What is “faith”?

Thanks for having faith in me that I would eventually get this piece posted.

Much can be said here, as with the question of truth.  If you did a quick poll, you’d likely hear people telling you that “faith” is believing in something despite inadequate evidence – the so-called “leap of faith” required to believe something.  Others might be even less charitable and define faith as either believing despite a lack of evidence or believing in the face of contradictory evidence.  But to have faith in something despite the evidence is irrational.  One of the jobs of “apologetics” is to show how faith in God is reasonable.  At the outset, then, it is useful to note that many start out with wrong presuppositions about what it means to have faith.


Faith is typically used in relation to religious faith, but we do also say things like, “I have faith in her” or “I’ve lost any faith in that co-worker.”  What we usually mean in those situations is whether we have trust in that person.  When we trust someone (or find them to be trustworthy), we believe what they tell us and we can depend.  That illustration is useful here because having faith in a religious context, such as Christianity, is similar.  Thinking about having “trust” in someone or something is a useful way to think about “what is faith.”  Importantly, it is also what is meant by the original form of the word used for faith. In the Bible, the Greek word translated as “faith” is “pistis” – meaning trust.  In fact, “pistis” comes from the verb “peitho,” which means “to be persuaded.”  (The alternative Greek word for faith was “nomizo,” which the Greeks used to express belief in their various gods.  It means “to believe” without the idea of persuasion.  Nomizo is never used in the Bible to refer to faith.)  In essence, having “faith” is to “trust” – we have trust in something or someone because we are persuaded that it is true.

In The Da Vinci Code movie, Tom Hanks says that faith is a gift that he has not yet been given.  Michael Ramsden (who directs the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics – the “OCCA”), who was our instructor in this class on understanding the nature of faith, reminds us that while faith may be a gift, “it is not the gift of stupidity.”  Faith, therefore, is not believing in something (or, in the case of Christianity – in someone) that goes against our reason.  If we make a “leap,” it is a leap of trust based upon the reasonableness of the evidence.  Tim Keller makes this clear in his aptly titled book – The Reason for God.  Similarly, RZIM (which operates the OCCA) has summarizes its mission in a motto:  “Helping Thinkers Believe; Helping Believers Think.”  We should “come to faith” and trust because we are persuaded of the truth. (My book, The Race Before Us, contains a detailed look at numerous arguments and evidence that persuaded me of the truth of Christianity.)

faith reasonPunting on River Cherwell

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