Review of Brent J. Schmidt, Relational Faith: The Transformation and Restoration of Pistis as Knowledge, Trust, Confidence, and Covenantal Faithfulness (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2022). 356 pages, $21.95 (softcover).
Abstract: Brent Schmidt builds on his earlier book on relational grace by tackling the topic of relational faith. For those interested in historical trends in religious thought, this book provides intimate details of Greek and Latin terms and the gradual corruption of the original Pauline concept of faith by Augustine and other early and influential thinkers and theologians. Leading the reader through the conceptual reworking of the idea of faith by examining both well-known and lesser-known reformers, but somewhat skirting the faith-works debate, Schmidt ends up nevertheless convincingly demonstrating two facts. First, that faith as concrete action, not just as abstract belief, is a distinguishing doctrinal foundation that is consistently preached by leaders of the Church today. Second, Joseph Smith’s concept of faith as a covenantal relationship built on mutual trust was not a latter-day invention. Instead, it is a restoration of the concept of faith as originally understood by members of the church at the time of Paul.
Faith is an eternal principle. It will not disappear at death. In fact, it existed before the creation of the world, and it will exist after the final resurrection. But what, exactly, is it?
We know that faith is the instigator and motivator of all behavior. Without faith, we would do nothing – from the faith involved in planting a springtime seed to the faith exercised in switching on a lightbulb or popping a slice of bread into a toaster, we act only because we have faith in an outcome. It is the expectation or hope of that anticipated outcome that prompts any behavior. So, it is an action word.
[Page 266]Theologically, faith must be centered on Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith called faith in Christ, “the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness.”1 Because faith is so critical to our very lives and beliefs, it is essential that we understand what faith is, how it functions, and how we can use it to act, rather than relegating it to merely being a hope or belief that acts upon us. Still, many members are ignorant of what faith (pistis) once was and how it worked at the time in which the apostle Paul was writing his epistles. Paul clearly had something in mind when he used that term and Brent Schmidt contends that Paul’s specific understanding of faith was largely lost to the world through corruption and distortion during the Dark Ages.
Accordingly, after writing his first book, Relational Grace,2 Schmidt began to also challenge what he saw as an unsustainable distortion in the understanding of faith. That errant understanding, which Schmidt asserts is now prevalent in mainstream Christianity, was restored through Joseph Smith. In his latest book, Relational Faith,3 Schmidt develops the idea that faith (pistis), like charity (charis), was originally built on a reciprocal and action-based two-way relationship. As he informs the reader, “Since pistis is also a divine gift, like charis, I hypothesized that pistis — biblical faith — might also have th...