by Thomas Hersman
Call me a Bible-thumper. Call me a Holly Roller. Call me a Jesus Freak if it makes you feel better. Just don’t call me a “person of faith.” Every time I hear that label, I cringe. I know it’s not meant to be derogatory. It’s a convenient way for pop culture to lump together all religious traditions while remaining all-inclusive, non-sectarian, and ostensibly non-critical. Yet, I can’t be too hard on outsiders when some of us Christians use the term ourselves, selecting it from the cache of euphemisms that make us feel more spiritually hip. It’s popularity aside, there are some very good reasons to reconsider whether we are indeed “people of faith.”
Applying “person of faith” to a Christian suggests that faith is the defining characteristic of Christianity. That isn’t the case at all, or at least it shouldn’t be. Surely we can all see that the scope of a Christian’s faith is actually very limited. Exclusivity is built in, and faith is not our default setting. The fact that we have faith in Christ should not mean that we are more likely to have faith in any other person, thing, or idea. Judging from the slew of religiously charged hoaxes circulating on social media, perhaps we didn’t get the memo.
Every passage of Scripture that praises and encourages faith clearly indicates that the faith must be in the God of Scripture. Without that context, a passage such as Luke 17:19 (Where Jesus tells a man that his faith has healed him) appears to say something altogether different than what the author intended. It wasn’t faith as a standalone virtue that healed him. It was Jesus. Jesus healed him because of his faith in the God of Scripture. Playing to our culture’s weakness towards over-inclusiveness and unity, we’ve made simply having faith more important than the person in whom that faith is placed. At some point we concluded that if all religions have faith, but they disagree on who the faith should be in, at least we can all agree that any faith is preferable to lack of faith. But, that idea is not only unbiblical and irrational, it is incredibly foolhardy. If I am in a sinking ship, and my nondescript faith in abstract karma convinces me that everything will turn out okay, so I don’t get into a lifeboat, my faith may very well get me killed for no good reason. Faith without a reliable object is nothing but wishful thinking.
When faith is separated from a reliable object, it becomes a quasi-magical, mystical power that we attempt to conjure up in our own psyche. This pop-culture view of faith is often at odds with objective truth, and results in the Miracle on 34th Street model. We all join the child Susan as she says over and over, “I believe, I believe, even though it doesn’t make sense, I believe.” It’s all about cultivating the right feelings and suppressing any opposing ones, so that Santa Clause gives you miracles, healing, money, or whatever you want – the sky is the limit.
We must understand that Biblical faith is based in truth, and not merely feeling or attitude. To clarify and demystify faith, I prefer to say that faith is a personal trust based upon what we know, that extends beyond what we can personally verify. It is a familiar part of human experience. My wife tells me that she loves me. I can’t test for love. While it is possible that she has some secret agenda that she has hidden for the past 11 years, everything I know about her indicates that she is telling the truth. It is perfectly reasonable to trust that her love is genuine. However, if she cut my brake lines on Monday, put arsenic in my coffee on Tuesday, and I woke up to her trying to put a pillow over my head on Wednesday night, nothing I feel toward her would make it reasonable to believe that she loves me. Similarly, our faith in Christ has a basis in things that are tangible, real, and testable, such as the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15) and other historical evidence, evidence from the natural world (Psalm 8), and rational consideration. Upon a foundation of what we know to be true, our faith takes us to “assurance of things that we hope for and evidence of the unseen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Since we know who God is, and that He has both the power and reliability to perform what He has promised, we have faith in things that cannot be examined, such as life after death.
Another consideration is this: If only the religious are people of faith, then it makes sense that some people (such as atheists or agnostics) successfully reject all faith in favor of what they know through their senses, but everyone has faith in something. Faith is a necessary part of human existence because we all have limited knowledge and limited senses. Only faith allows a person to observe small, limited changes in life forms and conclude that this method generated all life from single cells to humanity. Faith compels a person to believe that reality is limited to experience through the senses, when reason says this is not necessarily the case. Finally, if I believe that my intellect evolved to help me survive, yet I trust it to reveal truth, it must be faith that brings me to that conclusion. None of these beliefs can be established by simple experience and reason, they require faith to take the final step. Everyone has faith. What sets Christians apart is not their faith, but the One in whom their faith is placed.
Christians are not “people of faith.” We are people of faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s not cheapen the Gospel by burying it in a sea of dead religion, and empty faith, as if Christianity were simply just a face in the crowd of religions. Not when souls are at stake. I say that we take every possible opportunity to correct this misnomer and challenge others to see that we are not people of faith. We possess faith – in the one true God.