This past Sunday at church I taught a class based upon my book: “Doubt, Faith and Truth in The Race Before Us.” I thought I’d share some of that class, which is in two parts. This is Part I: “Doubt & Faith.”
As we discussed in class, “doubt & faith” can often be viewed as two sides to the same coin. Arguably, the more we doubt, the weaker our faith is – and we acknowledged that most of us have questions of doubt from time to time. We took a moment to realize that we should not lose heart or stress too much when we have our doubts because many others in a better position to have confidence have questioned their faith. We briefly looked at John the Baptist sending his own disciples to ask Jesus if He (Jesus) was the true messiah (“are you the one who is to come?”). The curiosity there (the question of doubt) is that earlier in Jesus’ life (in the same gospel) it was this same John who baptized Jesus and was greeted by God saying “this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV).
As I attempted to do in my journey and in The Race Before Us, the class took the time to consider – what does it mean to have faith? This may seem simple, but it caused a fair bit of confusion and anxiety for me. You see, somewhere along the way, I had accepted unconsciously a modern, secular definition (arguably a “redefinition”) of the word “faith.” For much of contemporary society, particularly atheists and skeptics, “faith” is believing in something unsupported by evidence or even despite evidence to the contrary – making a “leap of faith.” I also learned in my Sunday School class and during my journey, that many Christians accept this as the correct formulation of the meaning of “faith.” But it is not correct and any conversation that begins with that assumption is not going to turn out well for the believer. (Stated differently, it is neither admirable nor biblical to insist that the strength of your faith is measured by how little evidence may exist to support it. During my journey and as explained in The Race Before Us, I learned that great contemporary Christian thinkers like Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller go to great lengths to show how and why belief is wholly rational.)
So, if faith is not believing despite the evidence, what is a correct definition for “faith” in the context of Christian belief? That is precisely what I asked myself and here is how I addressed it (in class and) in my book:
I wrote down what I thought was the clearest statement of faith in the Bible, Hebrews 11:1: “Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” If this is the test, what was it that “we hope for” and what is it that “we do not see”? As I was struggling with this issue, I listened to an interview on the Apologetics 315 website during which the guest mentioned that the word faith had lost its meaning in contemporary society and that confident trust is a good substitute for the word faith. That reference reminded me of a message by Alistair Begg entitled “What is Faith?”
I found that podcast still in my iTunes library, and during my next morning run, I listened to it again. Probably the reason I made the connection was that Begg said something similar about faith. Central to faith, he said, is trust in what Christ has done. He said “Faith is knowledge, assent to the knowledge, and trust on the basis of the knowledge to which I’ve given assent.”
“Knowledge and assent,” he continued, “are less than trust.” Begg then used the analogy of a title deed. Christians have been given a title deed to heaven that they have not seen. Just as we trust that property represented by a deed is real even if we haven’t seen it, we need to trust that heaven and all the promises of Christ are real even if we have not seen them.
Our class concluded by looking at what [I now know] are well-recognized “steps to faith” – specifically, Christian faith involves three steps:
1. knowledge of Christ and what He has done
2. assent to the truth (or accuracy) of that knowledge
3. personal trust in the knowledge to which is given intellectual assent
The better way, therefore, to look at “faith” is to think of it as a process of placing one’s trust in something – and for the Christian, it is in the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, making that decision to so place your trust is a rational act – there are many reasons to believe, which is really the study of apologetics – something for another day and many other posts.