You gotta have faith!
Steve Wilcox begins his apologetics series by examining the principles of faith.
‘Faith’ is considered a dirty word in our culture today — certainly where it relates to ‘religious faith’. Hostility to Christianity and other ‘faiths’ is growing. Meanwhile ‘reason’ and ‘evidence’ are held up as the tools of enlightened humanity.
Visit the classroom where a 14-year-old child is given a hard time by classmates and teacher alike for confessing belief in Christianity: “No one believes in that any more!” Visit parliament, where the Christian might be informed that “those speaking from faith have no part to play in the making of government policy”. Witness the Christian sharing the gospel with a friend: “I wish I had your faith”. We are all familiar with situations like these.
As a result we can find ourselves on the back foot as Christians: clinging onto what we believe, sometimes in spite of ourselves; feeling ill equipped to persuade others of those beliefs. Those who are weak in faith may eventually give up the Christian faith altogether. Teenagers are in particular danger here. And those of us who keep believing may find that we’ve been pushed into a Christian ghetto. We are allowed to believe what we like on Sunday mornings, as long as we don’t do anything about it from Monday to Saturday.
Everyone Has Faith
When I arrived at theological college, I had my own concerns about the truth of Christianity. I had been converted at university, after being persuaded of the historical reality of the resurrection. Yet since then I had heard about claims of conflict between science and Christianity, and of modern biblical scholarship often undermining traditional Christianity. Could there be truth in such claims? Hardly. On further investigation during my studies I was pleasantly surprised to find that such claims showed more about the assumptions of the writer — their ‘faith’ we might say — than any better evidence.
I hope to remind us in this and coming articles that in fact everyone has faith: biblical scholars, scientists, politicians, atheists, you name it. I also hope to show that only Christian faith is ultimately well-grounded. It is a journey worth making: if we are confident that everyone has faith then we will confidently state what we believe, and all its implications; and we will be able to graciously expose the faith of others to God’s glory and for their blessing. In this article I will set out the basis of the claim that everyone has faith. In coming articles I will apply this to the areas of knowledge and science, the public sphere and evangelism.
Faith as ‘Trust’
We focus on the concept of faith as ‘trust’, well attested to in the Bible and church history. Scripture makes clear that humanity was created to depend on — trust in — God for everything, including our knowledge. God is the Creator who knows all things, including what is best for his creatures. The first man and woman are creatures whose knowledge is finite (see, for example, Psalm 139, Colossians 3.10, Ephesians 4.24). We might say that to exercise ‘true faith’ is to trust in the truthful Word of the Creator. Notice that it is precisely because we are created and dependent beings that we have to trust in something — it is part of our humanity to have faith!
However, in the Garden of Eden the man and woman are presented with a choice. They can choose to trust God’s Word that they will die if they eat from the tree of knowledge (Genesis 2.16-17). Or they can trust in something else — namely the word of the devil, that if they eat they will become like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3.5). They choose the latter. This has been called ‘false faith’, because they put their faith in the wrong thing. The word of the devil is untrue, it has no solid foundation, and it cannot deliver what it promises. It leads to misery and destruction, as they will shortly discover.
But note the content of the (false) promise they choose to believe. The devil promises that it’s possible and desirable to have knowledge independently of God without any negative consequences (Genesis 3.5). This is not true.
This brings us to current non-Christian systems of thought. Humanity (corporately and individually) continues to face the same choice that the man and woman faced in the Garden. This is the choice: whether to trust the solid foundation of God’s Word or our own false ideas of what is true and good and satisfying. To the extent they have been influenced by God’s Word, these false faiths or beliefs may have some element of truth in them. But they are finally flawed and cannot deliver what they promise. Indeed, to the extent that they are opposed to God’s Word they will do great harm.
Here are some examples of false beliefs which are currently prevalent in the United Kingdom.
Beliefs of thought
Rationalism. Belief that human reason should be our supreme authority (a belief which, ironically, we cannot prove by human reason!).
Egalitarianism. Belief that all people should be given equality of opportunity / outcome regardless of (enter classes of your choice).
Naturalism. Belief that the natural world is all there is — there is no divine being.
Libertarianism. Belief that people should have unfettered freedom in every area of life (except where they ‘harm’ others — as defined by the elite).
Relativism. Belief that there is no such thing as ultimate truth (which is, famously, a claim to ultimate truth).
Salvation by works. Belief that God accepts us on the basis of what we do.
Beliefs of desire
Hedonism. Belief that pleasure will satisfy me.
Materialism. Belief that money and possessions will satisfy me.
Every single human being holds a variety of these and other beliefs. Of course, a person doesn’t just wake up one morning thinking, ‘I’m a rationalist now!’ Such beliefs have been developed over time for a variety of reasons. And each day, every person has to decide whether to trust a variety of voices which advance different beliefs like those above. For example, a rationalist atheist states confidently that I shouldn’t believe in God unless I can prove the existence of God beyond doubt. Do I believe him, or do I question whether actually the burden lies with him to prove the non-existence of God? A (hedonistic) advert tries to persuade me that if I use a particular shaving product I’ll be more sexually desirable. Do I believe them? Do I seek satisfaction in being more sexually desirable in any case?
Decisions like these about what beliefs to hold are being made daily by everyone we encounter. The person who sits opposite you at work; the person you talk to occasionally on the train; the teacher who advances a particular idea in your local school.
Faith, Reason and Evidence
How should we decide what and who to trust? This is where reason and evidence have a role to play. First of all, we should use evidence. What have I observed in the past? Has this person’s wisdom paid off previously? Next, I will need to use reason, as I move from a set of observations to a conclusion: ‘This razor didn’t make me more sexually desirable last time; and I won’t be satisfied purely through sexual experience in any case. Therefore I have no more reason to buy this razor than any other’.
And, of course, evidence and reason are the friends of the Christian. As regards evidence, Christians can turn to historical evidence, the evidence of testimony, experiential evidence (including the sense of having met with God in Bible reading and public worship) and scientific evidence for our beliefs. As regards reason — a growing number of writers are suggesting that Christians are largely responsible for the use of reason in the West.
In fact, far from Christians being the group who ‘bury the evidence’, it is quite the opposite. Witness the current stream of scientific reports on abortion, parenting, marriage and many other issues which support the Christian view, but which are suppressed or ignored. We will see in the next article why non-Christian systems of thought will often suppress the truth.
The connection between faith/trust and evidence/reason is therefore circular. The nature of our faith feeds the evidence we accept, which in turn feeds our faith. The circle can be virtuous (an upward spiral), if we are open to the truth. Or it can be vicious (a downward spiral), if we are not.
Faith Commitments are Key
Everyone, then, has faith. And everyone has ‘faith commitments’ — a ‘bottom line’ of beliefs at the very core of our being, which determine how we see ourselves and how we make decisions. As we will see in a future article these beliefs can change — unless they could, evangelism would be futile! But as we try to understand ourselves and those around us, it is vital for now to appreciate that everyone has faith.
And so, as Christians, we can be confident in what we believe! We do not need to be ashamed that we believe something, for everyone believes something. Rather, we can be confident that we are on the side of truth — God’s truth. We can recognise that false faiths are destroying souls and society. And we can be confident, as we advance with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, that we can have a positive impact on those we encounter in every sphere of society. Of which more next time.
To find out more about ‘faith commitments’ (also known as ‘presuppositions’), try Every thought captive by Richard Pratt (P&R Publishing, 1979) or Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame (P&R Publishing, 1994).
 For example, the traditional Reformed understanding of faith involves knowledge, assent and trust. Perhaps the clearest demonstration of faith as trust in the Bible occurs in the prophetic literature, as God regularly chastises Israel because of their replacing trust in God with trust in idols, including other political powers. (For example: Isaiah 31.1, 42.17, Psalm 146.3). I am aware that I am dealing with a very narrow definition of ‘faith’; I do not in any way want to undermine the richness of Christian faith as set out in Hebrews 11, for example.
 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Topic 9 Q6 IX.
 This is equivalent to the biblical category of idolatry. See Tim Keller's recent book, Counterfeit Gods (Hodder and Stoughton, 2009) for more discussion of some of these ‘idols’.
 See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as eyewitness testimony (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006).
 See, for example, Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (Random House, 2005).
© 2010 Steve Wilcox
This article was originally published in the November 2010 edition of Evangelicals Now. It is published here by the kind permission of the author and editors. For a free sample issue or to subscribe to Evangelicals Now, click here.