The Privatization of Faith

Here in the U.S., we live in a culture (or cultures) where a person’s faith is OK as long as she keeps it private and is tolerant of other faiths.  Objective knowledge is public and for the textbook (i.e. the moon is around 384,000 km from the earth), while subjective values and beliefs are personal and private (i.e. Jesus is Lord).

Of course this type of reasoning – upon which much of the US’s political, cultural, moral, and economical structures are built – can be torn apart; the poor logic isn’t too hard to spot.  More on that at a later time (FYI: Newbigin is great when it comes to  “public” vs  “private” beliefs).  For now, I want to use one of Bavinck’s quotes to deal with this private v public when it comes to the church in the world.

“The more the Christian faith [or the church – spl] retreats from dealing with every possible question, restricting its content, and the more it applies itself to building a rigorous foundation, deducing all else logically from these fundamental principles, the more it will become inwardly weak and divided.” Herman Bavinck, Certainty of Faith (St. Catharines: Paideia Press, 1980), 9.

I love this quote, and it it indicts me.  History has proved Bavinck’s 100 year old words true.  The tough questions liberals and/or unbelievers have thrown at the church have often been answered poorly or simply avoided.  Instead of grappling with these questions publicly, the church has built trenches and walls around the fundamentals.  In Bavinck’s terms, she has buried her head in the sand (Ibid.).  She has focused her gaze within the trenches (privacy!), and “friendly” fire has resulted in a weak and divided church that can only give a blank stare to the world when it asks us tough questions.

In Newbigin’s terms, the gospel is public truth, not a belief we tuck away in our closets!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 thoughts on “The Privatization of Faith”

  1. Reminds me of Matthew 6:5

    5″And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.


    1. Thanks for the verses. The difference here is that the gospel as news/event is public (Acts 26.26), though our prayers and sighs and tears (Matt 6.5ff) are private.



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