So this series is about pointing out a few places where I think we've coloured way out of the lines, perhaps in the small hope that I can sort out the caricature from the portrait, at least for myself. Feel free to push me, point out the silver lining in the language, rebuke me for my smarty pants cynicism, or praise my genius. Anyone who can do all of that in one comment gets bonus points. I don't know if I'll do this series over time or all at once, but there's your intro. You'll recognize them when you see them. So without further ado, today's bad words are "saving faith".
The other day I was asked what it meant to believe in Jesus Christ, and I described belief, or "saving faith" as essentially a kind of "living trust". Moments later I sat myself down to read and had a decades old challenge land squarely on the chin, dealt by none other than Karl Barth (yeah this is happening to me a lot lately). In Church Dogmatics IV.1, he is preparing to address the issue of "justification by faith alone", and precedes his answer to the question by describing what Christian faith is not. See what you think:
"Justification by faith" cannot mean that instead of his customary evil works and in place of all kinds of supposed good works man chooses and accomplishes the work of faith, in this way pardoning and therefore justifying himself. As his action, the action of sinful man, faith cannot do this.
Nor does it make any odds whether a man means by faith a mere knowledge and intellectual understanding . . . , or an assent of the mind and will . . . , or finally a heart's trust in the significance of the work for himself . . . . It is not in and with all this that a man justifies himself . . .
There is always something wrong and misleading when the faith of a man is referred to as his way of salvation in contrast to his way in wicked works, or his way of true salvation in contrast to his way in the supposed good works of false faith and superstition. Faith is not an alternative to these other ways. It is not the way which . . . . he can choose and enter by the same capacity by which he might go any other way. Even in the action of faith he is the sinful man who as such is not in a position to justify himself . . . .
Even as a believer he can represent himself to God only as the one he is in virtue of his past, only with the request: "God be merciful to me, a sinner."
He is as little justified in faith as in his other good or evil works. He needs justification just as much in faith as anywhere else, as in the totality of his being. . . . The image of himself as a believer---in so far as he has time and the desire to concern himself with it---can only incite and impel him to that other request: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mk. 9:24). There is as little praise of man on the basis of his faith as on that of his works.
For there is as little justification of man "by"---that is to say, by means of---the faith produced by him, by his treading the way of faith, by his achievement of the emotions and thoughts and acts of faith, by his whole consciousness of faith and life of faith, as there is a justification "by" any other works. Faith is not at all the supreme and true and finally successful form of self-justification.
If it tried to be this, if man tried to believe with this purpose and intention and claim, then even if his faith was not a "dead" faith, even if it was a most "hearty" faith, even if it was fiduciary faith most active in love, it would be the supreme and most proper form of his sin as the sin of pride. . . . It is the enterprise and conduct of a Pharisaism which is the most evil Pharisaism of all: the Pharisaism of the publican [cf. Lk 18:9-14].
It may well happen that the most audacious man of works, the Christian or secular pietist or activist, will go back to his house justified rather than this man: not by his little works but because---who can tell?---there is perhaps behind his works in some hidden form a real faith which is completely lacking in the one who simply justifies himself in all his righteousness of faith (pp. 615-617).
I'm not sure I need to add to that. He didn't use these words, but dispelled them pretty clearly. In terms of Christian speech about redemption, "saving" is not a verb which allows our faith as its subject. Neither is it an adjective which has faith as its noun.
Barth said a lot more there as well, and as a contemporary evangelical I think I must stand under his rebuke and challenge.