On Saving Faith

Here again, I would speak on matters distinctly theological. In this particular case, the doctrine of saving faith, which is critical to soteriology. My intention with this entry is to provide a personal confession of what I believe saving faith to be within the historic Reformed formulation of assensus, notitia, and fiducia. My intent is not to teach, although I would be delighted if the reader would search the Scriptures to see if these things are so, for I truly believe they are. Instead, my intention is to provide a public profession of my affirmation in the doctrine of sola fide, faith alone. I say now explicitly, I believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And I believe that faith is the sole instrument of justification. And I believe that this faith is not of one’s own doing, but is the gift of God, which he gives to whosoever it pleases him. And I believe that we are saved by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone, whose righteousness is imputed to those who are gifted faith by God, by which we are considered clean in his sight. And I explicitly deny that any work of the man plays any contributing role in the act of justification. Justification is the gracious and irresistable work of God alone, who bestows his salvific grace upon his elect, those he has chosen before the foundations of the earth were laid.

Now, the following part of the entry comes from a post I made on the Puritan Board concerning the doctrine of saving faith. The topic was concerning Gordon Clark’s view on the matter, which I briefly address before adding my own thoughts.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark (hereafter, Dr. Clark) most certainly took a more technical approach to his formulation of the doctrine of saving faith, I think. Moreover, he reads knowledge to be the traditional Platonic formulation of justified true belief, which meaning it does not always carry, neither in colloquial use, nor in the writings of the Reformers. As a result, some of Dr. Clark’s objections appear to be objections in definition, not necessarily in content.

Dr. Clark’s definition of knowledge, as I asserted before, appears to be traditional, but he also uses the term loosely, that is, colloquially, attributing knowledge to propositions that his epistemology could in nowise justify as being true. He must have either been inconsistent, or acknowledged that knowledge can have more than one meaning. This latter assumption seems most plausible, as he frequently commented that many English words have four or five meanings, and that one should read “Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary” if he desires to “know” them. Thus, I do not think Dr. Clark would object if I were to attribute a less technical usage of knowledge to the Reformers, as they do not seem to have always (if not rarely) meant justified true belief.

Well, if the Reformers did not mean Platonic knowledge when they discussed notitia, what did they mean? I have come to believe (certainly not “know” ) that the Reformers spoke of what we would call the “justification” of an object of knowledge. That is, the Reformers spoke of the proposition itself. For example, the proposition, “Socrates is mortal.” This is the conclusion of an argument. In this case, the conclusion of a syllogism, which contains the major premise, all men are mortal, and the minor premise, Socrates is a man. Thus, I would argue that notitia is the “raw objective truth”—i.e. true propositions—without concern for the other two elements of faith (assensus and fiducia).

Now, this argument itself is purely logical and intellectual. But unless one believes the premises are true, one cannot believe the conclusion. For instance, if I denied the minor premise (Socrates is a man), the conclusion does not possibly follow. I am left with a bare major premise: all men are mortal. In denying the particular, I have eliminated the possibility of the conclusion following. That is, I do not assent to the minor premise. I do not agree that they are correct. Since I do not assent to the truth of the premises, I cannot possibly trust that the conclusion is correct.

At this point, I think you might know what I am going to propose next, viz. that fiducia is trust in the conclusion. I am also sure that the more astute readers will immediately object that assent and trust here are identical in meaning, for the major and minor premises are themselves conclusions of previous arguments, the whole of knowledge regressing to a beginning. That is quite true and I applaud those who come to this conclusion unaided. I would like to give what I believe is a genuine distinction, though.

Earlier, I suggested that assensus is assent to the premises. Now, for those salvific propositions, this assent is directed at the Scriptures. That is, the object of belief (assent) is the inspired word of God. But it is one thing to assent to the fact that the Bible says one thing or another. It is quite something else to believe the proposition is true. I would therefore submit that saving faith is indeed tripartite and has these three characteristics. (Note that this list is generalized and that qualifications follow.)

1) Assensus – Believing the Bible teaches salvific propositions.
2) Notitia – Cognition of the propositions (understanding them).
3) Fiducia – Trusting (believing) the propositions are true for oneself.

Thus, in this formulation, assensus and fiducia have different objects or different propositions in view. Assensus is trust in the axiom (Scripture), whereas fiducia is trust in the theorem (the salvific proposition). Assensus is trust in the foundation or premises of the proposition, and fiducia is trust in the conclusion, the proposition itself. A demonstration seems in order.

It is written: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). By declaring “it is written,” I assent that this proposition is biblical. Secondly, I understand it. If it were written in another language besides English (and if I did not already have Romans 10:13 memorized), I would not understand the proposition. Thirdly, I trust the proposition is true. More definitely, I believe it applies to me. With these three elements, I can construct a valid syllogism, which is a particularized salvific proposition:

1) All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
2) I call upon the name of the Lord.
C) Therefore, I shall be saved.

I believe that in this syllogism all three characteristics of the traditional tripartite definition of faith are embodied.

To give some further illustrations—

For many so-called “agnostics,” assensus and notitia apply. They believe the Bible teaches that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be save and they understand the proposition (narrowly speaking) perfectly. But they do not necessarily believe it is true; at least, not for them. For cults and heresies, they may certainly have notitia, but deny that it is biblical, thus, logically negating the possibility of fiducia. For certain irrational definitions of faith (especially Kierkegaard), notita and fiducia are true, but there is no assensus. That is, Kierkegaard believed we must understand and believe the Bible teaches contradiction. Thus, they deny assent to the premises of the Bible. An irrational faith would deny the Bible teaches justification by faith alone because James says we are not justified by faith alone. The irrationalist asserts this is a contradiction that must be believed, even more that it must be a contradiction that is believed. Kierkegaard wrote explicitly that if it were not contradictory then no faith would be required.

Now, in any of the former examples it might be said that I have equivocated. That might be the case. That is the danger of examples. I hope my gracious readers (and you must be gracious for having read this far) will understand the attempt to illustrate the argument, even if it was not done so well. Interestingly enough, this three-part formulation appears to me to be nearly identical with the Platonic definition of knowledge as justified (notitia) true (assensus) belief (fiducia). In any case, I am convinced that saving faith is entirely intellectual, any other sort of extra-propositional volition being extraneous to the sole instrument of justification (faith), thus adding to the transaction something that cannot possibly be justifying.

Granted, the material just presented will probably come across as much more technical than anything the Reformers wrote on the matter. I am willing to accept that charge, but would ask the reader to compare the content of what I have said above with what the Reformers wrote. I believe that while the technical attribution of the three elements of faith given previously are more strictly logical and perhaps philosophical than the Reformers gave, I would suggest that they are faithful to the doctrine of saving faith, especially as Scripture has it. One cannot possibly be a Christian if he denies the content of the Bible (assensus), if he does not understand the content of the Bible (notitia), or if he does not trust in the content of the Bible (fiducia).

Most importantly, the five points of orthodox Calvinism necessarily infer all that must be understood regarding salvation. If one understands that depraved man is unwilling to have faith in God, then God must choose him, regenerate him, justify him, and cause him to persevere. The condition of man and the righteousness of God demand monergistic salvation. That means salvation is solely the work of God.

Soli Deo Gloria


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