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Faith and Evidence — Enemies or Allies?

Are Christians supposed to have blind faith or does the Bible describe a different kind of faith?

The Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies (CHLS) provides a regular column to PE News that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. In this article, Wave Nunnally, Ph.D., professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Evangel University and a regular instructor in Israel for CHLS, examines the biblical meaning of faith.

After living, studying, and teaching in Israel and other parts of the Middle East for more than 35 years, one question consistently surfaces at some point during our study trips. It usually sounds something like this: “All this is great, but if there’s so much evidence to support the Bible and what we believe, where does ‘faith’ come in?” Honestly, this is an excellent question and deserves a good answer. The two purposes of this article are 1) to define the nature of biblical faith and 2) to explore the relationship between this faith and the evidence that exists to support it.

Much has been said about “faith” in the charismatic and Pentecostal portions of Evangelicalism in the past half-century or so. It has been defined as being everything from “clinging to God” to “believing in” a certain set of doctrines to “the power of positive thinking” to us decreeing our own future (“You have what you say!”).

The Bible, however, presents a quite different set of dynamics when describing “faith.” When God tells Moses how to identify Him as the God who would deliver them from their bondage in polytheistic Egypt, He tells him, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13-15). God was calling on His people to trust Him because He had consistently demonstrated His trustworthiness in history through His interactions with their ancestors: “faith” informed by evidence.

The New Testament is no different. Luke tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection, “He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3). Similarly, Paul tells us, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all…He appeared to me also…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Both authors are appealing to physical and eyewitness testimony. As in the Old Testament, so also in the New Testament: faith is informed by evidence.

But what of verses like “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) and “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24)? A quick check of the contexts reveals that these authors are describing the futuristic (see also 1 Peter 1:5) aspect of faith—these things aren’t seen because they hadn’t happened yet (see Hebrews 11:13 and Romans 8:25 for the full context of these passages)! What we saw in Exodus, Acts, and 1 Corinthians (but see also Romans 5:9-10; 6:4a, 5a; 2 Corinthians 5:17b; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 Peter 1:3, etc.), however, is that there is more to faith than just the futuristic component: there is also a past aspect of faith. In addition to this, there is also the present aspect of faith: “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18; see also Romans 6:4b; 2 Corinthians 5:17a; Philippians 2:12, etc.).

But do not the teachings of Jesus instruct us, “…unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-3)? These words must be taken seriously, but they must also be taken in context. While it is popular to interpret these words of Jesus to mean that we need to become vulnerable, simplistic, pliable, innocent, or dependent, none of these aspects of childlikeness are intended here. How can we be so sure? It’s because Jesus Himself clarifies His point of reference in the very next verse, “Whoever therefore humbles himself as this child…” (Matthew 18:4).

The Scriptures condemn the intellectually proud (Romans 1:22; 1 Corinthians 13:2, etc.) and the willful simpleton (Proverbs 1:7, 22, etc.) with equal vigor. Both Testaments ground our faith in empirical reality: history, physical evidence, and eyewitness testimony — what Josh McDowell called “evidence that demands a verdict.” Real, biblical “faith” is based on the faithful, covenant-keeping nature of God revealed in history. Both Judaism and Christianity are historically-based faiths. Both have hope for the future, but this is an informed trust in God based on His past track record of trustworthiness, not on personal intuition, personal revelation, guess-work, or a “blind leap of faith.”

When we study together in the lands of the Bible, we see the depth and the richness of this historically-based, evidence-based faith of ours every day and every place we visit. We see a geography that still perfectly matches the descriptions it receives in the Bible. We see archeological contents of city after city that confirm the words and clarify the meanings of Scriptures long held in question by critics. We read ancient texts and inscriptions that testify to the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Scriptures upon which we base our current life and eternal destiny. In this incredibly fertile spiritual soil, our faith is clarified, confirmed, and strengthened. Our roots grow deep down in the soil of reality.

So many of us have secretly longed to have been alive during biblical times. Most have longed to walk where Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Paul, and Peter walked. We have all wanted to have complete assurance that the faith we have committed to is unquestionably and tangibly real. Thousands of such people have gone back in time and walked those very roads through participation in one of our study trips. More importantly, they have seen for themselves enough biblical reality to ground and root their relationship with God and trust in His Word in solid, visible, tangible, biblical reality. As soon as you are able, we encourage you to join us for study in these biblical lands, where regularly, “faith becomes sight!”

By Photograph: the Israel Antiquities Authority 1993; photographer not named. (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons