In Search of a Confident Faith (Chapter 1, Part 1)
Several months ago, I started reading through In Search of a Confident Faith. I quickly discovered that it had a lot of good information that I both wanted to remember and wanted to pass along.
I put my reading on hold until I could actually document things systematically. I'm finally at the point where I managed to write about Chapter 1, so I'm now going to inflict my enthusiasm on you.
What is faith? Is it an existential leap into the unknown? Is it a blind hope that somehow everything will work out okay, even if you don't know how? Is it wishful thinking without a solid foundation? Or is it something more? J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler tackle this topic in Chapter 1 of In Search of a Confident Faith.
They say that faith is more than just the idea of blind trust that the word conjures up in modern Western thought. Instead, they argue, faith is something that must be built on a solid foundation, if it's to be worth anything at all. They start out by proposing to drop the word "faith". It's too confusing and -- by now -- has too much baggage associated with it. Instead, they encourage you to think of it in terms of three synonyms: "confidence", "trust", and "reliance". They say "We can see that if faith is essentially trust and confidence, its proper exercise crucially requires reasons, evidence, and knowledge."
Without reason, evidence, or knowledge, no Christian should hold Christianity to be true. Faith without reason and evidence is mere wishful thinking. They want to encourage Christians to question their faith and to discover what -- if any -- foundation they have for their faith.
If Christians have a solid foundation for their beliefs, then they can have great confidence in those beliefs, great trust in those beliefs, and a great reliance on those beliefs. They'll know why they have those beliefs and won't live in constant fear that they've misunderstood something or have wasted their lives on a delusion. Having a confident belief is vital to actually living as a Christian.
Because many Christians don't have a strong foundation of evidence for their faith, they are deathly afraid of doubting Christianity. This fear comes from a fear of what other Christians might think, a fear of what God might think (if he even exists), and a fear of what unpleasant truths they might discover if they ask too many questions. To combat these fears, Moreland and Issler proffer three different types of uncertainty -- only one of which is sinful.
one must distinguish among (1) unbelief (a willful and sinful setting of oneself against a biblical teaching), (2) doubt (an intellectual, emotional or psychological hindrance to a more secure confidence in some teaching or in God himself--I believe something but just have doubts) and (3) lack of belief (I don't believe something but know I should and want to--I need help).
Theological Aspects of Faith
Moreland and Issler begin to move into the meat and potatoes of the chapter. They unpack three historical theological aspects of faith. True faith starts with knowledge and ends with full fledged commitment. These three theological aspects of faith are faith as knowledge (notitia), faith as assent (assensus) and faith as commitment (fiducia).
Notitia refers to the content of faith, primarily the assertions of Scripture and theological, doctrinal formulations derived from Scripture. ... Notitia is also defined as knowledge of the meaning of or as understanding the content of doctrinal teaching. This clearly implies that far from being antithetical to faith, knowledge is actually an important ingredient of it.
Faith starts with simply knowing what the truth claims of the Bible (or anything, really) are. Is it claimed that stealing is honorable or dishonorable? Is it claimed that the poor are victims of their own stupidity, victims of the oppressors, or something else entirely? Is it claimed that the world is screwed up from the result of unwise choices or from malevolent evil? Is it claimed that the path to salvation lies in increasing knowledge or in humble submission to another? Every religion or set of ideas has its own set of facts. In the first stage, notitia, you don't have to agree or disagree with any of them. You just need to know what they are.
Assensus refers to personal assent to, awareness of or agreement with the truth of Christian teaching, and, again, it is primarily intellectual, though as we shall see in chapter three, there are clear affective and psychological components to assensus. Medieval theologians distinguished varying degrees of assent to something, with "full assent without hesitation" as the strongest form. The important thing is that it is not enough to grasp the contents of Christian teaching; one must also accept the fact that this teaching is true.
To get to this stage, you have to actively weigh the evidence for the facts that you've learned as part of notitia. You have to listen to the arguments pro and con. You have to apply your own reason and understanding. Only when you've agreed that the facts are, in fact, true can you move to assensus.
Finally, fiducia involves personal commitment to its object, whether to a truth or a person. Fiducia is essentially a matter of the will, but because Christianity is a relationship with a Person and not just commitment to a set of truths (though this is, of course, essential), the capacity to develop emotional intimacy and to discern the inner movements of feeling, intuition and God's Spirit in the soul is crucial to maintaining and cultivating commitment to God.
To be honest, I don't see a huge gap between assensus and fiducia. I know there can be a gap between claimed agreement with the Bible and actually living out a life of commitment but I don't think there should be. I think that if you really and truly whole-heartedly agreed with something that it would be hard to avoid living your life according to that belief. And, for Christians, agreement with Scripture is an agreement that you can have a personal, life altering relationship with the Being that created everything. If you agree with that, how can you not have a personal commitment to obeying that God fully?
But, of course, it's impossible to argue or guilt someone into a relationship with God. Moreland and Issler recognize that.
Merely exhorting people to be more committed to God—"just have more faith"—seldom produces greater confidence and dedicated trust in God. Rather, what is needed is a realistic picture of a flourishing life lived deeply in tune with God 's kingdom—a life that is so utterly compelling that failure to exercise greater commitment to life in that kingdom will feel like a foolish, tragic missed opportunity for entering into something truly dramatic and desirable.
That finishes up the three theological aspects of faith. Next week, I'll continue talking about Chapter 1 and I'll cover the three philosophical aspects of faith as well as the question of why it's necessary to have faith at all.