Believing vs. Knowing

In Shane Hipps new book Selling Water by the River he talks about the difference between “believing” and “knowing.” In a previous post I critiqued an illustration that Hipps used for Christ and Christianity which I found unhelpful. The book abounds with illustrations which Hipps uses to prove various points. In the chapter titled “A Map in the Wilderness” he talks about a time when he went on a trip. The map showed one thing but by the time they got to their destination a lake was not there as it showed on the map. He concludes, “Our map wasn’t bad, just limited. Ultimately we had to go on our own experience of the terrain.” (49) From this he says “Religions are master purveyors of maps. Their maps are very ancient, and come in the form of theology, doctrine, belief statements, and creeds.” (49) When Jesus is confronted with the women caught in adultery (John 8) he challenges the group by saying, (Hipps’ paraphrase) “For a moment, set the map aside and tell me what you see. Look at your own experience for a minute. Have you ever sinned? If not, then you should follow the map without consequence. But if you have, and you follow what the map says, then a stone might be headed your way shortly.” (50)

Setting aside his paraphrase of this passage I want to focus on one small part of his discussion which follows. Hipps says another way to describe this dynamic is “to observe the difference between believing and knowing. Believing is about what we think, knowing is about our experience.”

He continues,

“A belief is an idea, a conviction, or a rule that may or may not be universally true. Beliefs are faith-based assumptions, which may be subject to change. We develop or adopt a belief either because someone we trust tells us so, or the Bible seems to say it, or reason supports it. But until we experience it, it remains only a possibility, a speculation. Possibilities should be held with an open hand, perhaps with some humility and even humor. Who knows—we might be wrong about what we believe.”

“But knowing is difference. Knowing is not an idea; it is an experience. If someone pinches me, I don’t believe they pinched me, I know it. I experienced it. It doesn’t reside in my head, it’s my body. No debate.”

“If believing is the map, then knowing is the territory.”

“It’s better to know than to believe. It is better to move from merely thinking about God in the right ways to experiencing God deeply and directly. . . . Sometimes we may have a belief about God, but have yet to experience it. When we do finally experience it, the belief eventually disappears. In a sense it is no longer necessary. The intellectual speculation is replaced with a deep and human knowing.” (51-53)

This is very confusing for a number of reasons. Philosophers have typically defined knowledge as “justified true belief.” J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig explain in their book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview:

“Besides truth, a second part of knowledge is belief. If Jones knows something in the propositional sense, he must at least believe it. It would make no sense to say that Jones knows that milk is in the refrigerator but that, nonetheless, he does not believe that milk is in the refrigerator. So belief is a necessary condition for knowledge. But mere belief is not sufficient for knowledge. People believe many things that they do not know to be true.” (Emphasis mine, 73)

Hipps claims “It’s better to know than to believe” which I take to mean it’s better to have an experience than simply a conglomerate of beliefs about God. To an extent I concur but how does one decide if the experience is true? Stuart Hackett writes in his book The Resurrection of Theism, “how could one discern between a false and true experience of God in his own life, or among the conflicting claims of various mystics whose allegations rest on a purely intuitional basis? Either reason and coherence must be introduced here, or chaos rules the waves on the sea of religions experience.” (140, Page reference is to the Baker editon of the book.) He then offers a quote from Harold Larrabee (Reliable Knowledge, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., c. 1945) “The tests of intuitions, however, are not purely intuitional but rational and analytical. We cannot validate one intuition by the simple expedient of calling in another intuition. In order to draw the line between mysticism and delusion, between the false prophet and the true, it is always necessary eventually to invoke the aid of discursive reason.” (68)

I understand Hipps is writing to a lay audience and he can’t go into a lengthy treatment about epistemology. But I think his illustration does not prove as much as he hopes it will. At the end of the day it is simply an illustration and not a reasoned argument. His discussion is filled with too many assertions lacking adequate support.

For a good discussion of knowledge as justified true belief that is fairly lay friendly see Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult (pp. 56-78) by Garrett J. DeWeese and J.P. Moreland.


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to Believing vs. Knowing

  1. Excellent post and spot on with noting the deltas between believing vs. knowing. Plato clearly noted those distinctions as well and his Allegory of the Cave highlights some of those. Wish I had more time to explicate, but the mundane calls…


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