Recently, I was discussing the evidences for God’s existence and the Resurrection of Jesus with a Christian college student. In response to my apologetic approach, he asked if I provided this many evidences, where was room for faith? A recent visiting speaker to our church mentioned that she had taken theology and apologetics classes, but she “wasn’t good at all this stuff.” She then appealed to I Corinthians 1-2 as a reason why we do not need to come with wisdom, but instead our testimonies.[i] To top off my experiences, in a Christian essentials course book, the word “faith” was defined as “blind trust or belief; choosing to believe something without having tangible proof.”[ii] I do not mean to pick on these individuals or the book, but this anti-intellectual view pervades the Church. Faith and evidence (reason) are placed in opposition to one another. This is closely related to what counts as knowledge (e.g. spiritual knowledge) and ultimately our view of truth.
To be fair, this development is not the result of something new, but rather has been brewing for a few centuries and we are now reaping the consequences. Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and David Hume (1711-1776) altered our confidence in spiritual knowledge. Hume claimed that since we cannot experience God with the five senses (empiricism), the proposition that God exists cannot be taken as an item of knowledge. Kant also limited human knowledge to the fives senses, which placed God outside of reason.[iii] Both of these philosophers have had lasting effects on both Europe and America. By the time we reached the 20th century, prominent theologian Rudolph Bultmann considered rational evidence not only irrelevant, but actually contrary to faith.[iv]
Faith is now understood as a blind act of the will, while ignoring the evidence, i.e. you have to “check your brain at the door to the church.” I will argue in this paper that biblical faith is much different than this. Next, I will provide biblical evidence that faith and reason are not opposed. Third, knowledge, belief, truth and justification will be examined to understand their relationship. Last, the role of the mind will be shown to be important for spiritual transformation particularly for increasing one’s faith.
First, what is faith? My assertion is that biblical faith is the “power or skill to act with the nature of the Kingdom of God.”[v] Faith is built upon reason. The writer of Hebrews is accurate when he says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). But most confuse something we cannot see (cf. Kant and Hume) with a blind leap of faith, rather than faith in the knowledge of the person of God, which is based upon reason (i.e. it is rational). Faith is trust (in something or someone) that we have reason to believe is true. I will continue to fill out this definition as the paper continues.
As a foundation, the Bible reveals God as a God of reason and revelation.[vi] One of God’s characteristics is omniscience and, as such, he has perfect knowledge (including both actual and possible, cf. I Samuel 23:11-13, Job 37:16, I John 3:20). The Scriptures call him “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27) who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and who is completely reliable (Romans 3:4, Hebrews 6:18). His word is true (John 17:17), and the church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15). Paul emphasized while preaching the gospel, that his words were true and rational (Acts 26:25). Since we are created in God’s image, it follows that we are expected to use reason as well. Peter reminds us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). Biblical faith is not separated from reason, but rather is supported by it.
Since God is rational, when God chose to reveal himself to mankind through the Bible, he meant to disclose to us knowledge. This knowledge comes in the form of understandable, objective true propositions. This means the Bible is a source of knowledge. Not only is God truth and his word truth (John 17:17), but he has revealed other truths.
Many use the terms “believe” and “faith” interchangeably, and in the Bible, both words are derived from the same root word. Ancient Christians recognized that they are not always the same, so they used the words notia, assensus and fiducia to describe the differences.[vii] These words mean knowledge, assent and trust.
First, there are three different types of knowledge (notia).[viii] The first is knowledge by acquaintance. This is simple “seeing” – or being directly aware of something. This type of knowledge does not require the ability to think. A small child can have knowledge without thinking, such as seeing the color “red.” This is how we recognize friends and places that we have been to before. The second form of knowledge is propositional knowledge, or knowledge of facts. This knowledge is true belief based upon adequate reasons. It requires having concepts before the mind that you judge to be accurate or true. It requires thinking or an interpretation of the mind and can be characterized as “seeing as,” or “knowing that.”
“Know how” knowledge is the third type of knowledge – also called skill knowledge. Examples would include riding a bike or playing an instrument. Christianity involves all three types of knowledge. Koukl explains, “There are certain facts or truths (know that) that when believed properly lead us into a personal relationship with God (know who), after which we grow in personal skill at living called ‘sanctification’ (know how).”[ix] Propositional knowledge is essential to Christianity (and my focus) as you cannot even begin a relationship with God without knowing key facts, such as who he is, what reality is, how we ought to live and how to fix it when we don’t live the way we ought to (cf. John 17:3). Assent (assensus) to propositional knowledge, however, is not sufficient for Christian faith as it involves more than just statements of fact.
To actually say that you “know” something involves belief. It would be hard to maintain that I know my truck is silver without believing it to be silver. All the facts that you know are facts that you believe as well. A belief is a kind of thought about something that you hold in a certain way. For instance, the belief that my truck is silver is believing something about my truck. The content of this belief is that the truck is a certain color (silver in this case). When you believe something, you are actually saying that what you believe is true.
This is important for Christianity because the tendency for moral and religious beliefs is to discount the truth of the matter, i.e. we say that we believe something, but we deny that what we are saying is true.[x] It is odd to have something that you hold to be true, but yet renounce that you believe it to be true. This is the influence of our culture that limits knowledge to only empirical (or scientific) sources. To be sure, you may not know something is true, but your belief is that it is true; otherwise you would believe something else. Also note that you can believe something, but not have knowledge. Simply believing something will not make it correct. Having knowledge requires the truth of the belief.
The term “truth” has been the source of much confusion in our culture lately. Historically, truth is what corresponds to reality.[xi] What makes a proposition true is when what it asserts happens to be the case. This viewpoint is the common sense position and does not require a degree in philosophy to understand. Aristotle put it this way, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”[xii] The Bible clearly presumes this view of truth (cf. Psalms 119:160, Proverbs 8:7, John 16:7, Romans 9:1, I Timothy 2:3-4). Our belief in something does not make it the truth, but rather facts are what make a proposition true. But what gives us our confidence that our belief actually gives us knowledge (i.e. that it is true)?
In my next blog/post, I’ll turn to justification for the answer.
[i] The sermon overall was a great message about being a testimony, but she seemed to prioritize our witness above reasons for Christianity. Rather than an either/or, a both/and approach would be more appropriate. Paul in this passage (I Corinthians 1-2) is not speaking against reason, but instead a prideful use of reason. Otherwise this passage would contradict Paul’s practices in Acts as well in this same epistle where he argues and gives evidence for the Resurrection (I Corinthians 15).
[ii] Brad Carr, Bruce Reed, Bruce Miler and the Discovery Teaching Team, Discovering How to Share Your Faith (Richardson, Texas: Center for Church Based Training, 1996), 7.11.
[iii] J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, 1997), 22-5.
[iv] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1984), 25.
[v] J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind, 25.
[vi] Ibid., 43-5.
[vii] Information for this section from Gregory Koukl, “Truth Is a Strange Sort of Fiction Part II: Belief & Faith,” Solid Ground (November/December 2006): 2.
[viii] Lecture by J.P. Moreland at Biola University, October 26, 2006.
[ix] Gregory Koukl, “No Title,” Solid Ground (September/October 2006): 2.
[x] Ibid., 2.
[xi] I do not have the space to justify this viewpoint, but would refer the reader to Part II in Moreland and Craig’s book, Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
[xii] Metaphysics 1011b25.