Bryan Estelle: What is Faith?

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. “In the next 10 minutes I explained to him that true saving faith includes elements of knowledge, assent, and trust. I told him that faith was outward looking not inward looking. I took great pains to explain very carefully to him that we need to look for righteousness outside of ourselves and that righteousness can be found in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    This is very helpful. Is there a more formal theological definition of what faith is? The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins with this definition of faith: “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life.” That “superabundant light” could mean revelation, but Catholic theology is always “super-fuzzy” as well, and their definition of what is “revelation” is very much different from the Reformed view.

  2. Hi John,

    Well, what about HC 21 and BC 22-23, and WCF 11.1,2:

    1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

    2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

  3. John,

    p.s. Berkhof is really good about offering concise definitions. I’m sure he has one as does Calvin in Institutes 3.2.7:

    “Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the faith of the freely given promise in Christ both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

    “Nunc iusta fidei definition nobis constabit si dicimus esse divinae era nos benevolentiae firmam certamque cognitionem, que gratuitiae in Christo prommisionis venitate fundata, per Spiritum sanctum et revelatur mentibus nosgtris et cordibus obsignatur” (OS 4.16.31-35).

    Contrary to the portrait painted by many, this is not all that Calvin said about faith. He dealt extensively with the problem of doubt and lapses in confidence and the subjective experience of faith. I say this to forestall the inevitable (not by you, John) move to juxtapose Calvin with the WCF by juxtaposing this passage with the WCF.

  4. Scott, thanks for the info. I have Berkhof on my list, but have not yet purchased that one.

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