bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 1

Some general observations to consider before attempting to answer the question “What is faith?”:
1. Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Or better:  Try to understand what faith is before you try to evaluate the goodness or badness of faith.
2. The word ‘faith’ has multiple definitions in any decent dictionary.
The word ‘faith’ is literally ambiguous.  Some uses or meanings of the word ‘faith’ should be set aside, and one should focus in on one or two meanings that seem particularly significant or relevant to issues that one wants to investigate.
3. One way to reduce some of the ambiguity of the word ‘faith’ would be to focus on the meaning of this word in a particular religious tradition.
For example, one could focus on the concept of faith in Christianity and Christian theology.
4. Even in terms of just one religion, particularly Christianity, there appear to be different and conflicting views about faith.
For example, a key issue between Protestants and Catholics has been whether salvation is achieved by faith alone.  So, one might want to examine alternative concepts of faith within a religious tradition.
Richard Swinburne examines a Thomist view of faith, a Lutheran view of faith, and what he calls a Pragmatist view of faith (Faith and Reason, 2nd ed., Chapter 4).  William Sessions examines seven different conceptions of faith, including a Thomistic conception, a Calvinist conception, a Lutheran conception, and a ‘Contemporary Reconstructive’ conception (which appears to be an attempt to outline a modern liberal view of faith), plus one Hindu conception of faith, and two Buddhist conceptions (The Concept of Faith, Chapter 4).
5.  Another way to try to reduce the ambiguity of the word ‘faith’ is to focus on particular sentences or phrases with the word ‘faith’ that are of significant interest.
6. The understanding of ‘faith’ of the average person in the pew might well be different from the understanding of ‘faith’ by intellectually sophisticated Christian believers.
Christian theologians, Christian philosophers, and Christian apologists might have understandings of ‘faith’ that differ from the views held by less sophisticated Christian believers.
Problems to watch for…
7.  There might be logical inconsistencies between the conception of ‘faith’ explicitly advocated by an intellectually sophisticated believer and other Christian beliefs or doctrines.
8.  There might be logical inconsistencies between the conception of ‘faith’ explicitly advocated by an intellectually sophisticated believer and known facts about the world or human behavior.
9. There might be logical inconsistencies between the conception of ‘faith’ explicitly advocated by an intellectually sophisticated believer and  a plausible and well-supported philosophical theory. 
10. There might be logical inconsistencies between the conception of ‘faith’ explicitly advocated by an intellectually sophisticated believer and the actions, practices, habits, and policies of that believer or other believers.
NOTE:
The collection of essays in Faith, edited by Terence Penelhum (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989), looks very helpful, as do many of the essays in Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, edited by Douglas Geivett and Brendan Sweetman (Oxford University Press, 1992).