Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Faith is Not Belief Without Proof
The Westminster dictionary of Christian Theology has a long article on faith starting on page 207. Believers often use the term faith as a short hand term for those living according to apostolic teaching (207). The Dictionary points out that the only actual Biblical definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11.1 (evidence of things not seen) and that it "does not encapsulate all that the Bible says on the subject."(ibid). Westminster translates Hebrews 11.1 as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." This changes certain nuances but reinforces other. I have always liked to point that that faith is a kind of evidence in its own right. That's becuase something has to prompt faith. It's insane to assert that faith is ever held for no reaosn at all. Of cousre the atheist wants to assert that the reason is stupid but that's his burden of proof. What is the stimulus that prompts the response of faith?
Westminster's Dictionary understands faith in many contexts and constructs a complex picture of the term.Faith "...is an obedient confident trust in the reality love of God known through his acts, and awaiting their future consummation." (ibid). The dictionary brings out a variety of nuances from scripture. In OT faith is comparatively rare. When it is used it indicates faithfulness or loyalty rather than passive reliance. Yet dependence upon God and not human powers is important for Issiah (7:9, 30:15). Faith is concieved as Obedient action. (Dud 6:1) Faith as trust is also echoed in the psalms. In the NT belief and trust in Jesus' salvation is referred to as faith.(Mark 2:5, 5:34). Unbelief is hardness of heart, so the opposite of faith, unbelief, involves a refusal of the heart. Again making faith more a matter of some deep relationship than just a passive acceptance of an affirmation. (Mark 6:1).
There's no particular reason to understand this notion of faithfulness as bestowed for no reason. There is no statement about "faithfulness with no proof for no reason." Indeed the whole concept of faith in being about a condition of the heart is removed a step from this idea of accepting an intellectual proposition for no reason. In the Johonine epistles we see doctrinally oriented faith in a credal formula. In that community faith took on doctrinal proportions. Christ came in the flesh, Jesus is he son of God, (20:31, 1 J. 5:1). There is no indication that this is a matter of belief for no reason. NO reason is given but it's obvious the reason is bound up with the faith of the community as a community. One sees the community itself as the witness. The community as a whole testifies "we saw this, we heard this."
In Pauline Theology faith is utter reliance upon God's grace. The person of faith is the one who knows that grace cannot be obtained by works, that justification is only through union with Christ and reliance upon God's grace rather than works or by the law. Faith is not merely assent to an intellectual proposition but a relationship of trust culminating in the acceptance of God's Grace. Grace through faith means reliance upon God's ability to make us holy, nothing of our own effort.
The article points out several tensions that emerge from the centrality of faith to Christian doctrine. This is the kind of subtle theological idea that makes theology interesting and maddening to atheist who can't think subtly. Tension is mistaken for contradiction by skeptics but it's not contradiction. It's a good thing in theology to have tension. As one of my professors at Perkins (school of ethology SMU) put it "if you have no tension on your kite string your kite is not in the air."
One such tension is between weather faith is the response of trust in God or the acceptance of doctrinal propositions.The issues clearly transcend the notion of faith as rule keeping or merely an acceptance of intellectual propositions.
The article winds up with a discussion of Kierkegaard's notion of the leap of faith. This mind tend to make one think that faith means the irrational acceptance of of a proposition with no evidence.SK says faith is irrational and that it's achieved by an irrational leap. Yet one must note that the leap itself is an epistemological ploy, it's an attempt to get over the final chasm which can't be bridged by evidence or logic. The road up to the final gap can be paved with argument and reason. One can make a find philosophical diving board to prepare for the leap. The point at which one makes the leap can be narrowed. The leap is always there. Even in the world view there are epistemic blind alleys from which there are no returns. So in the final analysis there is no basis to the atheist straw man definition of faith as "believing things without evidence."