There is a Christian philosopher named Alvin Plantinga who has much to say regarding the most fundamental beliefs which structure our lives. In my reading of him, his main concern is to protect these fundamental beliefs (and the people who believe them) from the skepticism of opponents who seek to discredit these basic beliefs. He’s concerned with protecting our freedom to adopt basic beliefs without an encumbering requirement of evidence in support of them.
I have a similar line of inquiry, though substantially different. What is the logical connection between these basic beliefs and more developed systems of belief? More personally, what is the relation between my most basic Christian confession and my Christian confession as it has developed, theologically, now? Can inner-consistency be shown between the two? How do they relate?
I remember believing in Jesus at a very young age. I believed Him to be the Son of God. I believed that He loved me. I believed that He died on the cross for my sins. I believed that He was coming again to save me in due time. In short, I believed the basic Christian message. Simply put my confession of faith was as follows: “Jesus, the Son of God, loves me, died for my sins, rose again, and is coming again to save me.”
I had no full knowledge of the fundamental dogmas of the Christian Theology implicit in this statement. I knew very little of Christology (“Jesus, the Son of God…”), election and providence (“…who loves me…”), salvation (“…who died for my sins and rose again…”), and eschatology (“…and is coming again to save me”). Yet, they were all logically contained within my basic confession.
Also contained in this brief, basic, confession of my faith is the grounds upon which it was and is confessed. In other words, not only is the content of my confession logically contained (Theology, Christology, Soteriology, and Eschatology), but also the “grounds” of the confession are logically contained. These grounds are the testimony of my parents as an instrumental cause, the authority of God speaking through the Scriptures, and the sense and sensibility of my own rational nature in order to perceive and understand the contents of my parents teaching from the Bible. The Bible was read to me by my parents, understood conceptually by me (due to my rational nature), and was received because it was the Word of God (due to the work of the Spirit of God).
In other words, on the one hand my confession contained a system of doctrine and on the other it contained, rationally, the grounds upon which that system was predicated at all. And the interconnected grounds upon which my confession of faith was derived was human reason (the sense to hear the words of the Bible and the sensibility to understand them), tradition (the testimony of my parents which they passed down to me), and the authority of God’s revelation (both understood from what the Scripture claims about itself and also received due to the work of God on my soul).
There is, therefore, an intimate and coherent relation between the testimony of faith in my youth and my more mature confession of faith now: the original statement of faith is truly profound, emotional, and filled with implicit depth. And even though I could not, as a youth, trace out the total depth of the contents of my confession the dogma and it’s grounds, they were there yet still. For me, this is of fundamental significance because it is relates to the unifying principles upon which the unity of the church of God is grounded. Lacking in a mature understanding therefore is not the same thing as lacking in fundamental unity because the mature confession is substantively the same as the youthful confession.
This fundamental confession taken together with the grounds upon which it was originally made contain logically that which is necessary in order to make it fully formed. This basic confession has several of the most essential dogmas of the Christian faith: Theology, Christology, Anthropology, Soteriology, and Eschatology. Furthermore, it contains the grounds upon which any lack in that original confession might be remedied, because it has it’s own authoritative grounding built into it logically: it has a place for reason, Scripture, and tradition. In other words, it contains subjects necessary for confessional development and also the Scriptures which are necessary for a full theological statement.
Finally, the inner-connection between fundamental confession and mature expression, both in confession and in grounds of confession, contains an implicit structure for how others might be trained up into theological maturity. The teacher can draw out the logical ramifications of the most basic Christian confession into their fullest theological expression (deduction) and also supplement that confession with the doctrine contained in the bible.
From the simplest confession to the most mature expression, the Spirit of God works the same substantial faith in all His children and also gives us the means to reach greater and greater maturity – through the Scriptures, Christian tradition, and sound reason. Though He gives different measures of faith, we can rejoice that He gives us the same faith in essence; the faith that reaches to the blessed Savior in sure hope of salvation. That faith is built upon a foundation incorporating various means that God uses to strengthen the faith of his children, our reason, His Word, and His church.
Soli Deo Gloria!