One of the biggest “threats” against apologetics is internal. The idea that the propositions of Christianity (God exists, Jesus rose from the dead, the Bible is God’s Word) can be defended using reason, does not sit well with some Christians. This has always been a curious fact to me. I would think that this idea is great news for Christians. Our beliefs can be tested and proven just like any other beliefs. And when they are tested and shown to be true, our faith now rests on much more solid ground. This, I would say, should lead to a much bolder faith.
However, there are some who think this idea is a threat to “faith”. You must have faith in Christ to be saved. Some view reason as antithetical to faith. This may be based on a misreading of Luther and other reformers, but is also based on some Bible verses like Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” It seems, to some, that this verse advocates a sort of blind faith. Why do you believe in God? I have faith. Why do you believe in Jesus? I have faith. How do you know the Bible is God’s Word? I have faith. To give a reason, or to provide evidence for such beliefs, is then seen to be the opposite of what the Bible advocates.
But I would protest this understanding of faith on a Biblical basis. I would suggest that the Bible does not promote a “blind faith” and that interpreting Hebrews 11:1 in such a way is also erroneous. In this article, I will examine Hebrews 11:1 in its context and also look at faith from a Biblical perspective.
The idea that the author of Hebrews is promoting a blind, or irrational faith is immediately decimated by the next few verses. Verse 3 reads, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” The author is clearly saying that we come to the knowledge of God (not seen) by observing creation (seen). The object of our faith (God) is not seen, but the nature of faith is evidential (based on what is seen). So it is perfectly coherent to affirm Hebrews 11:1 while at the same time affirming that faith is not blind, but based on evidence.
Another great example that exemplifies this understanding of faith is straight from the author of Hebrews:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He received the promises and yet he was offering his one and only son, the one to whom it had been said, Your offspring will be traced through Isaac. He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead; therefore, he received him back, figuratively speaking.” Hebrews 11:17-19
By faith Abraham offered up Isaac. God promised that Isaac would be the son through whom Abraham’s lineage would be carried on. The covenant God made with Abraham would continue with Isaac. In this way, Isaac was Abraham’s “only begotten son” – his unique son.
With this in mind, consider that God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Excuse me, what? God, who punishes people who sacrifice children in other contexts, is now commanding Abraham to do the very same thing. Abraham doesn’t hesitate to obey. Many have asked why. Is Abraham cruel? Does Abraham believe that whatever God commands becomes morally obligatory simply because it is God who commands? But the text makes it clear why Abraham would do such a thing. “He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead.” So, even if Isaac were to die at the hands of Abraham, Abraham knew that God must raise Isaac from the dead because God promised to bless Isaac.
Abraham believed the promise of God, that is to say, he had faith. So Abraham’s faith is not blind in the sense that it is irrational. It is based on evidence. The evidence is that God promised to bless Isaac and God doesn’t go back on His promises. Abraham’s faith is only blind in the sense that he can’t see the future, but it is still based on evidence. Just like we can’t see God presently, but our faith in Him is based on what we see, namely creation.
The object of our faith may not be seen, but the nature of our faith is evidential.
Not Merely Assent
One of the most astonishing things to read in the Bible is that even the demons believe in God. Once this is pointed out though, it seems kind of obvious. Of course they do. They know who created them. Consider two verses:
“You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe — and they shudder.” James 2:19
“Just then a man with an unclean spirit was in their synagogue. He cried out, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” Mark 1:23-24
The demons believe in God. They even believe there is only one God! They also believe in Jesus, that is, they know who He is — the Holy One of God. The question is: What is the difference between them and us? What distinguishes the faith of demons and the faith of Christians?
I would say that they don’t have faith in the sense of saving faith. They have knowledge. Christians have knowledge of God and Jesus, as well. What separates us is our loyalty, or trust. We believe that God exists and we know who Jesus is, and we pledge our loyalty to Him. The demons believe in God and they know who Jesus is, and they do not pledge their loyalty to Him. They aim to disrupt His will. We aim to obey.
This is why faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
Saving faith is not merely intellectual assent, but it certainly isn’t less. If you are going to pledge your loyalty to Jesus, you at least must believe He is who He says He is. But the reverse isn’t true. Just because you believe Jesus is who He says He is doesn’t mean your loyalty is with Him. Faith, understood in this way, seems perfectly compatible with reason. Reason is no foe of faith, but a friend. After all, there are reasons for the hope that is within us.
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