What is Faith? 5 Popular but False Beliefs

Justin Holcomb

What is Faith? 5 Popular but False Beliefs

"Faith" is an important word and concept for Christians. Yet many are still confused about what faith is and what it really means to have faith. We are saved because we have faith in Jesus Christ. Protestants believe in sola fide, meaning that we are saved by "faith alone" and not by our works or obedience. The Bible teaches that faith is associated with a specific person (Jesus Christ), knowledge, or a set of beliefs. 

Faith is belief in the value or trustworthiness of someone or something. In Christianity, faith is a confident and certain knowledge of God and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf and in our place.

The word "faith" is used frequently in contemporary pop culture and primarily refers to the act of believing—not the content of belief. In the movie Dogma we see an example of this. Serendipity, a muse, is asked what is the right religion and responds: "It's not about right or wrong—it's a question of faith. It doesn't matter what you believe in—just that you believe." 

In many expressions of contemporary popular culture, the central concern of faith is the act of believing or having faith, not what is believed or the object of faith. In popular culture, the object of faith is rarely specified; it can be love, hope, fate, the unknown, oneself, someone else, or God.  

Below are five false ideas of what faith means.

Faith as a Personal Need

In The Simpsons episode Lisa the Skeptic, we see an example of this. Talking to her daughter, Lisa, Marge Simpson says faith means there is something "more to life than what we see."  It is important to "make a leap of faith now and then" because "everyone needs something to believe in." The focus is the individual benefit of having faith and the result is that faith is malleable to the specific needs of the one who has faith.

Faith as Hope

Other examples of this are found in popular music. Whether the genre is hip-hop, country, pop, or rock, "faith" is synonymous with "hope" and usually in reference to love or relationships. George Michael's "Faith," and Limp Bizkit's remake of the song, reminds us that having faith ("I gotta have faith!") does not mean holding certain religious teachings to be true, but hoping that it is worth the risk to end a relationship in order to "wait for something more."

Faith as a Source of Strength

Jessica Simpson's song "Your Faith in Me" is a celebration of faith, understood as reliability and strength, as the foundation of love: "Your faith in me. It pulls me through when there's nothing around to hold on to. When I fall, when I'm weak, all the strength that I need is your faith, baby."

Faith as Waiting for a Miracle

Faith is also used as hoping against all odds or resolve in times of trouble.  In the movie John Q, John Q. Archibald comforts his wife during their son's hopeless medical situation by encouraging her to "have faith," which is "believing what you don't want to believe."  In this sense, faith is acknowledging their son's situation is hopeless and there is nothing that can be done except to hope for a miracle of fate.

Faith as a Commodity

Until recently, if talk of faith in pop culture took place it did so privately, for faith had little currency on the open market. But that has changed and it is now a significant theme of entertainment and a topic of popular culture. Faith has become a commodity. As a consequence, faith becomes tailored to the consumer's needs and a matter of personal interest, feelings, and individual convictions.  

What Does This Reveal?

All of this reveals a deep cultural religiosity or spirituality. In many ways, our culture is "very religious" (Acts 17:22). The key is to not just criticize the use of "faith" in pop culture, but to point winsomely and clearly to the One in whom we have faith for the forgiveness of our sins. 

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.




  • Editors' Picks

    Stop Trying to Read the Bible in a Year!
    Stop Trying to Read the Bible in a Year!
  • The God of All Weather
    The God of All Weather
  • Does Islam Promote Violence?
    Does Islam Promote Violence?