Faith vs. Knowledge

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

July 19, 2015

Can Faith Ever Be Knowledge? This is the title and central question to the first chapter of Knowing Christ Today, by Dallas Willard.[1] The questions addressed in this précis will include the following: are Christians more than just “people of faith,” but are we also “people of knowledge?” What is the distinction, and does it even matter?

I remember a popular line of commercials on T.V. a few years ago which made a humorous, yet profound point: we expect people to know what they’re doing! For instance, in one of these commercials, a helicopter is taking some snow boarders to the top of a mountain. These passengers soon realize their pilot has no training and has never flown before. In an instant these adrenaline junkies become extremely frightened, but then the “pilot” comforts them by saying, “Don’t worry. I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night!” Their fears were not extinguished.[2]

We expect people in positions of authority to have training and experience in their respective fields. I want my pilot to have knowledge of the helicopter in which I’m flying, just as I want my surgeon to be proficient, and to know what he’s doing before I go “under the knife!” Guessing, flipping a coin, or relying on luck just doesn’t cut it. We expect people to have knowledge.

This seems to be the expectation of all who are labeled as experts or leaders in our society today, save one… the church! Why, when it comes to Christianity, are many satisfied to just rely on our emotions or what we arbitrarily think? Is the Christian faith something more than this? Is it something we can know is true, rather than just believing based on how we feel?

Sadly, knowledge of God isn’t just something unbelievers assume impossible, but many Christians have bought into this lie and are now living up to that misguided stereotype. Most people in our society think religion isn’t something we can know. That is why people adhering to religion are labeled “persons of faith.” The world today would never call a Christian a “person of knowledge.” Should this be the case?

Willard defines and makes clear distinctions between the four categories of knowledge, belief, commitment, and profession that we, in Western society have blurred together. Willard begins by providing this working definition of knowledge: “We have knowledge of something when we are representing it as it actually is, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience.”  Basically, he’s saying that we have knowledge of something when our thoughts regarding it conform to reality. A statement is true when it corresponds to reality (the way things are); therefore knowledge must be aligned with truth (based on evidence or insight).

Willard correctly states that rational people are those who base their lives upon knowledge. This is important when considering the faith of a Christian. When one has knowledge of God and the truth of His word, he can easily step out in faith. Acting in faith is not a “blind leap” as society believes; rather it’s committing to an action for which you may not know the outcome, basing your decisions on evidence and a warranted trust in God through knowledge.

Can we have real knowledge of God? Willard says we can. Later in the book, he offers a cumulative case of powerful evidence using logic, science, and history pointing towards not only God’s existence, but to the truth of Christianity. Moreover, we can have knowledge of God through a personal relationship with Him, supported by that same evidence.

Therefore, a Christian should be a person of faith because he or she is primarily a person of knowledge. Christians put their trust in what they know is probably true!

A skeptical friend of mine, who happens to be a pre-med student, was arguing this with me recently. He said, “We can’t have certain knowledge of anything, including knowledge that we even exist in a material universe!  After all, I could just be a brain in a vat, or maybe just plugged in to The Matrix!” He argued that no true knowledge is possible.

I first asked him if he had “certain knowledge” that certain knowledge was Tim by the Biola Fountainimpossible. As he was stumbling over his words I then asked him if he, as a pre-med student, is learning a lot in school. He was quick to respond with an emphatic, “YES!”  Then, I asked him if he was gaining knowledge. He recognized his predicament because if he answered “yes”, then he surrenders his position that true knowledge is impossible, and if he answers “no,” then he’s disqualifying himself as a future doctor.

It seems Willard is correct that we can have knowledge of reality, and this includes Christianity! I am not saying that we can know God exists and that Jesus is Lord with 100% certainty. However we also cannot know that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, or that gravity exists, or that Abraham Lincoln was a real person of history with 100% certainty either.[3] However, we can have real knowledge of these and many other facts with high degrees of certainty. This degree of certainty provides the foundation to ground knowledge claims. This includes not only knowledge of a powerful and personal Creator of the universe, but also in the truth of Christian theism through evidential and spiritual means!

In conclusion, I agree with Willard that Christians aren’t only people of faith, but people of a faith that is justified by logic, data, and evidence, rather than by presuppositions and baseless personal opinions (which seems to be the case with many atheists).[4] When Christians attain this knowledge of God and Scripture, their faith will grow extremely strong which will be evident in their prayer lives, their Christian walk, and their commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission. Evangelism will quickly transform from something that Christians are scared of into something they eagerly anticipate. When one possesses knowledge, he has things he knows to share with others. When Christians share their faith, rooted in knowledge of reality, these evangelical encounters will quickly multiply with awesome results!

On the side of Truth (John 18:37),

Tim Stratton


Notes:

[1] Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge, Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2009

[2] Holiday Inn Express: https://youtu.be/l8Ah8WTL2i8 (accessed 7-16-15)

[3] Nick Peters, Abraham Lincoln Never Existed, (a satire), https://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/abraham-lincoln-never-existed/

[4] Tim Stratton, Freethinking Atheists are Oxymorons, In this article I demonstrate that it is the atheistic naturalist that bases their “faith” on unjustifiable presuppositions.

 

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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