Believing into Christ
Relational Faith and Human Flourishing
Imprint: Baylor University Press
212 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: October 2021
Across lines of tradition and denomination, many Christians express a purely propositional sense of belief, focused primarily on the existence of God and facts about Christ, contributing to a transactional approach to salvation. But belief is about more than the simple fact of God’s existence. Augustine provides a starting point for restoring the relational sense of belief encapsulated in the phrase "believing into Christ."
In Believing into Christ, Natalya Cherry explores this unique, grammatically awkward phrase that Augustine recognized and identified in his preaching as describing Christianity’s distinct contribution to human flourishing. Around this idea, Augustine established and systematized a three-part formula for belief, one which his theological successors treated as defining Christian faith. Cherry tracks the origins of "believing into Christ" and its loss in translation. She then crafts a constructive theology that addresses how to restore the phrase and all it entails. Such a view of belief involves transforming catechesis and sacramental practices that can equip believers to overcome oppression and social barriers in contemporary ecclesial communities and the world they inhabit.
Questions regularly arise about how one can believe in a loving God while being complicit with, or actively participating in, systems of violence and oppression. Christian faith informs our resistance against those systems when we practice the bold surrender engendered by believing into Christ. In this way, Cherry challenges us to consider the relational sense of belief, clinging to Christ by means of the Holy Spirit in a way that directs every relationship toward human flourishing, as the heart of Christian faith.
1 Faith and Flourishing
2 The Formula in Augustine: Exegeted and Established
3 The Formula after Augustine: Systematized, Reduced, Faded
4 Restoring the Relational Sense
5 Flourishing Praxis: Catechesis, Sacraments, Creeds
Engaging in skillful analysis of Latin and Greek grammar, Natalya Cherry shows in this book that, properly translated and used, the phrase 'believing into Christ' is at the heart of the early creeds and of Augustine’s theology. She argues that the phrase illuminates the Augustinian concept of deification which coincides with the flourishing of human life, and consists in the believer’s movement into union with Christ, in partial symmetry to the movement of God to become human. She shows that while the reception history of this formula yielded a reductive understanding, its proper restoration involves a relational view of sacraments, reconfigured to include much needed works of social justice.~Natalia Marandiuc, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
Some of the oldest and most familiar words of Christian faith become new and surprising in this joyful book by Natalya A. Cherry. Proving once again that ‘God is in the details,’ Cherry shows how the proper understanding of a single preposition can sweep away centuries of mental cobwebs and cast fresh light on what it means to believe. This is not just a good book to read, it is a book to take to heart.~R. Kendall Soulen, Professor of Systematic Theology, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Cherry’s book is a timely reconsideration of practices of Christian belief for the post-Trump era. It replaces an inward-looking ‘belief in’ God predicated solely on a personal relationship with the divine with an emphasis on a bodily, relational, sometimes even bawdy, practice of Augustinian ‘belief into,’ that makes the case for ‘individual faith as inseparable from communal faith.’ Her suggestion that Christianity ‘cannot be merely a personal relationship between individual human and divine that benefits no one else’ is highly relevant in an increasingly individualistic if not to say egotistical age.~Chris Vasantkumar, Lecturer in Anthropology, Macquarie University, Australia
Citing a bevy of theologians beginning with Augustine, Cherry impishly observes that even demons believe in God while contending that Christians are instead called to believe into God by enacting forms of relationship aimed at the promotion of human flourishing. In the constructive part of her argument, Cherry offers a timely and necessary reminder that, at a moment when intellectual assent to certain propositions about God is used as a basis for measuring belief and dividing up society into us and them, Christ calls his followers to love their neighbors, not to judge them. Cherry’s explication of the ancient meanings of credere in will change how readers conceive of belief; indeed, I will never be able to profess the Apostles’ Creed again without thinking and saying, ‘I believe into God…’~John T. Sebastian, Vice President for Mission and Ministry & Professor of English, Loyola Marymount University