In What is Saving Faith, Gordon Clark defines faith as assent to an understood proposition and saving faith as assent to the understood propositions of the gospel. For Clark, what differentiates ordinary faith from saving faith is not some elusive and ill-defined third element which, or so we’re told, completes faith. Rather, what separates faith from saving faith are the propositions believed. Clark further critiques the popular three fold definition of faith as a combination of understanding, assent, and trust (or notitia, assensus and fiducia for those who get all warm and fuzzy when they see Latin) showing that it has historically resulted in nothing but confusion and should be abandoned. Central to Clark’s critique is that the addition of trust (or fiducia) adds precisely nothing to faith’s definition and is rather an unnecessary redundancy that is equivalent to defining a word with itself. This is a form of the fallacy of definition and, as anyone with any familiarity with Clark knows, Clark did not like to have his theology mixed with fallacies.
For example, under Fallacies of Definition Wikipedia lists defining a word with a synonym:
A definition is no good if it simply gives a one-word synonym. For example, suppose we define the word “virtue”—an important word in ethic— by just using the word “excellence.” It might be perfectly true that all virtues are excellences and all excellences are virtues, but the word “excellence” itself is not a good definition of “virtue” in philosophy. One can always simply ask, “But what does ‘excellence’ mean?” Surely, if one has a basic confusion about what “virtue” means, then one may also have a basic philosophical confusion about what “excellence” might mean.
Now, Clark wrote What is Saving Faith long before there was a Federal Vision controversy, but what he pointed out, and what a lot of people on both sides of the FV divide continually fail to grasp, is that faith or belief (which are both translations in Scripture of the same Greek word pistis) is synonymous with the word trust. Seems obvious enough to anyone who speaks English, which explains why English is not the preferred language of Theologians. That’s because to believe someone or to have faith in someone is to trust in what they say and to trust someone is to believe or have faith in what they say. Simply put the words “trust” and “believe” are synonymous. In response to R.C. Sproul’s confused but typical (mis)understanding of saving faith, John Robbins argued:
Notice that Sproul here uses the verbs “believe” and “trust” interchangeably, as synonyms. This is both good English and sound theology. Belief, that is to say, faith (there is only one word in the New Testament for belief, pistis) and trust are the same; they are synonyms. If you believe what a person says, you trust him. If you trust a person, you believe what he says. If you have faith in him, you believe what he says and trust his words. If you trust a bank, you believe its claims to be safe and secure. 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.” This is important, because Sproul’s incorrect analysis of saving faith, his splitting it up into three parts, the third part being trust, depends on denying that belief and trust are the same thing. But here he correctly implies they are the same by using the words interchangeably.
In contrast, a man who is unconcerned with having fallacies litter his theology and who I am quite sure gets all tingly at the sound of Latin (after all it is the traditional language of the religious elites particularly those members of the Roman priesthood), is Federal Visionist James Jordan. Jordan, like all Federal Visionists, makes good use of the tautological nature of the three fold definition of faith by attaching a meaning to the idea of “trust” or “fiducia” which is not synonymous with the word “faith.” Writing on Doug Wilson’s blog, Jordon stews:
The followers of Gordon Clark say that faith is notitia and assensus, but not fiducia. They have been objecting to historical Calvinism ever since the 1930s. They object to the so-called FV for the same reason: We say that faith involves loyalty, fiducia.
Notice, for Jordon trust is not belief in propositions in the future tense, such as “he will be good to me” or “this bank will keep my money safe.” No, for Jordon and his fellow FVists to trust means to be loyal. And, for Federal Visionists being loyal means to live our lives in conformity to the demands of the covenant that God has imposed on us by virtue of the magic waters of baptism and the mumblings of an FV priestling. It’s not receiving and resting on Christ’s righteousness alone — His covenant faithfulness — completely outside of us or apart from anything that might be wrought in us as a result of our own ongoing sanctification. Rather, justification by faith — even faith alone — includes our ongoing sanctification which is the instrument of our justification (something the FV men divide into two part; initial justification via the waters of baptism and final justification on the basis of our works or ongoing loyalty). (more…)