Faith and Knowledge, Evidence and Reason:
Their Role and Relationship to One Another
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30
- The Supreme Example of Christ
- The Use of Objective Evidence
- If Jesus, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, used objective evidence to
validate His claims, a fortiori, how much more so for you and me!
- Mark 2:1-5-12
- John 2:18-21
- John 10:30-31-32-33, 37-38
- John 15:24-25
- John 20:24-29
- The Use of Reason (Argumentation)
- Matthew 12:24-30
- Argument from analogy (vv. 25-26)
- The law of logical or rational inference (v. 26)
- Reductio ad absurdum (vv. 25-26)
- Argument from analogy (v. 27)
- The law of logical or rational inference (vv. 28, 29)
- Argument from analogy (v. 29)
- The law of contradiction (v. 30)
- The law of excluded middle (v. 30)
- The Apostles
- The Use of Objective Evidence:
- Peter: Acts 2:14-32-39; 3:6-16; 4:8-14-20
- Paul: Acts 26:26; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
- The Appeal to Objective Eyewitness Testimony:
- Luke 1:2-4; John 1:14; 19:35-36; 20:24, 30-31; Acts 1:1-3; 3:6-16; 4:8-14-20; 9:3-8, 17; 22:6-9; 14; 26:12-18-26; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1-3, and so forth
- The Use of Reason–Rationality:
- Paul: Acts 17:2-3, 11, 17, 22-31; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; 26:25; 1 Timothy 6:20
- Apollos: Acts 18:27-28
- Dialegomai is the Greek word used in the above passages.
- Dialegomai: to argue, dispute, or reason. BAG: “discuss, conduct a
discussion…of lectures which were likely to end in disputations….” Vine’s:
“`to think different things with oneself, to ponder’; then, with other persons, `to
converse, argue, dispute’”… “`to dispute with others…’” (see Acts 17:2,
17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; Jude 9).
- Like Considering or Weighing the Evidence of the Worth of One Truck against Another:
Feature by Feature (4 vs 5 speed, horsepower, seats, stereo, dollar per dollar)
Note: commended by God!Â
- The Value of the GOD Given Mind
- A. Isaiah 1:18; Mark 12:29-31; Acts 26:25
- We are created in the imago Dei–the image of God. This includes, among other
attributes, the ability to reason.
- Thus, this entails the value of evidence and reason. As Charles Hodge informs us:
- If the contents of the Bible did not correspond with the truths which God has revealed in his external works and the constitution of our nature, it could not be received as coming from Him, for God cannot contradict himself. Nothing, therefore, can be more derogatory to the Bible than the assertion that its doctrines are contrary to reason. The assumption that reason and faith are incompatible; that we must become irrational in order to become believers is, however it may be intended, the language of infidelity; for faith in the irrational is of necessity itself irrational….We can believe only what we know, i.e., what we intelligently apprehend.
- Uses of Logic/Reason
- Ministerial Use of Reason
- This is the use of logic/reason as a servant or “handmaid” to the Bible and
theology. Logic/reason is not put on par with or above the Bible, but stands in a subordinate role to God’s revelation.
- Magisterial Use of Reason
- This is the placing of logic/reason on par with or actually above the Bible. Here logic/reason (that of the individual or a group) is allegedly the final judge, arbitrator, or authority of truth.
- This is the position of depreciating or out-right denying the role of reason/logic in apologetics and other concerns of Christianity.
- God gave us a mind and He expects us to use it (Mark 12:29-31).
- It is not true that the mind is a terrible thing, “so waste it.”
- The emotional nature of mankind is just as fallen as the intellect. Thus, we should not exalt it relating to conversion either.
- If we are going to glorify God as Christians and in sharing the Gospel with others, we
must notÂ ignore or in an unscriptural manner down-play the importance of the mind in the preaching of the Gospel.
- Faith: A Biblical Definition
- This is opposed to false definitions that are often given.
- The Greek terms in the New Testament have a number of meanings.
- The Greek pistis (noun) in the context of our discussion means (see e.g. BAG):
belief, faith, confidence, commitment, conviction, or trust.
- The Greek pisteuo (verb) in the context of our study means (see e.g. BAG): to
believe, belief (in), confidence (in), conviction, commitment, to have faith, faith in, or trust (in).
- In the context of our discussion, faith is a self-commitment or surrender to,
confidence in, and reliance on what one knows to be true.
- It is a confident conviction of and commitment to truth–what one believes to be true.
- It manifests itself, or is seen in action, by acting or living one’s life in accord with
what one knows, or at least thinks, to be true. In essence, one will live their life or
govern their actions by their belief that what Christ said and did is true.
- It is not the action per se, but the cause of (what causes) the action.
- For example, moving because of a belief that you are in imminent danger.
- Luther: “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.”
- Saving faith always produces action(s) or work(s).
- Faith is the instrumental cause, it is not what saves us, but it is how we
appropriate what does save us–God’s grace as expressed through the finished work of Jesus for us (Eph. 2:8-9). See the Warfield quote.
- The “object” of faith (truth) in Christianity that one commits themselves to
is Christ as their personal Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:9).
- The New Testament word “faith” and the phrase “to believe” are
technical terms that express reliance on Christ alone for salvation (see, e.g, John 3:16, 36; 1 John 5:13).
- The Correct and Incorrect Correlatives or Implications of Faith
- Faith does not mean or entail “believing” what you know in your “heart of
hearts” not to be true or “flying in the face” of reason.
- C.S. Lewis, who among other accomplishments was a classical language scholar states regarding faith that it is not “the intention to believe what you want to
believe in the face of evidence to the contrary” or “the power of believing what
we know to be untrue.”
- Charles Hodge tells us “…faith involves assent, and assent is conviction produced
by evidence, it follows that faith without evidence is either irrational or impossible.
- Hodge also comments: God requires nothing irrational of his creatures. He does not require faith without evidence. Christianity is equally opposed to superstition and Rationalism. The one is faith without appropriate evidence, the other refuses to believe what it does not understand, inspite of evidence which should command belief.
- B.B. Warfield writes: Faith is the gift of God: but it does not in the least
follow that the faith God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds
in right reason….The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the
heart….nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the understanding. We believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in Him, not though it be irrational….We are arguing that faith is, in all its exercises alike [religious or secular], a form of conviction, and is, therefore, necessarily grounded in evidence. And we are arguing that evidence accordingly has its part to play in the conversion of the soul.
- J. Greshem Machen notes: “What the Spirit does in the new birth is not to make a
man a Christian regardless of the evidence, but on the contrary to clear away the mists from his eyes and enable him to attend to the evidence.”
- Kim Riddlebarger remarks: A man cannot acquiesce to the truth of the Gospel
apart from the enabling of the Holy Spirit. But, a man cannot acquiesce to that which he either does not know or believe to be true. It is thus an illegitimate separation of faith into either a “mind or heart,” “faith or reason” dichotomy. Biblically understood, faith and reason are intimately, completely and inseparably involved in one another.
- Thus, true biblical saving faith is not synonymous with credulity or having “blind
- Calvin: “It is the height of absurdity to call ignorance tempered by humility
- Therefore, neither ignorance nor credulity are Christian virtues!
- Note previous quote from Warfield.
- Faith is:
- Lewis: “Now I define faith as the power of continuing to believe what we once honestly thought to be true until cogent reasons for honestly changing our minds are brought before us.”
- We continue to believe it because of, not in spite of, the evidence.
- We hold this view because of the evidence and sound reason, by the grace of God, and will continue to until evidence and sound reason convinces us otherwise.
- “[T]he conflict is not between faith and reason, but faith and sight.”
- Reason may win truths, but only faith retains them.
- Coupled with the concept of appropriating what one knows to be true, is the additional aspect of persevering in the truth one has embraced. With this perspective in mind, C.S. Lewis furthers our understanding of biblical saving faith, and for that matter any exercise of faith (e.g., in the realm of “secular” concerns), in his own inimitable style with his reflections on faith:
- When we exhort people to Faith as a virtue, to the settled intention of continuing to believe certain things, we are not exhorting them to fight against reason. The intention of continuing to believe is required because though Reason is divine, human reasoners are not. When once passion takes part in the game, the human reason, unassisted by Grace, has about as much chance of retaining it hold on truths already gained as a snowflake has of retaining its consistency in the mouth of a blast furnace.
- Lewis goes on to say: If we wish to be rational, not now and then, but constantly, we must pray for the gift of Faith, for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference that which reason, authority, or experience, or all three, have once delivered to us for truth.
- Christianity is true, is reality, but is held on to through faith.
- Although biblical faith is not blind it certainly is nonetheless tenacious!
- This is a radically different understanding than most have of faith–but it is the correct understanding!
- Faith (Sacred and Secular) and Reason
- Key point: this is true of all matters, sacred or secular, religious or irreligious.
- Faith is what bridges the gap between the evidence or “probability” (whatever
percentage it may be) versus certainty.
- 1%, 10%, 20%, 30%-70%, 80%, 90-99.99999%–to 100% certain or certainty, or apodictic certainty (“absolutely certain”)
- For Example:
- Crossing the street
- Starting your car
- Driving today (really risky–faith!)
- Sitting on a chair
- Being (sitting) in this building
- All of these are exercises of faith!
- Faith is the bridge between x percent probability and certainty. Since we can not
have objective apodictic certainty about anything–sacred or secular–faith is what let’s
us commit (e.g., crossing the street). We do not have 100% certainty, but we (100% of us) cross the street nonetheless. How can we? We do not have certainty that we will make it. Note we do not just take part of ourselves across the street (corresponding to the percentage of probability we have). We take all of ourselves across the street. Faith is involved in all that we do.
- Faith is what lets anyone do anything at all in the real world–act in spite of the fact that we do not have objective certainty for our actions–such as getting home safely today!
- Faith is not opposed to logic/reason and evidence (see above)
- Faith, sacred or secular, is the same! It is the same for the Christian or
non-Christian, the religious or non-religious!
- This is true of all matters, sacred or secular, religious or irreligious.
- Note Warfield’s quote below.
- Thus even an agnostic or the most ardent atheist daily exercises faith. In fact the
atheist has the “blind faith,” that is against or in the face of the overwhelming evidence and sound reason, that God does not exist. They are gambling–to say
the least against the odds that God does not exist….Talk about a credulity quotient, the atheist has more “faith” than the Christian!
- Biblical saving faith is trust in the finished and atoning work of Christ for us by
knowing that it is true and appropriating it for ourselves.
- See, for example, Romans 10:9.
- The Reformation–Biblical Understanding of True Saving Faith
- Saving faith is composed of three elements, which together constitute its essence. They are necessary in the sense that they comprise the very essence or nature of true biblical saving faith.
- Thus, all three must be present in an individual or they do not–can not–possess saving faith.
- Notitia: the Data, Evidence, or Knowledge
- This is where one has knowledge or is cognizant of a given claim or event or other alleged fact.
- In our case it is knowledge of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 10:14-17). It is “the actual content of the gospel and the promises of God.”
- If a person is not familiar with the historical personage of Christ and His life, death, resurrection, and teachings, then not only do they not have knowledge of Him, but self-evidently can not consider, let alone believe or trust in Him for salvation (Rom. 10:14-17).
- Simply stated, how can one believe in Christ unless they have heard of Him in the first place? At least a minimum of knowledge is required to believe in Christ.
- As essential as notitia or knowledge is to saving faith, nevertheless, in and of itself, it is not saving faith (see Heb.4:2-4).
- Assensus: to Intellectually Acknowledge as True the Claim(s) Statement(s) or
Proposition(s) Put before You
- It involves assenting to the veracity (truthfulness) of the knowledge or information in question as worthy of being received as fact.
- In our case it is to intellectually assent to the events of Christ’s life as described in the New Testament as true, and hence His teaching’s as worthy of acceptance. One assents to the reality of the content (orthodoxy) of the Gospel message.
- The Gospel message is true.
- Assensus is the act of the intellect acknowledging the truth of the notitia,
but, “apart from any personal trust or saving appropriation of that knowledge.”
- Now, one has not only heard the Gospel message or is just acquainted with the
information, but they grant that it is true.
- However, as important as the above two are, indeed are necessary preconditions for true saving faith to exist, in and of themselves they are not sufficient.
- Even assensus in conjunction with notitia is not sufficient for saving
faith to be present. This type of belief is termed fides historica or (mere)
historical faith, as opposed to fides salvifica (saving faith).
- See, for example, James 2:19.
- Assensus and notitia are necessary but not sufficient (pre-)conditions.
- An example is having completed classes that one must take in order to earn a given degree–that are prerequisites, but not having completed all the classes that are necessary to obtain the degree. The former are necessary but not sufficient for the desired state to obtain–you receive the degree.
- Thus, as essential as notitia and assensus are in order to possess saving
faith, there is still an additional element that is required–fiducia.
- Fiducia: to Appropriate what One Knows to be True for Themselves
- Fiducia is the third and final necessary component of saving faith.
- Fiducia is the Latin word for trust, “the essence of fides”
(faith), “which appropriates savingly, by an act of the will, the true knowledge of the promises of God in Christ.”
- Saving faith is not mere intellectual assent, but it requires it as a precondition or prerequisite.
- Fiducia entails a self-surrender, commitment, and reliance upon what one knows to be true–here–the Gospel message. It pertains to the volition or will.
- What is accomplished in this final element of faith is the moving of the individual’s will or volition, enabled by the Holy Spirit, to truly trust and thus to live in accord with what they know to be true. Fiducia primarily concerns the will or volition of an individual.
- In saving faith the will is freed by the Holy Spirit to submit to what it is familiar with and knows to be true–the Gospel message–to commit oneself and trust in Christ as Lord and Savior.
- Only the Holy Spirit can enable or move an individual to appropriate the gift of life through Christ by faith.
- Fiducia is the (saving) appropriation of the knowledge or information–what one knows to be true. In the case of the Gospel it appropriating the saving work of Christ.
The key idea is to appropriate, not merely “know.”
- J.I. Packer grasps the essence of this point when he writes that faith is “an
appropriating instrument, an empty hand outstretched to receive the free gift of God’s righteousness in Christ….”
- Hence, one lives their life as if they really believe that the Gospel message is true.
- A bomb scare
- The analogy of a curative medicine: seven (7) scenarios
- The genuineness of someone’s faith is not predicated on how sincere they are or how much they believe something, but only on the content of what they believe. This alone decides whether their belief is orthodox (correct belief), or a false gospel.
- Genuine saving faith entails orthodoxy.
- Even the most sincere and/or tenacious, but nonetheless misplaced faith or trust only leads to ruin (Prov. 14:12).
- Orange County investors
- People who thought they could fly
- Heaven’s Gate group
- Thus, B.B. Warfield rightly remarks: It is, accordingly, solely from its object that faith derives its value. This object is uniformly the God of grace….Jesus Christ, God the Redeemer, is accordingly the one object of saving faith….The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Saviour on whom it rests…It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ…faith in any other saviour…brings not salvation but a curse. It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of
faith or the attitude of faith or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith….
- Although fiducia is a volitional act, it can only occur (in saving faith), when
conjoined with knowledge and assent to this knowledge as true.
- Only with all three components (notitia, assensus, and fiducia)
present, can biblical saving faith exist. Any other belief is a counterfeit and therefore is unbelief.
- Thus, all three components (notitia, assensus, and fiducia) are
necessary, and when found together are sufficient for saving faith to exist. But, if any one of the three is missing in an individual, then so is saving faith.
- The essence of faith itself refutes the idea that faith is blind or can be possessed independent of knowledge acquired via evidence and reason.
- Faith is founded on fact. Biblical saving faith is commitment to the truth–Jesus Christ, truth incarnate.
- The Role of the Holy Spirit and Knowledge, Evidence, and Reason in Saving
Faith and Biblical Apologetics
- Do we merely “argue” or “reason” people into the kingdom of God? Is
this just like the issue of whether one car is a better buy than another?
- No! Only the Holy Spirit can enable a person to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We are clearly told in Scripture that one can only believe the Gospel message if and only God calls and enables them to believe through the work of Holy Spirit testifying to the truthfulness of the Gospel message.
- See John 1:13; 6:44, 65; 16:8-11; Romans 9:16; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Corinthians 2:14 and so forth.
- This is necessary due to man’s fallen and corrupt nature (1 Cor. 2:13-14; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph. 4:18).
- The very ability to “hear,” consider, and respond to the Gospel is from first
to last the gift of God (Rom. 1:17; Eph. 2:8-10). No one can believe or even begin “looking” for the gift of salvation through the Gospel, save by the gracious calling of God (Rom. 3:10-13).
- However, the Holy Spirit does not do this independent of knowledge, evidence, and solid reason(s).
- The role of the Holy Spirit, and knowledge, evidence, and reason are not opposed to each other.
- The Holy Spirit uses the word of God and knowledge, evidence, and reason from it to draw or lead people to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior.
- See Acts 17:22-31-34.
- See 1 Peter 3:15.
- God ordains both the means and the ends (analogously see, e.g., Acts 27:22-26 and 29-34).
- It is not a case of either having evidence and being reasonable, or being
- They are not “at each other’s throats.”
- They are not contradictory but complementary.
- Thus, it is a false dichotomy to juxtapose knowledge, evidence and logic/rationality, versus the work of the Holy Spirit.
- The past (Old) Princeton great J. Gresham Machen states: What the Spirit does in the new birth is not to make a man a Christian regardless of the evidence, but on the contrary to clear away the mists from his eyes and enable him to attend to the evidence.
- Dr. Kim Riddlebarger rightly remarks: A man cannot acquiesce to the truth of the Gospel apart from the enabling of the Holy Spirit. But, a man cannot acquiesce to that which he either does not know or believe to be true. It is thus an illegitimate separation of faith into either a “mind or heart,” “faith or reason” dichotomy. Biblically understood, faith and reason are intimately, completely and inseparably involved in one another.
- Thus, while it is true that no one using human reasoning, unassisted by the Holy Spirit, is going to reason their way into the kingdom, it is equally true that saving faith is not independent from evidence and reason either.
- In the last analysis you can not divorce the mind from the work of the Holy
Spirit in conversion.
- The Holy Spirit enables one to properly attend to the clear evidence for the truth of Christianity (John 16:8-11).
- Therefore, we are not usurping the role and work of the Holy Spirit by using knowledge, historical evidences, and logic/reason in apologetics.
- In fact, we are being obedient to what He has called us to do when we do this.
- See 1 Peter 3:15!
- Again, you can not by using only “evidence or reason and argumentation,” that
is, in and of themselves, lead a person into the kingdom, but neither can they believe unless they are given at least a minimal amount of information or answers.
- See 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 and Ephesians 2:1-2.
- See Romans 10:9-14-15.
- Recall the above quotes (Machen and Riddlebarger).
- Thus, the working of the Holy Spirit and His use knowledge, evidence, and reason are necessary preconditions for salvation.
- See Romans 10:9-14-15.
- B.B. Warfield, another great past theologian of Princeton, comments: Faith is the gift of God: but it does not in the least follow that the faith God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason….The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the heart….nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the understanding.
- Therefore, by the grace and working of the one true triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we exhort Christians to be confident in the claims of Christ Jesus and “…in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Revision Date: 04/03/98