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It’s possible that I may be proposing a false trichotomy, but when considering belief in God, I identify at least three distinct possibilities:

  • Belief as a Choice: Belief in God might be a decision of the will, subject to one’s volitional control. This perspective makes sense if libertarian free will exists, allowing individuals to freely choose whether they believe in God. In philosophy, this view is known as Doxastic Voluntarism.
  • Belief as a Gift: Alternatively, belief in God could be viewed not as an arbitrary choice but as a consequence of receiving the gift of faith, presumably from God. Here, God, rather than human will, is the source of faith.
  • Belief as a Result of Reason and Evidence: Another possibility is that belief in God is neither an arbitrary choice nor an arbitrary gift but a natural result of sound reasoning applied to available evidence. Thus, a person who honestly examines the evidence and uses reason should naturally conclude that God exists. It seems to me that fields like natural theology and Christian apologetics are premised upon this assumption.

It's possible that I may be overlooking additional possibilities and that the three options I've outlined might not be mutually exclusive. Moreover, I might be conflating belief with faith, and I welcome any corrections on this point if that’s the case.

With all that said, what is an overview of Christian perspectives on how belief in God arises?

Specifically, I'm interested in the following subquestions:

  • Choice of the Will: Are there specific theological traditions or denominations that view belief in God as a volitional choice?
  • Gift from God: Are there theological perspectives or denominations that consider belief in God a gift from God?
  • Result of Reason and Evidence: Are there groups that see belief in God as a result of reasoned analysis of evidence?
  • Other Views: Are there other theological views on how belief in God comes about that do not fit neatly into the three options I’ve suggested?

Clarifications

I think it's better if the Q clarifies the cognitive content of "belief in God" that you're asking about. Even demons believe in the existence and the power of God and they shudder (James 2:19). But then you don't seem to ask about "faith" which demons don't have. Or is "belief in God" in the OP simply refers to the existence of the first mover? The first chapters of Mere Christianity talk about moving carefully step by step from mere existence, to awareness of God in the conscience, to dread of what this God might do, to theism (but no relationship), and finally to Christian theism.

I like this comment. It emphasizes the distinction between belief as mere intellectual assent, which the demons possess, and saving faith, leading to relationship with God, which the demons do not possess. I would very much appreciate answers that split the analysis into these two aspects.

This misses the most common case. Most people grow up believing what they do because that's what their family (and others in their society) believe. It would be crazy not to.

This is a good point, although I think this case can be reinterpreted as and reduced to a more primitive version of belief based on "reason + evidence", even if the reasoning process is arguably fallacious or flawed. The potential fallacies involved in this reasoning process might include argument ad populum, argument from authority, and appeal to tradition, whereas the evidence might take the form of "my parents told me so", "my culture told me so", "my tradition told me so", and so on. One example is how children develop a belief in Santa Claus, because their parents told them so and they regard their parents to be reliable authorities conveyors of truth. Please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that all beliefs based on tradition or authorities are necessarily comparable to belief in Santa Claus or fallacious (e.g. if all medical institutions and laboratories around the world agreed that certain vaccine is safe and effective against certain virus, I wouldn't necessarily consider trusting their expert judgement to be fallacious). Believing something because X said so is not necessarily a bad reason if X is, for instance, an expert witness or a credible witness.

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    I think it's better if the Q clarifies the cognitive content of "belief in God" that you're asking about. Even demons believe in the existence and the power of God and they shudder (James 2:19). But then you don't seem to ask about "faith" which demons don't have. Or is "belief in God" in the OP simply refers to the existence of the first mover? The first chapters of Mere Christianity talk about moving carefully step by step from mere existence, to awareness of God in the conscience, to dread of what this God might do, to theism (but no relationship), and finally to Christian theism. Commented Jun 10 at 3:01
  • @GratefulDisciple Fair criticism. And if you believe that Eastern Orthodox mysticism is true, I would even venture to add "and finally, theosis".
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 10 at 3:09
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    This misses the most common case. Most people grow up believing what they do because that's what their family (and others in their society) believe. It would be crazy not to. Commented Jun 10 at 12:23
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    An overview of all Christian perspectives on the difference or not between belief and faith as well as all views on the origins of same? This is an enormous ask! A three volume set. Commented Jun 10 at 12:32
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    I don't think belief and faith are synonyms according to the Bible. A normal definition of "belief" is, "what you think to be true". And a biblical definition of "faith" is "evidence or assurance (From God)". A belief can be supported, by reasoning from facts, or by faith. Everyone gets a measure of faith from God, and one can use that to support a belief in God without reasoning. As far as what is appropriate to support a belief in God, biblically it seems to be either... God has given both factual evidence in creation, so no one has an excuse, and he gives the gift of faith. Commented Jun 11 at 18:44

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Is belief in God a matter of choice, a bestowed gift, or a result of reasoned consideration of evidence?

Comparatively speaking most Christian denominations would accept that all three ways play a part in believing in God.

However, it should be stated that many, many Christians across the board, simply believe in God because they have been brought up in the faith of their parents.

Practicing Catholics foster and promote strong ties with their faith to their children.

Practicing Protestants foster and promote strong ties with their faith to their children.

Practicing Orthodoxes foster and promote strong ties with their faith to their children.

So how do Christians come to accepting a belief in God?

  • Christians across denominational lines accept that faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from God.

  • Many come to the reality that God exists through personal studies or seeing God’s handiwork in nature and the cosmos.

  • Examples of fervent Christ-like living aid others in their journey towards belief. Remember those famous words of Tertullian: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. Church history is full of Christian conversions for individuals who have actually witnessed the martyrdom of Christians for their faith. Some have later become martyrs themselves.

  • Some come to a belief in God, like St. Augustine, through reading a passage of Sacred Scripture. St. Augustine is recognized as a saint in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism.

All Christians will admit that coming to a belief in God is generally started by the interior disposition of grace working in the soul and aided by the Holy Spirit in ways He sees best.

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What is faith?

First, “faith is the assured expectation of what is hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1) If you have faith, you firmly believe that everything God says is true and will be fulfilled. For example, God (YHWH) told the Israelites: “If you could break my covenant regarding the day and my covenant regarding the night, to prevent day and night from coming at their proper time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken.” (Jeremiah 33:20, 21)

Are you ever afraid that the sun might stop rising and setting in the sky, thus causing day and night to cease? If you do not doubt the physical laws that keep the earth rotating on its axis and orbiting the sun, should you doubt that the Creator of these laws can fulfill his word? Of course not!​ (Isaiah 55:10, 11; Matthew 5:18)

Second, faith is “the evident demonstration of realities that are not seen.” Faith is said to be “the evident demonstration,” or “convincing evidence,” of things that are invisible to the eye and yet real. (Hebrews 11:1b) In what way? Suppose a child asks you, ‘How do you know that air exists?’ Although you have never seen air, you would likely help the child to reason on the evidence that exists​—breathing, the effects of wind, and so on. Once the child is convinced of the evidence, he accepts the existence of what is invisible to him. Similarly, faith is based on solid evidence.

To please God, we must have faith. Yet, the Bible says that “faith is not a possession of all people.” (2 Thessalonians 3:2) The apostle Paul spoke about his persecutors, “harmful and wicked men,” from whom he needed rescue. But his comment about faith has a wider application.

How does faith develop in a person?

Some people choose to ignore clear evidence that there is a Creator-God. (Romans 1:20) Others may claim to have some faith in that they sense a higher power. But that belief alone is not the faith needed to please God.

As stated in the OP question, faith goes beyond simply believing or acknowledging the truth, for even “the demons believe [that God exists] and shudder.” (James 2:19)

We need to be both convinced that God exists and that he is “the rewarder” of those with solid faith. (Hebrews 11:6)

Since faith is based on evidence, to have faith a person must first acquire “an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) But that is not enough. The apostle Paul wrote: “With the heart one exercises faith.” (Romans 10:10)

A person must not only believe the truth but also value it. Only then will he be motivated to exercise faith, that is, to act in harmony with the truth. (James 2:20)

A person who does not have heartfelt gratitude for the truth may reject even convincing evidence if he stubbornly holds to preconceived ideas or seeks to excuse his fleshly desires. (2 Peter 3:3, 4; Jude 18) This is why in Bible times, not all who witnessed miracles developed faith. (Numbers 14:11; John 12:37)

Faith is also an aspect of the fruitage of his holy spirit. (Galatians 5:22) Turning to God in prayer can help a person to receive holy spirit. (Luke 11:9, 10, 13)

God’s holy spirit produces faith only in people whose heart favors the truth over lies.​ (2 Thessalonians 2:10, 11)

“Beloved ones, build yourselves up on your most holy faith... in order to keep yourselves in God’s love.”​ (Jude 20, 21)


Answering the question

Is belief in God a matter of choice, a bestowed gift, or a result of reasoned consideration of evidence?

As stated in the OP and in my response here, belief and faith are correlated, but not the same. Belief in God is a matter of choice, which I would hope was taken as a result of reasoned consideration of evidence.

Faith however goes much deeper than mere belief or accepting something as fact. It touches upon the heart and transforms us - we have to do our part in strengthening our faith through acquiring knowledge about and consciously perceiving God and His Son Jesus, by meditation and prayer, but also talking about God. God's spirit is our helper, gifted by Him to help deepen our faith.

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  • Regarding Romans 1, reason, and evidence, what are your thoughts on this question: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/102031/61679 ?
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 14 at 10:58
  • By the way, you forgot to address the subquestions within the question asking for overviews of perspectives. Letting you know so that you don't end up with your answer deleted by the mods.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 14 at 11:08

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