Written by Todd Mangum
Wednesday, 08 May 2013 00:00
One exercise I’ve had students do in theology class is to read through Hebrews 11 and describe what characterizes the faith described. Try it — here are a couple of samples:
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (v. 7)
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (vv. 8-10)
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. (vv. 23-27)
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days. (v. 30)
By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. (v. 31)
If you were to list some of the qualities of faith from what Hebrews 11 describes, what would be on your list?
I’m struck by the qualities implicitly and explicitly emphasized: qualities like risk; sacrifice and commitment — to what is not yet seen; courage; trusting and acting on that trust — sometimes against overwhelming odds of what seems empirically to make sense.
I’m also struck by what is not here, what is conspicuously not emphasized. There is precious little mention of anything having to do with “doctrinal correctness,” or “understanding of the atonement.” Now, I know, Romans’ explanations are still in the Bible and are important. But if “understanding the atonement” is so central to what faith is, then why is there nary a mention of such in the chapter in the Bible that gives more attention to what faith is than any other throughout the entire Bible?
The late-16th-century Puritan, Richard Hooker, wrote, “We are justified by Jesus through faith, not by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith.” It’s an important clarification; one that Hebrews 11 reinforces.
If the faith that Jesus and the Bible describes is fuller and richer than affirming Protestant nuances of atonement and justification doctrine, then how does our understanding of the gospel need to likewise be adjusted? And how does our approach to spreading — and living — the gospel likewise need to be adjusted?
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.