We Need Knowledge, Not Just Belief

Author Brett Kunkle Published on 03/05/2013

Knowledge, not just belief, about God leads to spiritual transformation. So what is knowledge, and how do we get it?

I don’t want you to merely believe true things. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. I want you to have knowledge.

You may be thinking, “What’s the difference?” Well, the difference is crucial.

Philosophers generally take knowledge to include three components: truth, belief, and justification. Consider each for a moment. Truth is a relationship between the way I take the world to be (represented by my thoughts, ideas, beliefs, etc.) and the way the world really is (or reality). If my beliefs correspond to reality, they are true. So in terms of knowledge, it’s just common sense that if I know something, that means it’s also true. Wouldn’t it be odd to say I know something but I’m not really sure if it’s true?

Secondly, consider the relationship between knowledge and belief. Again, wouldn’t it be odd to say I know something but I don’t believe it? All the facts we think we know are also facts we believe.

Finally, knowledge requires justification. Justification is simply the reasons we believe things—it’s the “why” behind the “what.” We believe many things we think are true, but how can we be sure we’re right? We justify those things with reasons, evidence, or proof. Justification gives us confidence our true beliefs are not merely guesses but actual instances of knowledge. The more justification we have, the greater our confidence.

And this is why I don’t want you to have mere true belief. I want you to have confidence what you believe is actually true. In other words, I don’t want you to just know what you believe, but also why you believe it.

The “why” is crucial because it transforms true belief into knowledge. Did you know the Bible has as much, if not more, to say about knowledge than faith? Consider just a few of the things God says about knowledge:

  • “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6
  • Know therefore today, and take it to heart, that the Lord, He is God in heave above and on the earth below; there is no other.” Deuteronomy 4:39
  • “It seemed fitting for me as write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:3–4
  • “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2–3

This is a brief sample of the Bible’s rich and robust view of knowledge in our spiritual transformation. Unlike much of what is offered by contemporary writers on spiritual formation, the Bible paints a picture where knowledge is absolutely central to our transformation. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Dallas Willard summarizes our discussion and its implications perfectly:

Knowledge has a unique and irreplaceable function in human life. Unlike any other human capacity, it authorizes individuals to act, to direct, and to teach, and the lack thereof disqualifies one in those same respects.... Knowledge therefore lays the foundation for confident and successful dealings with reality and, as such, is one of the most precious things one can acquire. People “perish for lack of knowledge,” as the Bible tells us, precisely because, without it, disastrous encounters, or lack of encounters, with reality are certainly to occur; most importantly, they occur with reference to God, God’s Kingdom, and any possibilities for an eternal kind of living. (In Dallas Willard’s foreword to the book The Kingdom Triangle by J.P. Moreland.)

If we want to have a “foundation for confident and successful dealings with reality,” then we must seek to understand the reasons for believing what we believe.