The Next-Wave Ezine: Issue #94

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What’s a Faithmap?
Several years ago as I was preparing to facilitate a series of workshops that provided an overview of theology, I began using the faithmap metaphor to capture the mixture of reliable knowledge and mystery in theological endeavor and the Christian life.
In summary, a faithmap
•    highlights known reference points on the terrain,
•    does not detail every particular, and
•    is designed to be used while going somewhere.

One of the critiques of a modernized evangelicalism is that it has collapsed theology to mere information. The "faithmap" metaphor reflects my desire to make three statements about Christian theology and praxis.

1 - "A faithmap...does not detail every particular."

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Proverbs 25:2 (all references English Standard Version unless otherwise noted)

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29

The modern program is that man can discern everything and is the arbiter of truth. I’m suggesting that perhaps this has influenced us to desire to answer every question about God and to believe that our theological formulations are exhaustive. Postmodern thinkers help us to understand that we frame reality in paradigm and that language symbolically represents reality. Similarly, a map cannot possibly detail every aspect of the land to which it refers. A faithmap does not presume to completely plumb the depths of the knowledge of God.  It leaves room for mystery and exploration.

2 - "A faithmap highlights known reference points on the terrain"

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

2 Timothy 1:13, 14

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

2 Thessalonians 2:15

Nevertheless, just because the boundaries of paradigm and language limit what we know, the inability to know exhaustively should not be confused with the inability to know reliably. God has given us language and has revealed information about Himself. This information is reliable and certain. It is certain not because of the omnicompetence of our minds but because of God's ability and character. To understate: He is a reliable source of information. Similarly on a map there are known reference points that help the traveler make her way. A faithmap marks for us known reference points - markers we can know and rely upon.

3 - "a faithmap is designed to be used while going somewhere."

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 1For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Eph. 2:8-10

When someone asked Jesus, "which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" He replied

"`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.'
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)

Note Jesus' last comment.

"The Law and the Prophets" was a technical term Jesus used to represent the Bible as it existed in His day, the Old Testament. Jesus affirms that the very foundation of the Scriptures was to love God with everything within and to love one's neighbor as oneself. All the information we can garner about God from the Scriptures is for the purpose of loving God and others. And if our accumulation of knowledge does not result in these activities then we are wasting our time and not using the Scriptures as they were designed to be used. A map is used for going somewhere. A faithmap is used to guide us as we travel from one instantiation of love to another.

So a faithmap marks certain things we know, leaves much for future exploration, and is used for traveling.

One does not study a map just to have a better understanding of a map. In the same way a faithmap is useless if it's not teleological.

Stephen Shields is the founder of and the moderator of the faithmappers' online discussion group.  Stephen is a Manager with USA TODAY, formerly a bi-vocational pastor with Brian McLaren, and a frequent contributor to Next-Wave.  Stephen received a M.Div from Grace Theological Seminary and lives with his wife Bethany and three daughters - Michaela Siobhan, Skye Teresa, and Alia Noelle - in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. He can be contacted at



You said: "To understate: He is a reliable source of information."

This I firmly believe, but there seems to be a trend among "holiness" folks (I'm a Nazarene) to question the reliability of the medium of the information (the Bible).

In your faithmap, some of the unknowns might be the scientific and historical accuracy of the medium, yet the information represented (for example: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." )remains reliable. Am I getting the picture?

While some relegate the more "miraculous" events of the Bible (e.g.Jonah and the great fish) to the "sacred myth" category, why can't we just accept them as "reliable ambiguities"? By this I mean that whether historically and scientifically feasible or not, there is valuable and reliable direction here for our "faith journey".

Thanks for your frank comments. Perhaps a simpler way to express what I'm trying to say is that we should not confuse knowledge about God with God Himself. Hope that helps and - if not - pls feel free to ask more questions.

Hey, What I don't like in the article is the fuzzy language. What do you mean really? The terms are very evasive and loosely defined. I didn't understand what you wanted to say, dear author. It probably doesn't relate to me. I've been listening to some people in the so-called emergent thing and that's a big problem for me: the language is just too fuzzy. Sorry, dear author, you may even have had a good intention, but this article unfortunately doesn't say much to me.

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Next-Wave Ezine - Issue #94
Issue Credits
Cover Story

Suggestions for Critics of the Emerging Church
Featured Article: At the Top
Oh, Spencer
Featured Article: Spotlight
Brand Name Jesusâ„¢
Church Culture
Are the Popular Methods of Doing Church Working?
What’s a Faithmap?
Imagination and God’s Future
Kingdom Living
Paying to Follow Christ
Real Life
Church Life
Equal Time on Video Venues
Off Broadway
I went fishing the other day and do I have a fishing story...
Eckhart 11
Adventures in Emerging
The question of the hour...