Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

James 2 and Saving Faith -- Does the Bible Teach that Faith is More than Belief?

If anyone hasn't checked it out, the comment thread of my last post has been quite active (unfortunately not by those Lordship Proponents who were invited to discuss repentance!).

Laying Down the Guantlet: Lordship Salvation and Repentance

The following post was a comment addressed to Earl, but it applies to the discussion of faith and saving faith between the Free Gracer and the Lordship Salvationist.

Earl is convinced (IOW, he believes, trusts) that James in chapter 2 of his epistle speaks to a faith that is insufficient to appropriate eternal life. He would describe this as "mere intellectual assent". First of all this has turned out to be quite the pejorative (see the "mere"). Whenever someone speaks to this, they invariably turn to James 2 and the discusion of "demon faith". Does the text support Earl's and the Lordship Salvation advocates' claim that something other than belief/faith is necessary for eternal life? Let us see:


Very simply, it is the objector talking all the way through in James 2:18-19. Let me make use of the Majority (so-called Byzantine) text and include punctuation and my translation (remember, there are no punctuations in the originals; I have seen at least 4 different ways English translations punctuate this passage!):

James 2:18-20
But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works. Show me the faith of you from the works of you, and I will show you from the works of me the faith of me. You believe that 'God is one'. You do well. And the demons believe -- and tremble!" (My word literal translation)

This 'interlocuter' is objecting to James' assertion that faith and works have a relationship, that we can not only live our faith, but show others, through our works our faith.

So the objector says in essense:

Ok. For the sake of argument let us say that you have faith and I have works. Let us start there. If you can start with your faith(which you have), show it to me from your works and then I will start with my works(which I have) and show you from them my faith. You are crazy James! Both are impossible! This impossibility of showing one's faith from his works is demonstrated by the following illustration: You see, you believe in Monotheism and you do good. You do well. But the demons believe the same thing, but act differently on their faith: they tremble! So you see, James, faith and works have no connection whatsoever. (The objector uses a reductio ad absurdem, reducing someone's claims to absurdity).

James then starts his response to the objector in verse 20 (ending in 23) this way:

James 2:20
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

Faith that isn't being acted out in life is profitless. It doesn't help the brother or sister that is naked or hungry.

This section in James is a very practical one given to true Christian's who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (2:1) and were regenerated by God (1:18). James is exhorting them to keep their faith alive by doing works! Works energize our faith! This is his pastoral concern, it is not an evangelistic one!

Can you imagine two home fellowships discussing evangelism: one that is out there doing much evangelism and being bold for the Lord and the other has had no practical experience in evangelism. The first group is energized, excited, on fire, because their works vitalized and energized their faith! The second group will not have that excitement, that flair.

James goes on to give a very useful illustration to what I am saying here:

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. (2:26)

The spirit is the animating factor to the body, energizing it, vitalizing it as WORKS are the energizing, vitalizing factor to faith.

James isn't talking about two different kinds of faith. Faith is faith! He is exhorting his readers to add works to their faith for the vindication of their faith before men and the vitalizing and energizing of it.

The talk about the demons is not James words. It is the imaginary objector's words. James is using a rhetorical device called the "diatribe". It is an objection/reply format. It starts an objection off with something like "But someone will say" and after the objection has been given a sharp reply/rejoinder is given, starting off with something like James' "But do you want to know, O foolish man..."

This passage has created innumerable difficulties for interpreters. They have had to be quite inventive in order to dull the apparant contradiction between James and Paul. There is neither contradiction nor tension with Paul. They are speaking to two completely different issues!

Furthermore you state this:
My beef with Robbins and Clark is their "mere intellectual agreement" for faith. I think there is a trust too.
You say that saving faith = belief + trust.

This is like saying a Volkswagon Jetta is made of automobile + car.

Trust, faith, belief are all synonyms meaning the same thing.

Someone may ask me "Do you trust the babysitter?" I could say, "Yes, I trust the babysitter".

Well what does that mean?

Trust is belief in a proposition:

I believe that the babysitter will act honorably, appropriately, professionally, and with the best interests of me and my child.

When I say that I trust the babysitter in that context, do I mean that I trust her for the financial books at my business?

Trust is belief in one or more propositions. When I say that I have trusted or relied on Jesus for eternal life, this means that I have assented to a proposition:

I believe that Jesus Christ gave me eternal life baed upon His promise: for He is the Guarantor of eternal life and resurrection to the believer in Him.

"Further, 'trust in a person' is a meaningless phrase unless it means assenting to certain propositions about a person..." (John Robbins, Foreward to Gordon Clark's 'Faith and Saving Faith')

In every instance of trust, it is broken down into a proposition. Faith is not an emotion!

"in the present writer's opinion, many Christians, motivated by an irrational pragmatism... consider belief to be an emotion or a feeling... To be sure, some beliefs stir the emotions, but the very sober belief that a man has five fingers on each hand is as much a belief as some shattering news." (Gordon H. Clark, Faith and Saving Faith, 18).

Faith is taking someone at his word, faith is being persuaded as to a proposition, faith is being convinced that something is true, faith is trust. Faith is not emotion, commitment, submission to authority, etc.

Antonio da Rosa


Blogger Earl said...

Antonio, I am honored you would devote a blog entry to my comments.

You write, You see, you believe in Monotheism and you do good. You do well. But the demons believe the same thing, but act differently on their faith: they tremble! So you see, James, faith and works have no connection whatsoever.

That is one interpretation. Another is this. You have faith? You intellectually believe there is one God? You have an orthodox understanding of God. That is excellent! But you know what? The demons also have some orthodox theology too. You're right there with the demons. The demons believe there is one God. They also believe that God sees all, will judge the earth, and they believe they will be destroyed (that's why they tremble), holding these orthodox ideas without the living faith that produces fruit.

James is talking about the faith of true religion, instead of spurious religion. It's a lot cleaner interpretation, in my not so humble opinion, but as they say during high gas prices, your mileage may vary. :o)

Belief -- intellectual assent, and trust. Gordon Clark argues that trust is intellectual, and certainly while this is true, but there is also volitional and emotional aspects to this, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:22 (ESV), "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed."

In this little response, I'm sure I am not persuasive. I don’t have all the energy and time to keep responding. This is your blog, I’ll let you finish with your rebuttal. Thanks for allowing this and for the discussion. It has been very helpful.

September 20, 2006 8:48 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

I recently wrote this in an email to a person:

2 Peter 3:15-16
as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

The Scriptures can be difficult to understand, as Peter concludes. There are many gaps that must be bridged in order to come to an understanding of the Scriptures as the authors' writings intended. Time, geography, culture, language, and idiom are just a few of these gaps.

James 2 has several difficulties. In many of the major translations, the translators add a word to James 2:14 which is not found in the text and which seriously colors the reading: the words "that" or "such". This is the importation of one's theology into their translation. Also, if you would examine the major English translations, you will find no less than 4 different punctuations for the "objector" who begins speaking in 2:18. This is a serious consideration, as punctuation does not exist in the originals. The way that one punctuates this "objection" will seriously affect his interpretation. Also there is a textual problem in verse 2:18. There is a variant which can also change the meaning/interpretation of this most controversial passage: where a small minority of existent manuscripts have the Greek word "xoris" (apart), the majority of the existent manuscripts (80%) have the Greek word "ek" (out of/from) which is the reading that I have adopted. As well, in 2:24, most English translations translate an adverb as an adjective, further making confusion.

Furthermore, James is a pastor, who takes for granted that his audience believes in the Lord Jesus Christ (2:1), are brothers (used many times in the epistle), and are regenerate (1:18). If he was worried that his audience was unsaved, he does not give a remedy, unless you would construe him to be saying that works are necessary for heaven. Why would James put into doubt the salvation of his readership and not provide a remedy for them? You may say that the remedy is that the readers be diligent in doing works. But then you would say that James is conditioning eternal life on works. Now if you are comfortable with a position that says that works are necessary for heaven, well then we are at an impasse. But if you believe in justification by faith alone, and saved by grace apart from works, then we would have a problem here.


Also Earl, orthodox understandings of God does not save, and has never saved. It is specific and purposeful faith into Jesus Christ and His promise that guarantees eternal life and resurrection to the believer.

September 22, 2006 9:36 PM  
Blogger Earl said...


Thank you for your response. I have read it and I am reflecting upon it. Sometime in the future, at my own blog, I will clarify how I see James, works, justification, etc.

Again, thank you for giving me space in your blog to express some of my viewpoints.

September 23, 2006 10:14 AM  
Blogger Bhedr said...

>Faith is taking someone at his word, faith is being persuaded as to a proposition, faith is being convinced that something is true, faith is trust. Faith is not emotion, commitment, submission to authority, etc.<

Amen. I am reading your responses over at the debate from Phil's link. I like that quote by Ryrie.

This is where I share a most crucial point of agreement with you. If we get this part wrong...we get everything wrong. I may be considered Lordship but I never liked the commitment and other expressions. What you have described is what God requires of us. I'll save our other disagreements for another time. Your contributions to the debate are valuable and I think you are doing well.

September 26, 2006 6:56 PM  
Blogger Earl said...

Question for clarification purposes, you say "When I say that I have trusted or relied on Jesus for eternal life, this means that I have assented to a proposition

When you rely on something, it seems to be to be assent on steroids. I think you might have said that when I use the phrase, mere intellectual belief, that use of the word mere is pejorative. I was thinging in the sense of C.S. Lewis' use, and in Mere Christianity.

Perhaps where I am misunderstanding you is when you talk about assent in propositions. It is true, but doesn't the word assent seem to be a little weak? Perhaps what I need to hear is a fuller definition of that word from your view. Sometimes I hear from my prejudices instead of hearing what you say.


September 27, 2006 5:57 AM  
Blogger Earl said...

Antonio, let me make myself a little clearer, perhaps you'll understand better my thoughts on trust vs. assent.

When we had small children, we knew a family where a babysitter did something unspeakable to one of the children. It devestated the family, and it shook our confidence in baby sitters. When you give an example of trusting a baby sitter, that was a big issue for us. We would rarely get baby sitters for our children. We would intellectually understand that various baby sitters would be okay, but we could not move to the point of entrusting our children's lives to them. That's why I is see a big difference between assent and trust.

So, perhaps I'm not hearing you because of this background. Maybe your word for assent is stronger than my word. I think that is one of the reasons I am having difficulty with this conversation.

You have any thoughts?

September 27, 2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Earl, you did not assent to the reliability of thsoe babysitters and you did not trust them.

There is no actual difference between the two.

Is there really a difference between intellectually assenting to the fact that a babysitter will safely take care of your child and trusting that baysitter?

I think because this is an emotive analogy it confuses the issue.

Is there a difference between assenting to the proposition that the mailman will deliver the mail tomorrow and trusting the mailman to deliver the mail?

I do not think there is.

Every Blessing in Christ


September 27, 2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger Bhedr said...

BTW Earl you are making some good points, but at times within the Lordship camp I do believe that in an attempt to get people to understand the differance between mental assent and faith they start adding human effort into the equation. I do agree that there is a trust factor and that is what happens when one takes God at his word, believing that He will do what He says. I am not saying that the Lordships don't understand this, but that we all must be careful here because at the end of the day all we can to is preach the word and let the Holy Spirit do the work. I am learning this more and more from any angle we take. We must call men to repentance and to faith alone in the finished work of Christ. It is then that God will work in the conscience of man. Antonio would disagree on the repentance part, but I believe it is that conviction of sin that leads us to the need and then trust will naturally fall into place as we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. I just wanted to give Antonio a Kudo because I think it no accident that there is tension between the Lorship camp and Antonios.

September 27, 2006 6:34 PM  
Blogger Earl said...

Brian, that is a good point about adding to faith where it becomes a work.

Matthew, then it seems assent is beefed up to become trust. If that's what you all are saying, then I don't have so much of an objection to the talk of assent. But I don't know if you're saying it.

You're right, my example is emotive. I am extremely protective of my kids. When I gave my daughter to my son-in-law for marriage, there was an entrusting of her to him that I did not readily give, even though I intellectually knew he was the one. I love my son-in-law dearly, and I am extremely pleased with him, but that entrustment did not happen even when I first knew he was the one for my daughter.

Again, you're right, these are highly emotive. I hear you saying assent and trust are the same, but my makeup of my life is having a hard time seeing those at the same.

I will step back and ponder this. Thank you for your patience with me.

September 27, 2006 8:07 PM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I think the confusion arises from the moral qualities that are identified with the word 'trust.' We think of trust as a moral or value judgment.

However, in fact there are all sorts of things that we trust without any real moral quality.

We trust the furniture we use to hold weight.

When we buy a bottle of Dr Pepper, we trust that it contains Dr Pepper.

When we switch on a light bulb, we trust that the light bulb will function.

In all those examples, we have a mentally assented to a proposition that the desired outcome will arise.

Every Blessing in Christ


September 28, 2006 4:25 AM  
Blogger Earl said...

Matthew, I appreciate your interaction in this. In each of these "non-moral" things, I also see a qualitative difference between assent and trust. With a light switch, I can understand that a light switch will cause light, but unless I move to the switch and flip it on, all I can do is curse the darkness at night. Those other experiences, with baby sitters, entrusting my daughter to my son-in-law, opened my eyes to the difference between the two. It causes me to look at the world differently

I've gone on long enough. I guess this is one of those things where I see it differently.

Thanks for your patience with me.

September 28, 2006 5:52 AM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

The switching on of a light is a completely different thing from trust.

You are introducing an additional element here.

During the day I trust the light bulb to work. I know very well that it will work.

However, I have no need to switch it on, therefore, unless I want to push up my parents' bills, I will not switch it on.

One can chose not to act on a thing which one trusts.

When it comes to eternal life, there is no intermediate step between trust and appropriation of eternal life. We are saved by our faith. By our affirmation of the propostion that Christ provides eternal life to those who believe.

Attempts to distinguish between trust and mental assent typically make this mistake of introducing an intermediate step between trust and appropriation. This is where the all analogies breakdown and the reality of the Gospel becomes practically unique.

Every Blessing in Christ


September 28, 2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger Bhedr said...

Matthew do you think skepticism invades trust? In other words if you are skeptical about the person of Christ are we taking God at His word? There is no light switch factor there just a matter of persuasion and being convinced of the truth.

September 28, 2006 6:24 PM  
Blogger Bhedr said...

And do you think there is a differance between being a skeptic as opposed to being troubled by doubts being forced upon you by external factors that always try our faith?

September 28, 2006 6:28 PM  
Blogger nathaniel adam king said...

Oh dear God almighty. I actually agree with absolutely all of that post...

I am going to go lie down for a little while. Something is not right, the very fabric of reality appears to be breaking down when the sofyst agrees with Antonio...

November 24, 2006 8:22 AM  

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