Thursday, October 28, 2010

Various Definitions of the Word "Faith"

I wrote this because of the confusion, muddled thinking, and equivocation that occurs because of the various ways the word "faith" is used in both popular and theological conversations and discussions by both Christians and non-Christian. For example, the noted Christian apologist Norman Geisler has a book titled, "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist". In the title, Geisler seems to use the word "faith" to mean gullible credulity. The problem is that an atheist can then retort in a smart-alecky way, "So, are you admitting that your Christian *faith* boils down to your own gullibility? As an atheist, I agree!"

Vincent Cheung makes similar comments in his article: Not Enough “Faith” to be an Atheist?

The definitions are increasingly defined from a neutral position to a specifically Christian perspective as you go further down the list.

Some of these definitions can be legitimately combined (or overlap) in certain contexts. However, in other context when they are combined it leads to fuzzy thinking, equivocation, or misunderstanding and miscommunication due to the usage of different definitions by different parties in a way that neither party may be aware of. The following list isn't meant to be exhaustive in either listing, distinguishing or defining either word or the various concepts of faith.

The importance and necessity of distinguishing the various definitions of "faith" in discussions and arguments can be seen in the discussion that took place between Tim McGrew (Christian) and  Peter Boghossian (atheist). The audio of their debate/discussion can be listened to HERE.

Some Definitions of "Faith"

1. Non-rational and/or poorly evidenced  belief that's tantamount to a leap into the dark (i.e. the unknown) that is used in a POSTIVE sense (e.g. by mystics [whether Christian or non-Christian]).

2. Non-rational (even/sometimes irrational) and/or poorly evidenced (or non-evidenced) belief (often credulous) leap into the dark (unknown) that is used in a NEGATIVE sense (e.g. by skeptics or knowledgeable ChristianS).

3. Allegedly rational belief based on sufficient evidence that warrants such belief (say in a proposition(s) or persons). In this usage, the preponderance of the evidence is such that one can (allegedly) rationally hold such a belief even though the evidence isn't conclusive.

4. Personal integrity to one's ideals (as in the phrase "keeping the faith"). See the movie "Cradle 2 the Grave" with Jet Li for a clear example of how this definition is repeatedly used.

5. Trust or confidence in some person or persons (e.g. in God, or another human being like one's parent(s), or teacher, or friend).

6. Any religion or belief system in GENERAL.

7. Any specific religion or belief system in PARTICULAR.

8. specifically and particularly the Christian Religion.

9. MERE rational assent to the truths of the gospel which does not (in itself) lead to eternal life (because it mimics the next definition of true "saving faith"). In the history of Christianity some proponents of this definition include the Christian theologian Gordon H. Clark, or of certain Non-Lordship Salvationist theologians, or of the Sandemanian sect.

10. The supernaturally God initiated rational "faith" (notitia, assensus, fiducia) in the supernaturally revealed truth of God (in the Biblical Gospel) which is more than a mere rational assent but has a spiritual reality to it (though not less than a rational assent). This is a saving (justifying) "faith" that works/obeys/takes action, in distinction from a mere profession of faith that doesn't work/obey/take action (compare/contrast with number 7 above).

11. The special supernatural gift called "the gift of faith" (mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:9) which is given by God for the purpose of the recipient performing a miraculous feat.

12. The persevering prayer of faith mentioned throughout Scripture (James 5:15-16, Luke 11:8 etc).

13. The theological definition of "faith" as opposed to (strict meritorious) "works" used in the Bible.

14. That kind of faith (read "faithfulness") that perseveres in the Christian life.

15. That kind of "faith" that believes and stands on God's promises in light a.) of God's necessary and immutable faithfulness/truthfulness (a priori) as well as b.) God's past faithfulness (a posteriori); even without current external support for this particular promise other than God's "Word"/"promise".

See Steve Hays' blogpost:

"Faith is believing what you know ain't so"

See also my blogpost:

Quotations on Faith

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