Tag Archives: faith

Sam Harris on the importance of beliefs

A BELIEF is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person’s life. Are you &. scientist? A liberal? A racist? These are merely species of belief in action. Your beliefs define your vision of the world; they dictate your behavior; they determine your emotional responses to other human beings. If you doubt this, consider how your experience would suddenly change if you came to believe one of the following propositions:

  1. You have only two weeks to live.
  2. You’ve just won a lottery prize of one hundred million dollars.
  3. Aliens have implanted a receiver in your skull and are manipulating your thoughts.

These are mere words—until you believe them. Once believed, they become part of the very apparatus of your mind, determining your desires, fears, expectations, and subsequent behavior.-Sam Harris, The End of Faith

I may disagree with Sam’s subsequent assessment with regards to specific faiths. Specifically his view on the Christian faith. However his understanding of the importance of faith and its role in a person’s life is a lesson that, sadly, many Christians could stand to learn.

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In intellectual neutral

[HT Brian Auten]

William Lane Craig presents this talk calling on Christians to be intellectually engaged. Entitled In Intellectual Neutral, this talk can be found in theaudio/video section of ReasonableFaith.org. Craig offers three reasons to become fully engaged intellectually in order to impact the culture for Christ.

Why faith matters

Faith is not a gift, its a conclusion. A verb, not a noun.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

Faith is not the gift, Jesus is. Faith is what everyone operates on at some level as we are not omniscient beings who can possess knowledge with 100% certainty. Faith is trust and trust must have an object. It is on the object of our faith that the strength of our faith may be built. If that object is weak, so will be our faith.

Faith, along with our ability to reason and love are both vestiges of the image of God in us. Also, faith is not a work under the law, so even if it were volitional (which it isn’t) it doesn’t count as a work meritorious unto salvation.

Now many (mostly of the reformed variety) like to argue that such a view of faith entails a view of men wherein we are somehow independent of God. We are not wholly independent beings, and quite frankly that is not the issue, its more like a red herring. The issue is whether we are

  1. accountable for our own sins and
  2. whether we are obliged to freely trust (believe/have faith in) Christ that He is who He claimed to be and is able to save us like He claimed to be able to do.

So yes, my faith did come from God, the ability to faith propositional statements (or trust/believe them), and the object of my faith came from God as well. However the responsibility to turn our wills towards Christ in response to the calling of the Holy Spirit is wholly our own.

Faith is not blind (it cannot be and is not prescribed in Scripture). Jesus Himself appeared to be very interested in giving definitive proofs of His resurrection. He argued theologically and historically with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and He provided His body for physical examination by all the disciples (not just Thomas).

Finally, the Greek word translated as faith may be marked as a noun in lexicons. However a noun is defined as:

a content word that can be used to refer to a person, place, thing, quality, or action
the word class that can serve as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or in apposition

Faith is an action, the object of grace, what grace is intended to lead us towards, specifically faith or trust in Christ. In that sense faith is synonymous with believe and trust. Belief or trust or faith are commonly portrayed in the Bible in the context of a marriage relationship, so my faith in Christ is akin to the faith I have in my wife. Both are based on love, and both are ongoing attitudes I take towards persons I love.

Here are a few more resources on the subject of faith:

Was Jesus an advocate of blind faith?

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. -Hosea 4:6a

The Bible does not require of even condone the “blind faith” of Immanuel Kant.

Does regeneration precede salvation?

RC Sproul writes:

Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised. The issue, however, goes deeper. The question still remains: “Do I cooperate with God’s grace before I am born again, or does the cooperation occur after?” Another way of asking this question is to ask if regeneration is monergistic or synergistic. Is it operative or cooperative? Is it effectual or dependent?

This is an excellent example of the problem in viewing faith as a work under the law. You see, if Sproul is right and faith is a work under the law then it certainly does mean the debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is one of synergism vs monergism. However since it is impossible to show how faith is a work under the law (because it isn’t) raising the issue of monergism vs synergism is simply a red herring thrown out to merely obscure the real issue, which is what we mean when we say that man exercises his faith and that God does not “believe for us”.

And here is where we also get to see the double-speak employed by Calvinists like Sproul.

The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we can- not. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.

That is very interesting, mostly because if people are dead in the way Sproul seems to think they are, then they can do _neither_ good nor evil. If God were to punish such a person, we would have to accuse him of literally beating a dead horse, that is, something that can do nothing other than lay there.

However the language of the whole of Scripture simply doesn’t support such a notion and Sproul knows it, that’s why he stated at the outset that:

“Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised.”

Well if Sproul says that at the outset and yet by the end comes to the conclusion that we are totally dead without the quickening of the Holy Spirit, what is he doing in the interim to alleviate the apparently logical paradox he has created?

The answer: He fundamentally redefines what faith is.

In the reformed view faith is simply a mechanistic system predicated on a chain of causes that eventually rests on God. Where faith is traditionally and commonly accepted to mean an act of the will (albeit not a directly volitional act).

Therefore Sproul’s assessment that faith is evidence of regeneration preceding salvation is only valid if we add in a hidden premise that faith is merely a mechanistic output of a predefined set of inputs. The trouble with that view is that if the will is reduced to a machine where faith is nothing more than a product of a series of causal inputs (regeneration being one of them) then the very words used such as “will” and “faith” loose their meaning.

Moreover, on this view of faith, we end up begging the ugly question of why God does not choose to regenerate all men so that they will automatically choose to place their faith in Christ and be saved. Then again, this butts up against another ugly reformed doctrine which is that God does not really love all men nor does he want them to all be saved.

In the end, however, I would agree with Sproul’s assessment that regeneration precedes faith. That the Holy Spirit’s prior operation is a necessary precondition to one’s placing their faith in Christ. however it is far from certain that such regeneration is a sufficient condition for one’s placing their faith in Christ. Indeed, Scripture indicates in many places that it is not sufficient as we have many accounts of people freely spurning the love and drawing of Christ. In other words, regeneration may precede faith, but it by no means causes faith.

So while a positive contribution can not be made in regards to one’s salvation, a negative contribution (ie. choosing to reject the drawing of the Holy Spirit unto salvation) is certainly possible.

Some may point out, however, that Sproul thinks that people are dead such that they only do evil. And that “it would, perhaps, be “double-speak” if he didn’t believe other things in lieu of those two.”

This is where the double speak comes in. You see, if I were to ask whether sinful man sins of his own free volition then you would undoubtedly say “yes”. However, if I asked if man knew he were sinning you would either have to say no in order to remain logically consistent within your own system or you would have to say yes if you wish to affirm what the Bible says on the matter. You see, throughout Scripture we are entreated with language that makes it appear (that is, if we do not presuppose a doctrine that claims otherwise) that man knows he is sinning (in spite of knowing what good is) and yet chooses to forgo God’s will thereby making himself, of his own free will, a rebel just like Satan, the rebellious angel and Adam and Eve, the rebellious progenitors of our race.

However, men like Sproul seem to think that if they redefine “faith” and “will” to mean something which is slavishly enslaved to some other causal entity (ultimately controlled by God, so the number of gears in the causal machine is really irrelevant) they can use the same words the Bible does without doing fundamental damage to language itself. Faith or belief, while not a volitional action, is still an action taken by a will that must be free in some capacity or else the word is emptied of its meaning.

So when men like Sproul, who are smart guys that know better, equivocate on the meanings of the words they are using, they are being deceptive and dishonest. They are practicing double-speak in the classic Orwellian sense by attempting to subvert the very words being used. They would be more honest and respectable if they were to say what they plainly mean in language everyone can understand. But then, they would have to resort to mechanistic language wherein we would have to take great pains to avoid words like “puppet” and “robot” which, while derided by Calvinists far and wide, continue to provide an apt description of the epistemic bankruptcy of Reformed epistemology.

Consequently, this equivocation or redefining of words is one of the reasons that it is so hard to have a productive discussion with Calvinists. Then again, for a system of doctrine that ended up burning many men at the stake merely for disagreeing with it, I suppose being intellectually dishonest is but a small price to pay.

For an extended treatment of this topic I highly recommend this article from the Society of Evangelical Arminians.

Also, if you are interested in what I consider to be a more credible alternative to irresistible grace, I suggest overcoming grace.

By grace, through faith

A common thorn in the side of most Calvinists is Ephesians 2:8 which reads

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

To keep with the reformed doctrine of irresistible grace (ie. men being robots) they prefer to make the case that faith is included in the gift given from God.

The problem with your interpretation is that if faith is included in what is gifted to us then it makes the through (διὰ) superfluous and unnecessary given the context.

Rather, πίστεως (faith) is the conduit διὰ (through) which χάριτί (grace) is actualized.

Word for word it is: τῇ The γὰρ for/reason χάριτί grace ἐστέ you σεσῳσμένοι are saved διὰ through πίστεως faith καὶ and τοῦτο this οὐκ not ἐξ out of ὑμῶν of yours θεοῦ God τὸ the δῶρον gift/sacrifice/offering.

Further, Robertson’s Word Pictures puts it this way:

Neuter, not feminine ταυτη, and so refers not to πιστις (feminine) or to χαρις (feminine also), but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part. Paul shows that salvation does not have its source (εξ υμων, out of you) in men, but from God. Besides, it is God’s gift (δωρον) and not the result of our work. (emphasis mine)

For more context, this verse is almost the same as verse 5 before it but with the addition of “through faith”. Verse 5 reads:

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

If faith is part of the gift and is indeed necessary for salvation, why was it omitted in verse 5?

It seems that only by making the illogical leap to thinking of faith as a work12 can a person sustain the notion that faith along with grace is not of ourselves.

  1. Which should be rejected anyway since such a view of faith as a work would make verse 9 incoherent. []
  2. Galatians 3:6 among other verses point to the fact that faith is not a work under the law. []

On the dangers of doubt

Unmitigated doubt is a cancer.

What I mean by that is not that doubt itself is a bad thing. IT isn’t. Men are borne with doubts and fears which naturally lead to a sort of curiosity about the world around them and about the larger philosophical questions such as meaning, purpose, existence, origin, etc.

Socrates famously put it this way: The unexamined life is not worth living.

So doubt itself is not a problem. The problem comes in when we doubt and have no end in mind, no clear requirement as to what could possibly satisfy our doubt. This type of doubt is what Pascal had in mind when he wrote:

But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look upon them in a manner quite different.

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see what the least enlightened persons see.

We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly, that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III: Of the Necessity of the Wager, #187

I must agree with Pascal here. He notes that a person who refuses to ground his doubt in something is not to be pitied like the person who makes an honest effort of seeking answers through careful and diligent study and yet, for whatever reason, comes to hold wrong beliefs and ideas. No, the person who does not ground their doubt in anything, like most modern atheists who are blinded by the post modern notion that any objective answers concerning the deep and fundamental questions of life, are to be scorned as being intellectually lazy.

That is, they should strive to take up the challenge of honestly examining what it is they reject. As Pascal also says:

In order to attack it, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III: Of the Necessity of the Wager, #187

Questions beg to be answered. Or at the very least explored. The worst place is to end up in a state of perpetual and unending doubt. Doubt which does not drive one forward to a further examined life, but paralyzes with fear unto inaction.

Unmitigated doubt, therefore, is a cancer. And that cancer will spread until it is terminated in something. For those who choose not to stop the spread of their doubt themselves, the cancer, when fully developed, will lead inexorably to apathy.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. -James 1:5-8 (emphasis mine)

When you ask questions, expect answers.

On the word of faith movement

I recently attended a lecture by Dr Richard Howe on the Prosperity Gospel and Word of Faith Movement and decided to share the slides from the event with a few of my friends. The following are a few questions that were raised during the course of our discussion.

“Are there spiritual laws and forces?”

Sure, we are given many hints at what the spiritual realm is like.

However the question here (and I agree that Dr Howe didn’t make this as clear as he could have) is not whether the spiritual realm exists or whether some metaphysical entities operate according to a regulative principal along the lines of the physical realm. For example mathematics, logic, and love are all metaphysical and yet we know they fit into a clear system we can know at least in part.

The question, however, is whether this metaphysical/supernatural/spiritual realm can be controlled through power words, incantations, rituals, etc. This is the definition of occult practices and I believe these characteristics are clearly shared (if not stolen outright) by the word of faith and prosperity movements respectively. Sure, some people may try to use their magic, err “faith” for various things such as money, healing, social advancement, etc. but the net result is the whether the proponent is a Christian and veils their actions in Christianeese or not.

“If there are spiritual forces that control the physical realm do we allow God to handle that or do we co-labor with God.”

As far as the spiritual realm goes, no. Scripture speaks clearly against our attempts to manipulate the spiritual apart from petitioning God. I believe Jesus provided us a clear example here on earth when he primarily prayed and asked God to bring about miracles rather than Jesus presuming to do them all the time.

Now, does that mean we can’t labor for good in the physical realm in order to alleviate pain and suffering? Absolutely not! In fact, James tells us that helping the poor and needy is what constitutes “pure religion”.

Now, turning to the issue of faith.

Faith is not a force, and faith is not an object in itself. Faith, rightly understood in a biblical sense, is trust. The clear image is of a husband and a wife where good faith is when they remain true to each other.For a more technical treatment of faith I encourage you to read a post I wrote on the subject a while back.

Now, on to Mark 11:22.

Editor’s note, this section was brought about by the following question:
I got this from a website that defends the word of faith movement. Let me know what you think. http://www.victoryword.100megspop2.com/godkind1.html

I find the debate over whether the verse ought to be translated as “in God” vs “of God” to be rather strange and I find the practice of attempting to formulate a regulative and substantial doctrine over the translation of one inflective in one verse to be downright troubling.

The verse in question in Greek is:
και αποκριθεις ο ιησους λεγει αυτοις εχετε πιστιν θεου (Tischendorf’s Eighth Edition GNT)

The phrase in question is the last two words which, transliterated read “pistin theou”. Pistis is the Greek word for faith and theos is the Greek word for God. Where is the “in” or “of”? In Greek, articles such as a, an, the, of, in are generally derived from the word’s inflection. That is, from the case endings of the words. This is also known as morphology and is actually the hardest part of the Greek language (especially for people like us who are not used to an inflected language). In this case, the morphology of pistin is: Noun, Accusative, Singular, Feminine and theou is Noun, Genitive, Singular, Masculine. Pistin being in the accusative case means it is the direct object of a verb.

But wait! Where is the verb this is the direct object of?

For that we need to back up to the word directly before pistis which is ekete. Before we continue, though I feel the need to present a word of caution here in case you wish to study Greek sentence structure: While the verb location is convenient in this case, Greek is not a language where word order conveys meaning (unlike English). At any rate, the verb ekete means simply “to have” and its morphology is Present, Active, Imperative, Second person, Plural.

So we have ekete (to have) as the verb with pistis as the direct object and theou as the genitive modifier (If you’re interested, it’s modifying the previous noun which was Iesous or Jesus. There’s richness in this linkage but alas, we must press on.).

So why did some translators translate this passage “the faith of God” (as in the KJV, Douay Rheims Bible and The Worrell New Testament you mentioned above) while others (most newer translations like the ESV, NET, NIV, NLT, etc.)? Most likely several factors including translation philosophy, better and more extensive manuscripts to pull from, and the translators themselves.

I’ll readily grant that the most literal translation of the phrase ending Mark 11:22 could very well be “have the faith of God”. But so what? We’ve seen above that theon is a genitive modifier of Jesus so the word picture here is really one of modeling the faith Jesus displayed which is also supported by the context of Jesus cursing the fig tree for not producing fruit in accordance with life. As you can readily see, then, such an admonition to model Jesus and follow in His footsteps is nothing new or earth-shattering. And it is certainly not something worth concocting an entire doctrine around.

Aside from rather sloppy exegesis, what also disturbs me is a lack of specificity and carefulness when it comes to the theological implications of viewing God as a being that “has faith”. Sure, Jesus prayed and trusted the Father. But I’m sure we will all agree that Jesus has a unique relationship with God and that no matter how much it pains us, our application to join the trinity has been denied.

As we’ve said before, faith is trusting in someone. God is omniscient and can therefore can not trust in the same sense that we, as finite and foolish beings, can (and are commanded to). God is also all-powerful and can not act in opposition to his nature (ie. God cannot sin) therefore God also cannot “be faithful” in the same sense that we, as imperfect and not-yet-holy humans, can (and, again, are commanded to be).

So, to sum up.

Faith is not a force. Jesus was not teaching in Mark 11 that we could throw mountains around all willy-nilly like. Nor do we have the power to heal anyone.

What Jesus taught was in keeping with the Jewish notion of faith as akin to faithfulness in marriage where we ask God and He (and He alone under absolutely no obligation) will toss around mountains or heal the effects found in a broken world such as sin, death, and spiritual oppression as and if he sees fit.

While the differences may be subtle in the teachings of the Word of Faith Movement, I believe the fruit it ultimately bears shows that it is more man-centered than it is God-centered. And, as Dr Howe pointed out in his presentation through direct quotes from the Word of Faith leaders themselves, if taken to the extreme, Word of Faith teachings ultimately leads one to confusing themselves into thinking they are a god rather than worshiping the one true God.

In other words: It’s dangerous, their theology is full of manure (and that’s the nice way of saying what I’m really thinking), and we ought to encourage anyone who us unfortunate enough to feed on such mess to, instead, seek out “pure spiritual milk” from a source that isn’t heavily influenced by the occult/new age movement.

Are Christians crazy or do they have a rational basis for their beliefs?

A common refrain from non-religious people is that belief in God is akin to a mental disorder. Well here are a few resources which should help put things into perspective and show how a theist is comfortably warranted in their religious beliefs: