I was particularly captivated by Lane Chapter 15 on Saving Faith, so most of my Wild Card discussion pertains to this section of the book. As I dove into reading this, I thought about the sixteenth-century reader who undoubtedly has ideas about faith and at least if atheism did exist, it was a rare and distant idea. What struck me was how readily Calvin identified doubt but how much confidence he placed into faith and that God’s “promise of grace” can be a place where the “heart of man can rest.” (3.1.7) He defined faith then as “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed, to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy spirit.” (3.1.7) While Calvin continues to counter the other definitions or ideas regarding faith, he nevertheless is living in an age of faith where truth is still embodied in faith, even if theologians disagreed as to the nature of that faith. But, what about the modern age when truth, for many, is not necessarily defined by faith but perhaps by unbelief. How does a modern reader understand Calvin in this context? And how might we as pastors help the modern non-believer find truth in faith?
Calvin does treat those lacking belief briefly in his Institutes, but he looks at them as the non-believers and really keeps them out of his discussion other than to note that they are “no better than the devils” and even more “they stupidly listen to and understand things the knowledge of which makes even the devils shudder.” (3.1.10) While in the sixteenth-century it is perhaps easy to write them off, what about the wide-acceptance of unbelief as the cornerstone of truth? In a way, it seems as if Calvin would have us write-off these people as hopeless and unnecessary for the church, yet as unbelief becomes the basis for truth in the modern world will the church die? (Stanley Hauerwas might have us think so) In the sixteenth-century, this was such a small group of people that the theologians could write them off, but it was still an age of faith. What about today when non-belief is an accepted societal truth? Or in other words, there is a visible atheist presence. While I do believe that “faith will ultimately triumph over those difficulties which besiege and seem to imperil it,” (3.2.18), I think it is harder to find faith to those not introduced to the church or to those confident in modern rationalism. As Calvin notes our own “ignorance is an obstacle and a hindrance” to faith, and if people aren’t experiencing the “hope of the faithful, their ignorance will stifle them.” So, Calvin can't account for those who today who live growing non-Christian reality, but certainly their "ignorance" is a disheartening commentary on the modern world. (Perhaps this is our very urgent call friends).
This question arises from my discussion: How do we as heirs of Calvin help the modern non-believer find truth in faith and not lose heart in their disbelief? This is prompted by two experiences of my own in response to my own doubt. 1. From a Methodist minister and college chaplain: “You can pretend you believe and still enjoy the community of the church. I actually don’t believe any of it myself.” Or 2. (Presbyterian minister) “If you doubt, then you aren’t saved by God, so don’t doubt.”