by Jeremy Scarbrough
Does faith precede reason or does reason precede faith?
It is first helpful to clarify what one means by “faith.”
Some may cite Hebrews 11:1 and snidely conclude that faith is simply “hope.” In fact, in his manual for talking people out of their unreasonable commitments to “the faith virus,”1 Peter Boghossian has defined faith as “pretending to know things you don’t.”2
Greg Koukl clarifies this position; "Simply put, faith and knowledge are functional opposites. The only place for faith, then, is in the shadows of ignorance . . . . Ironically, this same perspective has been promoted by Christians themselves. ‘If I know that God exists,’ they challenge, ‘or that Jesus rose from the dead, or that Heaven is real, then where is room for faith?’”3 But this is obviously incorrect. “The opposite of knowledge is not faith, but ignorance. And the opposite of faith is not knowledge, but unbelief."4
The notion of faith as religious wishful thinking may accurately characterize some worldviews, but it is not reflective of an accurate understanding of classical Christianity. First, consider 1 Pet 3:15, which commands believers to be able always to defend (apologia) the reasons for their belief. The common biblical word for faith is pistis, which represents an active trust that is grounded in one’s convictions—which are based in understanding, not hope. It might be helpfully clarified that both hope and faith look to the future with a sort of longing or expectation, but hope is unable to move beyond desire without the aid of conviction. I may hope to get a PS4 for my birthday, but I’ve no reason to have faith that this will be the case.
Conviction, then, is the grounding of faith. And, as Dr. Tim McGrew has pointed out,5 “faith,” rightly understood, ventures action in wager of conviction. That is, one does not have faith that chickens exist, because nothing is ventured. However, one who jumps from a plane has faith that their parachute is properly packed.
A second helpful point is that the term used for “hope” often (as in Heb 11:1) has a specific reference—a salvific expectation. We hope to be saved, and we have confidence in our expectations for salvation because of our understanding of God—not to mention an amazingly cumulative case of evidences (assuming that we remove our proclivities toward a naturalistic presuppositional bias).
Hebrews 11:1 is too often misrepresented to mean that faith is “hoping in things without evidence.” In actuality, however, that is not what it says. It reads; “Now faith [pistis] is the assurance [hypostasis; lit. “foundation” or what Plantinga might call a properly basic belief] of things hoped for [elpizō; a trust in salvation], the conviction [elegchos; “proof”] of things unseen [blepō; of the bodily eye]. Clearly, the author is certain that faith is not an ungrounded wishful emoting, but a conviction, based on a proof, concerning a truth that must necessarily surpass the natural limitations of a closed empirical system.
Koukl expounds upon the biblical themes of knowledge, action, and evidence…
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