Sean Gerety has posted a thoughtful short essay on saving faith and trust. I thought I would respond to it here and see what people thought about this.
First of all, I think two problems are evident. On the one hand, when looking at the Clarkian position, the tendency has been to say that Clark believes in salvation by intellectual assent alone. This is not what Clark is saying. Clark most definitely includes a personal appropriation of the truth of the Gospel when he talks about saving faith.
On the other side, when people look at the three-fold definition of knowledge, assent, and trust, that last word is ambiguous. What is trust? Is it a once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God? Or is it a lifelong loyalty to the covenant? Here is where the rubber hits the road. It becomes a little bit more complicated once we introduce the distinction between justification and sanctification into the picture.
I would say that if we use the word “trust” in relation to justifying faith (faith as related to justification specifically), we absolutely have to eliminate any thought of life-long loyalty from the discussion, because then we would be justified by loyalty, which obviously includes works of loyalty. So, if we use the word “trust,” then we have to limit it to the once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God.
Now, let us relate this once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God, on the one hand, to belief in a personal appropriation of the Gospel, on the other hand. Are they not really the same thing? The former is what most Reformed theologians have said. Clark has said it in the latter way. Might they not actually be the same thing? At this moment in time, I am more inclined to favor the personal appropriation language of belief to describe the third element of faith, precisely since, as Sean has pointed out, the word “trust” is so ambiguous.
To conclude, when Clark/Gerety et al say “justification by belief alone” they are not talking about just knowledge, or even just assent. They are also including in that a personal appropriation of that truth to the sinner. I do not see a whopping difference between that and what others have said concerning trust. Are you not placing your trust in God when you come to the belief that God’s Gospel applies to you personally? Maybe the two orthodox sides are not so different after all.