Sunday, July 11, 2010

What is the difference between faith and belief?

One of the problems I found with evangelical Christianity was that it sought to persuade people into belief by using forensic arguments. A case would be set out, just as it would be in a court, and an attempt made by the minister to prove that it was true using scripture, history and practical examples. If the case was then proved you were expected to assent to it or agree to it in faith. This, of course, is not truly believing something, its just assenting to it because you agree with the "prime directive" driving the community of believers you belong to which is the gospel. Its probably no coincidence that a lot of ministers in the Scottish Presbyterian tradition have  law as their first degrees. The skills of legal argument are very useful in this type of setting.

Belief, on the other hand, is truly knowing that something is the case, just as you can testify that grass is green and the sky is blue. Its not something which requires proof or acceptance.

So if faith and belief are different things then does faith by its very nature include within it space for doubt? I think that it does. Certainty is a very difficult thing to pin down, and even the most ardent "bible believing" Christian has to acknowledge that they have agreed to doctrines that they do not truly believe with their whole hearts. Theology is a constant tension between doubt and certainty and if this tension was acknowledged more openly by evangelicals the church and the wider world might just be a slightly happier place.