Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is the Bible’s definition of faith opposed to logic and evidence?

Probably the biggest misconception that I encounter when defending the faith is the mistaken notion of what faith is. Today we are going to get to the bottom of what the Bible says faith is, once and for all. This post will be useful to Christians and atheists, alike.

What is faith according to the Bible?

I am going to reference this article from apologist Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason in my explanation.

Koukl cites three Biblical examples to support the idea that faith is not blind leap-of-faith wishing, but is based on evidence.

  1. Moses went out into the wilderness and he had that first encounter with the burning bush, and God gave him the directive to go back to Egypt and let his people go. Moses said, Yeah, right. What’s going to happen when they say, why should we believe you, Moses?God said, See that staff? Throw it down.Moses threw it down and it turned into a serpent.God said, See that serpent? Pick it up.And he picked it up and it turned back into a staff.God said, Now you take that and do that before the Jewish people and you do that before Pharaoh. And you do this number with the hail, and the frogs, and turning the Nile River into blood. You put the sun out. You do a bunch of other tricks to get their attention.And then comes this phrase: “So that they might know that there is a God in Israel.”
  2. [I]n Mark 2 you see Jesus preaching in a house, and you know the story where they take the roof off and let the paralytic down through the roof. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” And people get bugged because how can anyone forgive sins but God alone?Jesus understood what they were thinking and He said this: What’s harder to say, your sins are forgiven, or to rise, take up your pallet and go home?Now, I’ll tell you what would be harder for me to say : Arise, take up your pallet and go home. I can walk into any Bible study and say your sins are forgiven and nobody is going to know if I know what I am talking about or not. But if I lay hands on somebody in a wheelchair and I say, Take up your wheelchair and go home, and they sit there, I look pretty dumb because everyone knows nothing happened.But Jesus adds this. He says, “In order that you may know that the Son of Man has the power and authority to forgive sins, I say to you, arise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and he got out. Notice the phrase “In order that you may know”. Same message, right?
  3. Move over to the Book of Acts. First sermon after Pentecost. Peter was up in front of this massive crowd. He was talking about the resurrection to which he was an eyewitness. He talked about fulfilled prophecy. He talked about the miraculous tongues and the miraculous manifestation of being able to speak in a language you don’t know. Do you think this is physical evidence to those people? I think so. Pretty powerful.Peter tells them, These men are not drunk as it seems, but rather this is a fulfillment of prophecy. David spoke of this. Jesus got out of the grave, and we saw him, and we proclaim this to you.Do you know how he ends his sermon? It’s really great. Acts 2:36. I’ve been a Christian 20 years and I didn’t see this until about a year ago. This is for all of those who think that if you can know it for sure, you can’t exercise faith in it. Here is what Peter said. Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” There it is again. “Know for certain.”

What is faith according to Bible-based theologians?

I am going to reference this article from theologian C. Michael Patton of Parchment and Pen in my explanation.

Patton explains that according to Reformation (conservative, Bible-based) theologians, faith has 3 parts:

  1. notitia - This is the basic informational foundation of our faith. It is best expressed by the word content. Faith, according to the Reformers must have content. You cannot have faith in nothing. There must be some referential propositional truth to which the faith points. The proposition “Christ rose from the grave,” for example, is a necessary information base that Christians must have.
  2. assensus - This is the assent or confidence that we have that the notitia is correct… This involves evidence which leads to the conviction of the truthfulness of the proposition… This involves intellectual assent and persuasion based upon critical thought… assensus… says, “I am persuaded to believe that Christ rose from the grave.”
  3. fiducia - This is the “resting” in the information based upon a conviction of its truthfulness. Fiducia is best expressed by the English word “trust.”… Fiducia is the personal subjective act of the will to take the final step. It is important to note that while fiducia goes beyond or transcends the intellect, it is built upon its foundation.

So, Biblical faith is really trust. Trust(3) can only occur after intellectual assent(2), based on evidence and thought. Intellectual assent(2) can only occur after the propositional information(1) is known.

The church today accepts 1 and 3, but denies 2. I call this “fideism” or “blind faith”. Ironically, activist atheists, (the New Atheists), also believe that faith is blind. The postmodern “emergent church” denies 1 and 2. A person could accept 1 and 2 but deny 3 by not re-prioritizing their life based on what they know to be true.

How do beliefs form, according to Christian philosophers?

I am going to reference a portion of chapter 3 of J.P. Moreland’s “Love Your God With All Your Mind” (i.e. – LYGWYM).

J.P. Moreland explains how beliefs form and how you can change them.

  1. Today, people are inclined to think that the sincerity and fervency of one’s beliefs are more important than the content… Nothing could be further from the truth… As far as reality is concerned, what matters is not whether I like a belief or how sincere I am in believing it but whether or not the belief is true. I am responsible for what I believe and, I might add, for what I refuse to believe because the content of what I do or do not believe makes a tremendous difference to what I become and how I act.
  2. A belief’s strength is the degree to which you are convinced the belief is true. As you gain ,evidence and support for a belief, its strength grows for you… The more certain you are of a belief… the more you rely on it as a basis for action.

But the most important point of the article is that your beliefs are not under the control of your will.

…Scripture holds us responsible for our beliefs since it commands us to embrace certain beliefs and warns us of the consequences of accepting other beliefs. On the other hand, experience teaches us that we cannot choose or change our beliefs by direct effort.

For example, if someone offered you $10,000 to believe right now that a pink elephant was sitting next to you, you could not really choose to believe this… If I want to change my beliefs about something, I can embark on a course of study in which I choose to think regularly about certain things, read certain pieces of evidence and argument, and try to find problems with evidence raised against the belief in question.

…by choosing to undertake a course of study… I can put myself in a position to undergo a change in… my beliefs… And… my character and behavior… will be transformed by these belief changes.

The article goes on to make some very informative comments on the relationship between apologetics and belief.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 Responses

  1. BillT says:

    I was wondering why you believe that “The church today accepts 1 and 3, but denies 2.” Doesn’t sound like my church though I’ve never delved ito it in this much detail.

    • In my experience, many churches (especially those who refer to themselves as Fundamentalist or Bible-believing) do believe this way. They are often staunch believers in Biblical inerrancy and have their doctrine more or less correct, but they hold up blind faith as some sort of virtue. It’s as if they think just believing, without evidence, is somehow superior faith. Those who “need” evidence and don’t just believe for belief’s sake must have weaker faith or perhaps they’re just less-mature Christians. It isn’t often stated so directly, but I have run into this view a lot (including in my current church).

      • BillT says:

        Thanks Lindsay. I understand what you’re saying. That doesn’t descibe my church which has a strong apologetic orientation. Appreciate the insight.

  2. James says:

    It may be of some value to know that the word usually translated as “faith” (greek: pistis) can just as easily be translated as “trust”. It’s not a modern philosophical or theological formation to equate the two. It’s baked right into the bread.

  3. JMG says:

    The idea that faith is somehow a blind act of the will is a grievous error that all too many Christians fall into.

    The treatment here goes a long way towards setting the record straight that faith is a rational product of proposition, evidence supporting the truthfulness of the proposition, and persuasion of the truthfulness of the proposition in light of that evidence. No act of the will is involved, nor can it be.

    The citations of Koukl and Moreland are excellent examples illustrating well the concept of relationship of truth faith to evidence.

    However, the classic description of faith as a 3 fold composition of notitia, assensus, and fiducia is problematic. This is not so much that it has not been the standard line on the subject, but because it has been (for example, see Gordon H. Clark’s “What is Saving Faith”), and should be, challenged as flawed.

    The first two items, notitia and assensus are valid, fiducia however, is superfluous and, when sufficiently scrutinized, actually turns the 3 fold definition into a tautology.

    Notitia, or knowledge does indeed stand first and represents a proposition that claims to be true, along with the available evidence that supports the proposition’s claim to being true.

    Assensus, as well described in the article is internal and rational persuasion wrought via the evidence that dictates the conclusion that the proposition is true. When one is rationally compelled to hold that a proposition is true, that person has believed it.

    The third element of fiducia, however, is superfluous and little more than an “adder” to faith. Saying that fiducia is trust does not help. For what is trust of a proposition, but the trust that it is reliable, or true? Further, faith in toto itself is often called “trust”. Therefore, the 3 fold definition devolves into a tautology:

    Faith is knowledge, persuasion, and faith.

    Or

    Trust is knowledge, persuasion, and trust.

    The simple truth is that notitia and assensus by themselves are faith.

    Part of the problem it seems is the random, if not arbitrary, translation of most English bibles where precisely the same Greek word pistis (and in its various forms) is translated in some cases as “have faith” and in others as “believe”. This has created a false dichotomy in the thinking of many where “belief” is mere head knowledge, but “faith” is something beyond belief, something much more intense. This is merely a linguistic illusion.

    While it is reasonable to assume that true belief (notitia + assensus) will produce in the life of the believer actions and motivations that conform to that belief, to make appearance of those expectations an actual component of faith itself is to say that faith is not fully complete until they emerge. Since sola fide is the reformation claim that we are saved by faith alone, and if one component of faith if fiducia which is itself to be defined as a re-prioritizing of ones life, then we are not saved until we do the re-prioritizing since faith is incomplete without it.

    The view that faith / belief has only two components (notitia & assensus) and not three, fits much better the examples from Koukl and Moreland (although Moreland seems to want to add the fiducia element into the mix as well).

    In Koukl’s 3 cases, when would the people come to believe something that God was trying to communicate? It would be when they came to “know it” based on the evidence he had presented to them as testimony to the truth of what He had said.

    In Moreland’s case, when would you believe something? It would be when through studying the evidence and considering the arguments pro and con for the thing proposed as true you were convinced of its truth. Although he does want to tie the authenticity of that belief to its visual / outward effects in the behavior of the one holding it, saying that these effects are inevitable in the case of true faith is tantamount to making them necessary components of faith, and thus making “complete” faith into a process rather than an instantaneous event.

    Faith’s relationship to evidence is a vital issue, but the realization that Biblical faith is also identical to “belief in the truth of a divine proposition” is equally vital.

    JMG

    • The Christian faith is more than just believing a truth claim that is backed up by evidence. It does include all 3 parts mentioned above. The 3rd part (trusting or resting in the knowledge of the truth) is essential to real, saving faith. It’s not a tautology. After all, demons have 1 and 2. As James 2:19 says, “the devils also believe, and tremble.” They know that Jesus is God and rose from the dead. They have evidence of this. Yet they don’t have saving faith in Christ. The 3rd part of trusting in the knowledge of the truth is where the rubber meets the road, where faith is put into action. Without this step, belief means nothing and has no power to save.

      • JMG says:

        Lindsay, are you implying that the reason the devils aren’t saved is because they lack part # 3, fiducia? If they simply added trust to their notitia and assensus, then, in your opinion, they would be saved, correct?

          • JMG says:

            I think that any idea of potential salvation for demons, angels, etc. is problematic in light of the necessity of the incarnation of the Son, taking upon himself a human nature and not an angelic or demonic nature. Christ took upon himself a human nature, and lived and died as a human to provide atonement that is only, and can only be effective for humans. There is no door of redemption open to the angelic or demonic worlds no matter what their actions might be.

            Further there are several other factors in the commonly cited passage in James which argue against the way it is commonly used as a support for something more than notitia and assensus as being the only actual components of “believing”. The demons / devils are only said to believe in monotheism, and belief in monotheism is not salvific. Even more, the statement concerning the demons and their monotheistic belief would appear to be, upon close examination, those of a theoretical objector and not those of James himself.

          • Paradox says:

            You pose a thoughtful question.
            I think a plausible assumption is that what form Jesus had taken on was not entirely relevant to salvation. This body would have to meet some conditions: 1. It could be killed. 2. It would have the necessary capacity to contain His Mind. That we can contemplate God would make it SEEM like we have met this second condition, and maybe it does, but let’s not use it as actual proof of anything. An angelic form, however, cannot be killed, so even though an angelic form might meet the second condition, it fails to meet the first. This is why he would incarnate as a man.

            Maybe I’m being over-simplistic, but I don’t see these factors as problematic.

            Other possible answers exist (one is that angles and demons already had their chance to go to Heaven, and the demons passed it up), but I think we can focus on the one.

          • I don’t know if the demons are capable of being saved, but I tend to think not. My point was rather that it is possible to have 1 and 2 without having the kind of faith that is necessary for salvation. I don’t think demons have the same kind of faith in God that I do as a Christian. However, they obviously know and believe that God exists, Jesus died and rose again, etc. There must be a component of faith that is above and beyond simply knowledge and belief. That was what James was saying. Faith without works is dead. You can have knowledge and belief, but not be saved.

            I also have known and heard of people who believed Jesus was God and died for sin and rose again. But they didn’t want to trust in Him for salvation. They preferred to live their own life for themselves. Faith involves more than head knowledge or belief that a proposition is true. It must also involve an act of the will to place trust for salvation in Jesus Christ.

          • That’s what I think, as well.

          • Another thing to consider is that faith must involve an act of the will, something a person can decide to do or not do, if a person is to be held accountable for having or not having faith. If faith is only about believing something to be true, then a person is not responsible for their faith (or lack thereof). After all, belief is not under the control of the will. You can’t make yourself believe something by sheer willpower (as the blog post above points out). Thus, one would have faith or lack faith simply as a by-product of one’s experiences. If you have happened to come across the evidence for the Christian faith, then you will believe – and thus you had no part in your own salvation. You were just lucky. No one is to be commended for their faith. It just happened because they came across the evidence.

            On the other hand, if faith involves an act of the will, then we can be held responsible for our faith (or lack thereof). The Bible indcates that all mankind has some evidence of God. There is a law written on the heart and all creation bears witness to God’s creative power. If people do not have faith in God, they are responsible for their lack of response to Him. They failed to act when they should have, failed to respond to the knowledge they did have, and are thus responsible for their choices.

        • Terry Fraser says:

          I would think that demons and satan him self do not have the possibility of salvation. More than likely due to commiting the unpardonable sin.

          • JMG says:

            The impossibility of it is because there’s nothing in the atonement for them.

            Note Hebrews 2:16

            “For assuredly He (Jesus) does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.”

            Also note the concept of the Kinsman redeemer in the OT. It was essential that the one redeeming be a “kin” to the one being redeemed according to the regulation that was specified. Christ took upon himself a human nature and not an angelic one. He is “kin” to man, but not to angels in his incarnation and therefore his atonement accomplishes nothing for angels but only for mankind.

            Their redemption is impossible not because of something that they have done to forfeit it, but because it is simply not available to them, period.

            JMG

  4. [...] (Wintery Knight) – What is faith according to the Bible? [...]

  5. JMG says:

    Paradox.

    I appreciate your thoughts on the issue of angelic / demonic redemption. I should note, however, that the issue and my questions surrounding it here were not put forward in a contextual vacuum. My point here was not to argue for or against any possible redemption for the angelic demonic world simply as a bare question of whether or not it could or could not happen.

    No, rather the context of the conversation is the question of the Biblical definition of faith / belief and its relationship to the actual atonement that Christ has made for man through his crucifixion and resurrection, the benefits of which are made available to man solely and precisely on the basis of that faith / belief. It is nature and extent of THAT atonement that is at issue, and not of any other. The question is : Did THAT atonement provide redemption benefits to both angels/demons and men, or to men only?

    Retracing the foregoing conversation, my question was prompted by Lindsay’s declaration that valid Biblical faith / belief must include all of 3 components (1. notitia – knowledge, 2. assensus – persuasion, and 3. fiducia – trust, commitment), and her use of James’ mention of the faith of demons (2:19) as an example of incomplete faith that is not effective for the redemption of demons simply because it lacks element #3, fiducia.

    Her initial reply to my statement and her citation of James 2:19 in an effort to show that mere rational / mental persuasion of divine truth (often referred to pejoratively as “mere head faith”) is an incomplete or inadequate faith is quite common among those holding her view, as I’m sure you are well aware.

    The problem with attempting to use James 2:19 for this purpose, however, are the underlying assumptions that MUST be true in order for it to be cited as a valid support of some type of an incomplete faith. The assumptions are that Christ atonement as a divinely incarnate human provide the same potential redemption benefits for angels / demons as it does for humans, and that those benefits are to be obtained by both angels / demons and humans in exactly the same way: by means of faith/belief. If Christ’s atonement upon the cross does not provide any potential benefit for angels / demons, then James 2:19 must fail as an example of incomplete faith / belief simply because no matter what faith they might muster (even adding fiducia to notitia and assensus), angels / demons can obtain no benefit from Christ’s incarnate atonement. My questioning whether or not there were angelic / demonic benefits included in Christ’s atonement was meant to force either a defense of the idea or an abandonment of it.

    I do not see the idea as being Biblically defensible for several reasons. First, nowhere in scripture that I am aware of is there an explicit statement that indicates that the redemptive benefits of Christ’s atonement do extend to the angels / demons, and, secondly, Hebrews chapter 2:14-17 (NASB) argues explicitly against it.

    “(14) Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,

    (15) and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

    (16) For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.

    (17) Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

    In the course of commenting on the necessity of Christ’s human incarnation for the purpose of providing redemption for human beings (vs. 15 Jesus “partook of the same flesh and blood” as those He came to redeem, vs. 17 “He HAD TO be made like his brethren in all things”, “HAD TO” is a term of necessity and obligation), the writer mentions explicitly in vs. 16 that Jesus in his human incarnation and atonement “does not give help to angels”, but only to believing humans (“the descendants of Abraham”, note not the “descendants of Adam”).

    Based on these verses, I take it that only believing human beings may derive any redemptive benefit from the atonement Christ accomplished through his human incarnation and crucifixion. Therefore, James 2:19 is an invalid reference in support of the idea that incomplete does not save. For angels / demons, the atonement of Christ offers no benefit, regardless of the kind or quality of faith that they might muster.

    This of course begs the question, if the mention in James 2:19 was not meant to describe incomplete or invalid faith, then what exactly was the purpose of its mention there? All too often, when confronted with the problematic implications of demonic faith and its relation to Christ’s atonement, this question is never asked. Instead, the conversation is generally moved along to another part of the chapter (for example the statement further along in the chapter that “faith without works is dead”) and James 2:19 is left forgotten and unexamined simply because it is no longer of any use as a support. Yet, would it not be a good idea to determine what James 2:19 DOES MEAN before citing another part of the very same passage as a fall-back support to an idea (incomplete faith) that was assumed to be in James 2:19, but which was actually not there at all?

    Lindsay has given me two subsequent replies, and I don’t mean to talk past her, but for the moment, I am short of time and must break off my response. I will take up what she has said in those two posts as time allows in the near future. From a quick perusal of her words, I think she is on the right track, but maybe moving a bit in the wrong direction. I will explain.

    JMG

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