Typically, the church calls us to have faith in Jesus. Our book calls us to the faith of Jesus.
The change of “in” to “of” is rooted in scholarly discussions of the writings of the Apostle Paul in two of his letters (Romans 3 and Galatians 2). These passages are critical within the Christian faith because they describe how one becomes righteous in God’s eyes.
Traditionally, the Greek texts in question have been translated as “faith in Jesus,” but debate among scholars during recent decades has suggested “faith of Jesus” is the more accurate translation. I first encountered this nuance a dozen years ago in the writings of Doug Harink, a Canadian theologian.
What difference does this make? For a follower of Jesus, very little.
But for those who have faith in Jesus as the head of the Christian religion, it can make a very big difference. That religion often consists of abstract, metaphysical beliefs related to the Trinity, life after death, and getting on the right side of divine judgment. The faith of Jesus takes matters in a very different direction, away from metaphysics and toward how we understand God to be saving the world.
As we state in our book, “Jesus accepted the defeat and humiliation of a Roman cross because he trusted YHWH’s promise to bring new life out of his death. Even as he faced execution, Jesus remained convinced that compassion, forgiveness and nonviolent resistance would save the world, not domination, vengeance and bloodshed. This is the faith of Jesus” (page 271; see also 236-238).
Thus, the turn of the phrase gets us oriented to what Jesus believed about God in relation to this life we all are living. Do we believe what Jesus believed?
If we imagine ourselves in the sandals of the first followers of Jesus, we can readily see they didn’t start with a set of metaphysical beliefs. Instead, they put their trust in this man and the way he expressed his faith. Today, speaking of the faith of Jesus gets us closer to their choice.
Does this transform faith into human effort and achievement? No, there is no list of rules that follows affirmation of the faith of Jesus. It simply means we also believe the compassion, forgiveness and nonviolent resistance to evil characterizing Jesus’ life will save the world, not the things the empire tries to sell us. The implications will be lived out in myriad ways.
Inevitably, a second question follows: can a person who does not claim the Christian religion have the faith of Jesus? We think so. While this creates difficulty for organized Christianity, it opens wonderful opportunities for inter-faith dialogue.