Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gordon Clark: Saving faith is understanding and assent

Gordon Clark explains that saving faith is understanding and assenting to propositions concerning the person and work of Christ, including His work of atonement:

The usual evangelical analysis of belief separates it into three parts: notitia, assensus, and fiducia-or understanding, assent, and trust. Perhaps even theologians who use this analysis might omit fiducia if they confined themselves to belief as such; for in a colloquial manner a person who believes that Columbus discovered America in 1492, or in 1374, is not taken as an example of trust. Yet is he not actually an example of confidence?


We should not “rest in,” i.e. be satisfied with, the single proposition, “There is but one God.” This proposition even the devils accept [cf. James 2:19]. But for salvation men must not only accept the monotheistic proposition, but also other propositions relating to the Atonement.


One slogan is, “No creed but Christ.” Another expression, with variations from person to person, is, “Faith is not belief in a proposition, but trust in a person.”

Though this may sound very pious, it is nonetheless destructive of Christianity. Back in the twenties, before the Methodist Church became totally apostate, a liberal in their General Conference opposed theological precision by some phrase centering on Christ, such as, Christ is all we need. A certain pastor, a remnant of the evangelical wing of the church, had the courage to take the floor and ask the pointed question, “which Christ?” ... A person can be identified only by a set of propositions.


Thomas Manton was a Puritan of the seventeenth century, and when he speaks of “the former age,” he is not referring to apostate Romanism, but to the Reformers themselves. Hence he is a witness that they defined fait[h] has an assent to the promise of the Gospel.


The former age never said that true believing, or false believing either, is an act of the understanding only. The former age, and much of the later ages too, specify assent in addition to understanding. They make this specification with the deliberate aim of not restricting belief to understanding alone. One can understand and lecture on the philosophy of Spinoza, but this does not mean that the lecturer assents to it. Belief is the act of assenting to something understood. But understanding alone is not belief in what is understood.


The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found. (Gordon Clark, Saving Faith)

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