A Note on Faith – By John Robbins
Hugh McCann posted the follow short piece by John Robbins in one of my comment boxes. I thought I’d reprint it here as well. Thanks Hugh.
The traditional analysis of faith and saving faith into three components – knowledge, notitia; assent, assensus; and trust, fiducia - has been shown to be false by Clark in his books The Johannine Logos and Faith and Saving Faith. Faith consists of two elements, knowledge (understanding) and belief (assent). His arguments are presented at length in his books, and I shall not repeat them here.
There is another argument against the traditional three-element view of faith that I do not believe Clark presents. It also is conclusive, and one would hope that theology and theologians a century from now – especially if Christ returns before then – recognize the error of the three-element view of faith.
The argument that I wish to offer is this: If faith consists of three elements – knowledge, assent (or belief), and trust – and if a person does not have faith unless all three elements are present, then unregenerate persons may understand and believe-assent to–the truth. In fact, those who advocate the three-element view insist that unregenerate persons may understand and believe the truth – their prime example of such persons is demons. But if unregenerate persons may believe the truth, then the natural man can indeed receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are not foolishness unto him, contrary to 1 Corinthians 2 and dozens of other verses. Belief – and the whole of salvation – is not a gift of God. Natural men can do their own believing, thank you very much.
The three-element view of faith leads straight to a contradiction – faithless believers – and therefore must be false.
When a Sunday school teacher was espousing the three-element view of faith and supporting the analysis from his own experience, he said that when young, he knew what the Bible said about sin and salvation; he believed that what it said was true; but he still did not have faith and was not a Christian because he did not trust Christ. That view, of course, destroys the Biblical order of salvation (ordo salutis) for in the Biblical order, regeneration precedes belief. When questioned about this, the Sunday school teacher began talking about regeneration by stages and referred to the miracle of the blind man receiving his sight by stages – first seeing men as trees.
This, of course, is equally unbiblical – regeneration is instantaneous, not a process, and it occurs once, not several times or in stages. Faith – belief – is an effect of regeneration; the regenerate mind must believe the saving propositions; the unregenerate mind cannot believe the saving propositions. What occurs in stages is sanctification, not regeneration, and that is what the miracle of the blind man illustrates.
In conclusion, the three-element view of saving faith cannot be true because it implies a logical contradiction, faithless believers; and because it violates the Biblical doctrine that regeneration must precede belief. The teaching of the Bible is clear: “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15); “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23); “The devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12); “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13); “But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you” (John 10:26); “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and understand with their heart, lest they should turn….” (John 12:39-40); “by him everyone who believes is justified from all things” (Acts 13:39); “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31); “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved…. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:9,11)
Not only have the theologians failed to understand what the Gospel is, teaching that Christ died for all men and desires the salvation of all, they have failed to understand what saving faith is, turning it into something that a person must “work up” within himself, rather than a gift of God. It has been a long time since true Christianity has been preached widely in America – too long. May God raise up men whose minds and voices are true and clear. The Trinity Review – September/October 1989John Robbins