Knowledge, Assent, Trust--elements of faith?

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VictorBravo

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In another thread on hyper-calvinism, a different topic came up discussing the elements of faith.

Historically, reformed theologians considered faith to have three essential parts: notitia, or “knowledge”; assensus, or “assent”; and fiducia, or “trust."

Gordon Clark took issue with this definition, primarily on the grounds that assent included trust. This causes controversy even to this day.

I've read Gordon Clark's defense of this and I am not of the group that thinks he taught Sandemanianism (mere intellectual assent is sufficient for saving faith). I do think, however, that he can be understood that way, and on this issue there was a potential recklessness of teaching.

But I offer something else: anecdotal evidence that trust is different from assent. I take it from my own experience. God did not bring me to saving faith until my 40s. Before that, I had read Scripture, and I had even come to believe it was true. I had no doubt that Christ was a real human, Son of God, who walked on earth, was killed, and was resurrected.

But, that didn't do much of anything in my case, because I was quite confident that I did not need to rely upon Christ for my own sin. I was arrogantly confident that God would either leave me alone, or that I could argue with him about fairness on judgment day.

Not exactly a Christian frame of mind, is it? I had knowledge and assent, but no trust. It was a work God's Spirit to press me against the wall on the issue, and cause me to submit in sackcloth and ashes.

I think on a practical and pastoral level, the three elements need to be embraced, examined, and applied.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thankyou, Vic, for showing the difference experientially. This is very important.

For those interested in looking at Gordon Clark's view, the following may be of some assistance pro and con:

Gordon Clark and Sandemanianism | Banner of Truth

My own view is that Dr. Clark was in error because he overreacted to the liberal denial of propositional truth by denying personal truth altogether. This created problems for his psychology, Christology, and soteriology. People are not propositions. A man is not the sum total of the propositions he assents to. Christ as a person cannot be reduced to what He propositionally knew. People are not saved by assenting to propositions. Christ is a Person. The apostle Paul taught Timothy the importance of holding fast the form of sound words but also knew WHOM he believed. He gave thanks to God for His unspeakable gift. He prayed for the Ephesians to know that which passeth knowledge. The personal element should not be denied. Our faith includes the propositional, but it goes further. By means of it the Holy Spirit unites us to the person of Christ, so that what is His by covenant becomes ours in Him.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
I hope that this thread stays open "for a while". I would like to contribute to it but I have a my sons arriving home from some very important Dr. appointments and I do not wish to enter into this discussion unless I am fully engaged.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks, Vic. I appreciate your generosity with Dr. Clark. He seems from my reading of him to commit the Sandemanian error, but whether he does or is simply unclear and confused, he's clearly wrong on the matter, which is an important matter indeed. I think that Matthew is right that GC was concerned about the liberal evacuation of knowledge from faith (the propositional) and reacted by making the opposite error, denying the personal.

I, too, grew up believing the truth of the gospel. I was reared in a Calvinistic Baptist milieu. I did not come to a justifying faith in Christ until I was 17, but I certainly knew who Jesus was, what he did, and believed intellectually long before I came to trust Christ alone. In fact, I would argue the five points of Calvinism with challengers. I knew that I needed to be saved and that there was no other Savior. But I did not trust Him as my only Lord and Savior. I knew that I did not trust Him.

Now one may say that I did not really believe, that if I did, I would have trusted Him. But I did have a historical faith. I believed in the truth of the gospel (propositional) but did not trust the One about whom the gospel spoke (personal). I did not have, in other words, a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the import of fiducia: we must give ourselves to Him who gave Himself for us. I am thankful more than I can ever say that He too pressed me to trust Him and Him alone.

Peace,
Alan
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I hope that this thread stays open "for a while". I would like to contribute to it but I have a my sons arriving home from some very important Dr. appointments and I do not wish to enter into this discussion unless I am fully engaged.

Earl, I didn't say it in the intro of the thread, but I started it just for you. :)

Well, also because I wanted to say something too.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Rats, I was planning to arbitrarily close it in 10 minutes for no reason at all.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
My own view is that Dr. Clark was in error because he overreacted to the liberal denial of propositional truth by denying personal truth altogether. This created problems for his psychology, Christology, and soteriology. People are not propositions.

And thank you for this observation. It gets to the heart of my reservations about Clark's view, or at least how he is presented these days. I think Dr. Clark was unduly nervous about the subjective effects of sin and grace--ignoring clear Scriptural demands to recognize this dynamic.

I appreciate your generosity with Dr. Clark. He seems from my reading of him to commit the Sandemanian error, but whether he does or is simply unclear and confused, he's clearly wrong on the matter, which is an important matter indeed.

Agreed. It's hard for me to malign Dr. Clark, having listened to many recorded lectures that seem to present a more balanced and warm teacher. But I have to agree that the result of this teaching leads to false assurance. I know first-hand how easy it is to play a legal game with justification ("I believe--OK? Now quit talking to me about sin.")

On the other hand, I'm dealing with folks right now who are anxious about their faith because of their lack of "feeling" saved. Certainly mere intellectual argument is not the answer, and neither is flighty emotion.

I suppose my main point is that it is easy to fall into intellectual exercises and ignore the plain issue: what is faith and do I have it? It seems that a child can understand it without trouble, and yet a well-developed mind can twist itself into knots too difficult for itself to identify. Clark made his argument in the rarefied philosophical realm. Meanwhile, the rest of us may be tempted to run with his observations and lead others astray.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
I suppose my main point is that it is easy to fall into intellectual exercises and ignore the plain issue: what is faith and do I have it? It seems that a child can understand it without trouble, and yet a well-developed mind can twist itself into knots too difficult for itself to identify.
I think this touches on the subject at hand. From your testamony above..."I had no doubt that Christ was a real human, Son of God, who walked on earth, was killed, and was resurrected. But, that didn't do much of anything in my case, because I was quite confident that I did not need to rely upon Christ for my own sin."
Not to dispute your lack of faith before you placed your personal trust in the facts you say you already assented to. May I ask if you did not assent to all of Romans 10:9? "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." In other words, you appeared to say you really did believe that He rose from the dead before you believe you came to real faith. So you assented to half of Romans 10:19 (rose from the dead) but did not assent to Jesus being Lord? Is that correct?
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Not to dispute your lack of faith before you placed your personal trust in the facts you say you already assented to. May I ask if you did not assent to all of Romans 10:9? "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." In other words, you appeared to say you really did believe that He rose from the dead before you believe you came to real faith. So you assented to half of Romans 10:19 (rose from the dead) but did not assent to Jesus being Lord? Is that correct?

It went deeper than that. I assented to all of the facts, including Romans 10:9. I accepted that they were true.

But I could not allow myself to submit to those facts. I could indeed confess with my mouth the words, but I refused to accept that I needed such salvation. In other words, I could say, in effect, "I know God says such things, and God is true, but they don't apply to me--I am my own standard."
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
Not to dispute your lack of faith before you placed your personal trust in the facts you say you already assented to. May I ask if you did not assent to all of Romans 10:9? "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." In other words, you appeared to say you really did believe that He rose from the dead before you believe you came to real faith. So you assented to half of Romans 10:19 (rose from the dead) but did not assent to Jesus being Lord? Is that correct?

It went deeper than that. I assented to all of the facts, including Romans 10:9. I accepted that they were true.

But I could not allow myself to submit to those facts. I could indeed confess with my mouth the words, but I refused to accept that I needed such salvation. In other words, I could say, in effect, "I know God says such things, and God is true, but they don't apply to me--I am my own standard."

Now this is the "problem". I used quotation marks because I in no way deny that saving faith does indeed contain all 3 elements. When you say you assented to all of Romans 10:9 before you trusted you seem to contradict this later when you said it did not apply to you. What I see is that you did not assent to the Lordship of Jesus even though you said you assented.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
Here is what Calvin wrote concerning James 2:19 and how this show me one ought not to use this verse to explain what saving faith is.

19 Thou believest that there is one God. From this one sentence it appears evident that the whole dispute is not about faith, but of the common knowledge of God, which can no more connect man with God, than the sight of the sun carry him up to heaven;
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
you seem to contradict this later when you said it did not apply to you. What I see is that you did not assent to the Lordship of Jesus even though you said you assented.

Call it what you want, Earl. I assented to the teaching. I acknowledged the claim, and I even believed that Jesus himself said that "no one comes to the Father but by me." I figured it was true. I knew that Christ Jesus claimed Lordship over all things.

All of that I could fairly say I assented to. But in my rebellion I put more faith in my own autonomy, even coming to the point of realizing that I (in my own self deception) was ready to go one-on-one with God himself. I had the perverse frame of mind that I, of all people, would be a special exception.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
you seem to contradict this later when you said it did not apply to you. What I see is that you did not assent to the Lordship of Jesus even though you said you assented.

Call it what you want, Earl. I assented to the teaching. I acknowledged the claim, and I even believed that Jesus himself said that "no one comes to the Father but by me." I figured it was true. I knew that Christ Jesus claimed Lordship over all things.

All of that I could fairly say I assented to. But in my rebellion I put more faith in my own autonomy, even coming to the point of realizing that I (in my own self deception) was ready to go one-on-one with God himself. I had the perverse frame of mind that I, of all people, would be a special exception.

I see where you are coming from though from your "perverse frame of mind" you may have thought you assented to Romans 10:9. There is no way one can really assent to 10:9 and not have some trust. Please take this in all charity. :)
 

NaphtaliPress

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Staff member

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
I believe I had historical faith until the age of 13 when I believed in Christ as my own Lord and Saviour.
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Earl, I also grew up assenting to everything I was taught about the truth. I even gave my testimony a number of times. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I realised -- not that I doubted any of it, not even my need of a Saviour or my destiny in hell for rejecting the Saviour -- but that I deeply hated God. I did not trust Him with my life. I don't enjoy thinking of it now for various reasons, the biggest one being that I feel like even saying I hated God at one time is to betray my best and truest friend. But there is a very real danger of assenting without trust, perhaps especially where people grow up believing the Bible but not really seeking the Lord. This doesn't mean that all children in Christian homes are so of course. My sister has, I think, always trusted Christ. (In her early life, she grappled with much more doubt than I did: I have struggled with much more doubt since my conversion.)
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
That's your job Ruben.:)
On the puritan understanding of historical faith see this from Durham on Isaiah 53.
Unsaving Faith - Blogs - The PuritanBoard
Rats, I was planning to arbitrarily close it in 10 minutes for no reason at all.

What are your thoughts on those who saw our Lord risen from he dead? Do you think any of those had mere historical faith?

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep (I Corinthians 5:6)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. (Matthew 28:17, ESV)

If this is the same incident, then some of the five hundred doubted.

Cf.
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:29-31)

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation......So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:45-48, 53)

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
I believe I had historical faith until the age of 13 when I believed in Christ as my own Lord and Saviour.

The nice sweet tasting thing is that all here in this thread and those here at PB that I know posses all three elements now. :)
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
Earl, I also grew up assenting to everything I was taught about the truth. I even gave my testimony a number of times. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I realised -- not that I doubted any of it, not even my need of a Saviour or my destiny in hell for rejecting the Saviour -- but that I deeply hated God. I did not trust Him with my life. I don't enjoy thinking of it now for various reasons, the biggest one being that I feel like even saying I hated God at one time is to betray my best and truest friend. But there is a very real danger of assenting without trust, perhaps especially where people grow up believing the Bible but not really seeking the Lord. This doesn't mean that all children in Christian homes are so of course. My sister has, I think, always trusted Christ. (In her early life, she grappled with much more doubt than I did: I have struggled with much more doubt since my conversion.)

All I am saying is that one cannot really "assent" to Romans 10:9 without trust. I think we all here may have a hard time knowing exactly when we were regenerated especially those raised around The Gospel since birth. This may come down to assurance and how a lack there of such may be the reason many think they were not saved at a point in time. :)
 
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earl40

Puritan Board Professor
That's your job Ruben.:)
On the puritan understanding of historical faith see this from Durham on Isaiah 53.
Unsaving Faith - Blogs - The PuritanBoard
Rats, I was planning to arbitrarily close it in 10 minutes for no reason at all.

What are your thoughts on those who saw our Lord risen from he dead? Do you think any of those had mere historical faith?

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep (I Corinthians 5:6)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. (Matthew 28:17, ESV)

If this is the same incident, then some of the five hundred doubted.

Cf.
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:29-31)

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation......So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:45-48, 53)

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)

Doubted the reports.

14 Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
One can assent that God is one and not be saved, but one cannot assent to Romans 10:9 and not be saved. James did not use the same words Paul did. For what assurance would we have if James wrote "the demons believe Jesus is Lord and rose from the dead" as describing what saving faith is? Of course it is deeper than that and I realize James is describing what real faith looks like to men. They of course do believe such and know they are damned but we are not demons and if we (humans) believe Jesus is Lord and rose from the dead we will be saved. I assent and trust this and know one cannot really assent to this with having some trust.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
We assent to propositions; we trust persons. The Gospel calls upon us to receive Christ Jesus the Lord. Salvation is by faith in the Person, Work, Offices, and Benefits of Christ, not by giving assent to a Creed.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
We assent to propositions; we trust persons. The Gospel calls upon us to receive Christ Jesus the Lord. Salvation is by faith in the Person, Work, Offices, and Benefits of Christ, not by giving assent to a Creed.

We also assent and trust propositions about persons. :)
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I see where you are coming from though from your "perverse frame of mind" you may have thought you assented to Romans 10:9. There is no way one can really assent to 10:9 and not have some trust. Please take this in all charity.

So taken. I've always known you to be gentle and charitable, Earl.

My main concern with trying to combine trust and assent is in how one deals with sinners in rebellion. In my former state, if someone asked me, "do you know the Gospel and agree with it?", I'd say, "yes." Then, if my questioner were astute and had a lot of patience, he could explore what I meant by the phrase "agree with." I could spend hours skillfully evading the question.

On the other hand, if my questioner simply asked, "do you know the gospel, agree with it, and trust in Christ alone?", I would be trapped. I could not answer the last phrase positively, and my state would be exposed.

So the elements are indeed very helpful and useful.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
We also assent and trust propositions about persons. :)

For truth to correspond to reality there must be persons and things about which every proposition gives descriptive information. The knowledge is one thing and the reality is another. When we trust the knowledge we are really only trusting something of ourselves -- our knowledge. When we trust the person or thing that is known then we truly have faith in that person or thing. Take some time to think about it. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not faith in our knowledge of Him but faith in Him.
 
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