The Top Five Reasons Faith is Not What You Think It Is

By Richard Eng

The Bible’s definition of faith is simple, easy, and straightforward. But there are influences both inside and outside the church that confuse the biblical definition. Imagine the biblical definition as the ingredients to a fruit smoothie and the bad influences are chocolate, salt and pepper, and fish. When you blend it all together the once delicious drink is now a goopy mess, not exactly appetizing; a definition that the world laughs at. The sneaky part about the smoothie illustration is this: the false information that gets blended in with the definition of faith looks appealing, but it ultimately leads to a definition so unlike the original that it changes the meaning. Christians cannot allow false teachers and the world to define our terms. When we lose our definitions, we lose our control of the conversation. Atheistic professors, youtube personalities, and zealous social media commenters devour unsuspecting christians when they ask, “so you are saying that you believe in a god without evidence? And that’s what faith is? Why don’t you believe in somethingbased on evidence??”

But is faith a belief without evidence? Is it something else? Here are The Top Five Reasons Faith is Not What You Think It Is.

Faith is not Blind

I really believe that this misunderstanding comes from a bad interpretation of a familiar bible passage. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (ESV) People then take this passage to mean that faith is sightless or blind. As if to be a christian is to walk around with your eyes closed. The best advice I’ve heard about reading the bible is this, never read a bible verse. Meaning, do not read only one verse- always check the context.

Even from just a quick glance of the context, the apostle Paul is talking about how this world is not our home. His point in 5:7 is for believers to not be so focused on this world that they forget that they are not in their true home. In other words, don’t get so caught up with this world that you forget about the next – the next one that we yet do not see.

Faith is not “Belief Without Evidence”

We at FreeThinking Ministries often quote atheists to see from the horse’s mouth what is being said about Christianity. Here is Richard Dawkins, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” (footnote 1) Surely that is the straw man that Dawkins would like to raise, and even Christians will take this definition and run with it! But is it really the definition of the Bible?

Alan Shlemon, a contributor for Stand to Reason, writes,

“But this definition is foreign to the Bible. The Greek word for faith, pistis, is derived from the verb pisteuo, which means “to convince by argument.” Hebrews 11:1 explains that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some translations replace “conviction” with “evidence.” Faith, then, is being convinced that the things we can’t see (e.g. God, heaven, the resurrection, etc.) are real.” (Link to rest of article)

Shlemon points out that when the author of Hebrews says, “conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1) he means that we simply do not yet see those things! He does not mean that we cannot see them, or that the only way to know they are real is by seeing. It’s a rhetorical question, “Do you see Jesus in front of you? No? Then it’s a conviction in him who we can’t yet see.”

Faith is not a Leap

Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century philosopher, coined or is at least attributed the phrase, “the leap of faith.” This builds off our previous points, because Kierkegaard has shaped our understanding of faith in the west so substantially. Kierkegaard’s understanding of belief was much like ours; the belief must be justified and be true. But Kierkegaard divorced faith with evidence, and made faith out to be more experiential than a proposition about reality. He said that faith must be met with intense self-reflection, and the life of faith is ultimately submitting yourself to something that cannot be known in any real sense. To Kierkegaard, faith is closing your eyes and jumping out of a plane. Maybe Jesus will show up and give you a parachute halfway down? But it is not certain. But on Kierkegaard’s view, faith is a flip of a coin kind of leap – maybe you make it, and maybe you do not. But our faith is confident because Jesus is who he says he is, and he does what he says he does. 

Faith is not All or Nothing

Preachers and pastors either explicitly or imply that if you are not 100% all in than you do not believe at all. But the Bible teaches a different story.

Mark 9:23-25 

23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”24 Immediately the father of the child cried out[a] and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

If we are honest, all of us can identify with this man. “I believe; help my unbelief” is a perfect summary of the internal struggle that every Christian experiences. It’s like reaching for Jesus to pull you out of the water when you have a weight tied to your ankle. In that moment you are focused on the weights keeping you under, but your heart is yearning to look up! So look to Jesus! The point of this passage is this: even if you are only 51% sure that Jesus will do what he says, He can work with that. Here’s the thing, the only things that you know with 100% certainty is that you exist, because you are a thinking thing, and logical and mathematical laws like “1+1=2.” Other than that we need to be ok living in the tension of doubt and unanswered questions. Jesus never promises to answer all of our questions. Most of the time he says something like, “Trust me and let me work.” Do not be afraid of doubt or unanswered questions, because God meets you there. Our beliefs need to have reasons behind them, and they must best correspond to reality. But if your expectation is that Christianity will bring you to a place of 100% certainty, the flesh will do a lot of damage to you when you never get there.

Faith is not a Substance

This one will sting, because I see church-goers eating this stuff up. The sad thing is, I do not blame them! It is trendy, “spiritual,” and you find more of this false teaching in book stores than Bibles! This is the word-faith movement, or word-of-faith movement. I will write more about this later, but like a window-seat passenger on a flight home they can look out the window and notice some key landmarks.

The most effective false teachers in the church will use the same vocabulary but use a different dictionary. In other words, they use the same words to make it sound like they are preaching orthodox church doctrine when in fact they are sneaking in ideas that are bad philosophy.

Let me paint a picture:

Your son is sick in the hospital. You have been praying faithfully for months for a cure… you know that it is life threatening. Your prayers are fervent and continuous, but by his hospital bed you are at the end of your rope. Just then, you see your pastor walk in the room. He embraces you in the midst of hopelessness, and you begin to explain the situation. After he hears it all, he offers this advice, “Well it seems to me that God wants to heal your son through your prayers… but you don’t have enough faith. If you had enough faith God would heal him.”

Have you ever heard that? “You don’t have enough faith?” Have you even thought that? Let me be clear, nowhere in scripture is there even a hint of this idea. Faith is confidence! Assurance! Trust in a trustworthy person! Faith is not a substance or thing, it is the sure road to Jesus. Jesus says clearly, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) It’s not about the amount of your faith, it’s about the object of your faith. God created mountains, if he wants to move them he can!

So What Is Faith?

Faith, in it’s purist definition is near indistinguishable from the word belief, except for one key component: if faith is 51% or more, trust makes up the difference. Faith is confidence, assuredness, and sturdy, but knowledge can never bring us to 100% certainty. There is always a healthy dose of unanswered questions that every person deals with. The difference is that Christianity offers a person, Jesus Christ, in whom we place our trust in the unanswered questions. The God of Christianity is a maximally great being, he cannot lie, he cannot sin, he is faithful, he is good, he is just, he is loving, etc. The unanswered questions find rest in God’s character. Do not be afraid to doubt, but bring those doubts to the foot of the cross. May your faith be characterized by the man who in full and utter vulnerability from his heart cries, “I believe… help my unbelief!”

Richard Eng

Visit Richard’s site: Free Thinking Ministries


 

Footnotes:

1. A lecture by Richard Dawkins extracted from The Nullifidian (Dec 94),

2. http://www.str.org/articles/is-faith-blind#.VrTQzDYrJmA (accessed 2/5/16)

12 replies
  1. Tom Rafferty says:

    There is no evidence for any god, much less the Christian variety of such. All apologetics are unsupported arguments from ignorance, or the ‘God of the Gaps” arguments. The best apologists can come up with are testable hypothesis, but those are rare. The few testable hypotheses have been falsified.

    Reply
    • Mark says:

      What about the resurrection, Tom? Simon Greenleaf, Professor of Law at Harvard University, literally wrote the book on evidence and had this to say:

      “According to the laws of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than there is for just about any event in history.”

      And,

      “A person who rejects Christ may choose to say that I do not accept it, he may not choose to say there is not enough evidence.”

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        More evidence for the resurrection than for the fact that JFK was shot? We’ve got film of the latter happen, interviews with hundreds of eyewitnesses. For the former we don’t know when it was supposed to have happened and have no first hand accounts of witnesses. I don’t get that claim at all.

        Reply
        • Norm says:

          Andy,

          I believe the Greenleaf quote that Mark referred to had to do with persons of antiquity, not from modern history. For example, the physical evidence for the existence of Julius Caesar or Socrates and what they did in their lives as opposed to evidence for the existence of Jesus and His resurrection.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            Norm, it’s true we don’t have much information on Socrates. But we have a huge amount on Julius Caesar, as one would expect about a man who led a whole empire. There’s no comparison to Jesus, for whom we have no direct quotes, no portraits produced while he lived, long periods of his life unaccounted for, conflicted dates of birth and death etc.

          • Norm says:

            Andy,

            After rereading the Greenleaf quote saying that there was more legal evidence for the resurrection of Jesus than for just about any other historical fact – I must agree with you, even with persons of antiquity, I would dispute that statement as well.

            However, I believe that there is ample document/textual evidence for establishing the historical existence of Jesus that may surpass the quality and quantity of the document/textual evidence of the events of the life of Julius Caesar. But, only in the document/textual realm of evidence might that be true. The coins, statues, paintings of Julius Caesar do surpass any such physical evidence for the life and events of Jesus.

            There is no question the document evidence regarding Julius Caesar is solid and substantial, but the same is also true for the existence of Jesus. People may not accept the miracle stories or his claims of divinity, but there is no question that the vast number and quality of Greek manuscripts (approximately 5800) of the New Testament speak to the existence of Jesus (some written within 30 to 50 years of when the events took place) – also, the writings of those opposed to Jesus (the Talmud) never claim that he didn’t exist – just that they disbelieved in his divinity and attributed his miracles to “sorcery.”

          • toby says:

            People may not accept the miracle stories or his claims of divinity, but there is no question that the vast number and quality of Greek manuscripts (approximately 5800) of the New Testament speak to the existence of Jesus (some written within 30 to 50 years of when the events took place)…

            Which ones were written within 30 to 50 years? All of these fragments have numbers, what are they? As far as I know the earliest is still P52 and that’s a bare little scrap of papyrus from the 100s. Do you mean that they originated 30 to 50 years after events, but the copies found were copies written later? Do you know that you shouldn’t be calling these things manuscripts? They’re fragments. Full manuscripts don’t begin appearing until centuries later. I recently read that less than 50% of the new testament comes from fragments before the second century.

            What you’re faced with defending are works by unknown authors pieced together by scribes and followers centuries later who MAYBE had access to a few more scraps that are entirely lost now and the passages that have no early fragmentary evidence are accurate and not just made up to fill in the story. You’re not putting your faith in a god, you’re putting it in the reliability of the knowledge and intentions of ancient people who had the power of literacy.

    • Norm says:

      Re: “All apologetics are unsupported arguments from ignorance, or the ‘God of the Gaps” arguments.”

      What evidence do you have to back up that statement?

      Re: “The best apologists can come up with are testable hypothesis, but those are rare. The few testable hypotheses have been falsified.”

      Can you give some examples of your claims above?

      Reply
  2. Fernando says:

    I enjoyed your article and it makes a lot of sense to me. But although I agree with your 5th reason titled “Faith is not a Substance”, I have a question about that title itself. In the KJV, Hebrews 11:1 says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. So, I’m a little confused about why you say Faith is not a substance.

    Reply

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