‘Yet I have insisted that an analysis is lopsided and faulty it if serves only the observer, not the participant. Is the worshipper also to be content with no ideal of faith? The historian and even the philosopher may accept faith for what it has been, and look no further for some final essence. But can it be reckoned an ultimately personal matter not only for others but also for oneself? I believe that it can, and must. I see this interpretation of the issues as not only required by the evidence for an observer’s understanding of mankind’s religious history, but required also by his own involvement for a participant’s understanding of the universe and of his place in it. One’s own faith cannot be lively and deep and true until it too is personal. It is not self-conscious until one has recognised this.
My faith is an act that I make, myself, naked before god. Just as there is no such thing as Christianity (or Islam or Buddhism), I have urged, behind which the Christian (or Muslim or Buddhist) may shelter, which he may set between himself and the terror and splendour and living concern of God, so there is no generic Christian faith; no ‘Buddhist faith’, no ‘Hindu faith’, no ‘Jewish faith’. There is only my faith, and yours, and that of my Shinto friend, of my particular Jewish neighbour. We are all persons, clustered in mundane communities, no doubt, and labeled with mundane labels but, so far as transcendence is concerned, encountering it each directly, personally, if at all. In the eyes of God each of us is a person, not a type.
There is nothing in heaven or on earth that can legitimately be called the Christian faith. There have been and are the faiths of individuals Christians, each personal, each specific, each immediate. Besides, there have been now and then some generalised statements by theologians, intellectual systemisations of what they as persons conceived that that faith ought to be, though these generalised statements have different among themselves and no one of them has been or could be free of the humanity (particularity, fallibility, historicity) of the man or men who composed it. All these have existed on earth, In heaven there is God, seen by Christians as triune and active, known by them as loving. Neither for the outside observer nor for the believer is there in heaven a generalised prototype of Christians’ faith. Faith not only is but ought to be mundane, man’s response.
There is no ideal faith that I ought to have. There is God whom I ought to see, and a neighbour who I ought to love. These must suffice me; and my faith is my ability to see that they abundantly more than suffice. The ideal towards which I move is not an ideal of my own faith but is God Himself, and my neighbour himself. Faith is not part of eternity; it is my present awareness of eternity.
Similarly the Muslim’s faith is his personal awareness, which takes place on earth, in history, that outside of history there is only God, and that inside history on earth his duty is to obey only God. This faith has varied across the centuries, and continues to vary, which is another way of saying that it is real.
I certainly do not deny, then, that Christians in their religious life have something in common – or Muslims, or any group, or indeed all men together. What rather I am asserting (conformably both to the historian, who cannot see that common element, and to the man of faith, who therein can) is that what they have in common lies not in the tradition that introduces them to transcendence, not in their faith by they personally respond, but in that to which they respond, the transcendent itself.
The traditions evolve. Men’s faith varies. God endures.’
p. 191-2 – The Meaning and End of Religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, 1963.