If you’ve followed us from the beginning, or go back and read our posts, you may be thinking “Great! You’ve convinced me God exists, but is that all?” Unfortunately, no. Simply believing that something is true doesn’t necessarily mean you trust it. It’s the same with Christianity. In Romans, Paul commends Israel for their “zeal for God”. He then goes on to show how they ignored God’s righteousness and tried to replace it with their own works. Zeal isn’t enough. Let’s look at the difference between “belief that” and “belief in”.
What’s the Difference?
“Belief that” can be considered an intellectual understanding of something. Although it is a great start, there’s more involved for Christians. “Belief in” takes this intellectual understanding and builds a trust upon it. For example, a person may fully understand the physics of how airplanes fly. This same person may never trust this knowledge to the point of boarding an airplane to take a trip.
The same holds true for Christianity. Apologetics can get a non-believer all the way to an intellectual acceptance of God existence and Jesus’ Resurrection; however, it can’t get them to put their trust in this knowledge. The reasons for this refusal can vary, but they keep the person from moving forward with a commitment to trust in Jesus and turn their lives over to Him.
James 2:19 says “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” The demons know all too well that God exists, but they refuse to place their trust in Him.
Notice we keep using the word “trust”. That’s because “trust” is a more accurate description of what is involved than “belief” or “faith” from a Christian’s point of view. In today’s world, “belief” and “faith”, as they are applied to Christianity by society, have completely different meanings than the biblical meaning.
Christians have allowed critics and skeptics to redefine our terminology. Richard Dawkins, Oxford professor of biology, refers to “faith” as “belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” or “belief without evidence and reason.” Former Portland State University professor of philosophy Peter Boghossian says faith is a “belief without evidence” or “the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief.”
What Dawkins and Boghossian refer to can sometimes be called “blind faith”, however, it is not what Christians mean (cue Inigo Montoya – “I do not think that means what you think that means.”).
Dr. Gary Habermas, in his 1976 doctoral thesis, points out that faith (or belief) is more akin to “reasoned faith”. He suggests that faith arises for two general motives: “intuitive conviction” and “reasonable persuasion and rational argument”.
Intuitive conviction is demonstrated by those that have an experience that convinces them of God’s existence. This could be a miraculous occurrence or simply an experiential event. Reasonable persuasion is more in line with apologetics. The person examines all the evidence and concludes that the most probable or reasonable explanation of this evidence is God.
Habermas further suggests that either path to faith involves reasoning for the belief and faith we place in God. Whether the believer came to trust Jesus through apologetic facts and arguments or through an experience with the Holy Spirit, they begin by reasoning that the information they received is true.
Through apologetics, we can demonstration the vast amounts of evidence that show the most likely explanation of how the world really is. However, apologetics can’t answer every question about an infinite, omniscient God. That’s where belief and faith come in.
Belief based on all the evidence and the fulfillment of God’s promises leads us to trust in Him for our future. C.S. Lewis once said: “God has provided enough evidence in this life to convince anyone willing to believe, yet He has also left some ambiguity so as not to compel the unwilling.”
In order to gain insight into the Christian view of belief we must look at what the Gospel writers meant. We can do this by looking at the Greek words they used. The Greek word for belief is “pistis”. It appears 244 times in New Testament. Pistis is translated (ESV) as “faith” or “belief” 239 times, “assurance” one time (Acts 17:31) and “trust”, “believe”, “those that believe” one time each. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines pistis as “persuasion, i.e. credence;… assurance, belief, believe, faith”. Pistis comes from the root word “peithō” which means “to convince (by argument)”, “persuade”, and “to rely”.
Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Here faith is linked to assurance (Greek “hypostasis”); meaning “concretely, essence”, “substructure, foundation”, and “that which has actual existence”. The writer of Hebrews likens faith with something foundational that is known to exist. Later in Hebrews 12 he encourages fellow Christians to persevere in the faith because we have a “great a cloud of witnesses” that demonstrate the truth of God’s Word.
From this we can see it is unlikely the New Testament writers were referring to a “blind faith”. Their understanding was a belief arrived at through reason and evidence. This is seen throughout the New Testament in the many examples of apologetics being used to draw people to Christ; even by Jesus Himself. So, while “belief that” can be arrived at in a somewhat passive manner through gathering facts; “belief in” is a conscience decision to place our trust in Jesus.
Hopefully this post will help you realize we have nothing to fear with encounters with atheists and skeptics. Confidently engage with them. Next time someone accuses you of having a “blind faith”, use Greg Koukl’s Columbo Tactic and ask “What do you mean by that?” When they give you a definition that doesn’t match how we use the word “belief”, explain to them what it really means.
After all, if they are asking questions about our faith, they should use our definition; not theirs. Help them to understand that we have a trust in God through His Son, Jesus; because of His Word, fulfilled promises, and evidence.
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