What does it mean when we say that we believe? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I’ve said I’d be starting a project after reviewing Carrier’s book and indeed I am. At the church I attend, we happen to regularly say the Apostles’ Creed together. I figured it would be an interesting series to go through the creed and write about it. Now this will be interspersed with announcements about the episodes of the podcast coming up and book reviews and if something important needs to be written on, I’ll do that. Until then, let’s get to the creed and assume this as my working project at the time.
The version I am going to use can be found here.
And to really go through this bit by bit, I’m going to be starting with just the first two words.
So what does it mean to believe?
We’re going to talk about faith some with this because faith is really one of the most misunderstood words. Too often, when people say that we are to have faith, they usually mean that we are to just believe. Believing for the sake of believing however is not a virtue. Rather, it is foolishness.
Faith more properly understood is trust. It is trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. Read the atheist literature and you’ll get something completely different. Dawkins and others say it is belief without evidence. Boghossian says it is pretending to know things you don’t know.
Now if either one of these was what faith was, faith would be something to be condemned. Do I think many Christians unfortunately espouse a faith like this? Yes. I think they sadly do.
The sad reality is that when this definition of faith is given, it is never given with evidence that this is how the biblical writers used the term. One could say for Boghossian that he is pretending to know something he doesn’t know.
Here’s on the other hand a source that does say what it means.
“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.
The Greek word for this is pistis. I have written previously on how that word is used in Hebrews 11:1 and that can be found here. What Boghossian and Dawkins and others never ask is “Did the ancient writer mean by pistis what modern Christians would use if they were using the same word?” If not, then these authors have fallen into a bit of postmodernism. What one has to do with a text is take it the way they believe the author intended.
So then, what does it mean when we say we believe.
Now to be fair, I don’t think faith is exactly what is being meant in the creed in the modern sense. Faith properly understood is not a means of knowing but is rather a response to what one knows. One shows faith on the basis of what one believes or knows. (Yes. You can have knowledge and still have faith. Why? Simple. How many times have you known something but still had to act on it to counter, say, an emotional hang-up?)
For the creed, what this is saying is “The following are statements that I hold to be true and I am willing to make a commitment to them.” One could compare it to a marriage. When you walk down the aisle, you have no way of knowing the future and sadly, too many marriages end in divorce, but you are saying “I believe that this person is someone I can trust and spend the rest of my life with.”
What I’d like for us to remember is that there is evidence for what we believe. This is a real shock to too many Christians unfortunately, but really think about what that means. That means that if you hold to the physical resurrection of Jesus, this means that Jesus really did live among us and walk and do miracles teach and He really did die and rise again.
Whether you’re an atheist or a Christian, this should be agreed upon. This is something truly incredible. If you were an atheist and found out this was true, it should change everything. If you’re a Christian and find out this is false, it should change everything.
So really, when you say this you are making a grand claim. You are claiming that something is true. Really consider that and then consider the ramifications. If I really think that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead and everything else in the creed, what does that mean?
Suppose you received word today that you had $100 million in your bank account. Everything was legal and you had undeniable proof that it was true. Would your lifestyle change differently? You bet it would!
You’d be out there buying a lot of things you’ve been wanting. You’d be donating to your church and several ministries. (And hopefully you’d be keeping Deeper Waters in mind.) You’d be setting up college funds for your children. You’d be living in a much better house and driving in a much better car. You would probably quit your job.
Now suppose you find out that Christianity is true? How will that change everything? How much your worldview changes depending on finding out Christianity is true or false shows how much it means to you.
When you recite this creed in a church service, please keep in mind what you are saying. You are saying “I hold the following to be true.” If that is the case, then the next question you have to answer is “How will you live differently knowing this is true?”
That is an important question isn’t it?