It has become a cliché to talk about “the journey of faith”. It is one of those trendy expressions which are regularly trotted out at Christian events, and which has become part of the current jargon in church circles. Of course what that expression actually means is a matter of debate. At its best it alerts us to the fact the early Christians were called Followers of the Way (Acts 9:2) and Jesus called Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). In this sense it is a perfectly harmless phrase. However sometimes it seems to arise from a conviction that faith always arises as part of a slow process, rather than a moment of crisis or conversion. The journey of faith becomes some kind of spiritual pilgrimage of seeking after truth, rather than actually knowing the truth that sets you free (John 8:32). And at that point I begin to feel uncomfortable because I am suspicious of any theology that seeks to render our faith more mystical or obscure than it really is.
Yet it is true that our faith matures and deepens over time. So as I began to plan for our next preaching programme from Epiphany to Easter, the time of year suggested that we look at some Old Testament character who over a long period had to learn to look forward in faith, someone who early on put his trust in God, but only gradually learnt to appreciate what that trust actually meant. The fact we will have just finishing studying the early chapters of Romans naturally suggested that this character should be Abraham. Abraham received many wonderful promises from God, yet he wrestled with how these promises could apply to his own life, and he learnt many a difficult lesson about obedience.
So although the world of Abraham may seem very remote from our own, there are natural connections between his “journey of faith” and our own. And we shouldn’t also ignore the fact there are some very real and pressing issues that arise out of our study of Abraham. Three world religions claim their ancestry from Abraham. The question of how God’s promise to Abraham relates to the land of Israel and the Jewish people today directly determines foreign policy and how we see the current unrest in the Middle East. Sometimes we sing in fun, “Abraham had many sons. You are one of them and so am I” – but are we? Who are the descendants of Abraham today? We will find Jesus and Paul have some important answers to these questions, which will affect our understanding of the church.
So there is much to look forward to, and I hope that as you journey with us through Romans 1-8 and Genesis 12-22 over the next few months your faith will be enriched and strengthened. Enjoy!