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Saturday, February 25, 2006

types of faith

Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, speaks of four types of faith. He categorizes them by four Latin terms for faith that each have a distinct emphasis. Briefly, they are:

  • assensus: accepting a statement to be true; this might be called "head belief"

  • fiducia: trust or reliance on God

  • fidelitas: faithfulness, living for God

  • visio: a way of seeing reality; in particular, seeing God's grace at work

Borg also lists the opposite of each type of faith:

  • assensus: doubt or disbelief

  • fiducia: anxiety or worry

  • fidelitas: unfaithfulness or "adultery"

  • visio: viewing reality as hostile or indifferent

Borg doesn't give any examples of the different types of faith, but I think all four are evident in the gospels.


An example of assensus would be Thomas' statement from John 20:25, "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." Head belief is rooted in physical evidence, accepting what can be seen and felt.

Another example of assensus is on display in John 5:39-40, "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." Head belief isn't worth much if it doesn't sink down into the heart.


Fiducia can be found in Luke 8:43-44, "Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages 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 haemorrhage stopped." She must have known Jesus' reputation as a healer, but her actions were grounded in her trust that simply touching his clothes could make her well.

Another example of fiducia is in Mark 2:3-4, "Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed 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." Again, it wasn't intellectual belief that led them to action; it was the trust they had in Jesus' ability to heal their friend.


Even though Thomas is remembered primarily for his lack of assensus, he displayed a remarkable fidelitas in John 11:16. Jesus has just announced that he is going to Jerusalem to die, and Thomas says, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Unlike the examples under fiducia, Thomas is sticking with Jesus even with the expectation that things will end badly. Personally, I find it very encouraging to see such faith in a person who struggled with head belief. Though Thomas' intellectual doubts are well known, his faithfulness is striking.

Another example of fidelitas when Jesus sent his apostles to preach. Here's a link to Matthew 10:5-42; I won't quote the whole passage. Jesus' instructions made it clear that they would not have an easy time: "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles." They were simply to rely on God, not just for safety but for even their basic physical needs: "Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food."


The paralytic whose friends showed such fiducia was introduced to another type of faith in Mark 2:5. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’" With five short words, Jesus opened up a new visio, a whole new way of seeing life. We don't know what this man's sins were, but whatever they were, they left him paralyzed. By demonstrating God's grace, Jesus enabled the man to become whole.

Another example of visio is in Matthew 16:15-17, "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.'" Peter was given insight to see who Jesus really was. And though Peter still struggled with his faithfulness until the day Jesus died, he eventually let this insight transform his life so that after the resurrection Peter became a bold leader who had no fear of earthly rulers.

* * *

In the modern world it seems that faith is most often associated with assensus. Yet that is the shallowest of the four types of faith. Even though when Jesus appeared to Thomas, he told Thomas not to doubt, Jesus added, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Thomas could believe again because he had physical evidence. This gave him head faith. But belief without seeing -- that's faith of the heart. And that's what Jesus says is blessed.



At 2/26/2006 2:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I am an agnostic; I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of.'
Clarence Darrow

At 2/27/2006 8:19 AM, Blogger BruceA said...

Anonymous -

I don't think you read the post. The whole point is that genuine faith is not the same as intellectual certainty.

At 2/28/2006 7:01 AM, Blogger Bad Alice said...

Boy, do I have a long way to go, particularly with Visio. I definitely view the world as hostile. Ouch.

At 3/02/2006 8:38 AM, Blogger Lyn said...

Good explanation. BTW, I added you to my KS bloggers blogroll at Bloggin' Outloud. I'd like to start up the carnival again, so let me know. lgp

At 2/27/2008 5:37 AM, Blogger Beverly said...

I want to thank you for this post. I needed one more thing for a 10-12 yr old Wednesday evening service this evening and my husband was saying I should find our copy of the Heart of Christianity so I could work with Borg's type of faith and adapt that for the children. I decided to google instead (I don't know where the book is) and you are what I found. Thank you for your inspiring blog.

At 4/05/2009 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Beverly said, thanks for writing this. It clears up a lot of the confusion I gathered after reading through Borg. As a college student, I can say that your post really helps out.

At 8/14/2009 9:24 AM, Blogger Avelyn said...

Hi, I was actually looking for something I read once in a book, also about types of faith. There was this bit about seed faith, or great faith, which is the sort where people pray for extraordinary things and they happen, like miracles. Then there's enduring faith, the sort that clings on to God despite going through tough stuff and even when circumstances don't add up. There might have been a third, which I can't remember so was looking for it when I stumbled across your entry. Thanks for blogging it! It's another way of understanding faith for me :)


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