Noted British philosopher and humanist Bertrand Russell had this to say of the practice of “faith”:
“Where there is evidence, no one speaks of ‘faith’. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.”
Allaboutreligion.org defines Biblical Faith this way :
“Faith is acceptance of what we cannot see but feel deep within our hearts… For Christians, believing is not seeing… Why do we believe, because the Bible tells us so. We were not there when Jesus was crucified, yet we believe. We were not there when Jesus rose again, yet we believe.
“…This is the theological virtue known as faith, believing what we did not see because we know it in our hearts to be true.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives this definition of Faith:
“Firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust.”
Often Christians feel that they are forced to choose between blind religious trust or intellectual skepticism in opposition to scripture. They either believe or they disobey. Asking questions and seeking support for their beliefs becomes a form of doubt and is seen as a weakness.
The classic teaching on the subject of faith in the Bible comes from the book of Hebrews, and specifically chapter 11 which begins with this definition of faith:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Many take this as support to the “belief without evidence” definition of faith.
Among the potential problems with this view of faith is the way it impacts the process Biblical interpretation itself. If faith is, indeed, a spiritual conviction that defies evidential support, then one is free to interpret scriptural passages based on what they feel the passage means. When someone challenges them to back their interpretation up with such tools as cross-referencing or contextual support, that person is asking for evidence, defying their faith and insulting their spiritual conviction. This is exactly the trap that one falls into if one reads Hebrews 11:1 without considering the context in which it is given.
The book of Hebrews is written to Jewish believers as an apologetic for Jesus as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. The author meticulously wades through the Messianic passages of the Old Testament, showing in each case how these passages support Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah.
In essence, the author of Hebrews was providing evidential support of Jesus’ station as the promised fulfillment of the Mosaic Law and of the Prophets. If the author truly defined faith as an unreasoned belief, there would be no necessity to reconcile Old and New Testaments. The author would simply appeal to his audience to search the conviction of their hearts and to believe.
The author shows an intense interest in the evidence presented in the Old Testament, and how this evidence leads convincingly to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord, and the author also assumes that his intended readers should be interested in these facts as well. This being the case, what is Hebrews 11:1 actually saying?
Apologist J. Warner Wallace writes in his essay on Hebrews 11:1:
“In (Hebrews) Chapter 10, the author ends the section encouraging his readers to continue in their faith and to “endure” (verse 36) in spite of “reproaches” and “tribulations” they may have experienced or observed. He finishes by saying, “…we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” In the very next line (the passage we are considering at 11:1) the author says that faith is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
What Wallace is pointing out is that, when taken in context, Hebrews 11:1 is an encouragement to believers who are suffering persecution. What the author is saying is that, in light of the evidence he has supplied that Jesus is, in fact, Messiah, it is possible to endure sufferings with the assurance undergirded by the weight of the evidence that there is hope for salvation and eternal life. Or, in other words, given the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past, one can have assurance in the promise he has made for the future (hope), and trust God because He has proven trustworthy (conviction).
By this definition, faith is the assurance of the specific promises that God has made for the future based on the evidence He has provided of His power.
In fact, the definition of faith as being “blind” flies in the face of scriptural passages that contrast false prophecies with true ones:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
If one takes ones faith as a blind adherence to whatever they feel to be true, how is one to “test the spirits”? John follows this instruction with a simple evidential test for whether a “spirit” is true or not, without making any appeal to feelings.
Blind Faith does not make much sense in the scheme of scripture. Blind faith in what? The teachings of the Bible? How did those teachings arise, and how does one know that they have selected the correct teachings in which to invest their blind faith? John instructs his readers to test the spirits. This implies that there is a standard of evidence higher than simple emotion against which to test them.