Raise your right arm! You just acted on faith. You acted on knowledge expecting a particular result. You acted. That is, you knew from past experience (a form of knowledge) that you could raise your arm any time that you wanted to do so. What you may not have considered is the uncertainty that it may not happen the way that you planned it.
The uncertainty is what makes it faith. You act on knowledge with an intended result (expectation), but it may not happen. Some people have had brain tumors, strokes, and other problems with their brain or nervous system, and suddenly realize that they can no longer raise an arm. So, while the act of raising one’s arm seems automatic and may happen 999 out of 1000 times, the expected outcome is not certain. But there is one more aspect of faith.
Where do you plan to drive your car today? You will have an intended destination (result). You know or will learn how to get to your destination. Unfortunately, you may not get there (uncertainty). You may get sick and not be able to go. You may go out to your car and find that it has a flat tire. Your car may not start. Your road may be blocked by construction. You may get lost on the way. The possible things that can prevent your getting to your destination are almost endless. But 99 times out of 100, we actually get to our planned destination. If we just change our minds and decide not to go, we have not acted on our plan. We have not exercised faith.
Let us take one more example. We set our alarm clocks to get up at a certain time. We expect for the alarm clock to ring, as programmed, and for us to arise at the set time. We know from past experience that this plan will work. But, again there are possible interferences that bring uncertainty. The electricity may go off and the alarm clock does not ring. We may get sick during the night and not be able to get up. A child may get sick and one of us is up all night with him.
These four factors, then, comprise a definition of faith: (1) knowledge that leads to (2) action with (3) an anticipated outcome that involves (4) a degree of uncertainty. Note that faith acts! Faith has not been exercised until an action is taken on the basis of some specific knowledge.
Biblical or Saving Faith
Such mundane examples of faith may seem farfetched. Well, let’s see. Louis Berkhof discusses these elements of biblical, saving faith: an intellectual element (knowledge), an emotional element (assent or agreement with a degree of uncertainty), and a volitional element (an act of the will).1 The intended result is for the individual to be saved.2
We have jumped into broad and deep waters. I can hear some objections. “The knowledge of the Bible is different from other kinds of knowledge.” “I believe certain things, but I don’t do them” (that is, act upon those beliefs). “How is it that salvation is uncertain? What about perseverance of the saints?” But, read the endnotes, indicated above, and bear with me. Pretend that you have a floatation device until you can learn to swim. (That is, allow me to instruct you to swim in the great faith that is ours.)
What I want to accomplish here is to remove the process of faith from any level of mystery.3 By process, I meant precisely what has gone before in this chapter, how decisions are made and acted upon. In this way, you will learn how to increase your faith. So, let’s explore this process further.
Knowledge from Different Sources
In our examples above, I simply indicated knowledge. But, what is knowledge? 1) There is instinctive (innate) knowledge. A baby knows when it is hungry, wet, uncomfortable, or hurting. It knows how to breast-feed. It will know how to turn over, sit up, and walk without parental instruction. While some characteristics of this knowledge change as we grow to adulthood, much of it remains in one way or another.
2) There is knowledge learned from experience. A boy may learn to play baseball, or a girl may learn to sew. This learning may be from observation or tutoring (learning from someone else).
3) Then, there is knowledge learned from reading. It may be practically applied, as in learning baseball or sewing, or it may be more theoretical, for example, political platforms or religious interpretation of the supernatural world. (All knowledge has a practical application or will find its way into one’s life in one way or another. We will see this connection later.)
These three areas of knowledge above have to do with sources. But, experience and reading have an additional factor: casual vs. studied. On the golf course, I often see one person teaching another how to swing the golf club. From their interaction, I can tell that the instructor does not know much about golf. (I am an expert amateur.) The student golfer should be taking instructions from a professional, if he wants to learn correctly. The professional has studied the golf swing; the amateur instructor has only casual knowledge.
The knowledge that one reads may also be casual or studied. It may be apparent from the author or the text which it is or it may not be apparent. As an actress, Shirley MacClaine is studied and skilled. As a teacher of spirituality, she is woefully unstudied.
And, there is one final characteristic of knowledge that is vital: validity or truthfulness. Generally, studied knowledge is more reliable than casual knowledge. But, studied knowledge may be less valid. Our amateur golf instructor might just tell his pupil exactly what he needs to know to help his game, while the professional may make it too complex for the student to achieve mastery of golf skills.
What about scientific knowledge? It would fall into the category of studied knowledge. But, science is just observation and experience assisted by planned design and use of instruments that enhance this process. Science is prone to the same errors of any other source of knowledge: bias, faulty instruments and measurements, the Heisenberg principle,4 or even lying and falsification by researchers.5
The astute reader will know where I am going. The “born-again” believer6 who can quote John 3:16 has more truth than the aged Ayatollah Khomeini who has studied and experienced Islam all of his life. So, studied knowledge is not automatically true just because a person has applied himself diligently.
So, knowledge comes from many sources and may be casual or studied. Studied is usually the more reliable, but not necessarily. But, the validity (truthfulness) of the knowledge is the most important factor in knowledge. That is, whether or not it is true.
Caveat: Knowledge and Faith
We, as Christians, have often said, “I believe that I should __________ (fill in the blank with “study my Bible more,” “be a better husband,” “give more to the church,” etc.). That is a wrong use of the word “believe.”
John Madden, the ex-football player and sports announcer, will not fly. No doubt he knows something of the physics of airplane flight, for example, speed of air over and under the wing that causes lift. He knows for certain that thousands of airplanes take off and land safely everyday around the world. But, he does not fly!
He knows but he does not act. Faith, by definition always leads to action. Knowledge acted upon is faith exercised. Knowledge not acted upon is just theoretical knowledge.
So, even before we get to saving faith, we meet our first challenge with a definition of faith, and it is a serious one: faith inevitably leads to action. (What Berkhof, above, calls assensus). James says, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). So, with this understanding, we must face the fact that we do not believe when we don’t act. This understanding should motivate us more strongly to act on that knowledge and move it into the realm of true faith.
Validity, Knowledge, and Truth
We have seen that faith is mundane, that is, it is the basis of every action in our everyday lives. But, let us not forget the ingredient of uncertainty. People have lost thousands of dollars with investments in which they believed. Others have had serious car accidents on trips in which they believed they would arrive safely. Still others have gotten married when they strongly believed that theirs was a marriage that would last a lifetime.
Thus, we arrive at the reality of faith: the validity (truthfulness) of the knowledge acted upon and the degree of uncertainty in that action. We have seen that while studied knowledge is usually better than casual knowledge, the fact that knowledge comes from serious study alone does not determine its validity (truthfulness).
This uncertainty applies to any knowledge of any man anywhere at any time. Let us not miss the importance of this statement: all knowledge, anywhere, at any time. This “all” brings uncertainty to every philosopher who has ever spoken. It brings uncertainty to the most thorough subject ever studied (history, economics, etc.). It brings uncertainty to the best scientific methods ever devised and implemented.
“Yikes,” you might say, “It seems that I have described a universe in which we should be fearful to even breathe, as the air itself is sometimes poisonous!” No, I have brought us to realize that all knowledge by anyone at any time is fallible! We live in a time that such fallible knowledge can be used to affect the lives of millions, if not billions, of people around the world).
For example, science is said by many to be the solution of many, if not most, of mankind’s problems. But, abortion and evolutionary theory are part of modern science and are clearly wrong. Science is extremely fallible.
Also, governments claim to solve the problems of individuals and families. But, after more money has been spent on any project in the history of mankind in the United States for the last 50 years, the percentage of families in poverty has not changed! Governments are fallible.
The astute Christian will see where I am going. The only infallible rule of faith and practice are the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.
But, we have arrived at this proposition indirectly through the everyday concept of faith. It has been necessary to show that all sources of knowledge as a basis for faith are fallible. The Scriptures are unique in that they are infallible. Therefore, if we have one source of knowledge that is infallible, should it not be primary to every act of faith, no matter how mundane? Should it not be primary in every study of knowledge, regardless of the area being studied?
Some More Caveats
The question may arise at this point, “If the Bible is infallible, why are there so many differing opinions on different concepts (baptism, church government, millennial positions, etc.). Ah, I am glad that you asked that question! What is most important about the Bible is that it exists. God has given man a well-defined source, one agreed upon by all Christians prior to 15637 and all evangelicals8 today. While evangelicals may differ in interpretation, we search the same source, an objective source outside of ourselves, for understanding in all areas of life. For the moment, this agreed-upon source for knowledge of faith is all that we need to consider. In a later chapter, we will consider in some detail “Why Christians Differ.”
One other question may arise, “While Christians believe the Bible is infallible, why don’t unbelievers?” Ah, another good question and an important one relative to faith. The answer is regeneration which is God’s action upon the soul of an individual to cause him to look outside of himself to the Bible for his source of truth and to Jesus Christ as his Savior. Again, we well consider regeneration in some detail later, but for now consider that it is God who causes one to believe the Bible (Ephesians 2:8-9).
A Starting Point
René Descartes (1596-1650) said, “I think, therefore I am.” Our reasoning starts with ourselves. In fact, all matters of faith start and end with us. We may choose to accept someone else’s advice in toto, but we made the decision to accept their advice within ourselves.
This dependence upon ourselves is another characteristic of the great gift of the Bible that God has given to us. It is the only source of information that is placed outside of ourselves. And, it is a source that we did not put together ourselves. God developed and wrote (“inspired”) it Himself. Add to the fact that it is infallible, and you begin to see the Bible as a truly unique source of knowledge — indeed a source of truth. More so, it is the most certain truth (infallible) that we can know.
Faith is not some mysterious process of the mind that exists only in the Christian faith. It is everyday; it is mundane. No action is carried out without it. In fact, faith is defined as knowledge (casual or studied) that leads to action with a hoped for result, but always involving some uncertainty. No area of knowledge escapes this process whether science, religion, philosophy, economics, medicine, or other field of knowledge.
Understanding generic faith levels the playing field of ideas and debate. Every person in every field of study is unavoidably using the same process of reasoning. So, there is no special source of knowledge (for the non-Christian) that ranks higher than any other except by his own personal choice. We have even seen that “casual” knowledge sometimes trumps “studied” knowledge. The key issue is what is reliable, valid, and true.
That is, “there is no special source of knowledge…” except the Bible! You see, reader, that the Bible is not just one source of many. It exists as a whole, not to be added to or subtracted from. It has been believed by a body of people for over 2000 years (over 3000, if we start with the Old Testament). It is not mysterious—its content, even from translation to translation, is reliably the same. It was written by over 40 authors over 3000 years who agree in every jot and tittle when no two people at any time in history could collaborate and agree to such an extent!
Some Christians (especially, many psychologists) claim “All truth is God’s truth” (another subject to be discussed later in this book). Christian, I have shown that no knowledge from any source has the validity of the Bible nor is totally objective. For no other source has the church claimed infallibility (with the exception of the claims of Roman Catholics who claim their Apocrypha, tradition, the magisterium, and the Pope speaking ex cathedra—which Protestants deny as truth).
You will never achieve, either personally or professionally, your highest and most God-honoring accomplishments without a thorough application of the Bible to every area of life. We do not worship the Bible, but it must be the governing authority for all decisions (acts of faith): at the level of the individual, the family, the church (local, denominational, or world-wide), the culture, and the nation. God has given us His Word for that purpose. We dare not relegate it to any lesser level except to the peril of ourselves and everyone else. The Bible is truth about everything to which it speaks, and it speaks to everything.
- Berkhof, Louis,Systematic Theology(Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1939, 1941, reprinted 1969), pp. 503-506.
- Salvationis another word that is used too easily. Salvation includes foreknowledge, predestination, calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955). We will consider faith’s application to several of these steps, in later parts of this book.
- As indicated in the introduction, there are some mysteries about faith, but they are fewer than most Christians realize. Faith is not something that one somehow builds up from inside, but by increasing one’s knowledge of God and His Word, faith is changed from “little faith” to “great faith.”The only exception is “miraculous faith,” which will be addressed in Chapter 11.
- Heisenberg’s principle had to do with the study of the atom, but it has broad application to every area of science. One cannot observe an experiment or natural phenomenon without affecting either the process itself or its interpretation.Subjective choices and observations are made throughout the entire process. Ed: I have subsequently found the Quine-Duhem theory which covers what I have said here. Essentially, every hypothesis or theory depends upon previous ones ad infinitum. The only way to avoid this “non-grounding,” is to select a starting point which is by definition a position of faith.
- Falsification of data and results seems to have increased as funding becomes more important to one’s career and attaining tenure at an institution.
- The best term is “regenerated.” While its discussion is several chapters away, I want the reader to being know the word in its key to Biblical understanding of many concepts.
- During the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church adopted for the first time what are called the Apocrypha, books that evangelicals do not consider to be God’s Word. But, for most of their existence, the Roman Catholic position on the Bible was the same as that of Protestants since the Reformation.
- An evangelical is a person who believes that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, and fully authoritative Word of God in every area of personal life and worldview. Evangelical is a synonym of “Christian” or “Bible-believer,” when these words are used correctly.