Within the task of theology, it is admitted and must be upheld that faith plays a massive role in theology. It is true that we can indeed read the Bible millions of times, and yet never come to understand it, simply because we don’t hear from the Holy Spirit. In all of the reading, what benefit does it actually bring? Similarly, we can study theology itself, reading many various opinions, and yet never come to a place where we understand what is being debated. We might fully understand the debate, we might know the Scriptures that weigh in on the subject, and we might even have our own opinions, but that does not then demand that we understand the subject. In theology, we’re dealing with real things. These aren’t fanciful subjects we conjure up via philosophy or some other intellectual exercise.
Theology, and especially considering that theology is the study of God, cannot be comprehended upon the basis of study or books. Faith is the only means of understanding. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What is the fear of the Lord apart from faith? Indeed, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” This is not an issue of elitism, or arrogance, but rather an issue of servanthood. Servanthood implies a humility that listens only for the words of the master. It believes that what it is writing about is an actual and tangible thing, and that it has experienced this actual and tangible thing. Servanthood requires that we have faith beyond the pages of a book. We believe, not because we’ve been convinced, but because we’ve experienced. We aren’t the masters of our own comprehension, that through meticulous study and virtuous reason we’ve come through with conclusions. Theologians are to speak and write, “Thus says God.”
Theologically speaking, faith has two qualities to it. There is distinction between fides qua creditur, which means “the faith that is believing”, and the fides quae creditur, which is “the faith which is believed”. The first statement is the belief itself, but then the question is asked what good that is if we don’t know what we believe in? It is precisely here that I have disagreement. Can you believe without knowing in what you believe? Don’t the two go hand in hand? And, if we’re talking about the more nuanced or subtle aspects that aren’t known from the first, is that truly a different thing altogether? You can believe that the Bible is inspired, and have a general understanding of what that means, but then as you learn and consider more deeply, your own belief and definition become more refined and enriched.
Where this really matters is in the consideration of heresy. Heresy is a belief that is so heinous in the eyes of biblical truth that you could not possibly be saved and also believe this. An example would be to deny the resurrection. If we say that Jesus died, but did not bodily rise from the grave, we have moved beyond the realm of error and into heresy. Faith demands that you cannot move into heresy. The moment you’ve moved past the bounds of error and into denying the faith itself is the moment you’ve made it obvious that you have no faith at all. While unbelief is dangerous in itself, and the atheist or skeptic we welcome to make their own remarks, heresy is all the more dangerous in that it claims to have faith, and claims to be an equally viable option, all the while rejecting any true faith.
Paul tells us that no one by the Spirit says, “Cursed be Jesus”, and that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. In the same way, no one by faith writes a theological framework that denies the major tenets of Christianity. And, I would add, no one can write out these tenets in a meaningful and honest way, except by the Spirit itself. Can you truly write that Jesus came from the Father as the incarnate God, and discuss the implications of this belief with the rest of theology and lifestyle, if you yourself don’t even believe it is true? Certainly such considerations can be made, but doubt will be manifest in absolute denial somewhere.
Therefore, I don’t see it as an issue between “faith” and “faith”. It isn’t about believing and knowing in what we believe. Both are present, or neither are present. We see doctrine as a corpus doctrinae, where it is all fit together. We don’t study “doctrines”, but rather “doctrine”. It is one doctrine, rooted and centered in the triune God. Errors might come through various writings, but the question is whether that error is detrimental, or if it is simply a wrong understanding. Saying that there is no trinity is as living of a theology as a headless man. Yet, whether certain sacraments are necessary, or how we’re to understand them, might not be as important. You can still be alive while missing a finger, or having a withered hand. While it is not the desire, missing the mark on what God declares about the doctrine of reciprocity is not fatal to the believer.
We believe – fides qua creditur – therefore, we believe in – fides quae creditur. Faith and reason complement one another, not oppose. Christian faith is concerned with the illumination of reason. Our desire is to expound the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; human reason shall only take us to the place of a ‘supreme being’ towering over creation. That ‘supreme being’, the greatest conceivable being, has nothing to do with God. When we go from simple belief, which could easily result in this ‘supreme being’ being acknowledged, and come unto fides quae creditur, man becomes capable to know God, empowered, and free. Any knowledge of God before this point is not true knowledge. We might have the mental capacity to conceive of a deity, even one dimly resembling Yeshua HaMessiah, but this dubbed ‘Jesus’ has nothing to do with the true Jesus. Our perception of reality and ‘goodness’ is simply too tarnished to comprehend the purity and magnanimity of God.
There is nothing in man to be able to know God unless it be revealed, imparted, and quickened by God. God works with man, this is true, but never in the strength of man. It is in the Divine partnership; man and God being one instead of two. This is the incarnation principle.1 It is where the Scripture is fully God’s word, but written by men. It is where the prophets speak, but somehow the words are not their own. It is where God works with His Church in the earth, and the deeds are somehow theirs and God’s at the same time. Incarnation is something that is explicit to the Son of God, and yet as a principle we find it throughout Scripture that God is somehow unified with His people in a way that when you see Moses, you see God.
It is this sapientia, this practical knowledge, that is the truth, and not simply truth. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” while staring in the face the very man who just said, “I am the truth.”2 That knowledge, that revelation of Christ, and not merely Christ as a person, nor as Son of God, but Christ before me, Christ in me, Christ through me, etcetera, is the prima veritas (primary truth), which is inevitably the ultima veritas (ultimate truth). To be “in Christ” is more than a statement of location or salvation. It is the deepest recognition that through the Word, the logos, God created all things, and you and I are in Him. Whether one knows it or not, they are in Christ. This is the ultimate meaning and purpose to life. No longer can one with this knowledge ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” for this one revelation encapsulates that answer in full. You are not worthless; you are in Christ, and therefore the most important treasure that can be found.
This is the truth that sets free, for all truth is rooted in it. The truth sets free, and any revelation that is truly revelation (revealed truth) must essentially set free. But why must it set free? To acknowledge even the basic concept there must be a designer will not inevitably lead to an embrace of salvation through Jesus Christ. Our fides qua creditur, simple belief, that there is a designer of the universe demands and implies a further understanding, a fides quae creditur, a belief in that designer. For the Intelligent Design advocate to stop short of that belief in is to rob themselves of all reality. This is the controversy of faith.
1 I’m not sure if I’ve coined this or not
2 John 14:6