In the last couple of entries we've been looking at Christianity and examining whether it is against logic and reason in principle. I've argued that it is not opposed to logic, and right now we're in the middle of seeing whether it is against reason. In particular, we're looking to see whether 'faith' is a sort of wishful thinking held without, or contrary to, evidence. In the last entry we looked at some Biblical clues to suggest that faith is not meant to be this sort of belief. In this entry we'll try and flesh out exactly what faith is, as the Bible describes it.
Context, context, context!
You'll likely notice before too long that whenever I talk about the Bible, I stress the importance of understanding the proper context surrounding it. Imagine if you said the following to an English speaking foreigner: "you got beef?" A local would understand that you are asking something equivalent to "you got a problem with me?" Without the knowledge of what that phrase means in a certain context, the foreigner might drastically misunderstand and respond with something like "Urm, no. I don't have any dead cow on me."
Without a correct understanding of the context of certain Biblical phrases and circumstances we are similarly prone to misinterpret what the text is saying. That often happens when we read the word 'faith' in the Biblical text. We import a modern 'wishful thinking' meaning of faith into the text rather than understanding what faith meant in the time the text was written. To uncover this original meaning we need to learn something of the context and language of Jesus' time. Our source for this little expedition, which I highly recommend reading, is the essay found here by JP Holding (this entry will basically be a very reduced version of the essay).
Loyalty and evidence
The Christian Bible is split into two main sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The NT describes the events of Jesus' life as well as his first followers', including some letters that they wrote amongst other things. The NT was originally written mostly in Greek and so having a look at the Greek word for faith will do us well in our search for the Biblical meaning. In Greek the word for faith as a thing (the noun) is "pistis" and it means a sort of proof or assurance. This was the sense in which it was used in a passage we looked at in the last entry, Acts 17:31. Most of the time in the NT, faith is used in a different form to speak of loyalty, much as we use it today where to be loyal to one's spouse is to be 'faithful' to one's spouse. But when we use the 'pistis' faith - proof - to inform us of how the 'loyalty' faith is to be understood, much of the NT starts to make a lot more sense. Faith is loyalty to God based on the evidence of his trustworthiness.
That is why when the early Christian leaders proclaimed their message there was an emphasis on evidence and reason, not on feelings and personal experience like you might find in a modern sermon. You might dispute the validity of the evidence, but the point in context is that faith is meant to be undergirded by fact. C. S. Lewis explained the application of it quite well; "faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods (Mere Christianity)." In the next entry we will have a further look at how this properly defined Biblical faith ought to function in the intellectual life of a Christian so that we can continue to see how Christianity fits with reason.