Have you ever heard Atheists define faith this way: “I regard faith as religious belief which is held without evidence. If someone thinks that a bus will arrive on time per its schedule, then that person has trust or confidence, not faith.”
It is a false dichotomy of course. One which many thoughtful Christians would object to as unscriptural, misleading, even disingenuous. But it is so well entrenched within the Atheist community that I’m starting to feel attempts to expand their linguistic awareness are futile.
Maybe a better approach would be to affirm, “Well if that is your definition of faith, then the good news is faith is not necessary for living the Christian life … only trust and confidence are.” For the essential issue is not whether Reality is real or not, but whether it is blind, pitiless and indifferent or not. I just happen to have confidence, given my life experience and the accounts of trustworthy witnesses, that Reality really, really cares.
“My strength – if it can be called that – is my capacity to doubt. There is hardly a belief which others hold sacred that I have not at one time or another seriously questioned … I find it difficult to believe in something strongly if I have not spent time doubting it just as vigorously.” – John Dickson
The ancients spoke of “faith seeking understanding”. Need this always be interpreted in terms of rational understanding though? What of intuitive understanding? Is this not desirable also?
“Trust is not ‘blind faith’. Trust comes over time, and is built up as people show that they can be relied on. And so, if we trust someone, we have some kind of evidence that they can be relied on. It’s no different with God. God has shown throughout history that He can be relied on, and that He always has our best interests at heart. He never lies, and He never breaks promises. When He asks us to trust Him, it’s based on His unfailing record of perfect love and keeping promises.” – Rupert Lineage
Faith is not something that comes easy for me. I naturally question everything, even myself, so it is natural for me to question God too, even now that I follow God. I suppose I’m a bit of a Job, or at least a Thomas in that respect.
My mother, when she gets to reminiscing, often tells the story that one of my favourite words as a child was “why?” and how I wore her out with it. So it may not surprise you then to hear I have little patience for “blind” faith. For faith that never asks “why?” I can be as contemptuous of blind faith as a hardened atheist. That’s something I have to watch, I know. Contempt is not a virtue. Nevertheless I confess this so that you know where I’m coming from. Faith is something that’s come upon me unnaturally. Faith has come through finding God trustworthy even when I didn’t expect it.
You know what though? It means that God never ceases to surprise me, never ceases to limitlessly exceed my limited expectations. Take the healing I witnessed a few years back. On one level, of course I know God heals. Nevertheless, when he healed the gangrenous and soon-to-be-amputated hand of an addict friend of mine, when another friend and I prayed over it, it felt surreal. I felt like Thomas exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” or “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” Nevertheless, my experience that God can be expected to surprise me gives rise to an unshakable faith. He will keep surprising me, because he has reliably proven himself so surprising so far!
But enough about me, what’s your experience of faith? Has faith ever seemed illusive? Do you find faith compelling? Has your ability to entrust yourself to the transcendent, to risk yourself to the transcendent, grown through experience? Do you see strength in a vulnerable faith?
Faith is a much misunderstood subject. Over the holidays I was reading a book on inter-religious literacy which characterized Christianity as a doctrinaire path. But in the process what shone through for me was the (Buddhist) author’s unreflective equation of faith with doctrine. In other words, his inter-religious literacy was far from complete.
Of course, Christians themselves contribute much towards misunderstandings like this. The vitrolic denunciations of ‘works theology’ by Evangelical leaders can indeed leave the impression that actions, practice and lifestyle (beyond the narrow field of family ethics) are unimportant. That is, that faith is about inner experience and head knowledge alone.
Scripture however paints a different picture. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” says James. Faith is discernable by the fruit of the Spirit. We are saved by faith alone, I agree, but heavenly faith is not without worldly consequence.
My wife has a favourite illustration of this. The scenario is an office fire. A person runs in yelling “Fire! Fire!” Now, the person who trusts the fire is real doesn’t just sit there basking in the glow of that knowledge. The person of faith gets off her ass. The person of faith acts. Lack of transformation, therefore, can be taken as a sign of counterfeit faith.
This has real world application when it comes to the task of selecting a Christian teacher. What marks a person as a genuine authority on Christ and Christianity? In my experience it is rarely the loudest voice. It may not even be the most doctrinally astute. Rather, it’s the one who is most Christlike, who evidences peace, patience, grace and charity in their life. Where you see a transformed life, look there for authentic training on faith.
Mike Lowe recently commented:
Matt, I'm intrigued. A few months back the memoirs of the late Kim Beazley Senior were published (Father of the House, Fremantle Press). Since then the book has had a number of major reviews in the Australian Book Review, the Australian Literary Review, Quadrant etc, almost all of which have majored on Kim's Christian faith.
For example, former West Australia Premier, Geoff Gallop writes "In many ways, Father of the House is a personal account of the relationship between politics and religion as seen through the eyes of a believer." And Ross Fitzgerald in the ALR writes: "he made a decision to concern himself daily with the challenge of living out God's will. As he put it 'to turn the searchlight of absolute honesty on my motives. To try to see the world with the clarity of absolute purity. To take absolute love as radar through the fog of international affairs."'
Yet as far as I know the Christian media has ignored this book. What does this say about the concerns of Christian communities in Australia? I know that nowadays politicians who espouse a Christian faith are two-a penny, but during Kim's 32 years in politics this was far from the case. And how many of today's politicians can claim, as Kim does, that while in the interest of party unity he has sometimes voted against his better judgement, he has never voted against his conscience.
I'd be interested in your take on this. If you want access to some of the reviews (or the book itself) let me know.
My take is I had not heard of it till Mike mentioned it.
What about the rest of you Aussie readers?
When talking about law versus faith, is Paul focussed on the relationship between Jews and Christians or between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians?
Although the former is the more common interpretation I am inclined towards the latter. See for instance Romans 2:17 and Galatians 2:14-16 and 3:26-29.
Which way you go on this?
It has significant implications.
I thought I'd quote myself from elsewhere:
We are not saved by theology
We are saved by Theos.
Note: Theos (Θεός) is the Greek word for "God" used in the New Testament. Logos (λόγος) is the Greek word for "rational discourse", "knowledge" and "study" amongst other things, and in English is the root word for "logic". So "theology" is essentially the study of God and religious truth.