Dr. Alan Strange has decided to respond again to the question of how saving faith should be defined over at the Lane Keister’s Greenbaggins blog. We’ll get to his response in a moment, but first I have to admit I thought Keister’s response to “When You’re Strange” was thoughtful, helpful and actually went a long way in bridging the gap between the simplified view of faith advanced by Gordon Clark and the traditional tri-fold definition of faith as a combination of understanding, assent, and trust. As most readers of God’s Hammer already know, especially those who have had the pleasure of reading Clark’s What is Saving Faith? (which right now at the Trinity Foundation you can buy one copy and get two free), is that Clark’s objection to the traditional definition is due to the fact that belief and trust are synonyms and that the traditional tri-fold definition is hopelessly deficient, tautological, and amounts to defining the word belief with itself. For example, in What is Saving Faith? Clark argues:
The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith in to notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). The Latin fide is not a good synonym for the Greek pisteuoo. Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found.
Clark’s solution was to simply drop the tautological and meaningless addition to the traditional definition entirely. The reason for doing this is obvious if one speaks English where belief and trust are synonyms (which is perhaps why religious types love Latin so much as they can get away with so much more when us pew-ons don’t know what they’re saying). As Clark states on page 76, “to trust is to believe that good will follow.” Similarly, in his piece “R. C. Sproul on Saving Faith” John Robbins writes; “Strictly speaking, trust is belief of propositions in the future tense, such as ‘he will be good to me’ or ‘this bank will keep my money safe.’” What makes saving belief different from ordinary belief are the propositions believed. For belief to be saving one must understand and assent to the finished work of Christ in the Gospel. After all, that is the only thing the Scriptures require. In Acts we read; “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” And, again in Romans, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” Belief alone is all that is required to be saved, despite what some misguided and confused seminary professors and the men they train may say. Even worse, some seminary men still insist that faith alone is different from belief alone. Notice too that, and to Clark’s point above, there is no verb form of the word fides that can be used in either of the above verses. Instead, the Latin translation of pistueo (which is translated believe in Scripture) is credo. Clark argues:
It is clear that Greek verb pisteuo is properly translated believe; and it would have been much better if the noun pistis had been translated belief. An English novel, The Way of All Flesh, indicates that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the evangelical Anglicans recited the Belief, rather than the Creed. The author seems to assume that the congregation did not know that credo means I believe.
All things considered whether linguistically or logically, Clark’s solution seems like a very modest correction, but from the howls of those opposing Clark over at the Greenbaggins blog you’d think Clark and those who follow him have abandoned the Gospel entirely. Frankly, some have said exactly that. One particularly virulent and nasty Van Tillian, Vern Crisler, exclaimed: “Clarkians do not believe in Jesus, or have faith in Jesus. They only have faith in propositions about Jesus.” I confess it is really tough to suffer this kind of inanity, but evidently such baseless and ridiculous comments are perfectly acceptable on the Greenbaggins blog. Oh, yeah, did I mention Crisler was a Van Tillian?
That’s not to say that all Van Tillians are willing to join Crisler under his rock, at least not publicly. Lane Keister, who is also a Van Tillian, and he may be the exception, seems to understand just how modest Clark’s change is to the traditional understanding really is and writes: (more…)