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

Bible study that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

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.

I think definition of faith is important, because atheists seemed to want to substitute their own definition of faith as blind belief for this Biblical definition, but there is no evidence for their view that faith is belief without evidence. I think this might be another case of projection by atheists. Blind faith is how they arrive at their views, so they are trying to push it onto us. But the Bible is clearly opposed to it.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

 

6 thoughts on “Is the Bible’s definition of faith opposed to logic and evidence?”

  1. Interesting, the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) exists as a mid- to late- 2nd millennium covenant form as per: http://www.baslibrary.org/sites/default/files/bsba210205400l.jpg
    (Kenneth Kitchen’s work on covenant forms)

    In any case, the prologue is interesting. Although we like to jump right into the You shall not’s and You shall’s, the mid- to late- second millennium covenants contained the title (who is speaking?) and prologue (what’s the context?) — applied to Exodus 20:

    Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying,
    Exodus 20:2a [Title] I am the Lord your God,
    Exodus 20:2b, c [Prologue] who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

    In any case — the 10 commandments are grounded in a historical and evidence-based fact: God brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Well, arguably, the people became Israel at Sinai, so “the extended clans of the family of Jacob, and the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt.”) In other words, when the Israelites remembered they were enslaved at one point and then remembered that they were delivered, those historical facts are the underpinning of their faith and God’s commandments.

    Most of Exodus is a polemic against the Egyptian pantheon (e.g., the 10 plagues target the ‘powers of the Egyptian pantheon’, demonstrating who is the Real God, even the name of the LORD [YHWH] is a polemic against all other gods). The slaves and other residents of Egypt who experienced these fantastical signs would have solid evidence and assertions about who is the true God.

    I of course love the notitia/assensus/fiducia synonyms of faith. And this is one story that illustrates this that I’ve also used before on your blog:

    Preachers often use the illustration of Charles Blondin — “The Great Blondin.” Blondin was an amazing performer and tightrope artist and became famous for crossing the Niagara Gorge. He did so many times, sometimes blindfolded, trundling a wheelbarrow — with and without a large load. In any case, the story goes that Blondin had just crossed the Niagara — and he was very capable of working a crowd into a frenzy as to heighten their anticipation and excitement.

    “Do you believe I can cross the Niagara on the a tightrope?” he hollered.
    “Yes we believe it!” returned the crowd.
    “Do you believe I can cross with a wheelbarrow?” Blondin pressed.
    “Of course you can, you’re the great Blondin!” the crowd would cheer.
    “Okay — who wants to ride in the barrow as I cross?” Blondin would ask — and the crowd would go silent.

    And that’s where the rubber meets the road regarding faith. If people so believed that Blondin could cross with a wheelbarrow and keep it (and its contents) safe, would they entrust Blondin with their lives?

    And only one man dared to go — and that was Blondin’s manager.

    You might know that Blondin could cross the Niagara Gorge (notitia).
    You might even be positively inclined towards having Blondin cross and having him succeed with anyone else. You may even be persuaded that, based on previous crossings, Blondin will be successful this next time!

    But will you put your trust — individually — if it counted? (fiducia)

    Maybe a counter-example might be helpful.

    James 2:19 has this interesting quotation,
    “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”

    Obviously the demons *know about* (or have notitia regarding) God.

    They would not want to have assensus (the assent that the content of the faith is true) or fiducia about what God claims.

    I recommend the following exercise for Christians.

    While I was in seminary and learning various truths about God and understanding where we got our doctrine and what is heresy vs. what is orthodoxy, I stopped to ask myself this question:

    “What should it matter if I really believe (whatever foundational belief) is true?”

    For instance, if I believe that sin affects every part of our being, what should it matter? Would I make sure that it doesn’t affect my logic and cause me to rationalize sin? Would I be more patient with those who keep falling into the same sin despite knowing that it’s bad for them?

    if I believe that we are all sinners, we are falling short of the glory of God — what should it matter? Should I have more grace and understanding? And so on. I think this is what Moreland is speaking about, “…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.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Usually, the way the argument works is like this:

      1) using ordinary historical methods, we can determine that God raised Jesus from the dead (this is the best explanation of the minimal facts).
      2) God’s raising Jesus from the dead has to be seen as a divine stamp of approval of Jesus revelation of God to us
      3) Jesus taught the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures
      4) Therefore, the Scriptures are inspired and authoritative

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          1. The letters of Paul are earlier than the gospels. I think 7 of them are universally accepted as authentic by EVERYONE, especially 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and the appearance to Paul.

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