How do we find the balance between objective and subjective faith? Let’s start by defining our terms.
When we talk about something being objective, we mean it’s unbiased—outside of us and apart from us. In terms of truth, it’s what’s true for everyone and doesn’t require belief or consent to be true. It’s true with or without my acceptance of it. The earth is round even if I believe it’s flat. Believing two plus two equals five doesn’t change the truth that the answer is four.
When we talk about something being subjective it refers to what’s rooted in the subject (us) and is a matter of personal belief, preference, or perspective. It is an objective truth to say I own a Toyota truck. If I say that Toyota trucks are the coolest trucks ever, that’s subjective.
Faith that the Bible speaks of is both objective and subjective.
The objective aspect is what Scripture calls “the faith.” It is comprehended by the mind. In Acts 14:22 Paul and Barnabas strengthened believers and “encouraged them to continue in the faith” (emphasis added). Paul wrote to the Corinthians “Stand firm in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:13, emphasis added). He commended the Philippians because they were “fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News” (Philippians 1:27, emphasis added). Objective faith is the body of revelation found in Scripture. It is theology, doctrine, and teaching. This external object of our faith is God’s Word.
The subjective aspect of faith is that which is comprehended by the heart and refers to the means by which we come to personally grasp the objective realities expressed in Scripture. This aspect of faith requires a concrete personal assent and choice to believe in biblical truth so that it makes a difference in daily life. The faith by which biblical truth is believed, or subjective faith, is an encounter between each one of us and God and is necessary for salvation.
And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. (Ephesians 1:13)
The problem is that we can too easily overemphasize either the objective or the subjective aspects of faith.
If we overemphasize the objective aspect, the Bible becomes merely head-knowledge and the subject of analysis and research. Scripture’s merely a textbook for study and comprehension is only an intellectual pursuit. The Bible becomes dry and the object of debates and controversy. If and when we fail to apply truth to our own lives then we begin to question those who do.
Conversely when I overemphasize the subjective aspect of faith then faith becomes relative to the individual. It is subjective. In other words, if I believe or feel that something is true then it is true for me.
People end up saying, “This is what this means to me” and “What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me” or, “That’s just your interpretation.” If faith is only subjective, each person is right in what they believe, regardless of the Bible or of the belief of others.
The opposite may also happen—I make my beliefs the standard for everybody. This is probably how many denominations got started. They’re based on subjective and experiential belief rather than the Bible. We can easily fall into a kind of mysticism, a false knowledge, where “I just know,” despite what Scripture says.
Moreover, I can come to minimize and even despise any study that demands the use of my mind and intellect. I would never read books that have to be chewed slowly. I would never get into deep doctrines of the Christian faith. I’d have lots of zeal but without knowledge. Lots of heart, but no head.
Where do we find balance between objective and subjective faith?
Both the subjective aspect and the objective aspect are seen in Paul’s words to Timothy.
“I remember your genuine faith [subjective], for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice [objective]” (2 Timothy 1:5). Both aspects are also found in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised [objective], then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins [subjective].”
On the one hand, you can know a lot about the faith and yet not be living it. And on the other hand, we need to know the faith in order to fully live it.
To find the balance and be the best Christians we can be, we need to integrate both the objective and subjective elements of our faith. Knowing theological truths (objective faith) is necessary to help us know God better (subjective faith). But there must be an internal commitment from the heart to objective biblical truth to believe and live it.