Faith World One: GUILT AND FORGIVENESS (The world of the recovering sinner)

Here the problem is our struggle with temptation, sin, and guilt. God intended that we human beings should become extravagant lovers of God and neighbor, loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves. God wants and expects our lives to develop in this direction. However, without grace, we all fail miserably. The basic problem is not occasional transgressions of God’s law of love, but the fact that something is amiss with our hearts, with our motivational core. We are too oriented toward our own personal well-being and tend to put our own selves at the centers of our personal universes. We are not inclined to subordinate our private satisfactions to the well-being of the whole. In other words, we are selfish and excessively attached to our own self-interests. Most of our lives are oriented toward looking out for numero uno and for friends and family who are vital for our own happiness. At the very least, the resolution is that we need to be forgiven for the disposition of our hearts. We need “atonement” and God’s “justifying grace.” Many sinners long, not only for forgiveness, but also for gracious help from God to become a more loving person, a better disciple of Jesus Christ. (sanctification).

Faith World Two: STAGNATION AND SELF-ACTUALIZATION (The world of the adventurer)

Here the problem is that our good Creator has intended that our lives should be a journey of rich and fulfilling experiences, in which individuals mutually delight each other by developing each one’s own gifts and sharing them, thereby expanding one another’s horizons. God wanted us to live life abundantly, to go for the gusto and become all that we could be in this creaturely life. However, as we try to rush forward on life’s exciting journey, obstacles often block our path. Other people fail to be supportive. Accidents happen. We may lack the resources or opportunities to pursue our dreams. We may internally lose confidence, courage, and hope. Here the resolution is for the Spirit to revive our hopes and dreams, and to fill us with spiritual energy to get back on the path and get moving. We need to be electrified in order to embrace the richness and possibilities of life. Life should become once again a celebratory process of self-growth, self-risk, and self-discovery. Here God is not distant, but is experienced right now as the Life that animates this world and fills it with exciting possibilities.

Faith World Three: INJUSTICE AND JUSTICE (The world of the crusader)

Here the problem is that world history, society, and all its institutions have been twisted by economic, political, social, and cultural dynamics that hurt human beings and perpetuate injustice Many people are deprived of the means needed for a satisfying life. The problem is rooted in systemic dynamics that are not the fault of any single individual, dynamics like racism, sexism, imperialism, classism, agism, militarism,etc. God had given humanity the responsibility for “tending the garden” and instead of being good and faithful stewards we have planted weeds. Our reactions should be one of righteous indignation. Reform is called for, even rebellion. Here the resolution of the problem is the actualization of liberation and justice for human beings in the future. Salvation is not something individual, but is the transformation of economic, political, social, and cultural systems so that people can flourish. The hope is that future generations will live in a situation of peace and justice. God takes sides here, being committed to the poor and the oppressed. Spiritual satisfaction is found by participating in the struggle for justice. Excessive interest in another dimension beyond this world or any other-worldliness is regarded with suspicion as escapism.

Faith World Four: WORLDLINESS AND SPIRITUAL REUNION (The world of the orphan)

Here the problem is the experience of feeling lost, abandoned, isolated, unprotected, and insecure. It could be called that “sometimes I feel like a motherless child” feeling. We may feel like specks of dust drifting through a meaningless universe, or like aliens in a strange land. Even life as we know it at its best is felt to be much less than ultimately satisfying; even during the best of times our hearts remain restless. In any case, we experience life in the world as we know it as a type of exile, suspecting that our true home, where we really should be, is elsewhere. Often there is a a yearning for this mysterious true home in which we feel like a part of a harmonious Whole. Our longing is to find our way home. We realize that wherever “home” may be, it is not to be found in this finite reality of space and time. Most basically, we are longing for something that the world cannot provide. We are consciously, or perhaps more often unconsciously, longing for reunion with God, for infinity, for a different, more spiritual dimension. The resolution of the problem involves a sense of home-coming. This can take a variety of forms. Most basically it would be an anticipation of entering the other dimension, the presence of God, beyond death (going to heaven). Or it could be a hope that all of earthly reality as we know it will be replaced by a “new heaven and a new earth.” Or it could be the fleeting experience of “home-coming” that some people experience during worship, particularly during the Lord’s Supper. Often part of this feeling of “home-coming” includes the sense that other people, and most importantly, God, care about us and feel our sorrows. Because in Christ God, our empathic companion, is suffering with us, we can endure this life until we enter our true destination. On Golgotha, God cries in agony with us, experiencing the deepest pains of human life. Therefore nothing, no woe, an separate us from the love of God. Travail, shared with God, can be healing, and can even be the pathway to a deeper, more profound, communion with God.

 FAITH-WORLD INVENTORY…take the test to see which of the Faith Worlds you live in.

Choose one option in response to each question. No option may exactly correspond to your attitudes and convictions, but select the one that comes closest. Also, you may be attracted to all the options, but choose the one that you like best.

  1. I most long for:

     a. forgiveness and sanctifying grace.

     b. the actualization of my potential.

     c. love, peace, and justice on earth.

     d. a permanent, intimate relationship with God.

2. I most fear:

           a. God’s judgment.

           b. a stagnant life.

           c. the triumph of oppression.

           d. alienation.

  1. At its worst, life seems like:
    1. a trial with no reprieve.
    2. a blocked road.

            c.   a losing struggle to survive.

            d.   solitary confinement.

  1. The hoped-for goal of life is:

           a. an acquittal.

           b. a cosmic celebration.

           c. a just society.

           d. being at home with God.

  1. The problematic emotion I feel most is:
    1. guilt.
    2. listlessness.
    3. frustration/indignation.
    4. loneliness/despair.
  1. At its best, life is:
    1. growth in righteousness.
    2. an exciting adventure.
    3. the triumph of the reign of God.  
    4. being loved beyond all expectations.
  1. My biggest enemy is:
    1. my own failings.
    2. obstructions in my path.
    3. systemic oppression.
    4. settling for merely earthly satisfactions.
  1. People need to be:
    1. more intent upon serving God.
    2. more daring, hopeful, and positive. 
    3. more concerned for the least advantaged.
    4. more spiritual.
  1. I think of “heaven” (or whatever word is used for the ultimate object of hope) as:

            a.    a state of reconciliation. 

                  b.    a joyous party.

                  c.    a peacable kingdom.

                  d.    my ultimate home.

  1. God is like:
    1. a judge.
    2. energy.
    3. a co-partner/coach.
    4. a parent/spouse.
  1. God is primarily:
    1. glorious and holy.
    2. inspiring.
    3. the friend of the oppressed.
    4. the welcoming mystery.
  1. God makes me feel:
    1. awe-struck.
    2. super-charged.
    3. empowered in the struggle.
    4. serene and intimate.
  1. I think of God as:
    1. thunder and lightning.
    2. an electric current.
    3. a reliable support.
    4. an embrace.
  1. A phrase that speaks to me is:
    1. “…neither do I condemn you.”
    2. “Take up your bed and walk.”
    3. “Let justice flow down like a river.”
    4. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
  1. Jesus is:
    1. the atonement for sin.
    2. our guide.
    3. God’s solidarity with the oppressed.
    4. the avenue to the eternal presence of God.
  1. The most essential aspect of the story of Jesus is:
    1. Jesus’ crucifixion.
    2. Jesus’ communication of health and life.
    3. Jesus’ prophetic ministry.
    4. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. 
  1. The core of the “good news” is:

             a. the forgiveness of sins.

             b. the possibility of  abundant life now.

             c. the coming of the reign of God.

             d. the promise of eternal life.

  1. The Holy Spirit enables me to:
    1. trust in the compassion of God.
    2. become all that God intended me to be.
    3. hope for justice in the midst of opposition.
    4. experience a foretaste of heavenly life. 
  1. At its best, the church is:
    1. a hospital for sinners.
    2. a place to get recharged.
    3. a revolutionary task-force.
    4. the intersection of time and eternity.
  1. Worship should primarily:
    1. proclaim forgiveness.
    2. communicate the enlivening Spirit.
    3. call for transformative action.
    4. enable an experience of transcendence.
  1. I experience closeness with God when I:
    1. hear the message of God’s grace.
    2. celebrate with a community.
    3. participate in transformative social action.
    4. contemplate God’s wondrous love.
  1. The Christian life is primarily about:
    1. repentance and discipleship.
    2. going for life’s gusto.
    3. commitment to a cause. 
    4. entering the other, sacred dimension.
  1. The most important virtue is:
    1. faith in God’s mercy.
    2. joyful optimism.
    3. solidarity with the disadvantaged.
    4. intimacy with God. 
  1. Worship should make me:
    1. feel grateful.
    2. want to dance.
    3. want to march in the streets.
    4. encounter a love beyond all earthly loves.
  1. My biggest enemy is:
    1. myself.
    2. external obstacles.
    3. social and political structures.
    4. the limitations of earthly life.
  1. I don’t like feeling:
    1. judged.
    2. discouraged.
    3. defeated.
    4. lost and alone.
  1. Superficial people don’t realize:
    1. how bad they really are.
    2. how good life really is.
    3. how marginalized most people are.
    4. how unsatisfying worldly joys are.
  1. The purpose of life is to:
    1. do God’s will.
    2. develop, enjoy, and share God’s gifts. 
    3. fight for justice.
    4. journey to our real home.
  1. Life is problematic because of:
    1. temptations.
    2. potential weariness.
    3. the misuse of power.
    4. the stifling of our restless hearts.
  1. Death is:
    1. a punishment.
    2. part of life’s journey.
    3. often unnecessarily and unfairly premature.
    4. a transition to a more satisfying life.
  1. I aspire to be:
    1. more humble.
    2. more positive.
    3. more committed.
    4. more spiritual.
  1. I am encouraged by:
    1. words of reconciliation.
    2. examples of contagious optimism.
    3. positive changes in society. 
    4. intimations of the sacred mystery.
  1. I long to feel:
    1. cleansed and holy.
    2. that my potential has been actualized.
    3. victorious over societal evil.
    4. at my ultimate home. 
  1. We need to transform:
    1. our souls.
    2. our negative attitudes.
    3. our society.
    4. life itself.
  1. On my darkest days, I am afflicted by:
    1. a sense of not being acceptable.
    2. depleted energy and joy.
    3. impotent outrage.
    4. a feeling of lostness and disconnection.
  1. The ideal Christian is:
    1. a penitent.
    2. an adventurer.
    3. an activist.
    4. a mystic.
  1. The essence of sin is:
    1. disobedience. 
    2. ingratitude for life on earth.
    3. indifference to the exploitation of our neighbors.
    4. worldliness.
  1. The problem with humanity is:
    1. sin.
    2. stagnation.
    3. oppression.
    4. finitude.
  1. Jesus’ crucifixion was:
    1. the remediation of human guilt.
    2. an affirmation of life in the face of death.
    3. a political murder.
    4. the defeat of death.
  1. The stories of Jesus’ resurrection show that:
    1. we are forgiven and healed from sin.
    2. life is valuable in spite of death.
    3. Jesus’ spirit lives on in the movement that he founded.
    4. a more profound life with God awaits us.
  1. Baptism is:
    1. the washing away of guilt.
    2. revitalization and refreshment.
    3. a commitment to a justice-seeking way of life.
    4. the promise of eternal life.
  1. The Lord’s Supper is:

                   a. a reenactment of Christ’s atoning death 

                   b. a celebration of communal love.

                   c. a remembering of Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed and suffering.

                   d. a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

  1. The church should be:
    1. a place where the good news of God’s grace is proclaimed.
    2. a community that celebrates life’s goodness.
    3. a task force to change the world.
    4. a place that makes people aware of a more sacred, spiritual dimension.   

       44. The aspect of church life that means the most to me is:

                  a.   preaching.

                  b.   fellowship.

                  c.   service to the community and the world.

                  d.   opportunities for prayer and meditation.

  1. I expect that within a few generations human society will:
    1. still be just as riddled with injustice and international tension as it is now.

b.   be slowly evolving toward greater harmony through more humane    

                      education and the spreading of spiritual insight.

c. be facing a political crisis that could eventuate in widespread peace and   

    justice, if the forces of progress can mobilize their energies and resources.

d. still be taking comfort in the thought that God has promised us a blessed  

    society beyond history.

46.  I prefer hymns that:

                   a. praise our Savior who washed away our sin.

                   b. make me feel energized.

                   c. foster a sense of solidarity with the poor and oppressed.

                   d. help me enter a more spiritual dimension. 

47. The biblical character with whom I most identify is:

  1. Peter when he denied Jesus, but then became a faithful disciple.
  2. Solomon when he celebrated the joys of the created order.
  3. Jeremiah the prophet when he denounced injustice.
  4. John the disciple when he loved Jesus.

48. I hope that my epitaph will read:

                    a. (S)he trusted in God’s forgiving and healing grace and grew in       


                    b. (S)he strove to become all that God intended him/her to be in all aspects of 


                    c. (S)he worked for the good of humankind.

                    d. (S)he knew God intimately.

49. The message of Easter is that:

                     a. We can die to sin and rise with Christ to a new righteous life.

                     b. Find new life in the midst of our most discouraging moments.

                     c. Trust that in the long run the forces of peace and justice will be victorious,

                     d. Not even death can separate us from the love of God.

50. “Heaven” suggests:

                     a. The ultimate state of those who have been forgiven and faithful.

                     b. The contented recollection of a satisfying, multi-dimensional, and 

                         integrated life.

                     c. The attainment of the Peaceable Kingdom.

   d. The enduring awareness of being in an intimate relationship with God.

To self-score this inventory, count the number of times that you answered “a.” Then do the same for “b,” “c,” and “d.” Identify the letter that was your highest score, then the letter that was your second highest, etc. The letter with the highest score represents the theological/spiritual dynamic that most profoundly motivates you. Most of us will have somewhat lesser traces of the other four dynamics. 

(This inventory was inspired by W. Paul Jones’ rather different “Theological Worlds Inventory” (it has five worlds and different options) which can be found on-line.)