A Once and For All Faith?

Within my tribe (Churches of Christ) and within other groups as well, there is a danger in reading  Jude verse 3 with an air of finality:

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”

It is a mistake to read words like ‘faith,’ and ‘salvation,’ as things that are given to us in a box never to be opened.  Receive the box, cherish the box and then pass on the box to the next generation. No reflection is necessary, no discernment is possible.  The box must be left shut. It leads to an imagination where we see ourselves as stewards of the truth and fail to see ourselves as engaging the truth and being transformed by the truth.  The truth is however that no one generation can sort out salvation in such a way as to leave the next generation with nothing to do.  The Gospel truth is not a fortune which has been collected or distilled that will be handed down to a future generation to hold together and keep from falling apart.

God’s word is true and His salvation is through Jesus Christ, eternal and unchanging. The Christian faith however is lived in a culture that is constantly changing. We are constantly contextualizing this faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.  God is eternal and unchanging but we aren’t.  No matter what you do, you will be a year older next year.  By God’s grace you will be a year wiser.  Will that change how you see things?  I hope so! Will you grow in the knowledge and the grace of our Lord?  Peter seemed to think you should. (2 Pet 3:18)

N.T. Wright wrote in the forward of Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel, “Part of the genius of genuine Christianity is that each generation has to think it through afresh…”  We are constantly struggling with our comprehension of our glorious God.  Later Wright adds, “The Christian faith is kaleidoscopic, and most of us are colour-blind.  It is multidimensional, and most of us manage to hold at most two dimensions in our heads at any one time.  It is symphonic, and we can [only] whistle one of the tunes.”

Each generation faithfully hands down the challenge of authentically living the Gospel in their place and time to the next generation.  It is not lost in the hand-off from one faithful generation to the other.  It is lost when one generation, present or past, feels they have fully apprehended it.


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