Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Three Theories of Faith, by Dr. Terry A. Hinch

My good friend and fellow professor at the Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland University College Dr. Terry A. Hinch died last Friday night of a heart related illness. While looking over some of his writings, I came across this essay, which he published in The Idler, Volume III, Number 38 on 19 February 2001. Terry had originally written it for a church talk. I think it captures something of his outlook on the meaning of life, scholarship, and faith.
By Terry A. Hinch

Today I want to talk about Faith, the first of the four principles of the gospel.

I came to Washington, DC over twenty years ago to work for a US Senator, and like so many others, I have stayed on.

My wife Paget is a daughter of a Marine Corps pilot, a colonel. To me the most impressive thing about this is that her father was the Commanding Officer at El Toro Marine Air Base when President Nixon flew there to visit his home in San Clemente, CA. As a child of a Marine, she has lived all over the country and also in Italy. She also attended parochial schools in France during this time.

I met Paget in 1980. She had come to Washington to work on President Reagan's first campaign. I met her at a church dance as part of the Discovery conference for singles that was held each year.

She was recovering from Hodgkin's disease, which she had found about only a month before. Her girlfriends had dragged her to the dance -- she didn't really want to be there and neither did I.

I was the organizer of the dance, and I turned the whole thing over to a couple of my students, who fairly much engineered and ran the whole thing. We had a date two weeks later, and by that time I pretty much knew that this girl would play a big part in my life. I think she thought the same thing. The only hurdle was to either jump in and swim with this or try to find some good reason to get out of it. We didn't get out of it.

We became engaged at President Reagan's first Inaugural Ball. The Chevy Chase ward newsletter later reported that we became engaged before God, angels and the Osmonds, who were performing that evening.

Almost eight years ago Paget suffered a major stroke after having surgery. She suffered another about five years ago.

Needless to say the challenges for all of us have been enormous, but overcoming them has been very gratifying. It is for this reason that I choose to talk about Faith today.

For without Faith we probably would not have made it as a family.

I don't want to forget our son Clayton. He was born seventeen years ago and we wanted him very much. He has a kind sprit and has developed a huge patience while helping his mother recover from her myriad of illnesses and hospital stays. He recently completed requirements for his Eagle Scout award, which was the product of not only much hard work, but much discussion and angst in our family. We are all glad that it is finished.

Now to Faith.

Some of the most boring talks I have ever heard in church have been on Faith, and I don't want to add to the list. I have some thoughts in my head that have been trying to get out. And I think this is the time.

If you think about it Faith is the virtual force that propagates the gospel. Faith is what keeps us doing what we do, not only in church activities, but in all of life's activities. It is impossible to rationalize or prove that the gospel is true, conversely, it is impossible to prove that it isn't. We can have faith in either direction.

When I speak of Faith, I am speaking not only of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also of faith in oneself and also, faith in others.

There is no tangible, concrete evidence of the existence of God, or the divinity of the Master in the legal sense, but not all inquiry for truth results in proof by real evidence. It is fallacious to argue that because there is no demonstrative evidence of the existence of God, He does not in fact exist. In the absence of real evidence our search may take is into the realm of circumstantial evidence. We could spend hours describing the wonders of nature and never be able to conclude anything.

Suppose that all things could be proven by demonstrative evidence. What then would become of the element of faith? There would be no need for faith and it would be eliminated. There is a divine reason why all things cannot be proven by concrete evidence.

There is a little book that I used as a textbook in school while studying journalism. It is entitled Four Theories of the Press: The Authoritarian, Libertarian, Social Responsibility, and Soviet Communist Concepts of What the Press Should Be and Do by Siebert, Schramm, and Peterson.

As the title suggests, the book describes four different approaches to how information is disseminated in a mass communication context. It also dates itself by including the Soviet communist theory. It does not judge the theories per se, but instead describes and demonstrates strong and weak points in all four of the theories.

Obviously the Authoritarian theory is more restrictive, allowing only information cleared by a central government to be disseminated. It also explains that while constitutionally the press in the United States might be under the Libertarian theory, we might seek to operate under the Social Responsibility theory, which clearly the contemporary press fails to completely understand.

But I did not come here today to talk about governments and the press, but rather some thoughts about that I have had about faith. I have structured these thoughts into what I will call The Three Theories of Faith. I think you will find some truth in these theories. Keep in mind that there are elements of all three theories in each one.

In my three theories of faith I am seeking to explain some thinking and behaviors and to place in perspective what faith means to me. These are, of course, my own thoughts. I am not seeking to say that one theory is better that another, or that one would assume his faith should or even must fall into one of these theories. I am only using them as a device for explanation. For most of us, our faith will vacillate across all three theories, depending on how we feel and what kind of life experiences we have had.

The first of the three theories is the Acceptance theory of faith.

In the Acceptance theory, faith is based more on inclinations than study or knowledge. The person whose faith is under this theory accepts the gospel as truth, usually based on what he/she has heard from others. This person has likely not attempted to gain any extra knowledge and probably prefers not to, lest his faith be diminished. There is no real depth of thought in this theory, since those embracing it have not seriously studied the scriptures or have pondered any elements of the gospel. All internal messaging by the church is considered true, while external messages about the church are dismissed as false, without any consideration, leaving nothing to discuss. This theory might be embraced by a new convert, who has had little chance to study and to pray about different elements of the gospel.

The Acceptance theory is not bad. It keeps many of us coming to church and practicing the gospel. The danger is that in the Acceptance theory, beliefs are largely based on those of others. Faith in oneself and to make decisions for oneself is low, to almost a childlike degree. This person will likely be vulnerable to anything that might challenge his faith, because lack of study and true consideration have not allowed for much balanced thinking. Certainly children practice in the only way they know how, through their parents. Thank heavens for acceptance -- it keeps many of us going.

Second is the Searching or academic theory of faith.

This theory allows for study and consideration of all messaging, both internal and external. In fact those who embrace this theory are avid readers and students. They attempt a balanced knowledge of the gospel, taking into consideration all of the esoteric facts that have been learned through years of study and consideration. This theory of faith assumes a broad and deep knowledge of the gospel, and church history that would likely bother those whose faith is based on acceptance.

This person might consciously or unconsciously be trying to find faith through fact or rationalization Since we know that this isn't possible, this person is sent into a cycle of continually searching for the one fact that might satisfy his academic need to know. Following the precepts of the gospel becomes a problem, because each commandment must be examined deeply for the intent, history and consequences. In the Searching theory the gospel is not an all pervasive phenomenon, but rather a cafeteria in which the person picks and chooses what works for him.

This person likely has near equal parts of faith in himself and also faith in others -- others who might enlighten him with further knowledge. The danger in the Searching theory is that the person is continually searching, always in flux, not landing on any final conclusion about his beliefs. With each newly found fact or new opinion faith ebbs and flows. Of course many of us are searching for answers, the problem is that all of the answers will not be known for now.

Those who are searching might be looking for a sign that they might believe. This brings me to the third theory which is what I call the theory of Complete faith.

This Complete faith brings in the other two in a large part. It assumes that the person has studied, prayed, and considered all messaging about the gospel and the church. Through all of this a spiritual confirmation has been reached. Knowing that the gospel cannot be rationalized, this person is confident and solid in his belief in the gospel. Outside messaging is heard and considered, but does not affect any of the underpinnings of his faith. This person lives the gospel in an all-pervasive sense. The light of Christ lives within him and he conducts his life through it.

In the Complete theory of faith, the concept of keeping the commandments puts commandments in a comprehensive unit, rather that in separate parts from which to pick and choose. This faith is attained through personal study and personal witness. Other people may be important, but in this theory, faith is not based upon what someone else says. This theory assumes that faith is continually being fed.

As I said before, most of us will vacillate across all three theories. Since faith is dynamic for most of us, it is necessary to feed and augment it as often as possible.

Thus, faith becomes the first step in any action and must be the first step in understanding the gospel. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ brings us to acknowledge the reality of his atoning sacrifice. We have an ongoing need to be taught and to understand this principle.

In the closing two verses of Matthew is given the account of the final appearance of the Master to the eleven disciples on the mountain in Galilee. His parting words give emphasis to the importance of his teachings and confer the great commission to others to teach all persons, in these simple, understandable words:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matt. 28:19-20.)

When my own faith has approached being complete, I feel as if anything is possible. Small things don't bother me, because I know that heavenly Father is at my side. I have a spiritual witness of this through dealing with the adversity that has affected my family in recent years. May the faith of each of us be strengthened by conscientious effort, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the information of those readers of this blog who knew him and might like to pay their respects, Dr. Terry A. Hinch's Memorial Service will be held this Friday, 27 August, at 4:00 pm. Location:

Chevy Chase Chapel
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
5460 Western Avenue
Chevy Chase, MD

Hall phone: 301-654-1595

Note: The building is a five-minute walk from the Friendship Heights Metro Station (on the red line). From Wisconsin Avenue, walk East on the north side of Western Avenue two blocks.

The full text of an academic article by Terry Hinch and yours truly, "CBS, Dan Rather and the Blogosphere: Anatomy of a Corporate Crisis," published in the 2005 Proceedings of the European Association for Business Communication, can be found at this link.