What Faith Is
Bryan D. Estelle
I was rereading Machen's What is Faith and came across the following quote:
"At the present time it is the fashion to ignore this aspect of faith: indeed faith and knowledge, as we have already observed, are often divorced; they are treated as though they belonged to two entirely different spheres, and could therefore never by any chance come either into relation or contradiction."
What Machen said over 75 years ago was not only timely and true then, it is true and timely now as well. Examples of this symptomatic rot of anti-intellectualism with respect to faith abound. Sadly, however, those who are genuinely seeking answers about the nature of faith want knowledge that they may consider. How can one separate knowledge from faith? You may not. If the reader will allow a personal allusion, I think that I may be able to illustrate my point.
A couple of years ago I was flying home from the East Coast where I had been attending a Presbytery meeting and preaching on the Lord's day. It was also the end of a Semester and so I had many exams with me that I was grading. I took my seat and began working as I usually do on these long flights. I was sitting in an aisle seat, the seat next to me was empty, and a young man whom I guessed to be about 18 or 19 years of age occupied the window seat.
After working for about an hour, I put my tray table up and took a break. The young man sitting next to me asked me if I was a teacher (he had been watching me do my grading). I said yes and explained that I was a professor at a seminary that trained prospective ministers in San Diego. That was the end of the conversation for then, and I went back to my grading.
When I took my next break from grading, the young man asked me politely if he could ask another question. I said, "Of course." He said, "If you are a professor that trains prospective ministers, are you a minister yourself?" I said, "Yes, I am." Then he proceeded to ask his question. He said, "What is faith?"
I told him that I was returning from a Presbytery meeting; I explained to him briefly what that was and that we had just asked a prospective minister that was taking his ordination exams that very question as well. I told him if he didn't mind me taking about 10 minutes of his time, I would explain to him the kind of answer we were hoping to receive from that man. In the next 10 minutes I explained to him that true saving faith includes elements of knowledge, assent, and trust. I told him that faith was outward looking not inward looking. I took great pains to explain very carefully to him that we need to look for righteousness outside of ourselves and that righteousness can be found in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
At the end of my brief description of faith he thanked me and said that was the fullest and best answer he had ever received to his question. I proceeded to ask what he was doing on the plane, where he was traveling from and to. He then told me that he was a bare-knuckled boxer who was returning from an "underground" and "black market" fight that had been held in Vietnam. He had won and had $20,000 in his pocket as a consequence. This is how he made his living. I asked, "Have you ever seen anyone get killed?" He said, "No, but it happens." He had grown up in Compton, California and lived with his uncle since his dad was in prison for dealing crack cocaine. He was only 18 or 19 years old. Then he asked me if I had children. I said I that I did, three of them. Then he told me he had a daughter that was 6 years old! Yes, do the math. His daughter and the mother of his child also lived with his uncle in Compton, California.
Over the next couple of hours we had a very fine conversation. As our conversation drew to a close, I encouraged this young man to go to school and get an education since he would not be able to box forever. I left him with my card and told him to call me if he ever thought I could be of help to him. I've not heard from him since.
That day I was very thankful for my Westminster education. I never solicited or expected that question. But when it came, I was glad to "give an account of the hope that is in me" (1 Peter 3:15). I was glad that Dr. Strimple had taught me about the extraspective character of faith. I was glad that Dr. Kline had taught me about Christ's penalty-paying substitution and probation-keeping merit. I was glad for Dr. Godfrey's unmoving stand on the active obedience of Christ and the imputation of that righteousness to those who by grace through faith believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. I was glad for all those Westminster professors and all my pastors that have taught me to speak plainly to people the truths of the gospel when we are given the opportunity.
Now I begin to ponder the number of Westminster graduates like yourself that are equipped to give knowledgeable answers to the question, "What is faith?" There is a vast sea of humanity looking for informed answers to that question. That thought only causes me to redouble my efforts as a minister and a professor. I have utter confidence that Westminster graduates will not mistakenly divorce faith from knowledge when they preach the gospel. I hope that you will have many opportunities inside and outside the church to answer the question, "What is faith?"