Here's another attempt at an upbeat Sunday post (not that I specialize in cynicism on weekdays or anything). I've been reading Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity and quite enjoying it. In Chapter Two, "Faith: The Way of the Heart," he discusses faith in a way that illustrates it differently than one generally hears the term used in Mormon discourse, where it is usually taken to mean belief in the modern version of the main historical claims and central doctrinal tenets of Mormonism and the Restoration. Borg's discussion helps broaden that view. He discusses four meainings of faith.
1. Faith as assent. This is the traditional notion of faith and the one generally used in Mormon discourse. Borg sees the impact of the Reformation and the Enlightenment (the emergence of science as a quest for empirical knowledge of the natural world and of history as a discipline establishing the facts of history) as making "faith as assent" the dominant definition. Note that "traditional" here doesn't mean in the time of the Early Church; it means conservative Christianity as it emerged in the 19th and 20th century.
Later in the chapter, he tries to rescue "faith as assent" from its denominational form by sketching out his view of what needs to be assented to at the heart of Christianity: the reality of God; the centrality of Jesus; and the centrality of the Bible. Such views always sound good on paper; too bad that faith and a system of belief and practice requires an institutional realization in order to have a place in society. Doctrines and practices are embedded in institutions. Just as you can't have a real book without putting ink on paper, you can't have a real church or denomination or congregation without buildings and leaders and resources and normative beliefs and practices.
2. Faith as trust. Borg cites a Kierkegaard metaphor that likens faith to floating on top of a deep ocean. If you struggle and thrash about, you'll sink or become exhausted by the struggle. If you relax and trust (in bouyancy, I guess), you'll float. [And this hearkens also to Nietzsche, from Beyond Good and Evil: "If you stare long enough into the Abyss, the Abyss stares also into you."]
Borg suggests we look at the opposite sense to better appreciate the meaning of faith. The opposite of trust is not doubt or disbelief, but mistrust or anxiety or worry. "Thus we can measure our degree of faith as trust by the amount of anxiety in our lives." [Which also links back to Kierkegaard, where we might take existential angst and worry as a symptom of the lack of faith characteristic of modern life.]
3. Faith as fidelity. To Borg, this "does not mean faithfulness to statements about God, whether biblical, credeal, or doctrinal. Rather, it means faithfulness to the God to whom the Bible and creeds and doctrines point. Fidelitas refers to a radical centering in God." Whatever that means. Idolatry, giving one's ultimate loyalty or allegiance to something other than God, is the opposite of this sense of faith. This leads to the intriguing idea (following this line of thinking) that ultimate allegiance to one's Christian denomination (rather than to God) might actually be a form of idolatry.
4. Faith as vision. By vision he means essentially a way of seeing the world or of picturing reality. He says there are three ways we can see the world: as hostile and threatening (and "many forms of popular Christianity throughout the centuries have viewed reality this way"); as indifferent to human purposes and ends; and finally as life-giving and nourishing, as filled with wonder and beauty.
Obviously, number three is the right answer. "It leads to radical trust. It frees us from anxiety [and] self-preoccupation ...." The concept of grace comes in here somewhere, understood not simply as a conduit for forgiveness from sin or even regeneration, but simply as God's power to make goodness come to pass in this, our material Universe, which seems to offer no particular natural law inclined to generate goodness as an ultimate outcome.
In any case, you don't have to buy into Borg's whole approach to Christian belief in order to benefit from his broader discussion of faith. While LDS leaders often address faith, I don't recall hearing or reading a discussion along these lines (links welcome, of course).