Knowledge by Faith

 

My newest academic article is out in Evangelical Quarterly: “Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen and Yet Have Known By Faith: Knowledge, Faith, and Sight in the New Testament.” Ricochet saw the earliest version of this article in this old post. In an early draft of the article I began, by way of illustration, with a familiar New Testament way of teaching—a story:

At the time of the initial composition of this paragraph, I am between jobs. Technically, I am unemployed. I worked for four years as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Forman Christian College in Pakistan before my name was found on a document in the possession of a local terrorist organization. So my family and I spent the past academic year—the fifth at FC College—packing and looking for a new job. Shortly after we returned to Texas I was blessed with a job offer at Hong Kong Baptist University—another liberal arts university in Asia with a Christian heritage. HKBU, thankfully, allowed me the option of a contract beginning in January of 2018. It is now August of 2017, and my wife and I have a few months to sort through our footlockers, our crate from Pakistan, and our storage unit—and repack for moving to Hong Kong! I prefer to think of this time as a sabbatical rather than unemployment—an opportunity to do some reading, some writing on Augustine, and some writing on other projects such as this one. I’m not worried about my family’s financial situation because we’re not likely to go into debt, because I think future income is more important than how much money I have now, and because my future salary is going to be a raise as compared to my last job.

In essence, I am living on trust. I trust that our visas will be granted. I trust that, come December, the airline we select will get us safely from Texas to Hong Kong. I trust the contract I signed to hold water. I trust that I will get paid for my work in January sometime around early February. I have faith that these things will happen.

I have not seen my seat on the airliner, or the campus of HKBU, or our new home in Hong Kong, or the money in the checking account I will eventually set up in Hong Kong. I would be a fool to say “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I believe it now, and I act on that belief—packing, preparing for my spring semester courses, and so on.

I am walking by faith, not by sight.

But I also know that these things are so. My trust is paradigmatically rational; I am trusting in such things as the safety standards of modern aircraft, the professionalism of university employees such as the ones who hired me, and the solidity of a well-written employment contract. I know that the day will come when my family and I leave from George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, that I will start teaching at HKBU in January, and that I will get paid. Chances are pretty good that I know all this about as well as the storeowners from whom you purchased groceries sometime in the last week know that the credit card company will pay them on your behalf, as well as the credit card company knows that you will pay them back, and as well as you know that you will be paid by your employer for your work this month. We walk by knowledge when we walk by trust, or by faith, in those with good faith and good credit. That’s life.

Of course, I am not certain—inasmuch as I could die in a car accident tomorrow, our flight might be one of those rare ones that plunges into the sea, and so on. Nor are you, the grocer, or the credit card company 100% certain; but you have a rational belief on which you are acting and which you may reasonably call knowledge.

And this, of course, has everything to do with the Bible.

Since writing the above paragraphs in 2017, I have edited them only very slightly and mostly for clarity. It’s also a story Ricochet has seen before, here and here.

Eventually, the story dropped out of the article, but the point is still there: A lot of our lives are lived by trust, which is quite rational and very much a matter of knowledge, and this is what the New Testament also teaches.

Details in the article and earlier Ricochet material. (I’m a bit slow setting things up, but I have just secured permission to post a version of the article online, so if any of you are nerdy enough to read the article itself you might check back in, say, one week at Research Gate or PhilPeople.org.)

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    The 2-year-old one morning had just finished a cold drink from the fridge. She said, “See, my hands are cold!” I replied, “I don’t need to see, I believe you.”

    There’s nothing difficult about that conversation, is there?

    She didn’t want us to see, but to touch. “See” in her usage meant “learn for yourself” or “know firsthand.”

    I was able to believe her testimony without knowing firsthand. It was a perfectly rational move on my part. I would even say that I know that her hands were cold without having seen it firsthand.

    Does that sound like theology? It should.

    • #1
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    From what I can tell, the famous definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 is about faith and works. Same teaching as James–not that I see any conflict with Paul.  The point is that faith is the reproof or the life change called for by the unseen pragmaton–deeds–of Christ mentioned a bit earlier in the text.

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  3. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    I don’t recall hearing this story before.  But it is a great analogy.

    What would Thomas / Didymus say?

    • #3
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Clavius (View Comment):

    I don’t recall hearing this story before. But it is a great analogy.

    What would Thomas / Didymus say?

    I go over that passage in John in the article.

    • #4
  5. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Are you in Hong Kong now? The situation in Taiwan is getting very challenging – on BBC News tonight, they are looking for Visas to get to the UK!

    • #5
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    I don’t recall hearing this story before. But it is a great analogy.

    What would Thomas / Didymus say?

    I go over that passage in John in the article.

    I guess I should say something about it here.  In that conversation Jesus uses sight as a metaphor/metonym/synecdoche for firsthand knowledge. But, also in John, this stuff (from the article):

    Now consider what John says immediately after: ‘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 20:30–1). Only twenty-four verses later he says that his readers also know what they believe: ‘This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true’ (John 21:24). . . . John is emphasizing a very ordinary way of knowing–knowing through reliable testimony–and thus he appeals to his own status as a witness passing knowledge on to us. Not only life but also knowledge comes by this belief. John’s readers have not, like Thomas, seen and touched; yet, he considers, they also may believe and know. So there is some knowing without seeing. And that seeing would be a variety of first-hand knowledge–that which comes by first-hand, physical experience.

    • #6
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Are you in Hong Kong now? The situation in Taiwan is getting very challenging – on BBC News tonight, they are looking for Visas to get to the UK!

    I’m in HK. Haven’t heard that about T.

    • #7
  8. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    The 2-year-old one morning had just finished a cold drink from the fridge. She said, “See, my hands are cold!” I replied, “I don’t need to see, I believe you.”

    “Oh goodness, my hands are cold” would mean the same thing.  She’s not asking for a look; she’s getting your attention and framing the subject.

    • #8
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    The 2-year-old one morning had just finished a cold drink from the fridge. She said, “See, my hands are cold!” I replied, “I don’t need to see, I believe you.”

    “Oh goodness, my hands are cold” would mean the same thing. She’s not asking for a look; she’s getting your attention and framing the subject.

    As in the phrase “See here”?

    I would take that as a use of “see” in a different metaphorical use, as in “By faith we can see it afar.” That does get mentioned in the article.

    But I don’t think she meant it that way.

    • #9
  10. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    Your namesake said much the same about taking things from authority- we all do it, even the most confirmed cynic/skeptic. Without it we couldn’t function. Of course, which authorities we accept matters greatly.

    • #10
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    MiMac (View Comment):

    Your namesake said much the same about taking things from authority- we all do it, even the most confirmed cynic/skeptic. Without it we couldn’t function. Of course, which authorities we accept matters greatly.

    Indeed. Early versions of the article went over Augustine and William James on the subject. The opening story illustrated that bit well.

    • #11