Friday, November 2, 2007

fledge | Faith: Sloppy Definitions

The latest edition of fledge is out. It's on the lost word "faith."

With this issue, we've created a new podcast as well--the first of its kind and I'm excited about it! Let me know what you think.

To listen, go here.

To read, go here.

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Philip said...

I am in the process of writing a letter to my brother who is far away from his Christian roots. He is now very much so an existentialist, and his view on faith is very sloppy as well. He believes faith to be completely contrary to reason; "faith is hope" and a way for us to feel good about uncertainties.

This is how skeptics will do things. They will build straw mans of our terms based on their experience with movements in Christianity or just their feelings. And then, when you give them actually theology and how the word for faith - "pistis" is understood as a trusting in something trustworthy (like we do in a court room when we convict people. The evidence, which is trustworthy, points to a certain person committing the crime so we trust in the conclusion based on the trustworthy facts) - they call it mere semantics and dancing around the issue.

The bottom line to me seems to be what the actual text says and means. Faith is obviously not hope, I told my brother. If so, then why would we say the three best virtues to have are faith, hope, and love? Quite redundant isn't it? The "definition" for faith in Hebrews also does not point to faith = hope.

I understand the confusion though. The nature of the relationship between faith and reason is quite vague. Saints like Aquinas saw no problem with the two coexisting, even working together. Of course philosophers will then show how Aquinas' Cosmological Argument fails logically to prove anything (which I think it is a good argument, although far from perfect), and this points to how faith and reason are just two totally different "truths" or knowledges.

My question would be: where can I find a book to read and offer to others to read about the relationship between faith and reason? I know Craig has one, but he is kind of a hostile figure to most philosophical skeptics. Any suggestions?

Dale Fincher said...


First a recommendation that is outside standard evangelical literature. I quoted in my "Faith" article a Robert Wilken. He's a professor at the University of VA (or was at one point). The piece I quoted is from his essay, "Tradition and Trust: The Role of Memory in the Christian Intellectual Life." I like it cause it writes as a historian and not just one 'battling the world' with standard evangelical rhetoric. His article can be found in three places that I know of, but let me recommend buying the compilation, The New Religious Humanists by Gregory Wolfe. The essay is in there as well as many other wonderful essays you'll enjoy. It's my favorite book of the year.

Secondly, a couple of comments. The more I read the Scripture the less I see 'faith' as a way of knowing about facts, the way reason is a knowing about facts. Faith is a relational term. It gives me access to love (the gist of the next fledge on 'faith'). And once I have that trust that opens the way to love, I learn about all sorts of things. And, of course, I bring reason with me. But it has more of an experiential texture.

It requires faith for me to have a relationship with Jonalyn. And through faith, I understand a lot of new things about our love together. I also learn about her because I've made myself vulnerable to her and she to me. None of that would have been accessible through reason of the facts. There are textures to life that the analytical cannot touch.

You do well to point out to your brother that faith, in Christian terms, cannot mean 'hope' else it would be a tautology to say we believe in 'faith, hope and love.' We might as well say we believe in 'faith, faith and love!' Heck, let's make 'faith' mean 'love' too, so that at the end of the day, we only have 'faith.' I can imagine the definitions will reach that end before we know it.

Maybe you can affirm him that many do use faith the way he is using it. It is a common, cultural, secular definition. But if he's going to take Jesus and the Christian religion seriously, he'll need to use faith the way Jesus and the Christian religion does.

It just wouldn't be fair to ask your brother to come over to throw a football and when he gets there force him into the kitchen to make noodles.

He might protest, "I thought you said we'd throw the football?"

And you'd reply, "Oh, in my world, 'throwing football' means making noodles. Can you hand me that saucer?"

If he's a fair person, he will concede with charity. And then you can continue the discussion into more interesting things, like the evidence and meaning of the resurrection of the dead.

Keep me posted.

Philip said...

I don't think you could have said it better than saying that faith is a relational term. I have always looked at faith in a relational way but have never been able to put it into clear words. The way I see it is that Biblical faith is analogous to the way I would have faith in a friend to do something for me. It is trusting in a friend who is obviously trustworthy. It is based on beliefs that are reasonable like God creating the world and so on.

The best thing you said was that faith is not a way to acquire knowledge like reason is. I think my frustrations with my brother were found in that I was trying to play it on his terms as faith being a way to know things, which it is, but through faith we know things and receive things like grace. It is a trust to be had not a tool to be used in a sense.

I will definitely keep you updated on my letter's with my brother. However stressful it is to deal with on top of trying to get through my final year of classes, I see it not only as growing with my brother but also training for my future. I thank you for your openness to help me when I need it. Your ministry is dear to me.

I'm going to try and get that book sometime soon. I decided to look into more detail about Christian Humanism and have found that I am already pretty much one, a conservative one. Gregory Wolfe has a lot ideas I hold dear already. I'm looking at this book called, "Christian Humanism: Creation, Redemption, and Reintegration," by Bequette. For what I've been able to see on google books it is pretty good, although not completely on in my opinion.

Thanks again, Dale.


P.S. I'm looking at Denver Seminary's M.A. in Philosophy of Religion; if Savannah and I get to come we must get together. Or the next time I visit the Newberry's. Cheers!

Dale Fincher said...

One thing I appreciate about you, Philip, is your humility. You have an able mind but quick to compliment. A great virtue.

I develop 'faith' as relational even more in the next fledge. You can wait for it to come out Wednesday (or you can go to the bottom of the homepage and see it in advance!... it's called Faith: The Beginning of Love.) I hope it helps. Or maybe it would be something your brother would consider reading.

Christian humanism. By pet project of this last year. I haven't spoken of it much in public, apart from our vision of 'appropriately human.' But I will be talking about it more and more, hopefully with a Jewish twist--if I can figure out what I'm looking for.

Denver Seminary! Not bad. Yes, next time you are out here, let's get together. The snow is about to drop. Bring your ski clothes! ;)

Philip said...

If you are looking for some Jewish sources I would recommend David Patterson's "Wrestling with the Angel" and his other works. He is considered one of the top Holocaust scholars in the world, and he has a unique philosophy that is interesting. He deals mainly with the Holocaust's attack on being human and an attack on God Himself. He has very interesting looks into what it means to be human. His treatment of Lev. 19:18 for example will make you more deeply understand the implications in that Commandment.

I know Dr. Patterson because he is the Chair of Judaic Studies at the University of Memphis where I attend. I have taken classes from him and have had many opportunities to sit and talk with him; one the most genuine professors I have every known. He is helping my with my senior thesis on the Evil of the Holocaust. I highly recommend is books for a Jewish perspective on what it means to be human, especially the above book.

Dale Fincher said...

Thanks, Philip, I'm ordering it!

Philip said...

Excellent. One thing to warn you about Patterson is that he is big into Cabbalah (not the Madonna type, but the serious Jewish study). So he is quite mystical in his writing; his other book "Open Wounds" is more philosophical in nature from "Wrestling with the Angel" which is much more mystical in nature. But either one is good.