How can a repentant sinner come to faith without rebutting every argument against the existence of God?

This week's God or Not Carnival is on the topic of faith. While I haven't seen the blog entries by our skeptical friends, I am relatively certain that at least a couple of their blogs will make the claim that Biblical faith is akin to "blind faith." In other words, looking at the definition of faith in the dictionary and seeing several viable options for defining Biblical faith in a way that it is consistent with reason, the typical skeptic will seize the following definition as the one that stands for Biblical faith: "Faith -- Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence."

Of course, such a view of faith is not what Biblical faith is all about. At the same time, I cannot say that their confusion is that difficult to understand since Biblical faith is a bit amorphous. So, giving the benefit of the doubt that our skeptical friends are not intentionally misrpresenting Biblical faith to set up a straw man to knock down, for the benefit of our skeptical friends, I thought I would take a couple of minutes to give them some idea of what Biblical faith is really all about.

Biblical faith can actually be broken into several different faith steps each with its individual characteristics that distinguish it from other aspects of faith in the church. However, none of the faith steps can be seen as belief that is divorced from a rational look at the Christian message. In order to keep this blog brief, I will only discuss the first type of faith held by a believer -- saving faith.

Saving faith is the first type of faith reached by most Christians. It is the faith described in Romans 10, for example, where the repentent person who believes in her heart and confesses with her lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, is saved. In other words, this is the faith of the person who first acknowledges that (1) they are a sinner, (2) they need a savior, and (3) Jesus is that savior (the "three basic facts of salvation"). This faith does not call for the person exercising it to "check their brain at the door" (as the Josh McDowell book so artfully described it). The repentent person should do so with a full intellectual assent to the three basic facts of salvation.

Now, when I say that a person has to have "full intellectual assent", I am not saying that a person must be able to counter arguments against apostolic authorship of the Gospels or be able to reconcile the alleged contradictions of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. There is not a pop quiz to coming to this type of faith. What the person coming to this type of faith needs to understand intellectually is whatever is intellectually satisfying to that person at the time of the coming of the faith. This means that as long as they are personally satisfied at that time of the truth of the three basic facts of salvation, they are acting rationally.

In some cases, the repentent person may find himself coming to this faith despite the fact that confessing the three basic facts of salvation is contrary to what he may have believed to that point. For example, suppose that the repentent person has always contended that the Problem of Evil proves that there is no God. Does that repentent person have to have a full grasp of how it is that God can overcome the objection presented by the Problem of Evil in order to be intellectually fulfilled? No. A person can reject prior intellectual positions without fully grasping the reasons that they have rejected them. Certainly, many of us regularly reject positions that we intellectually held when new information comes in that makes the old position no longer tenable.

Here is an analogy for how this works: Suppose a policeman strongly believes that Johnny committed a particular murder because all of the known evidence pointed to the fact that Johnny committed the murder. Suppose further that new evidence arises which in no way effects the old evidence, but which makes it intellectually untenable to continue to believe that Johnny committed the murder such as a DNA test that shows Johnny could not have committed the murder? Did the policeman have to be able to explain why each part of the old evidence no longer shows that Johnny committed the murder to conclude that Johnny did not commit the murder in the light of the new evidence? No, all that he needs to do to come to a rationally based intellectual assent that Johnny did not commit the murder is to accept the new evidence. It can wait until later for him to figure out why the old evidence was pointing him in the wrong direction.

The same is true in the case of faith. When the repentent sinner comes to a realization of the truth of the three basic facts of salvation, it is generally the case that it is based on a new understanding of the situation that she had previously rejected. If the repentent sinner finds that in light of the new understanding that the three basic facts of salvation are true despite objecting to the truth of Christianity for years, does she need to intellectually disprove every claim before becoming a Christian in order to be rational in accepting Christianity? Of course not. All the repentent sinner must do is be convinced on an intellectual level that the new understanding or evidence is true and that the contrary evidence must therefore be wrong in order to be intellectually grounded in faith.

Now, a person who never confronts the old evidence is like a baby in the cradle for their lives. As they grown in faith, they should examine these claims and learn why they are specious. But there is no reason to believe that a person must confront and counter every argument before faith is not just "blind faith." Faith goes beyond "blind faith" the moment the repentent sinner is convinced of the truth of the Gospel.


Steven Carr said…
Can nobody be saved unless they have believed those 3 basic facts about salvation?
BK said…
The Bible says that one must believe in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, to be saved. (Romans 10:15) The Bible also teaches that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but by Jesus. (John 14:6). The question of exactly what one must believe is debated among Christian circles, but I think it clear that these three facts are necessary because, unless you first recognize that you are a sinner and cannot save yourself, you have no need of salvation. If you seek another path to salvation, then Jesus says you will not come to the Father. Thus, all three seem to me to be the minimal necessary elements for believing.
Steven Carr said…
Clearly people can't believe the 3 basic facts without belief in the 3 basic facts.

Has anybody ever been saved without believing the 3 basic facts about salvation?
BK said…
Is there any particular reason that you are asking? I hate to be general if the question is specific.
Steven Carr said…
My reason for asking was that I wanted to find out what your answer was.

These are 'basic facts of salvation', which makes it hard to be saved if you don't even know the basic facts about how to be saved, surely?
BK said…
Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but your last comment seem quite confused. Let me try to respond this way: I don't think a person has to recognize that they accept the three basic facts in order to be saved. That is adding a fourth basic fact, i.e., "the person must also recognize that they must believe and be able to identify the three basic facts. . . ." That is not what I am saying.

These three basic facts, as I have described them, simply reflect the most minimal facts that I believe the Bible teaches a person must hold in order to be saved. To require that they know what the three basic facts are before they are saved is not necessary. Just as a person does not have to understand how a car's engine works to drive a car, so a person need not identify the three basic facts in order to believe them.

Has anyone ever been saved without accepting the three basic facts of salvation? I think that Romans 2 provides an opportunity for people who have never heard of Jesus to be saved, so I suspect that it is possible for one to be saved by that means, but it is a much more difficult road to follow and I don't know if anyone has ever succeeded. Tell you what, we can ask God when we die. :)
Steven Carr said…
'These three basic facts, as I have described them, simply reflect the most minimal facts that I believe the Bible teaches a person must hold in order to be saved.'

So nobody can be saved unless they have accepted that Jesus is their Saviour?
BK said…
I repeat what I just said above: "I think that Romans 2 provides an opportunity for people who have never heard of Jesus to be saved, so I suspect that it is possible for one to be saved by that means, but it is a much more difficult road to follow and I don't know if anyone has ever succeeded."
SteveiT1D said…

Why do I get the feeling that the commenter is trying to set you up for something? I could be wrong though—but if there’s a specific objection in mind, just ask…
BK said…

I don't think you are wrong at all. But I am simply waiting it out.

Oh, and since I have you here, I want to recommend anyone reading this comment to visit your blog, Brian does a wonderful job of commenting on issues of concern in apologetics.
BK said…
T.F. -

Thanks for the comment, but I think that you have mischaracterized my response. First, I did not dance around anything. He asked me a specific question and I gave him a specific answer.

Second, yes, I think that the salvation potential (as you call it) is different for a person born in China in 200 B.C. than for someone born in Europe in 2000 A.D. In fact, but contrary to your expectation, I think it is quite possible that the person in China had a better chance in 200 B.C. than the typical European does today because of the ingrained secularism of Europe. Think about that for awhile.

Third, I used the DNA evidence example for one purpose: to make it clear that the person accepts the evidence as authoritative. Obviuosly, as shown by the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, not even DNA evidence will convince someone who doesn't want to be convinced. What I am positing, however, is that the person recieves information that they believe to be credible enough to outweigh all of their old evidence that they thought led to a contrary conclusion.

Your hypothetical and your statements that you would find certain evidence difficult to accept even if it were even better established than the evidence that already exists is consistent with my point. You are rejecting the evidence that is in place for any number of reasons. If, however, you received evidence which was convincing to you that Jesus rose from the dead, then all of your other arguments would simply fade away. The fact that you can identify bits and pieces of evidence that would not be sufficient to convince you merely shows that you have not encountered the evidence that would convince you. But merely because you are not convinced by the evidence does not mean that others are not.

Rationality is not the same as proof. It's like the old "is the cup half full or half empty" question. Both of us can rationally see the cup a certain way, but one of us may see it as half full and the other half empty. Neither is being irrational if they are convinced by what they see that the cup is one or the other. (Of course, I realize that the analogy is far from perfect, and I could give others, but it would take too much time for a comment).

Also, you discount (I think unncessarily) the fact that people do encounter the living God. Maybe God doesn't bodily answer the door, but an encounter with the Holy Spirit has changed more than one mind to the point where the same evidence that they may have previously rejected suddenly becomes clear and convincing.

Yes, there are problems with the accounts, but the accounts are more than sufficient for a person to rationally accept them as true. Pointing out possible problems is easy. For example, I could point out that you cannot know that the laws of rationality are really laws because they require rationality to prove that they are rational which is, of course, circular. But I think a person acts rationally when they accept the laws of rationality, and I think a person acts rationally in accepting the truth of the Gospels based upon the evidence even if the evidence cannot establish the truth of the resurrection, etc., with absolute certainty.

Can God be just, loving, gracious and merciful to eeryone all the time? The answer is yes. You may not see how, but it seems well within the realm of possibility once you understand Christian theology as a whole (which is, again, much to lengthy of a discussion for a comment).

Let me be clear on one thing: if you are a skeptic (you seem to suggest that you were or are a Christian of some stripe), I am not (contrary to the claims made by so many Christians) claiming that you are not being rational. You have the right to rely upon and accept as persuasive whatever arguments you want. My claim is that your arguments for rejecting the Gospels are being made in the face of evidence that is sufficient to rationally convince many people that the Gospels are true. They are perfectly justified in doing so just as you are justified in rejecting the Gospels. I just think that your rejection of the Gospels is based more on a hardening of your heart than an honest, objective appraisal of the evidence.

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