Evidence and Faith

The problem is not that we do not have enough faith, but that we don’t really understand what faith is, and because believers themselves do not understand the concept of faith, and hawk about the wrong ideas of faith it gives ammunition to the doubters, atheists and agnostics.

So, some people believe that having ‘faith’ is believing something which they secretly think is a load of codswallop. Somehow or other they have to try very hard to suspend their disbelief and ‘have faith’ in propositions and stories which everybody really knows are just untrue.

Others use have ‘faith’ in the God of the gaps. That is to say, where scientific and historical evidence stop–faith begins. They’re good as long as they can be practical and utilitarian and sensible. Then when all that doesn’t work anymore and they’re confronted with something for which they do not have an explanation, then ‘faith’ kicks in.

Then there are the sentimentalists–for them ‘faith’ is a personal experience. It’s a feeling about what is right. It is the moment when they decided to ‘trust Jesus’ or ‘accept Jesus into their heart.’ Their faith is validated, they feel, because they have had a memorable emotional experience of repentance and this was combined with ‘faith’ in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins.

For others ‘faith’ is an intellectual assent to a certain credal proposition. They believe in a certain set of doctrines and moral precepts, and by ‘believe’ they mean that they believe them to be true or correct or at least the most practical and positive. This kind of ‘faith’ is a kind of intellectual agreement.

True faith, however, is something different from all these things, and yet perhaps inclusive of all these things. The man of faith begins with evidence–not lack of evidence. He sees that the world works a certain way. He has particular experiences which give him evidence that he must account for. The religious explanation is the one which he has figured out has the most possibilities of answering the questions that have arisen from the evidence he has gathered and the experiences he has had. He then takes action based on those conclusions, consequently he believes certain things to be true, and on these beliefs and personal experiences he takes action, and begins to live in a certain way. All of this together comprises ‘faith’.

The man of faith therefore has certain experiences, believes certain truths, has certain emotions and holds to certain ways of looking at the world, and these things combined enable him to live in a particular way–the way of faith.

Too often religious people have offered only  truncated view of faith, and no version of Christianity does this more than Protestantism which offers ‘salvation by faith alone.’ In this heresy the beliefs and trust and emotions are separated out from the actions which come from faith. The actions don’t matter. But ‘faith without works is dead.’ The faithful actions that result from the step of faith are what make the faith real and make faith a dynamic and living force–rather than a dead and past event.

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