The State of Faith

In the last five years or so, there has been a huge shift in New Testament scholarship on the meaning of faith during that era. Researchers have begun to recognize that faith in the New Testament and the ancient world it was part of was not primarily about belief, that is “mental assent” to a set of propositions or even a personal “cognitive” or “psychological” state. While not denying that there is certainly an aspect of the inner state of mind, faith was primarily about relationships between people and manifest displays of trust and loyalty. In other words, when it came to faith, there was a great emphasis on external behaviour rather than just inner beliefs. Continue reading “The State of Faith”

Faith in the Roman World of the Early Church

Over the last couple of years, one of the most significant works I have come across in biblical scholarship is Matthew W. Bates Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of King Jesus, Baker Academic, 2017. I have referenced Dr Bates’ work multiple times on this platform. What I have neglected to mention is the seminal work Bates builds off, which is Teresa Morgan’s Roman Faith and Christian Faith: Pistis and Fides in the Early Roman Empire and Early Churches, Oxford University Press, 2015. Morgan writes in her article The Invention of Faith:

Modern understandings of faith depend heavily on Augustine of Hippo, who defines it (De trin.13.2.5) as fides quae and fides qua, belief in the body of Christian doctrine and the faith which takes place in the heart and mind of the believer. In 2015 I published Roman Faith and Christian Faith, which argues that the earliest Christians understood pistis/fides very differently. Faith was a relationship of trust and faithfulness between God and human beings, which also shaped relationships between human beings, the authority structure of churches, and the way Christians imagined the kingdom of heaven. Christians were unique in putting trust at the heart of their relationship with God and Christ, but their understanding and practice of pistis/fides were continuous with those of contemporary Greeks, Romans and Jews.

Continue reading “Faith in the Roman World of the Early Church”

Faith vs. Optimism

“You just lost your job. Rent is overdue. Utility bills are piling up. Your roommate just told you that she is moving out next month. Then you receive the notice that your tuition payment for next semester is due in three weeks. Enter your well-intentioned Christian friend, who offers the following words of consolation: “Everything is going to be all right—you just need to have faith,” or “God brings about these sort of events to test our faith—just believe in God and he will deliver you from this trial.” Continue reading “Faith vs. Optimism”

Is the Trinity Essential?

“The problem is, of course, that many, perhaps most, Christians have little or no understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. And they couldn’t care less. I once was a member of a church with the word “Trinity” in its name. During the eight years I attended there faithfully I don’t think I heard a single sermon on the Trinity. And I am almost sure that had I polled the congregation few would have been able to express, let alone explain, the doctrine of the Trinity. Continue reading “Is the Trinity Essential?”

Questions of Faith

One of the things I have often come across when people talk about issues of faith, whether they are Christian or sceptical of Christianity, is that asking questions is equated with doubt. When someone has questions about what they believe they are often characterized as struggling with doubt or that their faith somehow lacks stability. This view is so pervasive that some Christians avoid pursuing what they perceive as the hard questions because they believe it is tantamount to not having absolute faith. The surprising thing about this false equivalence is that it is so clearly and categorically false. Continue reading “Questions of Faith”