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Handout 2: Three Tenets of a Faith for the Free

From "A Faith for the Free," by James Luther Adams, reprinted by permission from The Essential James Luther Adams, edited and with an introduction by George Kimmich Beach (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1998).

From the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography:

James Luther Adams (November 12, 1901-July 26, 1994) was a Unitarian parish minister, social activist, journal editor, prolific author, and for more than 40 years a divinity school professor. A distinguished scholar, he translated and edited the works of major German theologians. Adams was the most influential theologian among 20th-century Unitarian Universalists and one of the finest 20th-century American liberal Christian theologians.

Three Tenets of a Faith for the Free

As creatures fated to be free, as creatures who must make responsible decisions, what may we place our confidence in? What can we have faith in? What should we serve?

1) The first tenet of the free person’s faith is that our ultimate dependence for being and freedom is upon a creative power and upon processes not of our own making. Our ultimate faith is not in ourselves. We find ourselves historical beings, beings living in nature and history, beings having freedom in nature and in history….

Whatever the destiny of the planet or of the individual life, a sustaining meaning is discernable and commanding in the here and now…

One way of characterizing this meaning is to say that through it God is active or is fulfilling himself in nature and history. To be sure, the word God is so heavily laden with unacceptable connotations that it is for many people scarcely usable without confusion… Indeed, the word God may in the following formulations be replaced by the phrase, “that which ultimately concerns humans, or by the phrase, “that which we should place our confidence in.”

God (or that in which we have faith) is that reality which works upon us and through us and in accord with which we can achieve truth, beauty, and goodness. It is that creativity which works in nature and history, under certain conditions creating human good in human community. Where these conditions are not met, human good, as sure as the night follows day, will be frustrated or perverted.

2) The second tenet of the free person’s faith is that the commanding, sustaining, transforming reality finds its richest focus in meaningful human history, in free, cooperative efforts for the common good. In other words, this reality fulfills our life only when people stand in right relation to each other…

A faith that is not the sister of justice is bound to bring people to grief. It thwarts creation, a divinely given possibility; it robs them of their birthright of freedom in an open universe; it robs the community of the spiritual richness latent in its members…

3) The third tenet of the free person’s faith is that the achievement of freedom in community requires the power of organization and the organization of power. The free person will be unfree, will be a victim of tyranny from within or from without, if his or her faith does not assume form, in both word and deed. The commanding, transforming power is a shaping power; it shapes one’s beliefs about that reality and when it works through persons it shapes the community of love and justice.

The free church is that community which is committed to determining what is rightly of ultimate concern to persons of free faith. It is a community of faithful and a community of sinners. When alive, it is the community in which men and women are called to seek fulfillment by the surrender of their lives to the control of the commanding, sustaining, transforming reality…It is the community in which the life-spirit of faith tries to create and mold life-giving, life-transforming beliefs, the community in which persons open themselves to God and each other and to commanding, sustaining, transforming experiences from the past, appropriating, criticizing, and transforming tradition and giving that tradition as well as newborn faith the occasion to become relevant to the needs of a time.

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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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