Knowledge and Faith

In at least one of my recorded lectures for the college, I’ve touched upon the need for us to be constantly aware of the distinction between knowledge and faith. I’ve related more than once my own experience (many years ago) in this area when I mistook my expanding theological knowledge for a deepening of my personal faith, and the shock I felt on realising what had happened. I’m sure that for all students of the bible and theology, this is constantly a ‘clear and present danger’.

In the writings of Kierkegaard and in the 20th century theology of neo-orthodoxy (which borrowed heavily on Kierkegaard’s thought), this basic question arises again and again. If it is true that – as neo-orthodoxy claims –  we come to faith by encounter with the risen Lord, rather than by knowledge about him, then we – as his disciples need constantly to find ways to guard against falling into this error. Just to make myself absolutely clear, I do not speak about the danger of feeling self-satisfied by our own ‘cleverness’ as we increase in knowledge (though this is dangerous enough), but specifically of mistaking this increased knowledge for increased faith.

In his Attack Upon “Christendom” Kierkegaard uses a wonderful little parable to help us and I’d like to share this with you.

‘…the most deplorable thing perhaps that can be said of a man is that he cannot be elevated, uplifted, his own knowledge cannot lift him up.  Like the boy who lets his kite fly aloft, so does he let his knowledge mount on high; to follow it with his eye he finds interesting, prodigiously interesting, but… it does not lift him up, he remains in the mud, more and more crazy about the interesting.
   Wherefore, whoever thou art, if such be the case with thee – shame upon thee, shame upon thee, shame upon thee!’ *

Those of us who study scripture, theology, the things of God, so that we may enlighten our own hearts and minds and in turn, enlighten the souls of others, must constantly remind ourselves of the fact that the basis of our relationship with him is by faith and not by knowledge (or any other works of our own).

*Princeton University Press 1944, page 232

  1. Excellent post. Thank you for sharing this as this is something I have fallen into with all the knowledge I have accumulated in the last 3-4 years.

    Having come out of a church with errant doctrine I have always had my guard up against any & all teaching ever since.

    I love Kierkegaard’s parable. It really does fit me quite well. I have noticed that there is a lack of balance in my spiritual walk — too much of this and not enough of that..

  2. Thanks David; I’m glad you found the piece interesting. I think that once we recognise this danger, God can really move us forward in our faith, understanding and humility.

    Every blessing



    The following is not mine, but I like it!

    > Holy Apostolic Pentecostal Charismatic Fundamental
    > Evangelical Right
    > Of Truth Rod of God Church of Holiness seeks a
    > minister of salvation
    > through music.
    > Organ
    > * We have a 1945 Hammond.
    > * Plans are being made to purchase a 1966 Allen.
    > Qualifications
    > * The organist must not be a Catholic, Jew, or other
    > unbeliever.
    > * The organist must believe that the Bible is God’s
    > inerrant Word and
    > that every word is exactly true, and when Matthew
    > and Luke disagree
    > in Jesus’ genealogy, or when Leviticus forbids a man to
    > marry his
    > brother’s widow and Deuteronomy orders him to marry
    > her, then it is our own
    > mind that is at fault, for when faith speaks, then
    > reason must be silent.
    > * The organist must have an I.Q. approximating
    > that of a snowcone.
    > * The organist must be heterosexual. Leviticus
    > outlines how we must
    > treat the sexually aberrant, so don’t talk to us
    > about “Christian
    > Forgiveness.”
    > * The Sermon on the Mount tells us that we must
    > destroy iniquity and
    > that Jesus is capable of forgiving only good
    > Christians.
    > Duties
    > * The organist directs the three adult choirs:
    > the Noah’s Flood Choir,
    > the Garden of Eden Choir, and the Smite the
    > Heathen Choir.
    > * In addition, there are seven youth choirs, each
    > named after a Plague
    > of Egypt: the Frog Choir, the Pimples Choir, and
    > so forth.
    > Compensation
    > * We pay $6.00 weekly.
    > * The organist is expected to tithe 50% of this to
    > the church.
    > * Annual re-baptism (towel not provided).
    > For further information, contact the Rev. Billy
    > Bob Snodgrass c/o
    > WGOD-AM.

  4. Peter, thanks for your comment, which brightened a miserable, cold and wet December day!

    As a parish church organist I’ve come across all kinds of bits and pieces (though haven’t come across your post before). My old favourite is one which is used among Anglican clergy and comes from the opposite standpoint to your entry; Q..”What’s the difference between a terrorist and an organist? A.. You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

  5. Hello Chris, I have been asked to look out some stuff for my church which is named for the great apostle. In the course of doing so, I stumbled upon the poetry and comment below. You probably know it, but I thought you might enjoy it anyway. The verse is John Betjeman. Whomsoever wrote the prose, I’m not quite sure. It was not me.

    The Conversion of St Paul

    What is conversion? Not at all
    For me the experience of St Paul,
    No blinding light, a fitful glow
    Is all the light of faith I know
    Which sometimes goes completely out
    And leaves me plunging into doubt
    Until I will myself to go
    And worship in God’s house below –
    My parish church -and even there
    I find distractions everywhere.

    What is Conversion? Turning round
    To gaze upon a love profound.
    For some of us see Jesus plain
    And never once look back again,
    And some of us have seen and known
    And turned and gone away alone,
    But most of us turn slow to see
    The figure hanging on a tree
    And stumble on and blindly grope
    Upheld by intermittent hope.
    God grant before we die we all
    May see the light as did St Paul.

    I had never read John Betjeman’s poem on the Conversion of St Paul until someone pointed it out to me last week (on the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, funnily enough!). As it doesn’t seem to be available online, I have typed out the portion above. It was originally written as a reaction to a radio broadcast in 1955 by the humanist Margaret Knight called Morals without Religion which may be found here on the British Humanist Society website. Her argument was that moral education and religious education could, and should be separated. It appears, from reading her broadcast, that she believes there are two types of Christian: those who pretend without belief for the sake of social conformity but worry about what to teach the children, and those in whom beliefs are “deeply implanted and to whom they mean a great deal”. She notes that nothing she is about to say will make any difference to the second group!

    But the poem, I think, suggests that faith is not something that can be presented in Knight’s polarised terms. There are as many different experiences of faith and conversion as there are Christians. Betjeman cannot identify with St Paul’s “blinding light” and subsequent unshakeable faith. His doubts, worries, distractions and “fitful glow” may well be more familiar to many, they certainly are to me. There are even those who have a moment of conversion and turn away from it. But whatever one’s experience, it is made clear that we must “stumble on” throughout our lives, even if sometimes it means forcing ourselves to church and just going through the motions, to try and establish a faith stronger than a fitful glow. And not everyone will succeed. But, we can’t all be like St Paul, nor should we be, the important thing is to try and keep trying.
    Posted by Agnes at 01:22
    Labels: Conversion, John Betjeman, Poetry, St. Paul…

  6. Peter
    Thanks so much for this comment. I have heard this poem before, many years ago, and had forgotten it. I don’t have a copy, but will certainly look out for the full thing. meanwhile, I’ll print this extract out for my little notebook of snippets I carry everywhere.

    The comments on the poem too, are very apposite. So many evangelical Christians can be dismissive of this kind of faith which is not strident; not so sure of itself; but I think we must take account of the experiences and views of all people and we must have gentle regard for Christians at every stage of their walk of faith.

    I did have a ‘Damscus Road’ kind of experience and can identify the exact date when my life changed and I suddenly knew God was there, and that he’d sent his son to die for (even) me. But I know many people do not have this kind of experience, though, like Betjeman, I pray that all Christians will have a real, meaningful encounter with God before they die!

    Thanks again… with every blessing for the new year.


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