Minor Thoughts from me to you

In Search of a Confident Faith (Chapter 1, Part 2)

I'm going to continue talking about what I learned in Chapter 1 of In Search of a Confident Faith. Last week, I talked about the first half of Chapter 1.

Philosophical Aspects of Faith

After unpacking the three theological aspects of faith, the authors move on to three philosophical aspects of faith. These are degrees of belief, confidence in and confidence that, and changing beliefs.

Degrees of belief:

The first philosophical aspect of faith is that beliefs are not binary. It's not true that you either believe something completely or disagree with it entirely. Beliefs are expressed in degrees of confidence. You can either believe something (51-100%) confidence, disbelieve something (0-49% confidence) or be completely counterbalanced (50% confidence or no confidence either way). This is true of everything in our lives, not just religion.

For instance, I'm 90% confident that Republicans will retake the House this year -- I believe it. I'm only 40% confident that Republicans will retake the Senate -- I disbelieve it. You can see that it would take a lot to change my belief about the outcome of the House elections but only a comparatively little to change my belief about the outcome of the Senate elections.

For a Christian, it's possible to believe in God with only a 51% or 55% confidence. You would believe, but your faith wouldn't be very strong. You would be constantly reevaluating your beliefs and seeking new evidence to either increase or reverse your existing beliefs. This is important because it indicates that the presence of doubt is not fatal.

... It follows from the fact that confidence comes in degrees, that in order to grow in Christ, it is not enough to assess what we do and do not believe. Rather, it is crucial to assess our degree of belief.

A Christian with doubts isn't a heathen or someone to be feared. A Christian with doubts is someone who's less than 100% confident that Christianity is true -- but still more than 50% confident. What's needed isn't blind exhortation to "have more faith" but more evidence to create confidence -- to create more faith.

Confidence In vs Confidence That

This second philosphical aspect of faith is fairly simple. You can have "confidence in" in an object (such as a automotive transmission) or a person (such as your wife). You have "confidence that" an alleged truth is actually true. For the record, I don't have confidence in my car's transmission but I do have confidence in my wife. I have confidence that the earth orbits the sun. I don't have confidence that anthropogenic global warming will destroy mankind.

Two important things follow from the distinction between "confidence in" and "confidence that." For one thing, the proper value of each rests on the worthiness of its object. Regarding "confidence in," its proper value is derived from the reality of its object and the object's dependability or trustworthiness.

... Regarding "confidence that," its proper value derives from the fact that the object--a particular claim--is actually true and not false.

... The second implication of the distinction between "confidence in" and "confidence that" is that while truth is an important aspect of biblical faith, faith goes beyond accepting certain truths and crucially involves "confidence in" and reliance upon a Person--the Triune God.

Changing Beliefs

The final philosophical aspect of faith deals with how to increase your faith in something or someone. The authors take pains to point out that beliefs can only be changed indirectly -- never directly. You will never increase your own faith or someone else's faith by merely commanding greater faith to exist.

The good news is that you can indirectly control what you believe and how strongly you believe it by freely choosing to do certain things that develop God-confidence as a byproduct.

In essence, persons do not have direct control over what they do and do not believe (or regarding the strength of their beliefs), but they do have indirect control over their beliefs. Put differently, one's beliefs (and their strength) are not directly subject to one's free will, though other activities that indirectly produce (or strengthen) belief are subject to one's free will.

Why Do We Have Faith

The Hidden God

Finally, Moreland and Issler address the question of why we have to have faith in God at all. Unfortunately, I thought this was the weakest part of the entire chapter. They start out by talking about the hiddenness of God.

... God is not interested in merely getting people to believe he is there. That's why he doesn't write something in the sky for all to see. Rather, he is interested in forming a community of people--his kingdom covenant people--who have entered that community voluntarily and uncoerced, and they have done so for the right reasons, among which include the desire to be with and like God himself.

... the Bible clearly teaches that there is knowledge of the existence of God (Psalm 19; Romans 1). What is hidden is God's manifest presence and some of his intentions.

This is worded as though Moreland and Issler believe that the two ideas are in conflict with each other. That it would be impossible for people to enter God's community voluntarily and uncoerced unless God were hidden. That may very well be true. Scripture is full of statements about man being unable to resist worship (or even keep living) in the unmediated presence of God.

Moreland and Issler themselves don't make any attempt to defend this assertion. They simply throw it out there. That greatly weakens their next two points.

Faith is How We Live Our Lives

... The second response is that, in light of the fuller understanding of the nature of faith provided above, it becomes evident that faith--confidence in and confidence that--is the very rail upon which we live our lives.

Everything we do, everyone we admire or detest, every emotion that we have comes from our specific beliefs and how strongly we hold those beliefs. My beliefs shape my daily thoughts, guide the priorization of my goals, and produce my daily behaviors. Change my beliefs and you change who I am. Change me from a raging free market capitalist to a committed liberal democrat and you'll change a lot of what makes me "me". Likewise, change my Christianity to atheism and you'll also change a lot of what makes me "me". Sure, I won't become a different person entirely but my priorities will change. My reading list will change. Some of my emotions will change.

My beliefs -- and the faith I have in those beliefs -- define who I am. Christianity is "merely" one element of my personal matrix of beliefs. Having faith in Christianity doesn't make me more or less rational than having faith in capitalism or faith in the ability of the Green Bay Packers to reach the Super Bowl. Faith is faith. It's the object of faith and the evidence for that faith that matters in determining whether or not I'm crazy.

Faith and people

Finally, faith is how we related to people all around us. All of our social interactions are driven by the faith (or lack of faith) we have in the people we meet each day.

we flourish in the presence of trust from others, offering confidence and trust is one way to show respect to and value other persons, and reliance on and confidence in another are essential to the way persons work together and cooperate with each other.

... Imagine what would happen to personal flourishing, individually and communally, if there were no such thing as trust. When we recall that faith is not blind choice but is trust, reliance and confidence, it becomes clear that the existence of faith is merely one important aspect of the nature of persons and the proper way they relate to one another. Furthermore, God-confidence is fundamental to living well in this universe, as Hebrews 11:6 teaches: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Christian faith, ultimately, comes down to how much you know about God, how much you believe what you know, and -- from that -- how much confidence you place in God to do right and to be worthy of worship.