The Bible knows nothing of degrees of faith.1
Either a person believes something, or he does not. For example, when she was asked by Jesus, “Do you believe this?” Martha didn’t speak of her percentage of certainty. She confidently asserted her conviction that she indeed believed what Jesus had just said (John 11:27).
That, however, is not a widely held belief (conviction) today, especially in the world of Christian education. Many Evangelical theologians and philosophers suggest that faith is the relative conviction that something is more plausible than any other option. Most postmodern Evangelical scholars do not think that absolute certainty is possible.
Dr. J. P. Moreland expressed this view in a discussion on Theology Unplugged at Bible.org. “If you believe something, you are 51% to 100% sure it is right. So if you are 51/49 on something you believe it, but not very strongly… I think what we have to do is help people to understand not only what they believe, but sort of the level of confidence they have. And that way we can find ways to help them grow in that confidence. We could perhaps give them things to read or spiritual formation practices to engage in that might strengthen a 60/40 belief…and get it up to 80/20 and maybe higher. So I think that people shouldn’t feel embarrassed if they are 60/40 on some subject, eternal security let’s say, or whatever, because that just means that they do believe it, but they’d like help” (#3, 44:41- 45:30).
Moreland speaks of a person having 60% certainty and 40% uncertainty that eternal security is true. He doesn’t say how an individual knows whether his belief exceeds 50%. Is there some way to quantify this? If not, is not the “believer” really unsure whether he “believes” something? Also on Theology Unplugged at Bible.org there is a good example of the uncertainty I’m talking about. Michael Patton, Greg Cromartie, and Rhome Dyck struggle with deciding how sure they are of certain truths. Patton suggests a scale of 1 to 10 (essentially 10% to 100%). On this scale 10 is not certainty, Patton says, but “as sure as you can be” (whatever that means). When Patton asks Cromartie how sure he is that God exists, he finally says, “I am somewhere between a 5 and an 8.” When asked the same question, Dyck said, “I was going to use the number 7. But with a gun at my head, I don’t bottom-line know 100%.” On the most fundamental issue in theology these men who are instructing others about the Christian faith indicate they believe there is between a 20% and 50% chance that God doesn’t exist! As you can imagine, it is downhill from here. When Cromartie is asked how sure he is that Jesus will rapture us before a great tribulation, he says that would be a 2! He is 20% “sure” of the pre-trib rapture, which means he is 80% sure that the pre-trib rapture is not true.
The postmodern view of belief is unbiblical. Belief is not some mixture of belief and unbelief. There is no such thing as being 51% sure, to use Moreland’s term. If you are sure, you are certain. If not, you are uncertain. That would be obvious were it not for the postmodern worldview so prevalent in our educational system, secular and Christian, today. Jesus doesn’t guarantee everlasting life to those who are 60% “sure” that He guarantees their eternal destiny. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). He guarantees everlasting life to those who are convinced that He fulfills that promise to everyone who believes in Him. When He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” He was asking her if she was convinced that the person who lives and believes in Him will never die spiritually. Being convinced is certainty, not some percentage of certainty. I end by repeating a warning Christian philosopher and apologist Dr. Norm Geisler gave at his ETS Presidential Address a few years back: “Beware of Philosophy.”
1. For discussion of the concepts of great faith, little faith, and other passages that seemingly teach degrees of faith, see my 2004 conference message, soon to be published in JOTGES.