Peter Fenton


Building Blocks

By Peter Fenton

Day 1 of 7: Five Little Words

I would lay pretty heavy odds that if you’ve opened up this devotional for your spiritual edification this week (the last week of August)—you’re thinking about school. You could be going back to school; your kids could be going back to school; you might be thinking how amazing it is that you’re not going back to school (Even a couple years removed from college, I still get a stupid little rush of joy knowing I don’t have to start a school year the next day when my birthday rolls around at the end of August).

One almost universal back-to-school tradition is the sort of recalibration that goes on, re-centering what you already know. Due to the majority of the American school system operating on a “9 months on, 3 months off” schedule, the first couple of weeks always takes some time to remind yourself of what you’ve already learned the previous year and the foundations of what you know to be true, on which all future understanding is built.

My school was Wheaton College. For those out of the loop, Wheaton views itself as the Harvard of evangelical colleges, having produced among their alumni such Christian leaders as Billy Graham and John Piper (with whom they are very proud), as well as Rob Bell and Cindy Wang Brandt (with whom they are probably not). Junior year, I was part of the discipleship ministry cabinet, and in our start-of-year training, the associate chaplain led a discussion on how to weave the Gospel into conversation.

“The Gospel can be boiled down into four words,” he said, “these four little words. These are your building blocks that all conversations about faith stem from—and it’s as simple as this: Lord. Sin. Savior. Faith”

That talk stuck with me, but maybe not in the way Wheaton College would’ve wanted it to. One thing I admire about the evangelical church at large is how freely and directly their understanding of God informs pretty much everything they do. Faith for an evangelical is like a little patisserie on The Great British Bake Off—it’s simple and elegant, easily handed off to someone else over tea, but what ends up looking simple to do is infuriatingly difficult to achieve with the kind of perfection the dessert demands. And yet—evangelicals tend to achieve this level of faith to the point where they can clearly articulate their beliefs in normal conversation without batting an eyelash. I think this ability evangelicals have comes from the fact that they regularly recalibrate to the core tenets of their faith and intimately know the critical things that cannot budge.

By nature as a post-evangelical Christian, my faith has budged quite a bit. I think the budging has been universally moving in good directions, but in moving, it can be difficult—as many critics of progressive Christianity will point out—to identify what even makes a person a “Christian.”

So over the next week, let’s recalibrate. Let’s take a dive into the building blocks of our faith and look at what is essential to the faith. Wherever you are in your faith journey, whatever conclusions you’ve drawn regarding the issues that divide our churches – we all operate with the gospel. And I would posit the gospel could be boiled down into five little words, from which we build our nuanced understanding of the world around us. Those words are:

Jesus. Humanity. Creation. Doubt. Error.

Let’s dive in.

Nothing makes sense!
Everything is nonsense.
I have seen it all—
nothing makes sense!
What is there to show
for all of our hard work
here on this earth?
People come, and people go,
but still the world
never changes…

Everything that happens
has happened before;
nothing is new,
nothing under the sun.
Someone might say,
“Here is something new!”
But it happened before,
long before we were born.
No one who lived in the past
is remembered anymore,
and everyone yet to be born
will be forgotten too.

-Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 9-11 (CEV)


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