MorInse 09-02-024

In Search of a Confident Faith

Overcoming Barriers to Trusting in God


J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler

InterVarsity Press, 2008, 230 pp., ISBN 978-0-8308-3428-0



Moreland and Issler are professors at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.  Together they have put together a very readable exploration of intellectual and emotional barriers to faith and how they may be overcome.  It attempts to offset the influence of naturalism on the faith of believers. I found it particularly stimulating and encouraging.



"Faith has a public relations problem.  It has a hollow ring to it, and it's associated with a lot of really bad, harmful ideas." (9)  In fact, faith is so misrepresented and misunderstood the authors recommend using a term "God-confidence" in its place.


1.  What Faith is…and What It Isn't

Faith is typically understood as blind faith, faith without support of facts or logic. (15-16)  However, everyone has faith.  It is impossible to operate without faith. (16)  Faith means confidence, trust, and reliance. (17) 


Faith is commonly understood as the polar opposite of logic but "if faith is essentially trust and confidence, its proper exercise crucially requires reasons, evidence and knowledge." (18)  People always believe what they think is best supported by facts.  It is almost impossible to believe something one knows to be untrue or absurd.  "Faith is trusting what we have reason to believe is true." (18) 
"As knowledge of an object…or a truth increases…so does one's confidence in that object or truth." (19) 


Confidence comes in degrees.  "To grow in Christ it is not enough to assess what we do and do not believe.  Rather, it is crucial to assess our degree of belief."  "If we are going to be intentional about cultivating our reliance on God, we will have to assess the strength of our actual beliefs, develop ways to remove hindrances to their development and find tools for their cultivation." (24)  The value of confidence is derived from the reality and dependability of its object. (25) 


"To continue to say you believe something that is not real or is false is to live in a fantasy world."  "The nature of the object of faith, whether trustworthy or true, is essential to any valid belief."  "The integrity of faith's object is the key." (25) "Reality is what makes an assertion true or false…." (27)


"Biblical faith goes beyond accepting certain truths and crucially involves confidence in and reliance upon a Person--the Triune God." (26)


2.  Dealing with Doubts - Distractions of the Head

"A pervasive misperception in contemporary American culture is that people of religious faith, particularly Christians, are intellectually inferior to those who do not have religious faith."  (35)  Christians are seen as naďve or ignorant.  Unbelief is considered tough-minded while belief is fuzzy-minded; unbelief is rational and belief is gullible.  Being thought of as ignorant or backward may inhibit us from standing up for our faith.  "Such fear is the very opposite of trust." (36) 


How do we know?  "Knowledge is either an accurate experiential awareness of reality or a true belief about reality based on adequate grounds." (41)  When we have knowledge of doctrinal truths from the Bible, our beliefs are based on a wide variety of adequate grounds for those beliefs.  (41)  To know something one does not have to be absolutely certain, with no possibility of being wrong.  Knowledge comes in degrees.  There is a distinction between knowing and knowing for sure. (42) "It raises the bar way too high to require that one can only claim to know…when one is completely certain.  Moreover, the mere presence of doubt does not mean that one does not know the thing in question." (43)


"Every culture has a set of background assumptions--we can call it a plausibility structure--that sets a tone or a framework for what people think….  It directs what they will entertain as plausible….  This plausibility structure is so widespread and subtle that people usually don't even know it is there even through it hugely impacts their perspective on the world.    It is so deeply internalized and widely adopted that it is taken for granted.  It is so subconscious that it is seldom noticed."  "…we all carry with us this cultural map…. (45-6)


"Our current Western cultural plausibility structure elevates science and scorns and mocks religion, especially Christian teaching.  As a result, believers in Western cultures do not as readily believe the supernatural worldview of the Bible in comparison with their Third World brothers and sisters." (46)  "Our focus is on the natural world, with little or no attention paid to the supernatural world." (47) 


Many of our doubts are fed by ideas absorbed from the plausibility structure of our culture.  Resolving them can be done by exposing these cultural assumptions, challenging them with biblical truth, being vigilant to keep them in one's mind, and spotting them in each day's input.  "The real solution here is the conscious formation of alternative, countercultural ways of seeing, thinking and being present in the world." (47)


Seven main doubt-inducing assumptions of our culture are listed on p. 48.  These are worth exploring.  A number of these assumptions are self-refuting: they set up criteria that falsify their claims. (50)


"It is not just secular ideas that must be countered.  It is the process of secularization itself that must be confronted, including the process of socializing Christians into thinking of themselves as marginalized, weak, gullible, uneducated people." (54)


Although not all of us are brilliant, it is helpful to know who our Christian intellectual role models are.  "We need to celebrate the absolutely unequaled history of the intellectual life in the Christian church throughout our history." (55)


3.  Dealing with the Past - Distractions of the Heart

Trusting God involves not only our head but our heart, including our emotions and relationships. (63)  "Sometimes it's the case that our lack of God-confidence will relate to false beliefs that stem from earlier experiences." (65)  In life we are either moving toward God or moving away from him.  "Therefore, a fundamental life skill for all believers is learning how to discern the subtle ways our heart moves us in either direction." (66)


"One way I know God's will is by the desires of my heart.  When God is in control of your life, He is also in control of your desires."  (67, quoting Bruce Waltke)


At the same time, Satan loves to lure us away from God by playing on our desires. (69)  "Our good desires can easily be used to move us a bit off course, which eventually could lead us into destructive behavior."  "Any desire, good or bad, can easily be hijacked for evil."  "Temptations don't come with loud sirens going off to warn us--they're usually very subtle."  We need to be alert. (71)  Satan desires to draw us away to trust in ourselves by moving us into fear, anger, or pride. (74) 


Because all parents are imperfect, most of us carry some deep wounds related to our growing-up years.  As children we developed some strategies to be safe and in our relationship with God these have become barriers since we tend to rely on ourselves to fix problems and be safe rather than relying on God's help and love. (75)


"God seeks open access to those parts of our lives that we choose to keep deeply hidden within our inner world."  Ignoring His invitation indicates a willful resistance.  It's not natural to attend to our limitations, weaknesses and sins, but we can invite God into this inner search. (78)  "Moving into a healthier emotional life is an important part of the journey of growing deeper with God." (79)


"Only infinite divine love can touch our deep places of sorrow.  Only infinite divine love can heal our wounds and lift us up.  Living more and more in divine love is an important and normal part of God's program for us." (81)  "If we don't address the deep needs of our heart, we become the walking wounded and very susceptible to being led down destructive paths." (83)


If you are in communication with Him, then you can trust your conscience to warn you when you begin to step out of line. (85)  "We need to invite trusted others to help us notice, monitor, and begin to limit and defeat these sinful reaction patterns so we can grow more and more into the settled rootedness of Jesus' inner life." (87) 


Part II.  Expanding Expectations for Our Faith in God

4.  Making Sense of Jesus' Incredible Promises

Jesus' "promises about faith and prayer are as shocking for us today as they were for those in Jesus' time.  The reality of every prayer answered as described in these verses doesn't match our experience." (100)


When Jesus says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect," he is providing a vision of life fully lived in his kingdom.  "Thus, we should read these statements as invitations to a journey of growth toward these ideals." (101) 


Some of Jesus' teachings lie outside our plausibility structures -- our views of reality.  But these can be altered. (102)  Despite all their skepticism, the disciples became convinced, for example, that Jesus had really risen from the dead. Where are we currently being held hostage by closed minds?  (104) 


There are critical moments on our journey in trusting God when we need to take an action step, like Peter stepping out of the boat.  "We need to become much more sensitive to God's presence, becoming attuned to this invisible reality, where God is always near." (105)  "The more we enter into Jesus' own view of reality, the more we can rely on that reality as he did.  God-confidence is being able to see what those outside of God's family just cannot yet see."  (106)  "God-confidence helps us look beyond the current troubling circumstances to rely on God's promises abut the future."  It also helps us rely on what is real though invisible and immaterial now. (107)


"It's possible even to exercise our little God-confidence and see God work.  And it's also possible for our reliance on God to increase.  Furthermore, it's a process God nurtures in us as we step out in obedience." (125)


Changes in both belief and practice are necessary if true worldview change is to take place.  We must step out of the comfortable routines and exercise our God-confidence for it to have full effect.  (128)  "Wise risks are part and parcel of the life of God-confidence." (129) 


5.  Bearing Witness to God's Activity in Our World

Reliance on God grows as people share with one another how God intervenes in their lives. (135)  Listen for things from people who are credible witnesses for you.  Tell others and listen to others tell how God has answered prayer, about incredible providential 'coincidences,' and about miraculous healings.  These things abound but often witnesses keep silent.


6.  Learning to Trust in God for Guidance about Life Decisions

"Faith is actually rooted in knowledge--a true belief about reality based on adequate grounds or an accurate experiential awareness of reality.  Thus, faith is never opposed to reason or evidence when everything is taken into account.  Biblical faith is not a blind leap in the dark." (161)


Doubt may come from seeing the world through Western plausibility structures or doubt regarding specific intellectual issues. (161) 


"God welcomes us when we seek his guidance and present our prayer requests."  "Our God-confidence grows as we step out to learn how trustworthy to us our God is." (161)


"Generally speaking, 'God's will' refers to two broad categories: something related to God's desired overarching plan for history, or something related to a lifestyle of righteousness that pleases God." (168)  "The matter of guidance relates to making decisions within the wide range of activities that fit within God's moral and holy standards."  Within this sphere we have a lot of room for decision making. (169)  "We can also venture out beyond the evidences of God's apparent working, moving into new arenas for which God may be nudging us to move forward."  "Take the initiative, step out and see what God will do."  "One of God's goals for us is that we become adults, wise in our decision making."  (172-73) 


Often God's guidance comes in the form of wise counsel.  "Relying more and more on God's ways than on our own is what our journey into wisdom is all about." (Prov. 3:5-6)  (174)  He wants us to make some decisions - with him at the center of our desires.  (174) 


"God is in the guidance business." (175)  "The Holy Spirit is not just some force or power, but is a Person of power, who mentors and coaches us and makes it possible for us to live by faith and grow into Christlikeness." (177)


The remainder of the chapter provides descriptions of means God uses to guide us.


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