Friday, December 18, 2015

John the Revival Preacher

In a blog post from October Dr. Leithart, quoting from Kimberly Belcher says Augustine taught that infants are the perfect subjects of baptism. Here are the last three paragraphs of the post. Emphasis mine. Quote marks and page numbers mean the quote is from Belcher's book
How can an infant be an ideal subject of baptism when the infant cannot believe? To this, Augustine's answer was that the infant can in fact believer [sic]: “Augustine calls unbaptized infants ‘unbelievers,' but infants who have been baptized are ‘believing.' Infant ‘faith,' according to this, is accessible to outside analysis and decisively determined by ritual initiation” (83).
This reveals a radical difference between pre- and modern understanding of “faith”: “The modern assumption is that faith is an ephemeral disposition perceptible only by the subject. Faith can only be affirmed by the person himself or herself, and he or she may deceive others. Moreover, faith is defined within a cognitively centered definition of the self. . . . Since infants' cognitive ability does not allow them to affirm propositions, infant faith is not well defined. Within this context., an adult's affirmation of faith ‘on behalf of' an infant catechumen, since the adult has no knowledge of the infant's inner state, is understandably interpreted as a pious falsehood or as only a promise of future development” (82).
This is simply not what Augustine means by “faith.” It is not for him a cognitive state known only to the subject. Like truth, it is something that can be marked on the body, something into which one can be initiated without knowledge or consent. As Belcher puts it, “Baptism should immerse the intiand into a new way of being, not begin an intellectual conversion. The truth of the profession of faith transforms human capacities, rather than expressing the initiand's assent to an objective truth. The church's certainty guarantees the objectivity of the proclamation, but the ritual affirmation changes the initiand's subjective world and his or her way of being in that world” (84). For Augustine, one becomes a believer by being initiated into the faith, rather than by having an intellectual conversion or a conversion of will. [Emphasis mine.]
Does Leithart agree with this? It is hard to tell. He often quotes authors without giving his take on the quote. But given his past writings one could guess that he, at the very least, finds this a helpful way of saying things. But is it good to talk about faith like this? Should we say that one becomes a believer by baptism or that faith comes via baptism? Is this the way the Bible talks about faith and salvation? Are evangelicals wrong to call people to believe in Jesus? Should we instead call them "into the faith" via baptism? Are believing in Jesus and coming into the faith synonymous? Is faith active, such as resting, grasping, believing in Christ? Or is it passive such a being baptized, being brought into the church, or being marked out from the world? Are both biblical options? And if so, are they synonymous? If being in the faith makes one a believer, what happens to the subjective, internal side of the faith? Does it become superfluous, automatic, or irrelevant?

I want to examine these questions by looking at how the New Testament uses the term faith beginning with the Gospel of John. I will look at other New Testament books in the future.  In particular, I am going to focus on whether the New Testament presents faith as active or passive. In other words, can someone become a believer without their knowledge or consent through baptism? And if the answer is yes, in what sense can they be called believers? Should we call the baptized to repent and believe? In this post I am focused solely on John. I am aware of how passages in the New Testament could support Augustine's point. I will address those as I move through this series. So don't say, "Well what about that passage in Acts?" I will get there, but not yet.

For my non Greek readers, faith and believe both come from the same Greek word.  Thus you could substitute "believe" for "having faith in" and "faith" for "belief." John's gospel contains around 41% of the total uses of the verb "believe" in the New Testament (c. 98 out of 241). Thus it is a good place to start in understanding how faith is used in the New Testament, though we will see it used in a variety of ways in other New Testament books. It is interesting that John does not use the noun "faith" at all with the possible exception of John 20:27.

Of all the books I have looked at so far, John's was the easiest to determine whether or not faith is active or passive. The word "believe" is used almost exclusively by John to mean believe in Jesus, believe something about him that indicates you understand he is the Christ, or believe His words. It could be paraphrased three ways: Believe in me, believe me, believe what someone/something has said about me. The key point for my purpose is that the word believe in John's gospel is active, not passive. Here a few examples:

John 3:14-16
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned.
John 3:35 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.
John 4:39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him.
John 6:29 This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent.
John 6:35 Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
John 6:69 We have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.
John 9:35-38
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you." He said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. 
John 10:42 And many believed in him there.
John 11:35 Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.
John 11:45 Many Jews therefore,who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believe in him.
John 14:1   Believe in God; believe also in me.
John 17:20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.
John 20:31 But these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

Here are ten other uses of the word believe in John: John 1:7, 1:50, 2:11, 2:22, 5:24, 5:38, 7:39, 12:38, 14:12, 19:35.

Even when the word "believe" is used without the preposition "in", such as in John 8:45-46, the meaning is the same. Jesus is saying in John 8:45-46  believe that I am the Son of God (see also John 6:30-36, 10:25-26, 11:42, 16:31, 20:29). It is not hard to see how this is equivalent to "believe in me."

Believe in John's gospel is active. We believe in Jesus. We believe in His name. We believe He came from the Father. We believe the Father's witness to Him. We believe that his works testify to who he is. We believe the Apostles who speak of him. At the end John exhorts us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  In fact, throughout the book John sounds like a revival preacher calling on all who read to trust in the name of Jesus.

There is no indication in John's gospel that we are brought into the faith via baptism or some other external rite. Faith is trust in Jesus Christ that leads to everlasting life including being resurrected to glory (John 6:40). In John, faith is an internal and subjective act with outward results including confession that Jesus is the Christ, obedience to him, etc. That does not mean there are no allusions to baptism or the Lord's Supper in John's gospel. Nor does it mean that baptism is based on something subjective thus undercutting paedo-baptism or that baptism fails to do something objective. But it does mean that in John's gospel one does not have faith by being baptized, through a rite, or by being in the church. For John a believer is someone who had a conversion of the will by God's grace (John 10:29) and a conversion of the intellect by understanding who Jesus is (John 11:27, 13:19, 20:25-27). A believer is someone who has put his trust in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Related Posts
John 6, the Lord's Supper, and Belief in Christ
Two Types of Preaching


Shane Anderson said...

Thank you for this, brother! The NT speaks of "the faith", but lets not imagine that people will be forgiven and enter heaven without personal faith in Jesus Christ. Clearly John's epistle, in so many ways, disabuses us of that false idea.

Peter Jones said...

Shane, Thanks! I plan on working through the different books of the NT and how they approach faith. It is interesting that many of the references to "the faith" are in the Pastoral Epistles.

Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8