Too Many Christians Have the Wrong View of ‘Faith.’ Do You?

By Tom Gilson Published on March 31, 2018

Do you have the wrong view of faith?

Easter is just a day away. Christians live by the faith that Jesus rose from the dead. We look forward in faith to our own resurrection of eternal life with Jesus. But what is faith, really?

Peter Boghossian, professor and author of A Manual for Creating Atheists, says it’s “belief without evidence.” It’s “pretending to know what you can’t know.” A whole lot of atheists see it the same way. Faith, they say, is belief that isn’t based on good enough proof to be called knowledge. If you believe something without good enough reason, it’s faith. If you do have good reason, it’s knowledge.

Skeptics will illustrate by saying, “I believe the sun will come up tomorrow. I know it’s always happened that way, and I know why it happens that way. So even though I believe it, my belief isn’t faith, it’s knowledge instead.” What are they really saying about religious faith? Faith is claiming to know what you don’t know. It’s pretending to know what you can’t know.

I’ll be interacting on this topic live by video next week on The Stream’s Facebook page — Tuesday, April 3, at 8 pm Eastern time: Episode five of “Contentious Questions (Because some questions are just that way).”

Bring your questions, your comments, and your friends. Share this around social media. I’ll look forward to being with you there then.

Too Many Christians Are Confused About Faith

But it isn’t just skeptics who say so. In one Australian survey, more than a quarter of religious believers agreed that faith is “belief without evidence.” Only 55 percent “strongly disagreed.” I’ve run into enough anecdotes to believe it isn’t just Australian believers who think that way.

It almost sounds right, but it isn’t. In fact, there’s a huge, huge problem with it. How huge? Great enough that if that’s the true definition of “faith,” Jesus was one of the world’s great destroyers of faith. Seriously. If faith is belief that’s not quite good enough to be counted as knowledge, Jesus’ final mission on earth after that first Easter morning was to undermine and even eliminate faith.

Obviously that’s not what Jesus was about! Which means this view of faith must be wrong, and there must be a better definition.

Jesus, Destroyer of Faith?

If that’s the true definition for “faith,” then it makes Jesus one of the world’s great destroyers of faith.

How did Jesus destroy faith, you ask? The trail to that answer starts with the question, “What is it that can destroy faith?” Your first answer would probably be, “Anything that causes a person to quit believing.” And you would be right.

But there’s another answer, too. If faith is correctly defined as believing when you don’t have good enough reasons to know for sure, then if you do have good reasons for what you believe, then what you have isn’t “faith” anymore. Just like the sun rising in the skeptic’s example, it’s “knowledge” instead. Where you have knowledge like that, you no longer have to have faith. It replaces faith. Which means faith is gone.

So you could eliminate every trace of faith just by replacing it with well-grounded, certain knowledge based on good reasons.

But what then do we make of what Acts 1:3 tells us Jesus was doing after His resurrection? “He presented Himself alive to them with many convincing proofs.” He was trying to give them certainty, knowledge — knowledge based on direct evidence, in fact. Which isn’t faith, according to the definition we’ve been working on. It’s something else instead. Jesus gave them great reasons to know he rose from the dead. That was enough to take away their faith, right?

No, The Definition Was Wrong to Begin With

Wrong. We have another choice. We don’t have to say Jesus was a great destroyer of faith. We can back up a few steps instead and say, “Woah, maybe our definition of ‘faith’ was wrong from the beginning!”

So, are you ready to try again? Let me suggest a better definition. First, faith is trust. The two words are synonyms. They’re synonyms in the original Greek and Hebrew Bible, they’re synonyms in English; they’ve always been synonyms. Many times I’ve heard skeptics say faith isn’t trust at all, it’s just deciding you know something when you don’t have any reason think it’s true.

But they’re wrong. The word faith has always meant “trust.” And trust has nothing to do with “pretending to know” anything. Trust is a positive attitude we take toward something or someone we consider trustworthy, one that allows us to be willing to put something we value in their care. The same is exactly true of the word faith. We could call it an attitude of trust toward something or someone we consider trustworthy.

Faith doesn’t come from not-knowing, but from knowing.

Faith Means Putting Something At Risk — Based On What We Do Know

Now, trust implies putting something you care about at risk. I trust the bank with my money. That’s not a big risk, because the bank has proved itself very trustworthy. If it fails, there are federal agencies that have proved themselves trustworthy in making up for losses. It happened in my hometown when I was a kid: Someone was careless in their accounting, the bank failed, and the FDIC paid the losses within days. (And someone went to jail for the error, but that’s another story.)

We trust airplanes to carry us across the country. That’s a slightly bigger risk, but not much. Why? Because we’ve seen airplanes’ excellent track record lately. The biggest risk is probably that our luggage will land in the wrong place, or that we will.

We trust weather reports, and we’ll make plans around them, despite the chance they might be wrong. We can do that because weather forecasters do a pretty good job — much more than a few decades ago. Yet we know they can still be wrong sometimes, so we temper our trust; we hedge our risk; we make a “Plan B” in case it rains.

We have faith in our spouses and significant others, but the degree of trust we place in them varies, depending on who they are and what we’ve learned about them in our relationships so far.

Do you see how faith really doesn’t come from not-knowing, but from knowing? It involves putting something at risk, but not because we don’t know, but because we do.

Christian Faith: Trust That’s Based on What (or Whom) We Know

The same applies to Christian faith. I’ve dedicated my entire life to Jesus Christ: my interests, my reputation, my finances, my daily choices, everything. That’s taking a risk for sure. I’m counting on Him to walk with me through my problems. I trust Him to keep His promises. I am counting on Him resurrecting me to eternal life, not because of my goodness but because of His promises and His love.

And also because I know that He is trustworthy. He’s proved it by His faithfulness to His people down through the centuries, as recorded in the Bible. He’s proved it with the Church since then — we are a motley group, often ugly with each other, and yet the Church survives and is growing worldwide. He proved His sacrificial love through Jesus’ willingness to die on the Cross. He proved His resurrection power by rising from the dead Himself.

I could continue further. I don’t just know all this is true “by faith.” That is, I don’t have the attitude, “I hope it’s true and it’s a nice idea and I believe it because it’s good to believe it.” That wouldn’t be faith, it would be foolishness.

I have faith that the first Easter will eventually mean my own resurrection, because I know the first Easter was real.

The Facts Hold Up — So Therefore We Can Have Faith In What They Mean

No, I know it’s true because when I look into the facts, they hold up. They meet the test of history, of archaeology, of internal consistency, and even of what I know to be true about myself and other people. Along with that, I have the confidence of God’s own Spirit in me confirming that it’s true. I have faith that the first Easter will eventually mean my own resurrection, because I know the first Easter was real.

So don’t believe the skeptics. Faith isn’t claiming to know what you don’t know. It isn’t pretending to know what you can’t know. It isn’t believing things without evidence or proof. Faith is an attitude of trust, putting something of value on the line, based on real knowledge of the sort that gives us confidence in whatever we’re trusting.


Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream. His extended answer to Professor Boghossian’s Manual for Creating Athests is available as an ebook, Peter Boghossian: Atheist Tactician (Kindle, 2013). Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.

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  • Ken Abbott

    Thanks, Tom. This message deserves a wide audience.

  • Chip Crawford

    Yes, and one might add that faith is synonymous with believing. One attribute from Romans 10:17 that has brought definition to me is that faith is based on what someone said. Bible faith is believing God, what he said in general and to you for your life in particular. In guidance and direction, a heading in life, one consults what God has already said in his Word, then getting quiet for that still, small inner voice. In natural circumstances, you also go by what one has said. You believe them or not based on how trustworthy you perceive them. One acts on what they’ve heard from someone they trust.
    Heb 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.Ro 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

    • It’s synonymous with believing in some contexts, but belief is a broader term. It’s appropriate to say you beieve George Washington was America’s first president, but that’s not a matter of faith, since you’re not venturing anything of yourself on that belief. It’s a statement of knowledge that doesn’t involve a real attitude of trust. So I’d say you’re right up to a point, but you’d want to be careful about carrying that point too far.

      • Chip Crawford

        It holds up in 1 John 5:4 with pistis used there, denoting belief (Strongs). Actually, James 2 (pistis again and throughout the NT) makes the determinative issue of faith coming to fullness or fruition when one steps out or acts on it When actually acting on my faith to fruition, I know that nothing happened until I ventured forth, as you say, in the indicated direction for sure.

  • JP

    Atheists are doing what they claim Christians are doing: ““belief without evidence.” Just ask an atheist how he knows there is no God and he will not give you any facts or evidence. Thus, he believes atheism is true “without evidence.”

    • Trilemma

      Do you believe flying pink elephants exist?

      • GPS Daddy

        Life is designed. This is self evident. Design always has a designer. Since life always comes from life, intelligence always comes from intelligence and personhood always comes personhood, then this designer of life is a living, intelligent, personal being.

        • John Connor

          If it were self evident, we wouldn’t have scores of scientists trying to figure out the beginning of life. The rest of your comment is pure speculation

          • GPS Daddy

            As usual, your comments are hogwash.

          • John Connor

            The same could be said of yours.

        • Trilemma

          I agree.

          • davidrev17

            There’s a great, sound, elegantly logical answer to that usually misguided question, but not for your metaphysical materialist worldview though, on this terribly misunderstood issue re: the attributes and/or character traits unique to the SELF-existent – thus UN-created, “UNcaused First Cause” of all that exists – “non-physical”/”transcendent,” Judeo-Christian Creator (Yahweh) in particular; over-and-against these competing notions about wannabe, pretender (“lesser gods”) in general, so typically associated with mythology, or even the ideas about God which see him as CO-extensive with nature, like in the religions ofi Eastern panentheism, or pantheism.

            Just Google/YouTube your very question. “But who designed the designer,” in the context of Dr’s. Richard Dawkins & John Lennox (distinguished mathematician, philosopher of science, and Christian Apologist), both former colleagues at Oxford.

            Or you can also find a great teaching (or debate) segment on YouTube on the same subject, just Google John Lennox with it too. Highly thought provocative stuff, as Lennox is at the top-of-his-game in this arena…hope you’ll gain some insight by listening carefully here? Thanks!

          • Trilemma

            How can anyone know if God is self-existent, un-created, and un-caused?

          • GLT

            Logic. If God is not self-existent and is simply a created being he is, by definition, not God. It’s really not hard.

          • Trilemma

            A being that creates life on a planet, rules over that life and judges it is by definition God. It doesn’t need to be self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, infinite or eternal.

          • GPS Daddy

            Really? Your actually going to counter with that argument? You know very well you end up in an infinite loop with that argument. But this is really a denial of God’s existence. Which means there is a heart issue going on with you. You cannot seek God, and find Him, if your going to play these kinds of games.

            So are you a seeker, Trilemma, or a game player?

          • Trilemma

            I don’t deny the existence of God. You said intelligence always comes from intelligence. If that is true, then God’s intelligence had to come from intelligence.

          • GLT

            No one designed the designer. Your argument is nothing more than schoolboy philosophy like that practiced by Richard Dawkins, et al. Logicians and philosophers long ago concluded there must be an initial cause which is itself not caused. The alternative is infinite regression in which nothing would ever come to exist.

          • Trilemma

            GPS Daddy said, “Design always has a designer.” This statement requires infinite regression.

      • JP

        Whats the evidence for them?

        • Trilemma

          What’s the evidence they don’t exist?

          • JP

            You brought up pink elephants so you must believe they exist. So what is your evidence?

          • Trilemma

            I saw one. Now do you believe flying pink elephants exist?

          • JP

            No. How many eyewitnesses saw them? Do you their names and phones numbers so we can check?

          • Trilemma

            No? What evidence do you have that flying pink elephants don’t exist?

            There were 500 witnesses but they’re all dead. Now do you believe flying pink elephants exist?

          • JP

            You made the claim that pink elephants exist. Now what proof do you have?

          • Trilemma

            I gave you the proof. I saw one. I touched it and fed it and watched it fly off and disappear in the clouds. And there were 500 other witnesses. If you still don’t believe then what evidence do you have that flying pink elephants don’t exist? Or do you believe they don’t exist with no evidence?

          • JP

            One claim is not enough. In fact you are hallucinating or on drugs.

          • Trilemma

            What evidence do you have that I’m hallucinating or on drugs?

          • JP

            You made a claim that only those on drugs make.

          • GLT

            “I gave you the proof. I saw one. I touched it and fed it and watched it fly off and disappear in the clouds.”

            Will you be willing to suffer persecution and possible death to defend your claim? My bet is your lying in a pathetic attempt to make a point.

          • Trilemma

            Can you prove I’m lying? What evidence do you have that I’m lying?

          • GLT

            Can you answer my question, would you be willing to face severe persecution and death in defence of your claim?

          • Trilemma

            I’m willing to say something that’s not true to avoid persecution. What evidence do you have that I’m lying about flying pink elephants?

          • GLT

            “I’m willing to say something that’s not true to avoid persecution.”

            Great, you’re willing to lie to avoid persecution, that says a lot about your credibility when it comes to your claim of seeing flying pink elephants. Nice own goal.

            Now how about you try once more to answer my actual question? You claim to have seen flying pink elephants and equate this with the claim of those testifying to having seen the risen Christ. Would you be willing to die for your pink elephant claim as those who claimed to see the risen Christ died for their claim?

            While you’re at it you could maybe explain what is the significance of your flying pink elephants?

          • Trilemma

            The significance of the flying pink elephants is that Christians should not expect atheists to supply evidence that God doesn’t exist any more than I should expect you to provide evidence that flying pink elephants don’t exist.

            I don’t remember the Bible saying any apostles were threatened with death if they didn’t deny having seen the bodily resurrected Jesus.

          • GLT

            “The significance of the flying pink elephants is that Christians should not expect atheists to supply evidence that God doesn’t exist any more than I should expect you to provide evidence that flying pink elephants don’t exist.”

            That is not what I was looking for when I asked you for the significance of flying pink elephants but c’est la vie.

            Atheists are making a positive claim to knowledge when they make the statement no god or gods exist, as such, they are required to provide evidence to support their claims. It is really that simple. It is nonsense to say Christians should not demand evidence from atheists.

            Where did I say it would only be apostles who would suffer persecution? You don’t remember Stephen being stoned to death for his faith in Christ? You don’t remember Paul demanding to go to Rome to face trial? How about Matthew 5:11, 1 Peter 4:14, Romans 8:35, just to name a few? What about the Christians in Rome under Nero?

          • Trilemma

            One person claims flying pink elephants exist. Another person claims they don’t exist. Who has the burden of proof?

            The Bible doesn’t say that either Stephen or Paul saw the resurrected Jesus walking around. All throughout history people have endured persecution and death for things that weren’t true. The fact that people are willing to die for a belief doesn’t mean the belief is true.

          • GLT

            “Who has the burden of proof?”

            They both bear the burden of defending their claim, that is painfully obvious common sense.

            “All throughout history people have endured persecution and death for things that weren’t true.”

            You’re not looking at this question from the proper perspective. Of course people suffer and die for things that are not true but they do not suffer and die for things they know to be false. The apostles and others witnessed the resurrected Christ and knew it to be true and were willing to die for that truth. Others throughout history witnessed that commitment and believed as well that people would not die for what they knew to be false.

            In reference to Stephen, the lack of Biblical comment is not evidence he did not see the risen Christ it is only evidence that the writer did not see fit to mention whether or not he had. The chances he did are quite high due to the fact he was close to the centre of the events in Jerusalem. As for Paul the Bible clearly records his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.

    • John Connor

      To a certain extent, yes. Neither atheists nor christians can prove their beliefs.

      • JP

        The life of Christ proves that God exist.

  • GPS Daddy

    Even Richard Dawkins admits that life has the appearance of design. The reason that Dawkins uses the word “appearance” is that he is unwilling to trust that this design means that there is a designer.

    I trust that the design that is so readily apparent in life means that there is a designer behind it.

  • Hmmm…

    The evidence is the witness on the inside, the knowing, the assurance, Hebrews 11:1. That comes from involvement with the word concerning the matter. Atheists do not enjoy the Holy Spirit/word dimension, so they gravitate to natural things as the only qualifying evidence. They are not able to “see on the inside.” They doubt and do without. But whoever searches God with an honest heart is supplied. Then, by that same spirit, the connections are made. Faith becomes sight. It starts on the inside.

  • Trilemma

    All this does is change the statement by Peter Boghossian to, “Trust is “pretending to know what you can’t know.” Even if you have evidence for trust you still don’t know if you can trust. If you trust a chair to hold your weight and sit on it, it still might collapse because you couldn’t know it would not hold your weight. You can invest your money in a mutual fund because you trust it to make money but you can’t know it will. Investments always come with the disclaimer, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results,” which means be careful what you put your trust in.

    • davidrev17

      “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

      “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

      “Jesus said to him, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [What? Well that’d be scandalous!]

      “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:24-29/ESV)

      • Trilemma

        Maybe Thomas thought the other apostles were trying to play a cruel April fool’s joke on him. 🙂

        I hope your Easter weekend was blessed, davidrev17.

    • Bryan

      I think I disagree Tri. But I think I disagree because you are twisting the words knowledge and trust. I say twisting because you’re sort of using them interchangeably and sort of not so the words are sort of twisting together.
      In the chair example, if you can trust the chair is a personal choice. That personal choice should be based on the chair’s characteristics and your understanding of how gravity works. Whether the chair will hold your weight or not is not a matter of trust, either it will or it won’t. You’re either supported or not based on physics. You choose to trust the chair based on your knowledge of the chair.
      So faith or trust is not “pretending to know what you can’t know” but rather deciding whether to risk something (money, falling on the floor, etc) based on what you do know.

      • Trilemma

        “You choose to trust the chair based on your knowledge of the chair.”

        Let’s say you look at a chair and say to yourself, “That chair is well built and sturdy. I will sit on it.” Your are pretending to know something about the chair you can’t know. Odds are you’re right but you can’t know that for sure until you sit on it. So, your trust in the chair is based on pretending to know what you can’t know about the chair.

        • Ken Abbott

          Let’s say you look at a chair in the company of its maker, a master carpenter who has a reputation for making marvelous, sturdy, comfortable chairs. As you examine it, he confirms to you that it is indeed one of his chairs, built to his impeccable standards. You have the testimony of others you trust that they have sat in the carpenter’s chairs and found them completely reliable. But you may still have your doubts. The carpenter tells you, “Trust the chair. But if you find that difficult, trust me. I stand behind this chair.”

          • Trilemma

            It doesn’t take much trust to sit on the chair you describe here because my lack of knowledge is small. It requires much trust to sit on an old rickety chair where my lack of knowledge is much. Doubt is caused by a lack of knowledge. It doesn’t take much trust to overcome a little doubt. It takes much trust to overcome much doubt. Trust is required to overcome what we can’t know which is why it’s like pretending to know what we can’t know. Trust fills in the gap of what we can’t know. If I know with 100% absolute certainty a chair will hold my weight then there’s no trust involved when I sit on it.

          • Ken Abbott

            No, you still lack experiential knowledge of what will happen when you sit in the chair. You are depending on the reputation of the carpenter and experienced witness testimony, plus whatever evidence you may gather from your examination of the chair prior to sitting in it (such as distinguishing between “an old rickety chair” and one that appears sturdy and newly-made). Trust is not “pretending to know what we can’t know,” but making an educated or enlightening conclusion based on the available evidence, which may not lead to certainty but at least to good probability. We act on good probabilities and not certainties all the time.

            Bottom line, T, is you’re still running afoul of the false definition of faith that Tom wrote this post to counter.

    • Clark Coleman

      You are missing the point of the statement by Peter Boghossian. He is implying that religious people pretend to know something that they don’t but rational skeptics engage in no such activity. In fact, everyone has to operate on trust. Someone who believes published results in a scientific journal is trusting the peer review process, trusting that the authors don’t want to jeopardize their careers by faking results that will be uncovered as false at a later date, etc. There is a rational basis for that trust, but there is not absolute certainty, so it would be incorrect to say that you “know” the published paper must be true. Rather, you trust that it is true.

      Similarly, Christians have a rational basis for their trust. That does not mean we have absolute certainty. Boghossian tried to imply that there is a difference in kind between religious faith and the trust that everyone employs, religious or not.

  • Estoy Listo

    “Pretending to know,” strikes me as nothing more than conning yourself into believing. Faith requires us to give up knowing, at least that’s how it is with me; that’s where I struggle.

    • Chip Crawford

      The scripture says faith is the assurance. God is a spirit. He gives us of his spirit to relate to him when we are born again. If you’re not born again, you are literally not able to hear from him. But if you are, YOU CAN HEAR from him and know in the inner man. It’s not exotic; it’s bottom line Christianity. That’s entirely relevant to the outer, physical world because he cares about and will tell you about everything. Eye on the sparrow; more so on his child, the crown of his creation. You can’t separate walking by faith with being led by the spirit. Develop a hearing ear and you will definitely hear from him. The struggle is over with that. Just follow through with what you’ve heard, like move in that direction.

  • Jim Walker

    The funny thing about faith is, until you take that step of “faith”, you can never fully understand what it is.
    Its like you can read and see what a lemon meringue cheesecake is, but the only way to find out how it taste, is to have a mouthful.
    Atheists can read all the books in this world but they will never understand and know who Jesus is.

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