What Is Faith? Debating the Question With Phil Torres

My debate with Phil Torres on the meaning of faith is moving forward:

Phil: What Exactly is This Thing in Crisis? On the Meaning and (Epistemological) Significance of Faith

Me: What Is the Relevant Definition of Faith?

Phil: The Relevant Definition of Faith Is…

Me: Still In Quest of the Relevant Definition of Faith

Maybe it’s clear enough from that what we’re tussling over there. He says faith is necessarily unreasonable. I think he’s relying on tendentious and fallacious arguments, largely from authority. Or in other words, I think if he’s defending reason, he could do a much better job than he has been. Of course he’s free to disagree, and it’s his turn next.

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Comments

  1. Pingback: Getting Nowhere Slowly | Discussion Grounds

  2. Andrew W

    At some point, it’s probably worth explicitly conceding that – by Phil’s definition – “faith” has real problems, but also point out that this isn’t very interesting since it isn’t what most Christian scholars (and knowledgable Christians) refer to, are championing, or live like. One could even suggest that “Christians” whose life and practice suggests Phil’s definition would do well to let go of it and rethink their approach.

    Otherwise, it’s a bit like commenting on the proposition that “bonds are bad” without being clear whether we are talking about economics or slavery. Even if the proposition was true in both domains, the arguments required to reach the conclusion are quite different.

  3. Andrew W

    What is the difference between faith and warranted belief?

    Layman’s definition: Faith is extrapolating reasonable predictions from warranted belief and acting on the basis of those predictions.

    Actually, it’s more subjective than that: clarify “warranted belief” to “what you believe is warranted belief”. You can still act in faith if you believe that unwarranted predictions are warranted (it’s “misplaced faith”, but still faith). Acting on predictions that you believe are unwarranted is not faith; it’s wishful thinking.

    Key elements:
    – faith is derived from some form of evidence
    – faith is forward-looking: given X, then Y will happen
    – faith involves acting on the truth of X and Y.

  4. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Andrew @#3, in my first response to Phil I wrote

    All of this I grant as constituting a view of faith held by many. Phil goes beyond that, though: he claims it to be the consensus view and therefore the relevant view of faith as applied to Christianity. He says it applies to other religions as well. Maybe it does, too; but that’s of no interest to me, because the view of faith I am defending is the one that I take to be a biblical Christian view. (It’s unlikely on the face of it that faith means the same thing in Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, and Buddhism, but we need not go into that.) My only concern is with faith as understood, experienced, and practiced within a biblical Christian framework.

    Was that something like what you were suggesting?

    I like what you wrote in #4. Maybe we’ll get to some further useful discussion there and I can make a point of it.

  5. Andrew W

    Was that something like what you were suggesting?

    Maybe. It just feels like the discussion is bogging down arguing for who has the “best” definition of faith. I am suggesting being clearer: temporarily accept Phil’s definition and agree with the rhetorical and logical consequences of it.

    Then swing back to the scriptures. Quote the Greek and maybe Hebrew words that are translated faith. Explain what those words mean. Perhaps agree that “faith” is a misleading translation given the common modern usage of Phil’s term. Ask whether Phil feels the same arguments presented for his “faith” adequately cover this other concept.

    At present, “faith” (the term) is a tar baby, and the two of you will keep going around in circles unless the topic can be moved on from that.

    It doesn’t really matter whose definition is more accurate. What matters is both you and Phil engaging with the concept that you and I call “faith”, and Phil doesn’t. If he’s unwilling to call it faith, change the term to something more mutually acceptable.

  6. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    It is definitely a trust in Someone. Phil has said, though, that relational trust of sort is significantly different from propositional belief, i.e., the belief that P, where P is a proposition that is either true or false. I hold that relational faith and propositional belief are inseparable. We don’t trust in God without at the same time believing that certain very good things are true about God.

  7. Justin

    Andrew,

    Thanks for the explanation. So, there is a difference between knowing and warranted belief?

  8. Victoria

    I think Andrew and Steve have made significant points; I’d focus on what the Biblical concept is, and what the thoughtful Biblically literate, Spirit-filled Christian viewpoint is.

  9. Victoria

    @Tom (#8) Yes, absolutely
    Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is precisely that (as well as in other places). He links the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ to salvation / redemption, historical events that have spiritual and eternal implications and significance. We trust in the latter on the basis of the former, do we not?

  10. Sault

    Still seems like you guys are using two different versions of the word “faith”, and have been the whole time. Phil is looking at the definition that involves you believing in God in the first place while you are using it in a different term – that God will continue to be what you believe Him to be.

    Both views involve trust, and both views involve a relationship between two beings – but they still aren’t the same, because you already presuppose God in your definition of faith.

    Let me put it a different way – I suppose that you could say that it took a certain type of faith to believe that your relationship with your partner could become a successful marriage. However, it is a different type of faith to say that the next 25 years will be as successful as the last 25 years. There is far more knowledge (a proven track record, if you will) involved in the second definition than the first.

    (I congratulate you on your 25-year marriage, btw, and wish you continuing success!)

    If “faith” is defined as a continuing trust (e.g. belief in the continuing character of God), then what is the proper word for beginning to believe in God in the first place?

  11. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Sault, there’s no fallacy involved in “presupposing” God in a definition. Not unless one is using “faith” as a premise in an argument for God, which I’m not doing.

    I suppose there are many words that fit the beginning of belief. I think that one of the best is discovery. It is the awakening of awareness, the encounter that leads to new knowledge: the knowledge of God. It is inseparable from trust and faith, for it only takes a taste of God’s goodness and greatness for the heart and the mind to recognize he is worthy of trust. (See my upcoming blog post, which I’m just sitting down to write.)

    I need to make clear (otherwise some Christians would want to correct me on it, and rightly so if I did not clarify it) that’s an abbreviated answer from a limited human and epistemological angle. There are many other words and concepts that apply in different ways to the beginning of belief, for it’s also the beginning of life in Christ, the rescue from sin and death, the entrance into what the Bible calls the body of Christ, the first personal encounter with God by the Holy Spirit, the lifting of guilt, and much, much more. And I have not even begun to mention what happens from the divine perspective to initiate and confirm all of this in the person’s life.

  12. kalim saki

    Man is such an antique work of art of Almighty God. He is a most subtle and graceful miracle of His power whom He created to manifest all his Names and their inscriptions, in the form of a miniature specimen of the universe. If the light of belief enters his being, all the meaningful inscriptions on him may be read. As one who believes, he reads them consciously, and through that relation, causes others to read them. That is to say, the dominical art in man becomes apparent through meanings like, “I am the creature and artefact of the All-Glorious Maker. I manifest His mercy and munificence.” That is, belief, which consists of being connected to the Maker, makes apparent all the works of art in man. Man’s value is in accordance with that dominical art and by virtue of being a mirror to the Eternally Besought One. In this respect insignificant man becomes God’s addressee and a guest of the Sustainer worthy of Paradise superior to all other creatures.
    However, should unbelief, which consists of the severance of the relation, enter man’s being, then all those meaningful inscriptions of the Divine Names are plunged into darkness and become illegible. For if the Maker is forgotten, the spiritual aspects which look to Him will not be comprehended, they will be as though reversed. The majority of those meaningful sublime arts and elevated inscriptions will be hidden. The remainder, those that may be seen with the eye, will be attributed to lowly causes, nature, and chance, and will become utterly devoid of value. While they are all brilliant diamonds, they become dull pieces of glass. His importance looks only to his animal, physical being. And as we said, the aim and fruit of his physical being is only to pass a brief and partial life as the most impotent, needy, and grieving of animals. Then it decays and departs. See how unbelief destroys human nature, and transforms it from diamonds into coal.

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