Evangelicals and Faith: Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

Evangelicals and Faith: Having Your Cake and Eating It Too January 17, 2019

I started this article last week and have been toying with it since. My interest was piqued by the headline of a recent Answers in Genesis article by John C. P. Smith: the piece was titled “Blind Faith.” I was curious because I’ve long noticed a tension within the young earth creationist ministry between faith and science. On the one hand, young earth creationists argue that Christians must have “faith” that the biblical account actually happened, because the Bible says it did; on the other hand, they spend an awful lot of time using science to “prove” that the biblical account happened.

When I saw Smith’s article, I wondered. What, to the editors at Answers in Genesis, constitutes “blind faith”? And what do they think of it? My hunch was that they would argue that their faith isn’t blind—that it’s justified, that it has a solid foundation, etc. But as I read Smith’s article, however, I found myself more and more confused.

Smith begins as follows:

The concept of “blind faith” is a recent invention, found nowhere in Scripture. If you go back to God’s Word, you’ll find that the Hebrew word for faith, by its very definition, refers to a logical, robust, unwavering confidence in the truth.

Smith’s bio states that he has a BA in Hebrew and writes Hebrew word studies for Christian Friends of Israel. Evangelicals have a knack for mining Hebrew only for what they want to see, however, so I turned to google, looking for Jewish understandings of the Hebrew word for “faith.”

According to Dr. Menachem Kellner of My Jewish Learning:

The term emunah, which is rendered in English as “faith” or “belief,” occurs for the first time in the Torah in connection with Abraham.

Kellner goes on to argue that emunah means trust. As an evangelical, I remember hearing Abraham connected with faith quite a bit. “Abraham had faith.” Based on Kellner’s article, I suspect that the word used there was emunah. A closer translation, then, might have been that Abraham trusted God—which all gets tied up in the idea of having faith in God.

I find this interesting because, for evangelicals, the term “faith” is often applied to specific theological beliefs. You have to be a young earth creationist dispensational pre-trib postmillennialist. Just have faith. Not, have faith that God will keep you questions and all. Have faith that those doctrines are correct. Kellner’s article suggests that this application may be a misunderstanding. Would Keller agree with Smith’s claim that “the Hebrew word for faith, by its very definition, refers to a logical, robust, unwavering confidence in the truth”? Not insofar as “truth” refers to doctrines, no.

Because I’m not going to repeat the mistakes Smith is making and assume that all Jews agree on everything, I also found an article about faith—emunahon Chabad.org.

…emunah is not based on reason. Reason can never attain the certainty of emunah, since, reasonably speaking, a greater reasoning might always come along and prove your reasons wrong.

This author, then, might also disagree with Smith’s claim that “the Hebrew word for faith, by its very definition, refers to a logical, robust, unwavering confidence in the truth,” given his insistence that emunahy is not based on reason.

I’m going to leave any discussion of Jewish understandings of faith aside at this point. I don’t know enough to delve into it any more fully than to say that Smith’s claims about “the Hebrew word for faith” do no seem to fit, at first glance, with a number of modern Jewish understandings and interpretations of faith.

Let’s return to Smith, and evangelical understandings of faith:

Christians, especially six-day creationists, are often accused of blind faith. Is this fair? What is meant by blind faith? Indeed, what is faith?

Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NAS). As Jesus explained it to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). So faith, as commended in God’s Word, is being sure about something that wasn’t witnessed firsthand (including creation, Hebrews 11:3), or that cannot be seen now, or that is yet to be revealed.

By this definition, all faith is blind! If we can see something, then faith is no longer operative.

 

 

Wait wait. Is faith “a logical, robust, unwavering confidence in the truth” or is it “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”? Sure, you could argue that the two aren’t incompatible, but what of the term “logical”?

Let’s return to Smith:

The fact is that everybody has faith of sorts. Evolutionists have faith in their version of origins, subway passengers trust a train driver’s skills, and children believe they’ll get gifts at Christmas. All are relying on something unseen.

Sort of, but no, not really.

Scientists rely on evidence they have collected and on evidence analyzed by generations of scientists before them. Subway passengers know that the transit authority only employs drivers that it has trained and who have passed safety tests. Children believe they’ll get gifts at Christmas because adults around them say they will, and (hopefully) the adults around them have a track record of being trustworthy. This is not what I think of when I hear the term “relying on something unseen.”

It is Smith’s contention that faith in things unseen is different from “blind faith.” We all have faith in things unseen, he says. That’s why he brings up our reasonable trust that the subway driver knows how to drive safely.

Back to Smith:

Some faith may be unwarranted, and no doubt this faith is blind. In contrast, the Christian faith is both reasonable and justified. It is founded firstly and primarily upon God’s consistent and reliable Word. And while it doesn’t require external proof, it is entirely compatible with physical evidences.

Smith writes that “it doesn’t require external proof” but “it is entirely compatible with physical evidences.” This is pretty much the definition of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. If faith doesn’t require external proof, why does Answers in Genesis try so hard to sand like they’re doing real science? If faith doesn’t require external proof, wouldn’t the physical evidence in the rock layers be irrelevant? After all, if faith does not require proof, young earth creationists wouldn’t stop believing in a young earth even if presented with the most incontrovertible proof of evolution possible. 

Smith has more to say about truth:

The very language of the Hebrew Old Testament reveals that our faith is intrinsically linked to truth. The two words for faith and truth—emunah and emet—are even sometimes translated interchangeably in different Bible versions. Both Hebrew words derive from the same root, aman, meaning “firmness, certainty, reliability.” So rather than being nebulous, biblical faith—like truth—is sure and certain.

An integral part of emet is reliability and faithfulness, even though the word is most often translated “truth.” Biblical truth stands firm over time like the temple’s pillars, omnot (“firm supports”), another word derived from aman (see 2 Kings 18:16).

There’s some Hebrew actually discussed here, but Smith is making all sorts of connections willy nilly and without adequate foundation. The Hebrew words for “faith” and “truth” come from the same word, which means “reliability”—therefore the Christian faith is “sure and certain.” I’m pretty sure most Jews today would disagree with this thought process. Or does Smith actually assert that all faith in anything is “sure and certain” because of a word root?

The word means true, therefore it’s true. 

Um…

Ironically, it’s actually human philosophies and theories that are nebulous, not biblical faith. Jesus said that those who ignore His teachings, whether in their thinking or behavior, are like houses built on sand, destined to collapse (Matthew 7:24–27). In contrast, those who live according to “the truth” (John 14:6), like houses on bedrock, can endure all hardships faithfully.

I think one thing is for certain—this isn’t being written for me as an audience. Asserting that your faith is certain because your faith’s holy book says that it rests on a firm foundation and that others’ beliefs rest on sand feels rather post hoc.

God is the Rock, and He never changes (Malachi 3:6). He is totally trustworthy, always fulfilling His promises. He is El emunah (Deuteronomy 32:4) and El emet (Psalm 31:5)—“God of faithfulness” and “God of truth.” Thus, faith in our reliable God and the truth of His Word is both well-founded and reasonable. Amen!

Cool. Cool. 

The problem I have here is the tension that led me to read Smith’s article in the first place—does faith render evidence irrelevant? If it does, all of the work Answers in Genesis does—and all of the work done by individuals like Josh McDowell of “Evidence to Demand a Verdict”—is irrelevant. But if evidence is relevant, evangelicals shouldn’t respond to confounding evidence or arguments with “you just need to have more faith.” If evidence is relevant, does faith even matter? Isn’t adherence to a religion backed up by mounds of evidence simply reasonable, and not faith at all?

Or maybe I’m just thinking about all of this too hard. It’s completely possible. But hear me out: I grew up in an evangelical home, and I heard both that you need to have faith and that all of the evidence supports our position. Something seems off there. Or at least, very, very weird.

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