It is really quite incredible that evangelical scholars1 differ as much as they do. There are the presuppositionalists and the evidentialists, and never the twain shall meet. There are the predestinarians and the free-willists, and neither will freely decide for the other. There are the dispensationalists and the Calvinists, and neither can dispense with the other. There are the moderates and the conservatives and neither will moderate in their attacks on the other. These impasses really should cause serious pause, especially as most of these scholars believe in the law of non-contradiction, so there is only one truth among all these issues. And, they believe in the same Bible, their only source of ultimate truth.
But here I would like to propose that faith has a much greater role in these issues than it is usually given by virtually all of these positions. I posit that the definition of faith is simply— action. Some ministries have adopted the phrase, “Faith in Action,” as their motto. But, I propose that faith is simply—action.
Now, that simple statement does require some explanation. All actions are based upon some specific knowledge. For example, when a person marries, he or she has faith that their spouse will behave in a certain way for the rest of his or her life. The knowledge of that person upon which this decisions is made comes after many conversations and activities together. A knowledge base is built upon which to make this major decision.
However, faith is even more simple. Virtually every action that a person takes is based upon knowledge. I set my alarm clock for tomorrow AM. There are a host of assumptions in that simple act: that tomorrow will actually come, that I will not die in my sleep or otherwise be incapacitated to be able to get up, that the electricity will not go off (or the battery die), that a tornado or some other dire event will not destroy my house in the night, that the purpose (job, hobby, family, activity) for which I plan upon getting up will still be available. I assume that all the people involved in my plans will have nothing happen to them, also. Beyond these assumptions named, there is virtually an unlimited number of events that could affect that simple act of setting an alarm clock and expecting to get up at a certain time.
I hope that you can begin to see that a supposed “simple” act (that is faith) is not so simple. There are hundreds of actions like that every day. I plan a shower, not expecting a fall and injury or to be robbed, and expecting the water to be hot, the water to be on, the shower door to work, the drain to work, the soap to be there, etc., etc. Also, I plan to act in other ways: drive my car, make a telephone call, fix a sandwich, shop at the grocery store, etc., etc.
I am positing that all these actions, based upon knowledge, are acts of faith. Trying to limit faith to Christianity or another religion has made faith a fuzzy, nebulous concept that is divorced from its continuous and active presence in our everyday life.
There is a crucial element to faith: certainty or uncertainty. Review all the everyday examples above. There is a great deal of certainty to every one of them. The sun will rise; the electricity will work; I will not die in my sleep, etc., etc. But, there is also an element of uncertainty. Sometimes, the electricity will go off; I will die in my sleep; I will not hear the alarm; etc., etc.
Certainty or uncertainty is the defining component of faith. Without uncertainty, faith would not be necessary. Absolute certainty requires no faith. But, having limited knowledge rather than omniscience, faith is always necessary. There is always that which is unknown.
So, faith is action based upon the certainty of the outcome expected. That action may be reasonably taken or foolishly taken. It is reasonable for me to set my alarm clock with all the uncertainties involved. It would be foolish for me not to set my alarm clock thinking that my internal clock is sufficient for me to wake on time.
What I want to do here is show the ubiquity of faith in its universal application. I want to remove the mystery of faith because it is so often made complex and too ethereal to be of any value in practice.
What About Saving Faith? Other Kinds of Biblical Faith.
Saving faith then is simply action based upon the certain knowledge of what God has done in Jesus Christ (e.g., John 3:16). It has some element of uncertainty because its greatest reward is future, something unknown, as yet.
But, again, Christians get confused here. Faith, as it is used in the Bible, has many other applications besides its relevance for forgiveness in Christ and the hope of heaven. Between conversion and heaven, faith has great application to “work out your salvation (sanctification) with fear and trembling.” There is the miraculous faith of being healed (Mark 5:34). There is the faith to calm storms (Matthew 6:30). There is great faith (Matthew 15:28). And, so on. All the “heroes of faith of Hebrews 11 knew how to take action based upon faith.
I am appalled at the misunderstanding of faith that I hear from Christians. I am more appalled at the complex, confusing definitions of faith that pastors and theologians devise.
Faith is simply action, based upon knowledge, with an expected outcome of varying certainty. Biblical faith is acting upon the knowledge of Scripture. Faith is simply obeying God in all the ways that he has commanded us. Failure to act is unbelief. I may say, “I believe that I ought to study my Bible more,” but if I do not follow-through, I never really believed it in the first place. I may say, “I believe that I ought to tithe,” but if I do not give one-tenth to the church and/or Christian ministries, I do not really believe it. The expected outcome from Biblical faith is the blessing of God.
Limiting Faith Places Christians in the Ghetto
Faith and reason have been a major point of discussion among philosophers for centuries. In those discussions faith is mostly limited to religious faith. But, every person has faith because no one has certainty! Every philosopher who has ever posited any position has been countered by many other philosophers. So, where is the certainty? Any position without certainty is a faith position. Therefore, all philosophical positions and religious beliefs are positions of faith.
Perhaps, this mis-understanding of faith is the greatest philosophical error ever. I would posit that it is the greatest error that modern Christians have allowed to be imposed upon them by a secular world: that there are peoples of faith, distinct from the unstated “peoples of no faith.”
Reader, think what is being said here! The “peoples of faith” are motivated by their religious beliefs. But, then, what motivates “peoples of non-faith” (again, unstated). But implication the latter group are people of reason and certainty. By implication, peoples of “no faith” have a stronger position because they do not have to rely on faith. By further reason, “peoples of faith” are contrasted with “peoples of science.” By further reason, “peoples of faith” are not in the mainstream. “Peoples of faith” have a weak philosophical and social position so they are really irrelevant.
Do you see where the phrase “peoples of faith” have made Christians second-class citizens and virtually irrelevant to social and political problems?
And you pastors, theologians, and Christian philosophers have allowed this impasse to come to be. In your high-brow scholasticism and failure to study faith in the Bible (for its definition can be found there), you have pushed Christians into the ghetto of modern thought and life. When pushed into the ghetto of ideas, it is never long before the ghetto becomes socially, politically, and actually real.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Without faith, it is impossible to do anything. No one can act without faith whether he makes Christian or atheistic claims. We are all acting by faith.
The only hope for Christianity and for civilized society may rest on an understanding and application of a true definition of faith.
It has finally happened… all “-isms” have been labeled “faith.” See here.
- “Evangelical” is used as it is defined by the Evangelical Theological Society. See Glossary on this site.