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July 31, 2007

A Question of Faith

Some of us bloggers at The Point have been having a little tête-à-tête offline, inspired by this article on Donald Miller's book Blue Like Jazz, about this thing called “faith.” We thought we'd let you in on some of our ramblings so that you could join the conversation.

You’ve heard the charge: “Religious belief is nothing more than blind faith.” Considering Paul’s remark “We live by faith and not by sight,” that charge seems spot on. But is it?

Standard dictionary definitions characterize faith as confident belief in something for which there is no proof. That aligns well with Paul’s definition: “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” But if faith is beyond “sight” and proof, on what does our confidence rest? On what basis are we to believe that the Bible is true, Jesus rose from the dead, and that God exists? Because the Bible teaches it, the pastor preaches it, or because Grandpa believed it, so it’s good enough for me?

Considering the Great Commandment--“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”—it is clear that, at some level, “confident belief” must have a rational component, as opposed to a purely non-rational (and certainly not irrational) basis. In other words, our relationship with God is based partly on the weight of logical argument and/or material evidence. While neither amounts to “proof,” they are adequate to give us certainty about the central tenets of the faith.

Now it’s your turn to pipe in… What is faith? What is the basis for confident belief? How broadly do you think our certainty should apply?—to belief in God only, to the central doctrines of the faith, to everything in the Bible? What role does mystery play in Christian faith? Is too much emphasis being placed on certainty in Christian circles?

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» What is faith? from www.gospelshout.com
If Paul's statement that "we live by faith and not by sight" is true, on what do we base our confidence in God's existence? [Read More]

» To Have anAnswer from Quadrivium
There’s  a bit of talk circulating over at The Point about an article written in response to Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz.  Dr. Benjamin Wiker takes issue with some of Miller’s thoughts regarding sharing the Gospel.   Miller dislikes ... [Read More]

Comments

Steve (SBK)

I pass a grand old United Church on the way to work. On the sign is a short message:

"We live in the past by faith,
in the future by hope,
in the present by love."

I think this is one of the best compact summaries I've heard of the Christian life. Relating to this topic, it fits perfectly. We live in faith by what has happened in the past. We are in direct lineage from generations of believers to the eyewitness accounts of the gospels and the early church. I think we should probably think of faith in terms of trust. Do we trust those who have raised us or brought us to the faith? If so, can their words be trusted? Can the words (and actions) of our forbears' forbears be trusted? We have to follow this thinking in the present, all the way back to the events we trust happened. Either we see evidence for these words and actions to be true now, and accept them certainly, even though we do not 'see' the events of old; or, we reject that these things are true.

For me, when it comes to the broadness of my belief (my mental assertion of truth), I find that the difficult decisions have already been made and I test what I see against my declared faith. Do I believe in the supernatural? Do I believe in a personal God? Do I believe in a powerful, Creative God? Do I believe in an Incarnated God? Do I believe in a Resurrected God? Do I believe in a virgin birth? Do I believe a fig tree withered at Jesus' words?
As I continue, the questions become less troublesome. Do I believe someone who can raise the dead can calm the winds? Acceptance of the latter claim is easy if I've accepted the former.
Really, faith is accepting something as happening or not happening, based on our available evidence and trust in others (which includes fellow believers and... finally, God).

I'm tired of the non/ir-rational claims for faith. Faith is confidence in what we do not see... because we do not see it yet! "Who hopes for what he already has"? Who trusts when he's being raised from the dead? My point is that faith means nothing when the reality presents itself unassailable. When I'm a child being carried by my dad, I don't have faith that my dad will carry me... I AM being carried.

This is why I think that quote (at the start) is so great. Our trust in the past effects our view and expectations of the future and our actions in the present.

I suppose, then, that there are various stages and levels of faith in each person. We have things for which varying degrees of trust or evidence are required - or are to be or not to be expected. Do we expect Jesus to be raised from the dead every day? (Well, maybe we do if we keep nailing him to the cross every day).

But, thinking about mystery or extreme certainty, I think there is some 'risk' involved in our faith. We can't be 100% positive/unassailable on everything we believe. I don't think we were intended to. When my wife says she love me, is that the end of the story? Did I just have to hear it once - many, many years ago? Does she have to prove it every second? Do I trust her? Of course I trust her and I love her, but there is risk in love (or you don't know what love is). There is risk in giving myself over to someone with expectations and hope that the past will continue and is true, and I demonstrate that now. The bride of Christ, the family of God, the body of Christ. Our heritage is rich and multi-tapestried. It is not something that can be proven to 100% certainty for everyone on every point in a 30 minute talk. What is our faith? Mental assent? "I believe that is true. Whew, now that that's settled, on to other areas of life".

Nonsense.
What we believe makes a difference - if what we believe really happened and effects reality and how we live. We journey on a voyage of discovery, and what we find, alters or affirms the path.

But, I'm still growing - so don't take my word for it - look for the fruit.

(Sorry, I didn't read the linked article yet).

Matt Guerino

You've laid out too many questions to respond to in a blog comment, although I have thoughts on all of them as I'm sure many of us do.

As a thinking-oriented pastor I've always taught (and still do) that blind faith and Biblical faith have nothing to do with one another. The former is the choice to believe something "just because," while the latter is banking on something for good reason. To give just one example, my faith in my eternal destiny is strong because it is based on the character of the God who revealed it. Blind faith is when a person has not reflected on the reasons for his/her belief abut the way things are.

As far as the definition of "faith" itself goes, faith is simply another way of saying "I'm convinced." Faith refers not to what is, but to what I PERCEIVE is. Faith is what I'm convinced is (or will be) despite not having absolute proof.

When one realizes that probably 99% of the things we bank on in life cannot be "proven" ahead of time, one realizes how common faith is to human experience. Human life would be impossible without it. We have no proof that the sun will rise tomorrow, but are any of us really worried about it? No, because we have good reasons to believe it will -- we're convinced. I have no certainty that my wife will not run off with the neighbor tonight because I cannot see the future. But I am absolutely convinced she will not because I know her and our relationship.

My point is, I don't think the Bible really says anything new or radical about the definition of faith itself. (Aside: I think Paul's comment contrasting faith and sight had much more to do with developing an eternal perspective than it did with redefining faith). What it does give us is a picture of God's plan so we'll know what to place our faith in.

I haven't addressed the whole certainty/mystery thing, but that's enough for one comment!

labrialumn

Until the existentialists came along and redefined the word, there wasn't much of a problem.

The meaning of the Greek word pistis 'faith', includes trust and faithfulness --> fealty. Not only belief in and belief that, but keeping faith with.

What faith is not, is a blind leap in the dark, or believing against what we know to be true.

Francis Schaeffer's essay
""Faith" Versus Faith" in an appendix to _He Is There and He is Not Silent_ is a very good one to read at this point.

Steve (SBK)

Good reminder labrialumn (haha, your name finally clicked thanks to the Schaeffer addition): The idea of keeping faith/fealty.

James Willis

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Heb. 11:6 ESV

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. I John 5:4 ESV

And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." Acts 16:31 ESV

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV

9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." 13For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Rom. 10:9-11, 13

I agree with John, Luke, and Paul (And the writer of Hebrews if it is not one of these). Our faith is confidence in Jesus, of that I am 100% sure.


David Cervera

I summarize the difference between belief and faith with two questions:

Belief: "Do you think I'm a trustworthy person?"

Faith: "Can I borrow $20"

While belief is at the core of faith, faith is much more than simple belief. It's trusting what you believe, and being able to face the consequences of that trust. I may say that I trust you, I may even genuinely believe I trust you, but until I actually pull out my wallet and hand you $20, I haven't practiced any faith in that belief.

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