Conforming faith represents the third stage of evangelical faith formation. This stage represents the equipping phase of Christian discipleship. Conforming faith is upward oriented in that it propels a person into the vertical spiral of spiritual maturity. As will be explained below, this stage is characterized by having prescriptive knowledge as content, systematic belief as a propositional attitude and self-reinvigoration as the outcome of volitional consent. In the Christian life, prescriptive knowledge and systematic belief represent a rational (or schematic) means of knowing God, and the reinvigoration of the self represents a relational (or thematic) means of knowing God. The appropriate integration of these two means of knowing produces conforming faith.
Content Element: Prescriptive Knowledge
The prescriptive knowledge of God’s truth represents the content element of conforming faith. This form of knowledge is concerned with understanding the relationship among intrinsic parts of ideas and explaining their associations based on a legitimating criterion that is functional in nature. In conforming faith, prescriptive knowledge focuses on the procedural output, or the hows of knowing. It values knowing “what it ought to be” rather than “what it is” in the Christian life…
There are two forms of prescriptive knowledge: intrarelational and interrelational. Since both forms arise in an imperative manner and guide the life of faith, it is difficult to distinguish their meanings. However, the basic difference is in their aim. Intrarelational precepts focus on instilling order to a person’s inner life with God, whereas interrelational precepts focus on bringing a relational harmony with others. For example, in the Bible, divine counsels (Ps. 16:7–8; 73:24; Prov. 19:20; John 14:26; 16:13; James 3:17) and divine commands (Exod. 20:3–17; Matt. 22:34–40; John 14:15, 21; 15:10, 14; Rom. 2:15; 7:7–11; Gal. 2:21; 1 John 2:3–5; 2 John 1:6) represent these two forms of prescriptive knowledge, respectively. While divine counsels are intrarelationally directed at strengthening one’s relationship with God, divine commands are interrelationally directed at strengthening one’s relationship with others. Overall, prescriptive knowledge is indispensable to a good life of faith. It results in gracious character and is practicable in its orientation. Prescriptive knowledge informs the individual and renders them able to live out what they know in Jesus Christ.
Mental Element: Systematic Belief
Systematic belief represents the mental element of conforming faith. Systematic belief is a coherent structure of tenets that provides epistemic normativity to faith. It is a form of fundamental conjecture that converges when the propositions underlying prescriptive constructs are extrapolated into a system of thoughts. Such a belief is prima facie, meaning justified by the initial reasoning until a higher order of inferential justification replaces it. This type of conjecture involves a doxastic decision and positions itself as a set of implicit inferences and develops into philosophical and theological tenets in the Christian life. Compared to ideological belief, which is particular and subjective, systematic belief tends to be systematic and objective in its composition...
Self-reinvigoration represents the volitional element of conforming faith. Self-reinvigoration refers to the cathartic impact of accommodating prescriptive knowledge and systematic belief in the Christian life. This process is highly transformative in that it solidifies faith, provides fresh vigor to the soul and increases the will for vibrant Christian living. This inward change allows the believer to engage in a deeper relationship with God and experience self-rejuvenation.
The effect of accommodating prescriptive knowledge and systematic belief in the Christian life is like that of the Pentecost phenomenon (Acts 2:1–47). It is much more than merely learning new information or having a convincing belief. It represents receiving Spirit-empowered knowledge, belief, and capacity for righteous living. This is where the Holy Spirit finds the believer in their humble state of obedience, enlightens their mind and guides their actions. As a result, faith is renewed and rejuvenated deep within.
Adapted from Chapter 3, “Faith Formation Theory Revised” in Understanding Faith Formation: Theological, Congregational, and Global Dimensions by Jonathan H. Kim (associate professor of Christian ministry and leadership), Mark Maddix, and James R. Estep, Jr. Copyright (c) 2020 by Jonathan H. Kim. Used by permission of Baker Academic.