I Believe So That I Know

A child is told their toy is a red car by their doting parents. The child has no frame of reference for either the words, the concepts or the significance. Reinforced by repetition, the child who loves and trusts his parents, believes the object is a red car. His belief is the basis of his knowledge about toys, red, cars and numerical values. Similarly, our Father places in us the seed of knowledge about himself. That seed takes root and reaches up toward Him, seeking Him out like a plant seeks the sun. Understanding the connection between faith and knowledge is essential to evangelism, apologetics and discipleship. Faith is the basis of knowledge, not the conclusion of it. A person’s knowledge begins with faith. We believe before we know. This presuppositional framework is a design feature.

In The Light of the Mind, author Ronald H. Nash asserts that “Augustine makes it clear that man can know this present temporal, corporeal world only because he first knows the eternal, incorporeal, intelligible world of ideas that exists in the mind of God.”[1]

Man is born with seed-knowledge of God which sprouts upward within him searching for God, just as a plant shoots up in search of light while pressing roots down searching for living water. We see these concepts reflected in our pursuit of understanding in Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6; Psalm 1:3; Ephesians 3:17). The possibility for learning of the eternal God is only possible because human beings are born in possession of a seed of this truth (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Augustine argues that “before an architect builds an edifice, he must first have a model of what he intends to build. Similarly, God had a plan before he created the universe. His creation is patterned or copied after the divine ideas[2]…these rationes[3]subsist in God’s intellect.”

Marriage is one example of a created relationship that teaches eternal truths about the unity and diversity of the Triune God (Ephesians 5:32). But the idea that God creates things on earth based on a “copy,” in heaven is also seen in the building of the Tabernacle and the Temple which were copies of the true temple in Heaven (Hebrews 8:2, 9:24; Exodus 25:9, 40). Jesus is the greatest example of this poetic revelation. Jesus is the greater Adam, Moses and David. Kingship, priesthood and the prophetic office – are all types and shadows of the second person of the Trinity.

In Augustine’s theology, truth does not consist of abstract platonic concepts. Truth is personal; the person of God as revealed in Jesus Christ (John 14:6), the Logos of John 1. “Knowledge occurs when the personal God illuminates the minds of human persons to understand him and to understand the world he has made. So, Augustine maintains the Creator-creature distinction and makes our thoughts a servant knowledge, part of our discipleship.”[4]

In Anselm’s Prayer, the Proslogion, we see this connection between faith and knowledge expanded; “For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also, that ‘unless I believe, I shall not understand’ [Isa. 7: 9].”[5]

Thus our faith is the basis or presupposition of all rational study.

How does this work? Faith is ontological. Luther wrote in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, “Where there is the word of God, who makes promises, there must necessarily be the faith of the person who accepts those promises.”

Faith lays hold of the promises of God, as if they are solid objects and historical dates within human history. Assurance is not established on reason, or science, but on the apprehension and acceptance of the word of God.

Herman Witsius, in his commentary on the Apostle’s Creed, comments on Hebrews 11:1 that there is ‘substance,’ or hypostasis (existence) to the objects of our faith, “the properties and circumstances of things have a hypostatis, that is, really exist, and are not mere figments of our imagination. Accordingly, faith causes the thing hoped for, though not yet actually existing, to exist in the mind of the believer; who assents as firmly to the promises of God, as if he saw the blessings promised already present.”[6]

Calvin also used this term hypostasis when referring to the object of our faith. Calvin states, “Faith is the hypostasis, the support or possession, on which we fix our foot.”[7]

The final resurrection of all men has not yet occurred, nor does it exist in itself, but faith gives it substance in our mind, because we believe God’s promise. The object of our faith; God’s promise of the resurrection, becomes a fact, a historical event just like the battle of Gettysburg. Upon this our souls sets its foot in assurance.

These key theological concepts are the bedrock of presuppositional epistemology. Every person is seeking to understand their world and themselves in it. Everyone is seeking the eternity in their hearts, the seed of belief in God. Our seeking is based on what we already believe. The objects of our faith are real to us. Our fundamental beliefs frame what we are seeking to understand.

In discipleship we are renewing and strengthening our core beliefs as we seek to better understand them. In apologetics we are defending and defining our core beliefs. In Evangelism we are attempting to expose and enlighten core beliefs.

[1] Ronald H. Nash, The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge. viii.

[2] Ronald H. Nash, The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge. 7.

[3] Ronald H. Nash, The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge. 6.

[4] Frame, John. A History of western Philosophy and Theology. 112

[5] Anselm. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics). 87.

[6] Witsius, Herman. The Apostle’s Creed, Vol. 1. 43.

[7] Witsius, Herman. The Apostle’s Creed, Vol. 1. 44.

Author: Michael Kloss

There is a Sunday conscience, as well as a Sunday coat; and those who make religion a secondary concern put the coat and conscience carefully by to put on only once a week. - Charles Dickens

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