In some ways, faith is a simple concept; in others, it’s a rather complicated, obscure word, especially for Bible translators.
The most famous quotation regarding “faith” comes from Hebrews 11:1 (New International Version): “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Then, it is translated in the New American Standard Version: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The second version is closer to the King James Version.
In the KJV, “faith” is not “being sure” or “assurance,” but it is the “substance of things hoped for” and “the evidence of things not seen.” The word “substance” (in English) most generally refers to things that are real and solid.
Today, most believers do not get this deeply invested in a word like “faith.” One says, “What is your faith” meaning, what particular religious persuasion do you follow? If you say “Presbyterian,” for example, the one who asks the question can make the immediate assumption that you believe, to some degree, in predestination. If you say “Assembly of God,” for example, they might immediately assume that you are more charismatic and may, for example, practice glossolalia. If you respond “Baptist,” then it is generally assumed you do not believe in infant baptism and are heavily invested in missionary efforts (of the Baptist variety).
H. L. MENCKEN, AMERICAN JOURNALIST
The American journalist and satirist H. L. Mencken, one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the early 20th century once said, “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”
So, if someone says they have “faith,” what do they mean specifically? It’s hard to say, but, we can be sure they have no more idea what the word implies or means than anyone else. Frankly, to say, “I have faith,” is a vague, obscure and unintelligible assertion.
Likely, if you engage a person in a discussion about faith and what it means, the discussion will probably conclude with one of the aforementioned expressions from the New Testament, or, an ad hominem argument (attacking the person as opposed to arguing the concept).
It is truly astounding the number of times the ambiguous term “faith” enters into our conversation.
I’d say, most of us have faith that the sun will rise in the east in the morning, despite the fact that the classical meaning of the term seems to denote something that is neither particularly certain nor with any solid evidence.
I contend that talking about faith in our day and time is an exercise in futility. When it comes to our religious affiliations, creeds, and personal persuasions, we would be better off talking about what we believe to be true in our own individual minds and avoid making general assertions about such an indecisive word as “faith.”
We are, I believe, living in post-denominational times with a rapidly declining interest in religion, per se. What we need is a new, solid definition of “faith” that will meet the needs of our modern ways of thinking.
[L. Milton Hankins is the editor and publisher of Columnist with a View. He is a weekly op-ed columnist for the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch. His latest book is “A Sensible Theology for Thinking People.” It is available through Amazon.com and local bookstores by order.]