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Long before the neo-orthodox theologians thought of saying that faith is
an encounter with a divine person rather than assent to a proposition, preachers
who ought to have known better taught that faith is trust in a person, not
belief in a creed. Years later, this writer, when a teenager, was told that
some people would miss heaven by twelve inches -- the distance between the
head and the heart -- because they believed the Gospel with their heads but
not with their hearts. Today it is easier for a camel to pass through the
eye of a needle than it is to find a minister -- a conservative minister --
who does not believe and teach that one must have a "personal" relationship
with Christ in order to be saved. But what that "personal" relationship consists
of is either not made explicit or, when made explicit, contradicts what the
Bible teaches about saving faith. The result is that non-Christians are either
needlessly confused or totally misled. Perhaps the world is not responding
to our message because the message is garbled. Neither we, nor they, know
exactly what they must do to have eternal life.
Statements such as these about the head and the heart and trusting
a person, not believing a creed, are not only false, they have created the conditions
for the emergence of all sorts of religious subjectivism, from modernism to
the charismatic movement and beyond. No one will miss heaven by twelve inches,
for there is no distance between the head and the heart. "As a man thinketh
in his heart, so is he." The head/heart contrast is a figment of modern secular
psychology, not a doctrine of divine revelation. St. Sigmund, not St. John,
controls the pulpit in all too any churches.
Further, "trust in a person" is a meaningless phrase unless it means assenting
to certain propositions about a person, propositions such as:
"I believe in God the Father Almighty...
Trust in Christ, unless it means belief of these propositions, is totally without
value. "Christ" means these propositions -- and a lot more, to be sure,
but at least these. No one who trusts in the Christs of Barth, Brunner, Renan,
or Tillich will be saved.
As for having a "personal" relationship with Christ, if the phrase means something
more than assenting to true propositions about Jesus, what is that something
more? Feeling warm inside? Coffee has the same effect. Surely "personal" relationship
does not mean what we mean when we say that we know someone personally: Perhaps
we have shaken his hand, visited his home or he ours, or eaten with him. John
had a "personal" relationship with Christ in that sense, as did all the disciples,
including Judas. But millions of Christians have not , and Jesus called them
blessed: They have not seen and yet have believed. The difference between Judas
and the other disciples is not that they had a "personal" relationship with
Jesus and he did not, but that they believed, that is, assented to certain propositions
about Jesus, while Judas did not believe those propositions. Belief of the truth,
nothing more and nothing less, is what separates the saved from the damned.
Those who maintain that there is something more than belief, are, quite literally,
In the pages that follow, Dr. Clark defends the view that faith is assent to
a proposition, and that saving faith is assent to propositions found in the
Bible. Saving faith is neither an indescribable encounter with a divine person,
nor heart knowledge as opposed to head knowledge. According to the author of
Hebrews, those who come to God must believe at least two propositions: That
he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Mindless
encounters and meaningless relationships are not saving faith. Truth is propositional,
and one is saved and sanctified only through believing true statements. Faith
comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
The anti-intellectual cast of virtually all modern thought, from the university
chair to the barroom stool, controls the pulpits as well. It is this pious anti-intellectualism
that emphasizes encounter rather than information, emotion instead of understanding,
"personal" relationship rather than knowledge. But Christians, Paul wrote, have
the mind of Christ. Our relationship to him is intellectual. And since Christ
is his mind and we are ours, no relationship could be more intimate than that.
That is precisely why the Scriptures use the analogy of marriage to illustrate
the intellectual relationship between Christians and Christ.
This recognition of the primacy of the intellect, the primacy of truth, is totally
missing from contemporary theology. One of this century's greatest theologians
and writers, J. Gresham Machen, wrote a book entitled What is Faith?
fifty years ago. His words are as appropriate today as they were then:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried...
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead..."
This anti-intellectual tendency in the modern world is no trifling thing;
it has its roots deep in the entire philosophical development of modern times.
Modern philosophy...has had as its dominant note, certainly as its present
day result, a depreciation of the reason and a skeptical answer to Pilate's
question, "What is truth?" This attack upon the intellect has been conducted
by men of marked intellectual power; but as attack it has been all the same.
And at last the logical results of it, even in the sphere of practice, are
beginning to appear. A marked characteristic of the present day is a lamentable
intellectual decline, which has appeared in all fields of human behavior except
those that deal with purely material things. The intellect has been browbeaten
so long in theory that one cannot be surprised if it is now ceasing to function
As over against this anti-intellectual tendency in the modern world, it will
be one chief purpose of the present little book to defend the primacy of the
intellect, and in particular to try to break down the false and disastrous
opposition which has been set up between knowledge and faith.
Faith And Knowledge
From the Introduction to Faith And Saving Faith By
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The thief on the cross said, "Lord, remember me;" After a life of crime one
of the three worst criminals in the nation -- Barabbas had been released --
this thief received assurance of heaven.
He could hardly have known much about Jesus. He certainly had not notion of
saving faith, let alone of the Trinity, the Atonement, or the second advent.
Yet, on the authority of Jesus, we know that he was saved. Is it necessary then
to have saving faith, or faith of any kind? Must we know what saving faith is?
Does one have to read the Bible and listen to evangelistic sermons? What is
the relation between faith and knowledge? Surely entrance into heaven does not
require a degree from a theological seminary. The thief was saved in ignorance.
However, let us not exaggerate. Very probably, indeed certainly, the thief knew
more than most people think he did. For one thing, he knew the charge on which
Christ had been condemned. Even if he had been so illiterate that he could not
have read the inscription on Christ's cross, he could not help hearing the screams
of the crowd as they ridiculed Christ's claim to be King, Savior, and God. He
also knew the charge on which he himself had been condemned. He had lived a
life of serious crime, and now he acknowledged that his condemnation and execution
were just. In reply to the other thief's participation in ridiculing Jesus,
he said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of
condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for
our deeds." (Luke
23:40) Not only did he fear God and admit his guilt, but he added, "This
man has done nothing wrong." How did he know that Jesus had done nothing wrong?
Being such an enterprising criminal and cognizant of the daily news from the
cities and villages, he must have heard rumors about this itinerant preacher.
As Christ preached to the multitudes, the thief might have been picking their
pockets and also picking up some few ideas of what Christ was saying. We must
therefore not underestimate the extent of the thief's knowledge; but we can
be pretty sure that he had no theological theory about the nature of saving
Even knowing so little the thief compares favorably with some Americans today.
They do not know they are guilty, nor do they fear God. Some do not even believe
there is a God. Then there is one thing the thief knew which hardly any American
knows. He knew he would die within a few hours. Our contemporaries, comfortably
ensconced before their TV's, do not have such sombre expectation. When we stop
to think, we see that the thief knew more than we first suspected. But all in
all, he still did not know very much.
If now he got to heaven without much knowledge, why should we bother to examine
the psychology of saving faith or trouble ourselves with theological investigations?
If knowledge is indeed required, a very little will suffice. If we do not know
what it means to believe, still we believe and are saved.
However, that one piece of knowledge which the thief had and which we do not
have prevents us from taking him as a norm for our action. He knew he would
be dead before nightfall. We do not. He had no opportunity of living a Christian
life, we do. To suppose that ignorance is sufficient for a Christian life is
to be ignorant of what a Christian life requires. Remember that Christ said,
"Make disciples of all the nations... teaching them to observe all that I commanded
28:19,20) The thief on the cross, and anyone else who is on his death-bed,
is excused from obeying this commandment. But the rest of us are not We are
obliged to teach, and before we can teach, we must learn -- learn all, or all
we can, of what Christ himself taught and what he taught through his disciples.
Remember also that all Scripture has been breathed out by God and that it is
all profitable for teaching. But we cannot teach the Christian message without
first learning it. This small book endeavors to explain what the New Testament
teaches about faith .
"This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways
assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment
of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of
Westminster Confession, Chapter XIV
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