The Christian “faith” is centered around the God of the universe and the work of Christ on behalf of a fallen race.  These are axiomatic to being Christian belief about reality.  These matters are propositions about faith but do not define faith.  They are the target of faith but do not clarify to us what the practice of faith.  How does one have faith?  What action can be observed as a practice of faith?  What thoughts or persuasions belong to faith and what ones do not?  These are good questions, ones not often explored.

A book came out last Fall, a book that I see as impacting the discussion of faith and reason (some say faith versus reason).  Kevin Diller’s “Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response” builds a Christian, specifically an evangelical, framework for approaching the faith-reason question.  As good and useful as the book is, and I highly recommend that Christian philosophers read it, there is a small problem.  Well, (to paraphrase Hank Kimball) not really small.  It’s sort of small but at the same time telling.  But first some background and a parallel in order to make the concern clear.

Part of Mr. Diller’s argument, building on Barth, is to escape the trap of Enlightenment thought.  We can take this back in time a little further and suggest correspondingly that we  might want to escape the larger trap of Rationalist thought.  Of course one might say that the Enlightenment was the high point of Rationalism, but that’s another question.  Rationalism brought to the Enlightenment era both its skepticism and its dualistic framework, hence my appeal to the former rather than the latter.  Rationalism created the problem; the Enlightenment, codification.

The dualism of faith versus reason (also seen in policy as church vs state and in scientific inquiry as faith versus science) is a dilemma that we have learned to live with.  The separation clause as it has been called in the U.S. is not seen as a contradiction but as a way to resolve the conflict.  We survive with little or no overlap of these magisteria, as Stephen Jay Gould put it.  It is how we think, most all of us in the Western world.  Few have been able to break away from its grip.  It is assumed to be axiomatic to our culture and our system of government.

Reasoning outside of our life context is difficult.  In science, for example, there was a major movement in the early & mid 20th century called “logical positivism” or “logical empiricism.”  This movement pushed hard the principle that empiricism was the only proper and best way to do science.  But Karl Popper dared disagree, at least in function.  Though he did not consider himself an empiricist he proposed a correction to the overly aggressive approach being taken and suggested that a negative challenge, falsification, be part of any inquiry.  By doing so he placed himself, at least in the minds of many, into the empiricist camp, Though he rejected the conclusions of the empiricist Circle a good portion of his argument was not to contradict but to correct.

I found something similar in Mr. Diller’s work.  “By playing up to reason’s assumed self-sufficiency, the approach of natural theology discourages faith.”  Mr. Diller also properly defines faith as a gift of God’s grace.  But here is my concern stemming from his quote: Is faith merely an ethereal or spiritual venture which we attempt to reconcile with reason (a defensive approach to apologetics) or is faith something else?  I wonder if we have misdefined faith and the character of what the grace of God has provided.

To define faith, let’s begin with this: All knowledge is inductive.  (Even deduced conclusions are held inductively.)  The Judeo-Christian world view is an historical understanding of God’s work through history and, for the Christian, through Christ.  The framework includes God as the explanation of history’s starting point and maintenance.

One’s acknowledgement of God is a recognition of this framework as the best explanation for history and so also for other related matters.  A commitment to this differs none from any philosophical commitment to other inductive conclusions.

Faith is thus not merely sentiment.  It is a commitment.  Belief in God differs none from belief in the big bang.

Faith is a gift of God’s grace as a new knowledge-commitment to God’s providential work.  It is the knowledge given by the Spirit.

Though this is certainly far from a perfect definition of faith it does seem to set a course away from the dualism created by the Rationalists.  In my opinion something similar would have strengthened Mr. Diller’s argument (as well as those of Barth and A. Plantinga) and further separated from an Enlightenment mentality.