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Four Types of Faith

Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, outlines four types of faith, distinguished by four Latin terms that each have a unique emphasis: assensus, fiducia, fidelitas, and visio.

Assensus is accepting a statement to be true. The opposite, according to Borg, is doubt or disbelief.

Fiducia is trust or reliance on God. The opposite is anxiety or worry.

Fidelitas is faithfulness, living for God. The opposite is unfaithfulness or idolatry.

Visio is a different way of seeing reality, seeing God's grace at work in the world. The opposite is viewing reality as hostile or, at best, indifferent.

Examples of all four types can be found in the New Testament.

We see assensus in Thomas' statement in the Upper Room, after Jesus has appeared to the other disciples.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”—John 20:25

Thomas wanted to believe, but he required solid evidence before committing.

Assensus faith is also described in a couple of other New Testament passages.

You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.John 5:39-40

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.—James 2:19

The prominent feature of assensus faith, as opposed to the three other types, is that it involves reasoned judgment. And yet, this type of faith is not thought highly of by the New Testament writers. I'll have more to say about that in a future post.

Fiducia faith, on the other hand, is commended throughout the gospels, and is often associated with healing.

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.—Luke 8:43-44

Then some people[a] came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”—Mark 2:3-5

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and cure him." The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed."—Matthew 8:5-8

It is noteworthy that often the one who is healed is not the person with the fiducia faith.

Fiducia faith may reveal itself in extraordinary circumstances. By contrast, fidelitas faith is usually expressed in mundane daily life. It is a series of conscious choices to live a faithful life.

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 3:13-14

Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.1 Corinthians 9:25-27

Fidelitas faith can buoy us when times get tough.

Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.2 Corinthians 11:24-27

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.Romans 5:3-5

Surprisingly, the same doubting Thomas who could not muster assensus faith after Jesus' death, displayed fedelitas before it.

Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”John 11:13-16

Thomas, even though he foresaw no good end, was determined to follow.

But one thing Thomas did not exhibit in that instance was visio faith.

Jesus often tried, without much success, to open the eyes of his followers to a new way of seeing.

The Gospel of Matthew records two episodes of Jesus feeding crowds of thousands with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Following this, as he sits down to teach his disciples, we find this exchange.

Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.”Matthew 16:6-7

But Jesus didn't want to be taken literally.

And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.Matthew 16:8-12

The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious authorities of that time and place, but Jesus was trying to give his disciples a new way of relating to God.

A short while later, Jesus asked a question to see if any of his teaching had taken hold.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”Matthew 16:15-19

Simon had a reputation as a vacillator, but Jesus gave him not just a new way of seeing, but a whole new identity. Simon the vacillator would become Peter the rock, a solid leader of the new church after Jesus' death.

Another time, Jesus used a question asked him by a lawyer to make a point.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”—Luke 10:25-37

The best neighbor turned out to be the foreigner. For many white American Christians this may be an uncomfortable truth, and it will require a good measure of visio faith.

Jesus also brought a new way of seeing power. He repeatedly talked about a kingdom, but it turned out to be a topsy-turvy kingdom. He was fond of saying, "The last will be first, and the first will be last." (examples 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5) He said his kingdom belonged to little children, to prostitutes and tax collectors. It would be a place where everyone is welcome.

A community built on visio faith could transform the world. Too often, though, modern Christianity settles for assensus.

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