Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What is Saving Faith?

I have an assignment in my Epistemology class to compare the concepts of "belief" and "saving faith", with a view toward either differentiating the two or explaining their connection. I don't really know which way I am going to argue - I feel like a whole lot of peripheral issues are brought to the forefront when we explore this concept of saving faith. Is saving faith, along the lines of Gordon Clark, mental assent to a set of propositions? Is it belief plus some other mental state (such as trust) or emotional state (such as love)?

When I try to think of the possible necessary and sufficient conditions for saving faith, but really when I analyze the concept of salvation this way, I run into a paradox. Specifically, what could the necessary and sufficient conditions for salvation be. Since I am not a Calvinist I believe that human free choice has to be in there somewhere, but I want to maintain God's sovereign control at the same time. So, let me explain why the diagram below is insufficient.

Necessary Conditions: God's grace + Human acceptance
Sufficient Conditions: God's grace

These conditions say that for salvation it is necessary that both God's grace and Human acceptance be present - we usually call these individually necessary but jointly sufficient conditions. However, we have this individually sufficient condition of God's grace, but if God's grace is both necessary and sufficient then there is no need for any other condition. To show this through analogy imagine that we are trying to figure out what it means to be a legal citizen of fictional country XYZ. In this country, to be a citizen means that you are born within the territorial boundaries of this country. That's it, that's the only way to be a citizen of XYZ. So, in regards to citizenship, being born in XYZ is both a necessary and sufficient condition to achieving this status. Therefore, no other factors come into play. We can't say, for instance, that another necessary condition is that you be Christian since that would make being born in XYZ no longer an individually sufficient condition for citizenship. What this example shows then, is that, if we want to maintain that Human acceptance is a part of the salvation equation we need to make some adjustments.

So to solve this problem we say, okay then maybe God's grace is necessary but not sufficient. Will this solve the problem? Namely:

Necessary Conditions: God's grace + Human acceptance
Sufficient Conditions: None (individually)

While this will allow us to say that Human acceptance is a crucial part of the salvation equation, this turns out to impinge upon our other interest, the sovereignty of God. If we eliminate God's power to give salvation completely independent of man I believe we have done something to His greatness. We now have to say that God's grace is not sufficient alone to provide salvation for people. But what happened to Sola Gratia?

As well, we can easily dismiss the options that have Human acceptance as sufficient (as the early Christian heresy of Pelgianism).

So I guess my question in all of this is not specifically about salvation, but about this "saving faith". What does it mean? Is it an illusory concept as the Calvinists will have us believe, or is there actually something to Human free belief (or the combination of belief+trust+love)?

3 comments:

St. Brianstine said...

It is never on account of its formal nature as a psychic act that faith is conceived in Scripture to be saving. It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or nature of faith, but in the object of faith.

Warfield, B. B.

Jake C. said...

no Bible verse used.

St. Brianstine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.