Dr. Perry Downs
2016 Conference Keynote
Central to the Reformation was the recognition of the centrality of faith in the Christian religion. While the established church was wandering further and further into believing that human actions could gain our salvation, Martin Luther and then others insisted that salvation was by grace through faith alone.
Such biblical statements as “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8) or “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6), or “… the just shall live by their faith” (Heb 2:4) were being brought to the forefront of theological understanding, indicating that it is through faith alone that we can come to God for reconciliation.
The motto of Sola Fide became central to Reformation thinking and the Protestant movement. It was rejection of the idea made popular by the Judaizers during Paul’s time, Pelagius during Augustine’s time, and the Roman Catholic Church before and after the righteousness that will earn merit with God for our salvation. The central issue is, of course, the object of faith (Jesus), and not the subject (the person) who exercises the faith. The modern preoccupation with faith reverses this prority, making the existential reality of greater importance than faith’s object, teaching in effect, it does not matter what one believes, as long as one believes in something. Reformed theology contends that sola scriptura, solo Christo, and sola gratia are all directly related and imperative to sola fide.
But the question remains, “What is this stuff called faith?”
This Stuff Called Faith
The primary goal of my first address is to explore the nature and substance of faith. Protestants in general, and evangelicals in particular, have done well in insisting on the centrality of faith in the life of the believer. But we have not done particularly well in describing and maintaining a robust understanding of the actual stuff of faith. In our desire to avoid any sense of salvation by human effort, we have emasculated the true nature of saving faith. especially since the rise of Fundamentalism in the early twentieth century, the idea of faith has been reduced and minimized to simple platitudes and mottos, which carry within the little resemblance to the teachings of Scripture regarding the nature and substance of faith. The Apostle Paul insisted on justification by faith alone, and James especially helps us to understand the kind of faith that results in justification. Perhaps it was this concern that prompted Luther’s assertion that the book of James was a “… right strawy epistle.”
Classical theologians have helpfully described the aspects of faith as notitia, assensus, and fiducia, categories that serve well as descriptors of the nature of biblical faith. These categories offer a textured and nuanced understanding of how scripture speaks regarding the nature of saving and living faith. As the teachers of the Church and as those who educate her teachers, it is critical that we hold to both an orthodox and complete understanding of what actually comprises faith.
Be sure to look for Dr. Downs’ second blog post where he will highlight “How we can teach faith to others.”
About Our Guest Contributor
Perry G. Downs
Professor Emeritus of Educational Ministries
Diploma, Miami Christian College
BS, Philadelphia College of Bible
MA, PhD, New York University
Prior to coming to Trinity, Dr. Downs taught at Philadelphia College of Bible in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has taught as an adjunct professor at Canadian Theological Seminary in Saskatchewan, North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Malaysian Biblical Seminary in Kuala Lumpur, and Daystar University in Nairobi. Dr. Downs has also been interim pastor in ten churches in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Dr. Downs’s areas of expertise include faith development, moral development, moral education, and spiritual formation. He is a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education, the Religious Education Association, and the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education. His published works include many books, articles, reviews, and audio tapes. Among them is his book Teaching for Spiritual Growth (Zondervan, 1994).
2016 Conference Keynote Speaker
Join us for equipping, education, and edification at this year’s SPCE Conference, October 27-29, 2016 in Orlando (learn more or register now). Not available? Be a part of our organization year-round as a current member. Join or check your membership status and renewal date.