I’ve written in the past about the difference between belief “that” and belief “in”. It’s one thing to believe “that” something is true, but it’s another thing to trust “in” this truth when push comes to shove. I believe that my ballistic vest can stop a bullet, but when I eventually have to trust the vest to do its job, I will move from belief that to belief in. The facts related to the vest may give me certainty related to its ability, but it’s not until I’m at a point of need that I’ll be forced to make the decision to trust.
In a recent interview with John Stonestreet for the BreakPoint weekly radio program, I was asked about the difference between belief “that” and belief “in”. John and I were discussing the limits of evidentialism, and I was quick to admit the boundaries of my own investigation related to the historicity of Jesus and the reliability of the gospel accounts. While my lengthy examination of Jesus led me to believe “that” the New Testament was reliable, it did not bring me to a trusting faith “in” Jesus (as my Savior).
I remember talking one night with my wife, Susie, about my conclusions related to the gospels. I told her I was confident the accounts were reliable, but I still had an important question. I was hoping Susie would be able to answer it for me, given her cultural familiarity with Catholicism as a child. Why did Jesus have to die that way? What was the cross all about anyway? Although I had confidence the gospels were reliable and true, I still didn’t understand the Gospel of Salvation. My investigation had been so completely focused on the person of Jesus in the gospels, I hadn’t yet seen myself anywhere in the text.
So I returned to the New Testament authors. This time around I was less interested in what they said about Jesus than I was in what they said about me. As I read through the text once again, I saw myself clearly; it was as though the authors were writing about me specifically. I heard the words of Jesus as He described my condition accurately in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul’s letters only extended the description. As I came to recognize the bad news of my own condition, the good news of the Gospel began to make sense. Just as with my ballistic vest, the facts related to Jesus brought me to belief “that”, but the truth related to my own need moved me to belief “in”.
This second step, from belief “that” to belief “in”, is what many of us call “saving faith”. It is not blind, as it is rooted in the evidence related to the reliability of the New Testament. But it is clearly more than mere intellectual assent; it is a confident trust in response to a recognized need. True investigators of Christianity move from belief “that” to belief “in” when they focus not only on what the New Testament says about Jesus, but also on what the text says about all of us as fallen humans in need of a Savior.