Monday, May 30, 2011

notitia, assensus, and fiducia


RC Sproul, in Defending Your Faith, writes, "apologetics is important in what is sometimes called 'pre-evangelism' and also in 'post-evangelism'." To support this, Sproul describes three main levels of faith; notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Here's what he writes:

Beginning with the third level, fiducia is personal trust and reliance, that aspect of faith that involves a genuine affection for Christ that flows out of a new heart and a new mind. It is the fiducia level of saving faith that can be engendered only by the work of the Spirit. It is with the first two - notitia and assensus - that the apologetic task has to do.

The first element of faith is notitia. When we say that we are justified by faith, the faith that justifies has to have a content. There is certain content, an essential level of information, that is part of Christianity. When the apostles went out to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, they gave a sommary of key points about the person of Jesus and about his work - how he was born according to the Scriptures, how he suffered on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead, and so forth. That is all part of the notes, of the data or content of faith. Before we can actually call people to saving faith, we have to give them the information or the content that they're asked to believe, and that involves the mind. It involves communication of information that people can understand.

Before I can call upon Christ as my Savior, I have to understand that I need a savior. I have to understand that I am a sinner. I have to have some understanding of what sin is. I have to understand that God exists. I have to understand that I am estranged from that God, and that I am exposed to that God's judgment. I don't reach out for a savior unless I am first convinced that I need a savior. All of that is pre-evangelism. It is involved in the data or the information that a person has to process with his mind before he can either respond to it in faith or reject it in unbelief.

The second element of faith is assensus. This is simply the Latin word for intellectual assent. If I ask, "Do you believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States?" what would you say? Yes! That doesn't mean that you have put your personal faith and trust in George Washington. I've just asked you if you believe in George Washington in the sense of whether your mind gives assent to the proposition "George Washington was the first president of the United States."

Sadly, there is a movement in theology today that says faith has nothing to do with propositions - that the Bible is simply a book that bears witness to relationships. It is relationships that count, not propositions. These are the people who think that, "All I need to be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I don't need doctrine. I don't need any theology. I don't need to affirm any creed." "No creed but Christ!" is the call here. "I don't believe in propositions. I believe in Jesus. He's a person not a proposition."

It is true, as such people say, that one can have knowledge of the propositions of Christianity and still not know Jesus. We can know about Jesus and not have a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet when we talk to people about this Jesus, with whom we have a personal relationship, we say things about him. We say, "This Jesus is the eternal Son of God." That is proposition. The Jesus I want to have relationship with really is the eternal Son of God. We can't have a saving relationship personally with this Jesus unless we know who this Jesus is, unless we can affirm the truth of this Jesus - that he really did die on the cross in a death that was an atonement, and that it is true that he came out of the tomb. If we say we have a personal relationship with Christ but don't believe in the truth that he was raised from the dead, then we're saying we have a personal relationship with a corpse. That's all the difference in the world from saying you have a personal relation hip with the resurrected Christ. All of those things that we say we believe about Jesus involve the mind saying yes to propositions.

If we gain a correct understanding of the content (notitia) and assent to its truth (assensus), however, this does not add up to saving faith. The devil knows the truth about Christ, yet he hates him. Notitia and assensus are necessary conditions for saving faith (we can't have saving faith without them), but they are not sufficient to save us.

Apologetics serves a vital task at the level of clarifying the content of Christianity and defending its truth. This cannot cause saving faith but it has a vital role in supporting the necessary ingredients of saving faith.

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