictionary definition of “belief.” But is that REAL belief? Is real belief nothing more than mental assent? I think there are two types of belief. First, the kind that says, “this is true.” Then the kind that says, “I should act on this.” A certain belief may be reasonable and may appeal to one’s emotions or may have been the result of seeking acceptance or being rebellious or whatever, but if when the rubber meets the road it makes little difference in one’s actions, it has little importance.
1 peter 1:6-7 says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This is speaking of faith in Jesus Christ. Our belief in him is either genuine or not genuine. The difference is made clear through various trials. Maybe this means your responses to certain “trials” are either consistent with your alleged belief in Christ or not. Maybe it means that these “trials” either confirm the belief in Christ or make you abandon it. Maybe both. I don’t really know.
I’ve spent far too long writing this post…
James talks about faith being completed by works. Like most other protestants I don’t think he was suggesting that works can provide salvation… but he was pointing out that belief is something deeper than accepting something as truth. Whether its the Christian faith or not, if you believe something, when it comes to religious or worldview beliefs, then your daily life should reflect it. If it doesn’t, then perhaps you don’t really believe it.