Good Faith, Bad Faith, True Faith, False Faith

Cover of "Finding Faith"
Cover of Finding Faith

Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaida, died yesterday. The responses to this have interesting. Some take on a party like celebration. On the other extreme are those who vow vengeance. Some look at the killing as a case of justice, others an ideological battle, and still others as a geopolitical contest.

At has been noted by some the Bin Laden was fairly mild-mannered and pleasant. For those who wish to demonize, this seems strange. Pictures of him laughing and enjoying his son’s wedding years ago led to confusion for those that see bad in terms of horns and pitchforks.We don’t like complexity in our friends or our enemies. The confusion regarding Bin Laden can be PARTLY explained by the extreme dehumanization he seemed to apply to those who did not share his religion. He could be kind to “his own people” while loathing those who weren’t.  Historically, it is common for Group A to demonize Group B and Group B to find Group A revolting. Still, with cultural and ideological interaction most people generally start to realize that people of other groups have both good and bad traits (just like our own group).

A couple of famous quotes seem quite relevant.

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” –Blaise Pascal

‎”Zeal without knowledge is always less useful and effective than regulated zeal, and very often dangerous.” -St. Bernard

Another way of summarizing these quotes is to say that Bad Faith leads to bad behavior, and False Faith leads to bad behavior.

But isn’t Bad Faith the same as False Faith?? I would say that False Faith is definitely, on some level, Bad. And Bad Faith is, on some level, False.

However, I find that Brian McLaren‘s definition of Bad Faith somewhat useful (from “Finding Faith“)


  1. Bad faith is based solely on unquestioned authority.
  2. Bad faith is based on pressure coercion.
  3. Bad faith is often the result of a psychological need for belonging.
  4. Bad faith appeals to self-interest and base motives.
  5. Bad faith is arrogant and unteachable.
  6. Bad faith is dishonest.
  7. Bad faith is apathetic … producing nothing (or nothing good)
  8. Bad faith is a step backward….A faith that makes me less loving, mature, wise, alive, or responsible.
    <Bad Faith does not have to have ALL of these qualities to be Bad>


  1. Good faith is humble, teachable, and inquisitive.
  2. Good faith is grateful.
  3. Good faith is honest.
  4. Good faith is communal.
  5. Good faith is active.
  6. Good faith is tough.
  7. Good faith is relational.
      <Good faith, on the other hand, should have ALL of these qualities.>
There are different beliefs regarding what is good faith. As a Christian, I believe that good faith conforms to Biblical revelation and to Christ’s example. I know many people would not necessarily agree to this. But there is a much higher amount of agreement that Bad Faith is … bad. And Good Faith is … on some level… good.
While I am not a follower of the Islamic Faith, I cannot say Bin Laden is living out his faith (regardless of whether it is true or false). Rather, Bin Laden allowed his faith to go Bad.
Reveling over the death of a creation of God is not consistent with Good Faith. May our Faith be both True and Good.
But Bin Laden is gone… what about us? Are we going to let our faith drive us to the the same bad thoughts, emotions, and actions (on a smaller level perhaps) as him?

The “Toolbox” and “Bigger Hammer” Theories

Suppose you wanted to build a house. You were given all of the raw materials, but (for some reason) you were only able to use one tool. Which tool would you choose? You could choose a saw. It is good to have things cut properly to size. Perhaps you could use the handle like a hammer and the blade as a screwdriver. Of course you could use a hammer. A hammer is great with nails and you can use the claw feature for screws. And with enough work and determination you can break apart 2×4 lumber to size (approximately).

Limiting oneself to using one tool could be called “THE BIGGER HAMMER THEORY,” based on a friend of mine that liked the quote, “Any problem can be solved with a bigger hammer.”

The bigger hammer theory works up to a point. One can build a house only using a hammer (perhaps) but the amount of time and effort would be huge and the results unsatisfying.

An answer to this could be called “THE TOOLBOX THEORY.” It simply suggests that certain tools work better for different tasks and situations. Using “the right tool for the right job” will normally be easier and give better results.

These two theories apply to other things beyond building a house. Consider psychotherapy. One person may follow a psychodynamic model (such as Freudian or Adlerian). Another may follow a Behaviorist, Rogerian, Gestalt, or others model. Each model has its own methods, and goals. Following one of these methods strictly is the “bigger hammer” approach. However, in recent years there has been a greater appreciation of eclecticism. That is, the therapist uses different methods from different models. Some even go further and are eclectic in underlying model as well.

Evangelism is another area to consider. Some people memorize the Roman’s Road, or the Wordless book, or the Bridge Illustration or the Gospel Hand. Some do evangelism magic or chalk art. Others focus on mass media or friendship evangelism. Are these useful? In my mind, it is like asking whether a screwdriver is useful or a cordless drill. The answer is that these methods can be useful with the right training in the right circumstances. An effective evangelist adjusts the method to the audience and situation.

What are some of the problems with “THE BIGGER HAMMER” approach to evangelism?

  1. More work. Consider those methods that focus on freedom from the punishment of hell. A recent study suggested that 97% of Americans (for example) do not have a fear of hell. Some don’t because they believe they are saved from hell already. Some don’t fear hell because they don’t believe in it. Some are open to its existence but don’t find it emotionally relevant. Since these methods commonly focus on a cognitive and emotional event typically linked to what is often called the “Sinner’s Prayer,” these methods must involve extra time trying to remove the security of their salvation. Or extra work must be spent on convincing them hell exists. Or effort is expended to make them care about hell.
  2. Adverse/low quality results. Since the goal is conversion, not insecurity or fear in hell, the result may be off target and may even produce an adverse result. One may leave a person who is already a believer in a state of unreal insecurity. Or the person may still reject God but now also believes that God is sadistic.

A Suggested Evangelist’s Toolbox

  1. Classic evangelistic methods. These can still be useful, particularly for unbelievers who were raised with a Christian worldview. It may also be useful for immature believers who are shaky in their faith.
  2. Methods designed for people of other worldviews. The Camel method is one of many used reaching out to Muslims. It is good for those Muslims who are neither too scholarly nor too secular. Other methods may work better for Muslims not in this category. Brian McLaren has a recommended model for reaching out to American post-modern methods. Other methods exist for other groups. Paul shared the Gospel to Athenian philosophers using a method tailored to them.
  3. Proclamation. Peter preached in Acts 2 and thousands responded. In group settings, proclamation based on Christ and Scripture can be valuable.
  4. Testimony. Every Christian should be able to coherently (and accurately) describe what God has done, and is doing, in his or her life. The story does not have to be exciting. The truth is definitely exciting enough.
  5. Apologetics. There are times when one must argue/defend/persuade. Some others like to argue and it is good to be able to express one’s faith in a way that can stand up to the scrutiny of others. It is difficult to convince the one you are arguing with that you are right (how do you convince a salesman that the car he is selling is no good?). However, it may be a help for others that are around. However, Peter’s call in I Peter 3:15 regarding gentleness in explaining our faith is important.
  6. Dialogue. Discussing beliefs can be very useful, even if it does not have the clear goal of conversion. Dialogue can lead to greater understanding and can break down barriers. These all are important in evangelism.
  7. Lifestyle. Lifestyle/actions are often more important than the words we say.
  8. Closeness to God. We are told in the Bible that the Holy Spirit can tell us where to be and what to say… but we have to be listening. And since much of what God tells us is from the Holy Bible, it is important that we know it well. Spiritual maturity is not a requirement in evangelism (young Christians are often very effective) but older Christians that do not evidence maturity will be ineffective.
  9. Friendship. Unfriendly evangelists often do more harm than good. Conversion often follows friendship.  But friendship that is fake (be a friend to get a conversion… rejecting them if they reject God) lacks integrity and lack of integrity is also destructive.
  10. Love. Love that flows from God and through us to others has impact that goes beyond all of the others combined. Love also means acceptance of who they are (as God’s special creation) and treating them with respect. While some of the other items in this list can be used or put aside as needed, love is different. Love is like work gloves or safety glasses. It should always be worn.

Hard Soil

Jesus (in Matthew 13) described “hard soil”– hearts that are unreceptive to God’s message.  But one can’t assume that those hearts that are “hard soil” are all the same. Commonly those in this category can be looked as those who are invested in a different faith to the point that they reject a new faith.

Brian McLaren (“Finding Faith”, 1999, page 31) defined faith as “… a state of relative certainty about matters of ultimate concern sufficient to promote action.” This definition makes clear that atheism and other “non-religious” beliefs can still involve faith.  But faith can be divided into at least four categories.

-True versus False faith. One can have faith in something that is untrue. Strong faith does not necessarily make that faith true any more than a rejection of a belief makes it false.

-Good versus Bad faith. This designation is also from Brian McLaren… and has to do with how faith manifests itself. After all, if faith is a belief strong enough to promote action, faith is demonstrated by how it manifests itself through actions.  McLaren describes some characteristics of “good” faith and of “bad” faith. (The terms “good” and “bad” are to be interpreted on a human, practical level… not on a theological level.)

Bad Faith (some characteristics):   arrogant, unteachable, dishonest, apathetic, regressive.  In other words, faith that creates a bad, unloving, destructive individual is bad faith… even if the faith is true.

Good Faith (some characteristics):  humble, teachable, inquisitive, grateful, honest, active, tough, and relational.  Faith that generates a kind, loving, constructive individual is “good” faith… even if the faith is false.

The result is the development of 4 possible combinations.

The four choices are:

A.  True and Good Faith. This is the goal for a Christian. One hopes and should expect that the Christian faith should manifest itself in goodness (salt and light to the world).

B.  True and Bad Faith. Sometimes one has a strong Christian faith, but carnality has resulted in a Christian with a hateful, bitter, even violent behavior. This is very difficult to deal with. Jesus had more trouble from religious leaders who had true but bad faith than any other group.

C.  False and Bad Faith.  This is easy for Christians to understand. If one accepts a false faith, it is very easy for Christians to expect these individuals behaving in a recognizably bad way.

D.  True and Good Faith.  This is difficult for Christians. Because we recognize that we are unable to please God in our own ability, we tend to have trouble with those of a false faith who behave good. Yet, the term “good” here is defined in human, not divine terms.

Group A (good and true faith) is certainly the goal.  However, the other groups can be described as hard soils. How do we disciple those who have a true faith but demonstrates it in bad action?  How do we share true faith with those of false and bad faith. Do we attack the bad faith? Do we act surprised that a false faith leads to bad behavior?  And what about those people who (at least on a human level) are good as the outworking of a false faith? How do we share faith?

Much of our methods for evangelism target “good soil” or receptive people of weak faith. But Jesus targeted, at times, hard soil… particularly those of true but bad faith. Only God can change a heart, but God has made us part of his plan for change. What do we need to learn to work with hard soil?

Thoughts on “Knowing” God

Cover of "Finding Faith"
Cover of Finding Faith

“In our society, the way we think we really come to know something is to doubt it, to question and test it, to dissect it (requiring us first to kill it), to analyze it by breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces– pieces that are smaller than we are, pieces we can control and feel we can explain. We will never know God this way, and I think you can see why without me trying to explain. The very opposite approach would be more appropriate, don’t you agree? …to trust God, not doubt; to see God as big and whole, not in disintegrated pieces; to submit to God’s superiority; not to try to feel (absurdly) superior ourselves; to recognize that we are fully understood by God, not to pretend that we ourselves fully understand …in short, to worship God.” -Brian McLaren (Finding Faith, 1999, p. 172)