I wonder if all faith is cut from the same cloth. I’ve been thinking about four different experiences of faith.
I sense there may well be more types than this. Or this could all be pointless fluff.
But the categories have helped me think through my own life, why some people may be turned off by Christianity, and even why I judge some other Christians (though I shouldn’t).
One preface: none of these faiths is wrong per se. But the stagnation of a walk that remains confined to one of the more “primitive” faiths often produces a self-evident frustration and disillusionment that asks, “Is this all there is?” It seems to me that some of the dechurching and deconversion in the church today may include this as a contributing factor. And our souls are right to be sad: we weren’t created for less than God himself and to the degree we miss him, we miss the greatest good in life.
The simplest type of faith is one of form. People who have “form faith” copy the cultural expression of a Christian community around them. Without really understanding (or sometimes even believing) the bible, songs, and language of the church, they parrot back the rituals, words, and discplines. They maintain a form of Christianity but it seems dead or faded - like a carbon copy that’s been copied too many times.
Some seem to stay in a form faith intentionally - so they don’t need to do anything more - they believe they’re checking the minimum required boxes. Some have just never known anything different. Some insightful people mourn the limit they feel but don’t have language to express it.
There’s a more alive faith that’s rooted in sentimentality. While form faith is centered around culture, sentimentality is centered around emotion. Whether happiness, sadness, conviction, righteous anger, or missionary zeal, the sentimental faith seeks to be moved. But, sometimes, instead of chasing after Jesus, we chase experiences.
From the emotions, we sometimes elevate to the mind. People can study biblical or systematic theology and see great beauty in the narrative or logical consistency of the bible message. Apologetics can show real reason to believe in God, the bible, and the resurrection. But study about God does not always produce communion with God. Even spiritual study can end up feeling very empty.
Vitality is nothing less than the previous faiths (i.e. it includes form, emotion, and rationality) but it’s a whole lot more.
Vitality is captured in these words of Jesus:
John 15:5 - I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
In vitality, there’s real heart, not imitations of it:
John 4:23 [Jesus]: “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
We all know a handful of people in our life who have a faith that feels almost magically alive. They’re just on another level and everyone can see it. It’s not about doing more or knowing more (though they do and know a lot). There’s a whole ball of beauty wrapped up in them, imperfect as they may be.
They talk about God differently, experience him differently, interpret the world differently, react differently, fight sin differently, talk differently. There’s real goodness and fruit in their life.
They read the bible and go to church (form). They cry about their sin and have big happiness in great truth and music (sentimentality). They appreciate good bible teaching and doctrine (mentality). They embody the other faiths but have even more - a vitality and extra life.
May God build this kind of faith into us - True. Pure. Genuine. Authentic. Organic. All the fuzzy words we use today to describe something ultra real.