adventures in fideism

I am enjoying our first and perhaps last full week of summer in Michigan (every day sunny and in the 80s), so I am trying to get outdoors as much as possible. Since I don’t have a research assistant, and if I did he or she would be at the beach anyway, I’d like to ask two questions of you who are reading this.

1. Why aren’t you at the beach?

2. Do you know of any examples—in print preferably but also in word—of the separation of faith from knowledge? I don’t want this to burden you, so don’t take the time to look this up. I’m only asking for examples you might remember from what you have read or heard. You don’t need to supply precise bibliographical information, just steer me in the general direction and my imaginary assistant will take it from there.

Here are two examples of what I am looking for:

a. Regarding faith in the existence of God: “As long as you have faith, you will have doubts. I sometimes use the following illustration when I’m speaking. I tell the audience that I have a twenty-dollar bill in my hand and ask for a volunteer who believes me. Usually only a few hands go up. Then I tell the volunteer that I am about to destroy his (or her) faith. I open my hand and show the twenty-dollar bill. The reason I can say I am destroying his faith is that now he knows I hold the bill. He sees the bill and doesn’t need faith anymore. Faith is required only when we have doubts, when we do not know for sure. When knowledge comes, faith is no more” (John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt, 139).

b. Regarding faith in doing the will of God: this may be more controversial, but I would argue that we separate faith from knowledge when we claim that “stepping out in faith” means attempting risky, chancy plans that are doomed to fail unless God steps in and rescues us (how do we know that our foolish plan is the will of God?).

Example: “It’s a frightening and utterly exhilarating truth, isn’t it? As God’s chosen, blessed sons and daughters, we are expected to attempt something large enough that failure is guaranteed…unless God steps in” (Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez, 47).

I understand that many Christian ministries were built in this manner (rest in peace, Jerry Falwell), but compare Wilkinson’s quote to Luke 4:9-12 (pay attention to the identity of the speaker) and you’ll understand my concern.


Add yours →

  1. Jonathan Shelley August 14, 2009 — 8:12 am


    My mind immediately goes to Thomas Aquinas, with his introductory statements on what can be known rationally and what can only be known in faith, and then later his statements on the relationship between man’s will and God’s will, where the righteous obey God in faith. If you need me to be more specific, let me know, as the Summa is a rather large tome.

  2. Jonathan Shelley August 14, 2009 — 10:30 am

    Also, Augustine’s Enchiridion, particularly chapter 7, but the entire discussion on faith circles around knowledge and action. I also think his distinction between faith and hope is especially apropos.

  3. Ortberg seems to be taking Hebrews 11:1-2 as a full definition of faith—whereas it appears the author is simply highlighting those aspects his audience lacked. After all, doesn’t the author go on to say that without faith it is impossible to please God? (so no one in heaven pleases God?).

    By that definition, no one in heaven has faith in Jesus. Isn’t that like imagining St. Peter saying, “Hey, I know faith alone got you through the door but now that your here feel free to leave that junk at the gate.” Say hello to fideism.

    Somehow that doesn’t work for me.

  4. Moses’ parents? In faith, they *HID* their newborn for three months (Hebrews 11:23). This is not the risky “stepping out in faith” you’d imagine from people who “did not fear the king.”

    Faith hides the baby.

  5. Peter Rollins, “The Fidelity of Betrayal.”

    That’ll fill your requirements for fideism and more!

  6. As a side note:

    If you do need someone to break that book down for you, I can do it. I’ve actually conversed with Rollins on his book and even had his help in constructing my thesis paper (he evaluated my evaluation of him to see if I was accurate).

    If you’re pressed for reading, I would happily submit an outline of each chapter along with quotes. I’m taking the semester off – so I’m bored.

  7. Hebrews 11 comes to mind: 1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for…

    Building a huge boat when you had never even seen rain; that’s faith.
    Thinking that intercourse with your ninety year old wife is a leap of faith.
    Placing your son on an alter; that’s more than a leap of faith.
    And ultimately – taking a single woman to be your wife when she is pregnant and claims to still be a virgin… HUGE leap of faith.

    All of these people had an understanding of their Creator, but it took more than knowledge to follow God.

    Today it takes faith in leaps and bounds to start a church, give up safety and security to do something in the third world or even to start a business. Knowledge doesn’t make someone a good pastor nor a good business person. Plenty of good people fail at these things; so knowledge isn’t enough.

    When we look at I Corinthians, knowledge falls down to the bottom in terms of its importance to our faith. Faith, hope, and love remain… and pretty much only these three.

  8. Joel:

    I plan on reading that book, and would love to see your outlines and notes if you wish to email them to me:

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