Faith Frontiers

Toward a Practical Understanding

None of us is the sole author of the stories that compose our life. We inter-live with others; we find roles in institutions and communities; we emerge onto the stages of our lives, entering into dramas that are already underway. We must find our roles and find ways to help shape or reshape the larger stories that embrace us. [1]

James W. Fowler

Biblical or Hebraic faith was an understanding that God is in life, making God’s self known in history.  Faith was a courageous openness to life and to God.  The Hebrew experience of faith, emunah, was the capacity to trust, the willingness to commit, and the courage to act according to the perceived will of God.  

Faith, therefore, is an attitude toward life rooted in the Creator God.  With faith, one has the capacity to enter life, to confront the unknown, to venture forward, and to find affirmation for one’s being.  Edwin Friedman expressed this same idea toward life when he observed that the adventurous attitude is an essential characteristic of healthy relationships that takes responsibility for one’s self and stays in contact with others.[2]

We see this attitude reflected in the biblical stories of Abram (Genesis 12:1-4a).  Faith is, in this sense, being open to God at work in the world.  To enter into life with such an attitude of absolute confidence means to be in a relationship of total trust and loyalty with the One who is the Ultimate Cause of life itself.  

Even if we are imperfect in our participation, we are still participants.  The grace of God allows us to be imperfect participants through our faith.  So, if we are participants, we are active participants moving toward the goal of being more like Christ.

In a diverse world, we move between experiences of faithfulness and unfaithfulness, seeking an experience of personal faith with God.  We accept our faith as a gift of God’s grace, rather than seeking primarily to understand intellectually in order that we may believe.[3] It is faith as trust and reliance that sustains us even during periods of doubt when understanding fails.

In addition, faith is covenantal in its nature.  Covenantal faith involves "mutual or shared trust in and loyalty to God."[4] Building upon this concept of faith and accepting faith as a human universal, James W. Fowler locates the community of faith (church) within the divine kingdom of God’s reign.

Faith is a composing, a dynamic and holistic construction of relations that includes self to others, self to world, and self to self, construed as all related to an ultimate environment.[5]

Therefore, covenantal faith means we are not alone.  Covenant describes the relationship of the people of faith.  It is trust and loyalty active in commitment between persons who share a trust in and loyalty to a transcending center of value and power that unifies relationships. 

In its deepest biblical sense, covenant is entering into a community where you love others as you love yourself.  It is a fellowship that validates promises.  Covenant is the experience of mutual "faithing" in community within which trust is renewed from generation to generation.

1 James W. Fowler, Faithful Change: The Personal and Public Challenges of Postmodern Life (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), p. 54.

2 Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edward W. Beal and Margaret M. Treadwell, eds., (Bethesda: The Edwin Friedman Estate/Trust, 1999), pp. 35-69.