Faith is Intellectual Assent … Faith is Belief

Leap_of_Faith

Doug Douma, the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, has put together a short article demonstrating from personal letters culled as far back as 1939 that Gordon Clark has always rightly and consistently held to the position that faith is intellectual assent to understood propositions and that faith is belief; nothing more, nothing less.

Douma’s little stroll down memory lane reminded me how Clark had pointed out that Latin, from which the word faith is derived, has not served the church very well.  In his monograph The Johannine Logos (now included in the volume What is Saving Faith Clark writes on the question of faith:

“The Latin language has not been an unexceptionable advantage to theology. Dikaioo was translated justus facere; and thus the New Testament word for acquit or pronounce righteous was taken to mean make righteous. The result was a theory of infused grace that obscured the method of salvation until the time of Luther and the Reformation. So too it would have been better if the King James Version had omitted the word faith and emphasized the root meaning of belief.”

I would probably go further and say that the Latin language has been a bane on the church. One can think of the use of Latin by Rome’s priestlings as a means to keep the masses ignorant of God’s word. Let’s face it, it is hard to be like Paul’s “noble Bereans” when you can’t understand what someone is saying which is exactly how Rome likes it. Historically Latin has also been the language of the religious class, again as a means of elevating and separating themselves from the man in the pew. Further, I think the word faith is a poor choice not only because it is ambiguous, and it is, but because outside of specifically religious discussions and Christian circles no one uses it. The one exception might be when someone wants to disparage Christian belief as irrational. Not that this isn’t without some justification given that since Aquinas faith has been thought of as something that is in addition to and beyond reason. According to Thomas’ two-fold theory of truth, there are truths that can be discovered through reason and philosophy and other truths (i.e., those revealed in Scripture) that surpass “the whole ability of the human reason.” This two-fold definition wasn’t lost on the Existentialists either who similarly thought faith was a leap requiring leaving reason and the laws of logic behind. Even Webster’s defines faith as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Faith in the minds of most is something that is irrational and, because of this, actually hampers rather than enhances evangelism because it distorts the fact that truth is one, and more importantly, that God’s truth is all truth. As Clark demonstrated through his many volumes there are simply no truths that can be known apart from the revelation of God in His Word. Further, and according to the Westminister Confession, the truth of God’s Word is evidenced by the logical harmony or “consent” of all the parts of Scripture. Rather than reason being opposed to faith, faith when properly understood and applied to Scripture is the height of rationality.

Instead of being a means by which the Gospel might be understood so as to be believed, the word faith has become a stumbling block. That’s because we simply don’t use the word faith in general discussions outside of the church. It has become just more religious jargon. We may say that someone has a belief in science, or belief in evolution, or a belief in the evidence, whatever that might be, but we generally don’t say they have faith.

Also, as Clark pointed out, faith was a poor translation of the Greek noun pistis because it has no verb form.  For example, we don’t say Christians are “faithers.”  We say Christians are believers because of their belief in the finished work of Christ on their behalf.

It is even worse among Christians as the word faith means many things to many people and for most, it doesn’t mean anything very specific at all. Faith for many is sort of a mushy amalgam of sentimental feelings where the head is forever separated from the emotive heart. People simply attach their own often vague meaning, or, worse, their feelings, to the word and we end up talking right past each other. On the other hand, there is no confusion over the word belief, yet some, mostly elders and the seminary trained, think justification by belief alone is somehow heretical.  This lack of clarity and even confusion over the word faith is the reason why otherwise well-meaning Reformed men have done such a poor job defending the biblical doctrine of justification against the heresies of Rome and, closer to home, the false soteriology of the Federal Vision and the so-called “New Perspectives on Paul.”

You can read Douma’s article here.

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4 Comments on “Faith is Intellectual Assent … Faith is Belief”

  1. John Bradshaw Says:

    Thx for writing so clearly about this Sean. I have been a professing Christian for close to 40 years now and it is only in the last couple of years since discovering Clark and Robbins that subjects like Justification and Faith have made any sense. In fact just yesterday when reading Christianity and Neoliberalism by Paul Elliott, it clicked that the definition of faith is so important in understanding justification….and hence why Douglas Wilson and co are so wrong with their faith/faithfulness deception. I heard Don Carson in Sydney a few years ago on faith and could hardly understand one sentence to the next. It was so confused. The clarity which Clark and Robbins have brought to this topic has eternal consequences.
    Thankyou

  2. justbybelief Says:

    Funny, I just yesterday discarded R.C. Sproul’s book “Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification” because of the use of Latin in his exposition of this doctrine, not to mention the three fold definition he espouses. Clark’s definition, or rather God’s, is simpler and liberating.

    Thanks!

  3. justbybelief Says:

    Thanks, Hugh.

    I remember reading that some years ago. It’s almost unbelievable that someone of such notoriety in Reformed circles could be that way. Nothing surprises me anymore.


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