Forward Progress

So here it is – my first blog entry at Forward Progress. So many people have asked for it (or maybe my wife told me I should do it) so here goes.

Why forward progress?

I thought it was sort of a clever title for starters. But also I have spent some time over the last year and a half trying to define in my own mind what “faith” really is. The reason I struggle with the definition is because I think many of us think “faith” and “certainty” are synonymous. If that’s true, then my last year and a half has been completely un-faithful.

I’ve asked alot of questions, examined alot of my personal issues, and had difficult conversations with God over that time, and I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe faith isn’t necessarily about certainty. It’s about moving forward, one foot in front of the other, even when you’re not certain.

Part of the reason I think that comes from the word believe. The Greek and English understanding of that verb is about intellect. It’s about assenting to a certain set of facts. It’s about agreement. But that’s not what the Jewish understanding is.

In Hebrew, the word means something more like steadfastness. It seems that understanding is more about what we would call faithfulness, rather than simple intellectual agreement.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that faith involves the intellect. But I also believe that in many cases in life, it’s about moving forward. That’s what real trust is, it’s moving forward despite not having the answers for your questions.

The context for my understanding of faith comes largely because of my little boy’s diagnosis of leukemia in October of 2006. Our lives have changed so much in that time, and I’ve often asked the Lord what exactly He thought He was doing. And I still don’t know. But what I think He wants from us is to put one foot in front of the other, to keep walking, to keep moving forward with Jesus, even when we don’t know the answers. That’s faith. That demonstrates trust. It’s forward progress.

So there you go. That’s the name of the blog, and hopefully it’s a place we can reflect together about what it means to walk with Christ, putting one foot in front of the other.

And now you are welcome to trash my definition.

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16 Comments

  • Welcome back to the Blog World! You are locked in my google reader. I linked you on my blog too!! Keep pumping out great stuff!!

    Jeremy Johnson

  • michaelscottkelley says:

    Thanks, Jeremy – Your number 1 in the blog, and number 1 in my heart.

  • Josh Monroe says:

    We’ve been going through Romans on Sunday mornings at my church since January. One week, we discussed the day of atonement both in the sermon and at our community group during the week. The interaction during community group helped me come up with a definition of faith that has been very helpful for me. “Believing that God will do what He said He will do.” That seems to blend together both the intellect and steadfastness. You’ve first the need to know what God said He would do. Then you have to trust in and rest in that. Anyway, that definition has been very helpful for me.

  • michaelscottkelley says:

    I like that definition, too, Monroe – and just to make it fit for my own needs and desires, I think “certainty” is more of a confidence in me. This definition is more about God. Faith has got to be in something bigger than in my own ability to be certain.

  • Daryl says:

    I think faith/belief is a combination of what you wrote in your post and what Josh Monroe wrote. It’s not just plodding forward, one foot in front of the other. It’s the one foot in front of the other because we believe that’s the only possibility of getting out of the quagmire we find ourselves in. Because, however insane it may look to keep plodding forward, all other options are worse.

    I think of Abraham in Genesis 22 – climbing that hill, binding his son, raising the knife. But what other option did he have? His whole life had been built around trusting this God that had called him from all things familiar – family, friends, community in Ur – to not even a particular place, but a place God would show him. Could he really throw that all away, even when the stakes were so high?

    I think you’re right. Faith is plodding forward. But it is not doing so blindly. It is doing so believing.

  • Zach says:

    Dude,

    It’s about time. Seriously. So glad to see you cementing your thoughts forever in the annuls of the internet. I’ll give you some love on my blog soon.

    Oh, and you look like a serious postmodern rock star in your picture… ready to grow a phat gotee and suck down a latte while listening to some Death Cab and contemplating the existential angst in the cosmos.

    So glad to see you join the team. Beware, it can be addicting. Adding you to my Google Reader now.

    z

  • Carrie says:

    I’m subscribed in my Google Reader and I’m looking forward to reading your posts. I miss attending your Bible studies that left my head aching! 🙂

    I really like your theory that faith isn’t about certainty, but rather being able to trust that God has the best in mind even if we don’t understand it and moving forward anyway. Though the situations I’ve gone through pale in comparison to what you’re going through with Joshua, I’ve found that to be the case in my walk as well.

    Looking forward to your next post! 🙂

  • Rob Tims says:

    “OPR.” Dr. Langston Haygood (did you have him?) gave a spontaneous lecture (he later admitted) on “organic progressive revelation.” As I consider your metaphor of forward progress, I’m immediately drawn to the concept of OPR … that not only is one foot plodding in front of the other, it is doing so in a way that is both circular and linear … organic and progressive.

    While our life experiences are ours … unique and original … we are able to draw similarities from other faith stories, some of which have real authority (biblical ones) and others that God gives us in a moment, or in a biography, etc. These similarities illustrate the circular, organic nature of life. In some sense, somebody has “been there and done that,” though not completely like we have. But the repetitious, circular, organic nature of God’s revelation through history is a huge part of faith.

    But that faith is not circular in the sense that it is not going anywhere. It is also progressive, as you clearly demonstrate with sound textual analysis and live with vigor in Joshua’s battle. To use an amusement park metaphor … the rollercoaster has loops, but it is taking you somewhere (and not where you started).

    For myself, it’s been most helpful to have others around me who have “been there and done that” as I take steps forward (progressing!) in faith. OPR! We need the organic nature of faith that gives us the social support and historical contenxt for our struggles, and we need to know that we are walking in faith towards an end.

    Entirely too nerdy to say “faith is OPR” …. and this is way too long … i’m pasting this into my own blog!

  • Megs says:

    i always do like the way you word things. Looking forward to reading more.

  • Whit says:

    I’ve been hoping you’d put one of these up for a while now. Thank you for sharing the heart and mind God has blessed you with.

  • Mark says:

    very excited about forward progress! we linked you on our blog and have you in google reader.

  • Christopher Lake says:

    Michael, I’m a member of Desert Springs Church, where a friend of yours is the music leader! What a moving post, my brother in Christ– I am praying for you in dealing with your son’s condition.

    I agree with your definition of faith, up to a point. In any case, I don’t want to “trash” your definition. Your faith is probably much greater than mine! Here is where I agree with you– true faith necessarily involves intellectual assent, and yet, it does feel, very much at times, like moving ahead in the dark (or near-dark). That has been my own experience in times of deep suffering.

    From what I see in the Bible though, Christian faith is indeed a kind of certainty, but not necessarily the kind to which we are accustomed. The disciples physically walked and talked with Jesus, in His human form, here on earth. They saw Him perform miracles with their own eyes. They encountered Him after His resurrection. What greater certainty could they have than that? To illustrate, in 2 Peter 1:18, Peter states that “we ourselves heard this very voice (the voice of the Father, praising the Son) borne from heaven, for we were with Him (Jesus) on the holy mountain.” Surely, this is certainty– they heard the Father with their own ears and saw Jesus with their own eyes! If only we could have that kind of certainty today! (Believe me, in my times of suffering, I have longed for it.) However, in the next verse, after he mentions being with Jesus on the mountain. Peter says that there is a way to have even greater certainty than that which comes from physically seeing Jesus! “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word…” (2 Peter 1:19) The prophetic word of God is “more sure” than seeing Jesus Himself! Now, that is certainty! Again, it’s not necessarily the kind to which we are accustomed, but if it’s even more certain than the verification of our own eyes and ears, then it is truly the one certainty that is above all others. I pray that this would be your, and my, comfort when we suffer. Blessings to you, my brother in Christ!

  • michaelscottkelley says:

    Christopher – What a really great and well thought out response. I think you’re adding a ton to the discussion here. Maybe I can put it like this to see what you think:

    Seems as though there is a both a certain and uncertain part to faith. Of some things we are certain, and we should be. We are certain of a heavenly home. We are certain of the Bible’s reliability. And all sorts of things like that.

    But then of other things, we are not certain. I think most of the things in this arena fall into a “God’s will” category – “I’m pretty sure God wants me to move to Alaska; but I’m not certain. Nevertheless, I move forward anyway.”

    To take it a step further, I would say that God doesn’t want necessarily want certainty from us in many situations; He wants trust.

    So I think, to bounce off what you are saying, the certainties enable us to progress through the uncertainties.

    Glad you know Zach; he’s a quality human being.

  • Christopher Lake says:

    I agree completely, Michael. “The certainties enable us to progress through the uncertainties.” This is so true and so well put! With all of the uncertainties in life (at least from our limited human standpoint), where would we be without the Biblical certainties to which we can cling? Romans 8:28 is an obvious (but still so wonderful) example. I struggle with why God allowed me to be born with a physical disability that seems to limit my life in many ways. I struggle even more with why He allowed me to be born into a family background which hurt me so deeply. Yet, in the midst of my human “uncertainties,” I can hold on to the certainty of the Romans 8:28 promise that in all things, including pain and sadness, God is working for the good of those who love Him. This promise is one which often keeps me from despair.

    On the will of God, have you read the book, Guidance and the Voice of God? If not, it’s published by Matthias Media of Australia, a very sound ministry, and it has an approach to the subject that is more clear and helpful than others I have encountered. You can get it from their American store at https://store.matthiasmedia.com/order/orders.asp
    Just do a product search for the title! God bless, brother!

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