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

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

  1. Isn’t assensus evidence then? As it has to be intellectual? Is it a-priori knowlege like the ontological argument? It’s still somewhat confusing to me… I understand the 1st and 3rd I think… It seems more loosely like in science, where you have a hypothesis or theory, find evidence for it, then if correct based on evidence, have confidence in your findings. I always heard of faith as being based more on the trust aspect, overshadowing the assensus part.
    https://aladyofreason.wordpress.com/

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    1. My favorite story regarding notitia, assensus, and fiducia, is about this great tightrope walker, who crossed over the Niagara Gorge, over a century ago, the Great Blondin.

      Charles Blondin or the Great Blondin or Jean François Gravelet regularly performed various feats of tightrope walking over the Niagara Gorge, and great crowds of people would come to watch him. He would carry a table on his back, stop and have tea or a snack. Or he would cross with a wheelbarrow, and then with a wheelbarrow and a barrel. Or blindfolded or in a sack..

      Blondin, being a good performer, knew how to whip up the crowd into a frenzy of anticipation.

      “Do you believe I can cross the Niagara Gorge [safely]?” The crowd would cheer. “Of course you can!” (They had either heard about it or seen him do it. = notitia)

      “Do all of you believe I can carry someone across my back safely?” The crowd would cheer even more. “Of course you can, you’re the Great Blondin!” (And had he singled out any person and asked that person, they would have assented, approximately ‘assensus’)

      “Who would like to volunteer to cross the Niagara Gorge with me?” And the crowd went silent. Nobody wanted to go — and only Blondin’s manager was the only one. And that’s where the rubber meets the road: the crowd could cheer all they want about Blondin’s great ability but were they going to entrust their individual safety to Blondin?

      I’ve had seminary profs who have put it this way,
      “When you say ‘demons believe in God’ — this is notitia. They know there’s a God, who claims to be Creator of and King over the Universe.
      They refuse to bow before these claims. (= lack of assensus)”

      I regularly see internet atheists (largely New Atheists) post about how “faith is blind,” (of course the occasional smart Christians usually retort something like, “…no more so than your faith in abiogenesis or the multiverse…”)

      There’s many accusations that are made as well as changing the goal-posts. For instance, “What extrabiblical evidence is there about Jesus Christ or Christianity?” (in fact, there’s over 20 different authors in the first three centuries) And so on.

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  2. I don’t think you can really blame atheists for their misconceptions about faith. They got that misconception from Christians. “Blind faith” may not be what Christian apologists mean by “faith,” but if you ask the average Christian, they’ll tell you something like, “Belief without evidence.” That’s where atheists get it, so no, I seriously doubt they are projecting.

    BTW, another passage that makes it pretty clear that “faith” and “knowledge” are not mutually exclusive is Ephesians 4:11-13. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets. . .until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. . .” How can we have both faith and knowledge in the Son of God if faith and knowledge are mutually exclusive?

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    1. Agreed! May my post is secretly to shame Christian parents and pastors for teaching the wrong definition to children, and being lazy about preparing to answer questions themselves!

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  3. KJV Hebrews 11:1-3,

    1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.

    3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
    __________________

    The “Bible Definition” of Faith straight from the Holy Scriptures.

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    1. You may be confusing the effects of faith with the definition of faith. Hebrews 11 is an important passage on the importance of faith, but it is not providing a definition. This interpretation as a definition itself seems to be influenced by Kierkegaard rather than a larger reading of Scripture, and those pushing fideism must somehow assert that Paul, when giving his defense on the Areopagus fundamentally erred, and was unsuccessful, which seems to be the contrary point Luke is making in the passage.

      I think the real concern people have is that reason is being substituted for the Holy Spirit (particularly among Calvinists, though this would seem to leave Scottish Calvinists, including the Princetonians as somehow inadequately Calvinistic, one of the real issues, frankly with the Dutch reformed movements). But, it seems to me, this argument can be leveled in a number of different ways that proves it false. For example, we might argue the preaching of the Word is superfluous, since the Spirit works through the Word. Similarly, as the Holy Spirit works through the word, what need have we of translators? Or perhaps, we can come to a more balanced position that accepts the faith of grandmothers who have never asked skeptical questions, or formulated a theological argument for the faith as legitimately faithful, but also recognize that God may use the apologist, just as he might use the translator or the preacher. It also means, perhaps, that those of us engaging in arguments should remember the battle includes the Spirit of God, and we should seek to go out in His power, remembering, ultimately, our goal is that God would use us to remove obstacles to faith, and that God would similarly use us to leave the unbelievers without excuse.

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  4. Faith is when you sign on the bottom line to have the surgeon operate on you after you have done due diligence to make sure he is the best surgeon available to you. That means lots of research, but in the end, you just have to TRUST that surgeon.
    As for my path to the Lord, I believed that God existed based on the Moral and Leibniz Contingency Arguments.
    I believed that Christians existed when I found myself surrounded by homeschoolers who referred to themselves as Christians and who were living authentically as salt and light in a dying world (and dying government indoctrination schools).
    But, I still wasn’t a Christian, not quite. There was, for me, a final surrender to Christ, based on the evidence I had that both God existed and (real) Christians existed.
    I distinctly remember exactly where I was when I discovered that (real) Christians existed. But, I do not remember the day and time.
    I also distinctly remember where I was when I surrendered, and I remember the exact day and approximate time.
    I am not sure how this fits in with the paradigm presented, but I think there is a mapping from my testimony onto the 3 principles of faith, or vice versa.
    Thanks for the post, WK, and Happy New Year!

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