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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

What is Faith and certainty about? The problem the author sets out to solve is “the way in which we might justify our claims to be sure of that which we believe”. Williams observes that the “biblical witness evinces a tremendous confidence in the truth and certainty of its claims”. In a pluralistic society, however, “religious certainty is socially dangerous” and regarded as “intellectually unwarranted”. On the one hand, we don’t want to be justly “accused of false dogmatism”, by pretending to be “certain of things which cannot really be known”. On the other hand, we should not do “religion or Christianity an injustice” by tentatively advancing our faith in Christ “as a possibility”, when in fact, the apostles preached it with certainty. The goal, then, is “to find intellectual integrity in relation to Christianity”. The problem is how we are to get from probability to certainty without being arrogant and dogmatic. Stephen puts to the reader the following question: “If we have faith, is that something that falls short of knowledge? And if it falls short of knowledge, are we ever justified in saying that we are certain?”

Certainty in the Scripture Williams demonstrates from the scriptures that the early Church bears “witness to a faith which is assured and believes itself justified in being so assured”. He believes there are two primary sources of confidence from which these religious claims spring. “The first is the confidence that God exists”, rooted in the Old Testament. The New Testament “presupposes a theistic framework” and “no one tries to prove to the Jewish opponents of confidence …concerning Jesus”. There were those who had seen and heard Jesus during his earthly life and were convinced—especially after the resurrection. Their witness convinced others. But the question is, “Can our faith be formed in the same way?”

The method of approach: Coming to God through Jesus It is at this point that Williams selects and justifies his method of approach. A classic way of handling this question would be to “enquire first about the God of Israel and then about Jesus Christ”. Williams doesn’t dismiss this as one way of doing things. “There is, however, something to be said for starting with Jesus Christ”. Whilst it is true that His original followers who first believed in him did so presupposing the existence of Yahweh, is it not possible that “those of us who have not come up through Hebrew religion will be convinced about God by Jesus”—the One who is said to reveal the Father? This possibility will be considered. The approach has its advantages. “If we start with Jesus, we at least start with a concrete, historical phenomenon, a datum of history which we almost all agree to be given”. Thus Williams sets the stage for the rest of the essay.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2006

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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