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I. Belief and Affection

In chapter 8, I proposed a model to show how Christian belief can have warrant. On this model, Christian belief is produced in the believer by the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, endorsing the teachings of Scripture, which is itself divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. The result of the work of the Holy Spirit is faith—which, according to both John Calvin and the model, is “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” According to the model, these beliefs enjoy justification, rationality, and warrant. We 291may therefore say with Calvin that they are “revealed to our minds.” There is more, however; they are also “sealed upon our hearts.” What could this latter mean, and how does it figure into the model? Given that these truths are revealed to our minds, what more could we need? Why must they also be sealed upon our hearts? To answer, suppose we ask whether one could hold the beliefs in question but nonetheless fail to have faith. The traditional Christian answer is, “Well yes: the demons believe and they shudder” (James 2:19);372372   Perhaps this needs qualification. The content of faith is plausibly indexical: a person x has faith only if x believes or knows that God is benevolent toward x herself. But perhaps the devils do not believe that God is benevolent toward them. They know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good, and that he has arranged a way of salvation for human beings; but perhaps they reject the belief that God is benevolent toward them. (Note, incidentally, that the author of James sometimes (in chapter 2, e.g.) seems to use the term ‘faith’ to mean mere cognitive or intellectual assent.) but the demons do not have faith. So what is the difference? What more is there to faith than belief? What distinguishes the Christian believer from the demons?

According to the model,373373   And perhaps also according to Calvin. He sees this sealing, as in the first instance, a matter of God’s putting his mark, imprint, seal upon the believer; but perhaps this seal consists in the believer’s having the appropriate affections. the shape of the answer is given in the text just mentioned: the demons shudder. They believe these things, but hate them; and they also hate God. Perhaps they also hope against hope that these things aren’t really so, or perhaps they believe them in a self-deceived way. They know of God’s power and know that they have no hope of winning any contest of power with him; nevertheless, they engage in just such a contest, perhaps in that familiar self-deceived condition of really knowing, in one sense, that they couldn’t possibly win such a contest, while at some other level nevertheless refusing to accept this truth, or hiding it from themselves.374374   See Milton’s Paradise Lost, books 5 and 6. Or perhaps the problem here is not merely cognitive but affective: knowing that they couldn’t possibly win, they insist on fighting anyway, thinking of themselves as courageously Promethean, as heroically contending against nearly insuperable odds, a condition, they point out, in which God never finds himself, and hence a way in which they can think of themselves as his moral superior. The devils also know of God’s wonderful scheme for the salvation of human beings, but they find this scheme—with its mercy and suffering love—offensive and unworthy. No doubt they endorse Nietzsche’s notion that Christian love (including the love displayed in incarnation and atonement) is weak, whining, resentful, servile, duplicitous, pusillanimous, tergiversatory, and in general unappealing.


The person with faith, however, not only believes the central claims of the Christian faith; she also (paradigmatically) finds the whole scheme of salvation enormously attractive, delightful, moving, a source of amazed wonderment. She is deeply grateful to the Lord for his great goodness and responds to his sacrificial love with love of her own. The difference between believer and devil, therefore, lies in the area of affections: of love and hate, attraction and repulsion, desire and detestation. In traditional categories, the difference lies in the orientation of the will. Not primarily in the executive function of the will (the function of making decisions, of seeking and avoiding various states of affairs), though of course that is also involved, but in its affective function, its function of loving and hating, finding attractive or repellent, approving or disapproving. And the believer, the person with faith, has the right beliefs, but also the right affections. Conversion and regeneration alters affection as well as belief.

According to Calvin, it is the Holy Spirit who is responsible for this sealing upon our hearts of that firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us; it is the Holy Spirit who is responsible for this renewal and redirection of affections. Calvin is sometimes portrayed as spiritually cold, aloof, bloodless, rationalistic—a person in whom intellect unduly predominates. These charges may (or may not) have some validity with respect to the Reformed scholasticism of a century later; even a cursory examination of Calvin’s work, however, reveals that with respect to him they are wildly inaccurate.375375   See, e.g., Dennis Tamburello, Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), chapters 1–3. Calvin’s emblem was a flaming heart on an outstretched hand; it bore the motto: Cor meum quasi immolatum tibi offero, Domine.376376   “My heart, as if aflame, I offer to you, Oh Lord.” This particular phenomenology—a phenomenology that is naturally expressed in terms of one’s heart being warmed or even aflame—goes back in the Christian tradition at least to the disciples who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ ” (Luke 24:31–32). There are parallel passages in Aquinas; and in Preface to the Epistle to the Romans (1522), Luther says that faith “sets the heart aflame.” John Wesley reports, “As one was reading Luther’s Preface to Romans . . . I felt my heart strangely warmed.” In the Orthodox tradition, St. Seraphim of Sarov reports something similar (see William Abraham, “The Epistemological Significance of the Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit,” Faith and Philosophy 7, no. 4, p. 440). Of the Holy Spirit, he says that “persistently boiling away and burning up our vicious and inordinate desires, he enflames our hearts with the love of God and with zealous devotion.”377377   John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill and tr. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960 [originally published in 1559]), III, i, 3, p. 540. The Institutes are throughout aimed 293at the practice of the Christian life (which essentially involves the affections), not at theological theory; the latter enters only in the service of the former.

So the initial difference between believer and demon is a matter of affections: the former is inspired to gratitude and love, the latter to fear, hatred, and contempt. The Holy Spirit produces knowledge, in the believer; in sealing this knowledge to our hearts, however, it also produces the right affections. Chief among these right affections is love of God—desire for God, desire to know him, to have a personal relationship with him, desire to achieve a certain kind of unity with him, as well as delight in him, relishing his beauty, greatness, holiness, and the like. There is also trust, approval, gratitude, intending to please, expecting good things, and much more. Faith, therefore, isn’t just a matter of believing certain propositions—not even the momentous propositions of the gospel. Faith is more than belief; in producing faith, the Holy Spirit does more than produce in us the belief that this or that proposition is indeed true. As Aquinas repeats four times in five pages, “the Holy Spirit makes us lovers of God.”378378   Summa contra Gentiles, tr. Charles J. O’Neil (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), Bk. 4, ch. 21, 22 (pp. 122, 125, 126). And according to Martin Luther,

there are two ways of believing. In the first place I may have faith concerning God. This is the case when I hold to be true what is said concerning God. Such faith is on the same level with the assent I give to statements concerning the Turk, the devil and hell. A faith of this kind should be called knowledge or information rather than faith. In the second place there is faith in. Such faith is mine when I not only hold to be true what is said concerning God, but when I put my trust in him in such a way as to enter into personal relations with him, believing firmly that I shall find him to be and to do as I have been taught. . . . The word in is well chosen and deserving of due attention. We do not say, I believe God the Father or concerning God the Father, but in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit.379379   Luther’s Catechetical Writings, tr. J. N. Lenker, 2 vols. (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 1907), 1:203, quoted in H. R. Niebuhr, Faith on Earth (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 9. Consider also Pascal: “So those to whom God has imparted religion through the feeling of the heart are very fortunate and justly convinced” (Pensées, tr. M. Turnell [London: Harvill Press, 1962], p. 282).

Following Luther, we may distinguish believing in God from believing that God exists. The latter itself comes in two varieties: theism, and believing de re of God that he exists. A theist is one who believes a certain proposition: that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, wholly good person who has created and sustains the world. Where God is indeed the unique being meeting this condition, the theist believes that there is such a being, but also, no doubt, believes of God, the being who in fact 294meets this description, that he exists. It isn’t necessary, however, that he does the latter; perhaps he forms the de dicto belief but never performs the de re act of believing something or other of the being in question. It is even clearer that one can believe of God that he exists without being a theist: one can believe of God that he exists even if one is (from the theist’s point of view) confused and mistaken about what properties God has. Perhaps I encounter God in experience, believing that he loves me, or perhaps I pick him out as the being that my parents worship. Then I will believe of God that he exists, even if I fail (for example) to believe that God created the world. (Perhaps, like some Mormons, I think God himself was created, and add that the world has always existed and was not created.) It is even possible to believe of God that he exists and be an atheist: I encounter God in experience, believe of the thing that I encounter that it exists, but fail to believe that this thing I encounter is all-powerful or all-knowing or wholly good, or has created the world; and I also believe that there is nothing that has those properties. Believing in God, of course, is different from either believing of God that he exists or being a theist. The demons, no doubt, are theists and also believe of God that he exists; the demons do not believe in God, because they do not trust and love God and do not make his purposes their own.

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