RE: On Tillich

From: Rich Blinne (
Date: Sat May 24 2003 - 14:48:06 EDT

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    -----Original Message-----
    From: [] On
    Behalf Of Howard J. Van Till
    Sent: Saturday, May 24, 2003 6:56 AM
    To: John W Burgeson;
    Subject: Re: On Tillich

    A couple of years ago Marcus Borg preached a sermon in our church
    titled: "The Meaning of Faith: Relationship, Not Belief."

    In this sermon he distinguished among several ways in which the word
    'faith' is employed. These could be helpful in clarifying some of this
    discussion. As I recall, his distinctions were:

    1) faith as assensus -- to give mental assent to the truth of some

    2) faith as fidelitas -- to be faithful to a relationship.

    3) faith as fiducia -- to trust in God -- not in mere statements about
    God, but in God.

    4) faith as visio -- a way of seeing the whole of reality

    I believe -- "credo" -- means, "I give my heart to .... "

    "Believing" could mean "beloving" -- assuring fidelity, practicing
    trust, seeing life positively.

    Howard Van Till

    PS: Anyone wishing to see the full text of this sermon can find it at:


    Borg on fiducia:
    The third meaning of faith and the second of these richer meanings is
    faith as the Latin word fiducia. There is no good English equivalent.
    Fiduciary is as close as we come and that doesn't get us very far at
    all. So, let me just translate it into English. This is faith as trust,
    as trust in God, *not trust in statements about God*, but as radical
    trust in God. It is *not very much concerned with beliefs at all*, once
    again. I think we get the clearest notion of what radical trust in God
    is by looking immediately at its opposite. Its opposite, of course, is
    mistrust. But, even more provocatively, the opposite of faith as trust
    is anxiety. We see this most clearly in some teaching of Jesus that is
    very familiar to us. It is found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew
    6, but also found in Luke 12. It is that famous set of passages where
    Jesus says to his hearers, "Consider the lilies of the field and how
    they grow. They neither toil nor spin and yet God has clothed them with
    a glory exceeding that of Solomon. And consider the birds of the air.
    They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet God feeds them."
    Jesus is inviting us here to see reality as characterized by a cosmic
    generosity and to trust in that generosity. And then the significant
    thing for the point I'm making right now, five times in that passage he
    says to his hearers, "Why are you anxious, O people of little faith?"
    Little faith and anxiety about life go together. Faith as trust is the
    opposite of this. *And so, the measurement or barometer of how much
    faith as trust you have is how much anxiety is there in your life?*
    [Emphasis mine]

    Francis Turretin on fiducia:
    The third act is fiducial and practical assent or a persuasion of the
    practical intellect by which we judge the gospel to be *not only*
    true[notitia], *but also* good and therefore most worthy of our love and
    desire[assensus]; *also* the promises of grace to be most certain
    concerning the *remission of sins* and the *bestowal of salvation* upon
    all believers and penitents and so also upon me if I shall *believe* and
    repent. [Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Francis Turretin
    [Phillipsburg, NJ.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994, p. 562, emphasis

    I shall proceed to distinguish various acts of faith. First, one act of
    faith is direct which *has for its object the offer of the Gospel*. By
    this act I fly to Christ and embrace his promises. Another act is
    reflex, and has for its object the direct act of faith. By this act I
    discovered that I have indeed believed, and that the promises of the
    Gospel belong to me. Again, the direct act of faith is twofold. One of
    its operations consists in the assent which it gives to the Word of God
    and to the promises of the Gospel, as true in relation to the giving of
    salvation to all who repent and by a living faith fly to Christ and
    embrace him. Another operation of saving faith is its taking refuge and
    trusting in Christ, acknowledging him as the only sufficient Saviour. It
    is by this we fly to him, rest in him, and from him obtain pardon of our
    sins and salvation. Now, that faith which is commanded us to the first
    and second acts which are direct, before it is commanded as to the third
    act which is reflex, and which necessarily supposes the two former; as
    *it cannot exist unless preceded by them*. ["The Atonement of Christ,"
    Francis Turretin, Baker Book House, 1978, p. 179, emphasis mine]

    Since it was Turretin who coined the use of the term fiducia, his
    meaning should take precedence over Borg. While Borg credited Neibuhr
    for visio, he didn't credit Turretin for assensus and fiducia. The
    context of the first quote was the challenge of Roman Catholicism
    against Protestantism that claimed that the Protestants said you could
    be saved by a notional (also known as historical) faith. Turretin's and
    Herman Witsius' response was notitia and assensus were insufficient but
    nevertheless necessary. Fiducia was both sufficient and necessary.
    Futhermore, fiducia did not go against notitia and assensus but went
    further than them. The context of the second qutoe was the
    Amyrauldianism controversy which posited that Christ hypothetically died
    for everybody. This raised issues concerning the offer of the Gospel.

    Let's look at some of the differences between Turretin and Borg:

    1. For Turretin the object of faith is the offer of the Gospel. For
    Borg, "it is not trust in the statements about God." and "it is not
    concerned about beliefs at all" But, the offer of the Gospel is a
    statement about God. Thus Borg turns Turretin's concept of fiducia on
    its head. (This illustrates a frustration that evangelicals have with
    liberals where standard terms are silently redefined.) The critique that
    Turretin had with noticia and assensus is not that they were wrong.
    Rather, they were not sufficient to save.

    2. Turretin distinguishes between faith and assurance while Borg does
    not. Turretin has two classes of acts of faith, direct and reflex. You
    directly believed in the promises of God and are saved. As a result of
    that salvation and the indwellling of the Spirit, you reflexively
    believe that you are saved. Reflexive faith is usually defined by the
    term assurance of salvation. Assurance is where the lack of anxiety
    comes from. It is quite possible to have false assurance. Thus,
    Borg's anxiety test is not a good one. All the following combinations
    are possible:

    1. Saving faith; assurance. Borg's test works.
    2. Saving faith; lack of asssurance. Borg's test fails.
    3. No saving faith; assurance. Borg's test fails.
    4. No saving faith; no assurance. Borg's test works.

    This is the reason why the lapel pin for Evangelism Explosion has two
    question marks rather than one. In order to get a good diagnosis of an
    individual's faith, you need to split the saving faith question from the
    assurance question.

    As to the relationship between faith and rationality, we see that
    according to Turretin (and the whole of Reformed thought who followed
    Turretin's thinking on this) saving faith (fiducia) is based on a
    rational faith. A merely rational faith is not good enough to save, but
    it is a necessary foundation for it. Acquinas did well by calling
    reason faith's minister[1]. While faith may be above reason it is never
    against it.

    [1] Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it,
    natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will
    ministers to charity.
    -- Summa Theologiae, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8, Reply to Objection 2

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