Faith is Only As Good as Who is Believed

“Although there can be no faith without the affections, in a culture steeped in the jargon of psychology the subtle role of the affections in Christian life is too readily supplanted by a shriveled and subjective notion of faith. Indeed, so often is the term faith used to refer solely to the act of believing that in popular speech the object of faith seems irrelevant, as though it is the believing that counts, not what one believes. Faith, in this view, is self-legitimizing, impervious to examination, correction, or argument, and has its home in the private imaginings of the believer or in the sheltered world of religious communities. In the same way, the term value is used without reference to the good, as though all values are of equal worth and equal validity. It is quite possible, however, as our daily experience teaches, to put faith in things that are illusory or false. Faith is only as good as its object; if the object of our faith is trustworthy, then it is reasonable to put our trust in it. Credulity is no virtue. A necessary component of faith is reason.

The phrase reasonable faith was first used in the fourth century by Hilary of Poitiers, sometimes called the Latin Athanasius because of his defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. He believed that ‘Faith is akin to reason  and accepts its aid.’ When the mind lays hold of God in faith, it knows that it can ‘rest with assurance, as on some peaceful watch-tower.’ There is no leap of faith into the unknown for Hilary. In his view as in the view of all early Christian thinkers, faith was not a subjective attitude or feeling but a reasoned conviction. Whether speaking about faith in human beings or belief in God, the church fathers knew that faith cannot be self-authenticating, and that to believe in something false of ignoble is not admirable, but foolish, like trusting a person who is an incorrigible liar. […] When the object of faith becomes secondary to the act of believing, theology becomes reflection on faith, not reasoned speech about God.   … Theology’s object is God. Once the object of faith is abandoned, theology’s object inevitably becomes human experience.”   (Robert L. Wilken, Remembering the Christian Past, pp 166-167 & 168)