Here’s a popular view of faith that says that people believe weird things by acts of will:
Consider these three views:
- A “faith healer” named Benny Pophagin offers to heal Joe of his lumbago. Benny lays hands on Joe and prays, but the lumbago remains. Benny waves Joe away, saying, “This is your problem. You don’t have enough faith.”
- A Christian faces several objections to his beliefs that he cannot answer. He says, “I don’t care what people say, I still have faith.”
- The famous skeptic Mark Twain said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
Can anyone guess what is wrong with this picture?
The answer is that all of these examples offer an incorrect definition or understanding of what Biblical faith is all about. Twain’s own definition does correctly (with some negative emphasis) embody the way “faith” is understood by far too many today — but it does not match the Biblical definition of that word, and as the first two examples suggest, “faith” is a badly misunderstood concept in the church at large.
Atheists and many Christians seem to agree on that view of faith… but is that view Biblical?
Here’s an excerpt from the article showing the Biblical view of faith:
The Greek word behind “faith” in the NT is pistis. As a noun, pistis is a word that was used as a technical rhetorical term for forensic proof.
Examples of this usage are found in the works of Aristotle and Quintiallian, and in the NT in Acts 17:31:
Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
If you are used to thinking of “faith” in terms of our first two examples, this will assuredly come as a surprise. The raising of Christ is spoken of here as a proof that God will judge the world. However, if we think about the missionary preaching of the book of Acts, this makes perfect sense and teaches us a certain lesson.
Here is more food for thought: Is there anyplace in the NT where we can find someone giving their “personal testimony”?
The answer is yes — but it is in Phil. 3, where Paul gives his personal testimony about his former life, when writing to fellow Christians. He does not use it in a missionary setting to unbelievers.
Indeed, one will find nowhere in the NT an example of missionaries, or anyone, giving their personal testimony.
This is for good reason. The ancients conceived of personality as static; the way you were born is the way you stayed. Personal change was not a focus, because it was thought impossible. This is why the church remained suspicious of Paul even after his conversion, and until Barnabas (who probably knew Paul previously) testified on his behalf.
But note well: The following is not the sort of thing one will find in the NT:
Acts 2:48-52 And Peter arose and said, Men and brethren, I testify to you that whereas I formerly smoked mustard leaves, drank wine, cursed daily, and smelled moreover of fish, when the Lord Jesus Christ entered my heart I became clean. Now I no longer smoke, I no longer drink, my language is no longer filthy, and I bathe daily. Praise the Lord!
On the contrary.Here is what we do find in the missionary preaching of the NT:
Acts 2:22-36 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved…Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear… Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Peter’s primary appeal here was threefold:
- He appealed to the evidence of the wonders and signs performed by Jesus;
- he appealed to the empty tomb,
- and he appealed to fulfillment of OT prophecy.
In short, his appeals were evidentiary. One of course might wish to dispute the validity of the evidence, but in context this is beside the point. The point is that Peter grounded belief in Christianity on evidence — or, as the definition of pistis in Acts 17:31 would put it, proofs.
If Paul and Peter would around today, Paul would have a Ph.D in Astrophysics (Romans 1) and Peter would have a Ph.D in Ancient History (Acts 2). And they would be using good theistic arguments to defend belief in God, and historical evidence to defend the resurrection. Because Christianity is all about the evidence. Always has been, always will be. We do not offer Christianity to people on the basis of feelings or life enhancement. It is true, and that’s all.
UPDATE: Michael sends me this video from Greg Koukl:
And notes that Greg Koukl has a new book coming out soon, called “Faith is Not Wishing”. Greg Koukl formed my views on what faith is, along with R.C. Sproul and J.P. Moreland. For now, you can read this article about faith by Greg Koukl, and it’s FREE.