This morning I was reading J. Gresham Machen’s book, What Is Faith? (1925), and I found his remarks on our need to know in order to believe especially relevant to a recurring discussion on this blog. The fact that Machen’s old words could be addressed to any number of emergent leaders reminds me that our postmodern innovators may not be all that different from his modern liberal interlocutors. Actually, I think there is at least one important difference. Can you guess what it is?
“But—and here we come to the point which we think ought to be emphasized above all others just at the present day—it is impossible to have faith in a person without having knowledge of the person; far from being contrasted with knowledge, faith is founded upon knowledge. That assertion runs counter to the whole trend of contemporary religious teaching….”
After citing Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him,” Machen makes the following comment.
“In the first place, religion is here made to depend absolutely upon doctrine; the one who comes to God must not only believe in a person, but he must also believe that something is true; faith is here declared to involve acceptance of a proposition. There could be no plainer insistence upon the doctrinal or intellectual basis of faith. It is impossible, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, to have faith in a person without accepting with the mind the facts about the person.”
And then this clincher: “Confidence in a person is more than intellectual assent to a series of propositions about the person, but it always involves those propositions, and becomes impossible the moment they are denied. …Assent to certain propositions is not the whole of faith, but it is an absolutely necessary element in faith. So assent to certain propositions about God is not all of faith in God, but it is necessary to faith in God; and Christian faith, in particular, though it is more than assent to a creed, is absolutely impossible without assent to a creed.”