A Leap At Faith

Posted: February 28, 2011 in Bible, change, church, ministry, Missional Church, spiritual formation, theology

Recently I’ve found myself, once again, thinking about what brings people to faith. This has been prompted by two things: (1) I’m walking a church group through Tim Keller‘s best-selling book, “The Reason For God”, and (2) multiple conversations with Atheist and Agnostic friends. I love these conversations. They force me to refine my thinking, listen to new people and perspectives and process what I actually believe.

Though I’m having conversations with both Christians and non-Christians regarding faith, our language – in some cases – is strikingly similar. One linguistic construct we share is the notion of “a leap of faith.” What is commonly meant by a “a leap of faith” is acting as if something is true regardless of the evidence present. Both Christians and non-Christians mean the same things by this phrase. What I want to suggest is that taking “a leap of faith” is not a Biblical understanding of what it means to “come to faith.” More to the point, the Bible does not ask anyone to make  “leap of faith,” but the scriptures do call all of us to make a “leap at faith.” Here’s why:

Christianity Isn’t for Stupid People. To the dismay of many, Christianity requires thinking.  Taking “a leap of faith” connotes that evidence doesn’t matter. Another way we call faith stupid is by calling it “blind faith.” The truth is, no one does anything on “blind faith.” We all do what we do out of some calculation. The calculation may be ill-informed, misguided, or poorly constructed, but we don’t do anything that matters “blind.” No one takes a “leap of faith,” we negotiate the knowns and unknowns and select. That’s not a leap, it’s arriving at a decision point and taking a step, not a leap.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but my faith is neither blind nor stupid. Yes, it is the product of participation in a particular community over the course of a lifetime, but I have also read, studied, and questioned. My questions about the Bible, the nature of God, and the nature of the world are tougher and more accurate than the passing machinations of a freshman philosophy major somewhere because I bothered to seriously investigate. I investigated Christianity, Atheism, Buddhism, and Mormonism in particular. My list isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve studied the world’s major worldviews enough to know what I’m talking about, and I’ve tried to take all claims seriously.

Taking a “leap at faith” means those both inside and outside orthodox faith owe it to themselves to investigate earnestly what is at the heart of the world and ask the toughest questions they can imagine. Christians should not fear what the hard sciences discover or what historians unearth. If we believe all truth is God’s truth, then what is there to unnerve us? Real faith is not a leap, it’s the intentional examination of the available evidence and then carefully formulating something that is philosophically coherent and realistically useable. The Apostle John even instructs us to do so in 1 John 4. Our job is to “test the spirits.”

Christianity Isn’t Mental Assent. Far too many folks think “a leap of faith” means “a change of mind.” Of course, in many ways, this is accurate (just think about the literal meaning of “repent”). Though coming to a place where you believe that God exist does mean that you’ve made a philosophical shift – that’s just the beginning, and can oftentimes mean very little. As James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us, “even the demons believe…” (James 2.19). One of the great problems in the world is that Christianity has become nominal (Christian in name only) and notional (people like the ideas of Christianity).

Taking a “leap at faith” means looking at the life and teachings of Jesus and trying them on, taking them out for a stroll, not just agreeing with a few principles. Faith is a lived-experience, not a thought-experience. If interaction with Jesus doesn’t result in kinder words, radical generosity and justice, engagement with the poor and self-denial, it just ain’t faith. There’s only way to know if God is truly the Provider or if His Spirit will be with you in times of disappointment and brokenness; you have to try it. It’s not theoretical, it has to mean something. That’s why the people you know who have a mental assent to faith, but who haven’t experienced what the Apostle Paul would call “circumcision of the heart” are some of the worst people you know. Jesus’ instructions to those living in His time was simple: “Go and do likewise.” It was about trying it out and seeing if Jesus was right.

Ultimately I’m advocating that faith isn’t a stumble in the dark. Those inside the church who believe so, do God, themselves and their fellow-believers a great disservice. And those outside the church who would suggest that faith is “blind” simply haven’t done their homework. But worse still, Christians have made their homework harder by not reflecting the real thing.

  1. Jody says:

    If to be an agnostic, as Huxley asserts, is to believe that metaphysical issues are fundamentally unknowable and the problem of existence is insoluble. Then to move from agnostic to belief is to take a leap of faith, not necessarily in the contradiction of evidence, but in the absence of direct observable evidence. Examples of this leap thrive in the sciences. Quantum mechanics is just one example of this struggle. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle reveals a limitation of human knowledge about the state of an electron, but I do not doubt my doctor’s ability to measure the state of those electrons with a magnetic resonance imaging tool and explore the health of my body. At a more plebian level, I take a leap of faith on a daily basis at work. In this case, it’s not that I can’t know; it’s that I have neither the time nor the resources to gather the fullness of evidence with which I do know. I must simply make the best guess with the evidence at hand. The trick, of course, is to know the quickest and best experiments to do to get 90% to the answer. Perhaps it is not a leap. Perhaps it is a skip or a hop. But for me, there is a chasm to cross to get to belief. And to get across that chasm is outside of my (current) comfortable gait.

  2. Sean says:

    You’re right on track, Jody (unless I completely misunderstood what you’re talking about – which is totally possible). My point is the one you assert with the illustration of your Dr. The absence of ALL the evidence, doesn’t exclude any evidence and the decisions we make are the result of the available evidence – not just “blind.” To have sight does not mean I am all-seeing.

    But Jesus, IMHO, has breached the wall between the noumenal and phenomenal. As I asserted, the chief way the scriptures teach access to the metaphysical is through the physical – participation in Triune life. Or mosre basically stated, try it out! The Apostle Paul, would suggest that the direct observable evidence should be the community initiated by the cross of Jesus. Unfortunately, we haven’t always done so well at this – as I point out in a weekly basis. Nevertheless, consider this: If someone were sacrificial, loving, gentle, honesty, trustworthy, etc…and they were in a community that was equally as good; that would be significant evidence, would it not?

    Each week I grieve that modern Christians – and dead ones too – were more of what we profess to be, but I’ve had enough experiences, and known enough good people that I retain faith in the faith.

    • Jody says:

      And I ask myself, why believe in Heisenberg and not Jesus.. and I think the answer is that there is no one heckling funerals in the name of Heisenberg.

  3. Sean says:

    Point taken, Jody. These people (Westboro) call themselves a church, but they are not. Jesus said, that we would be known by our “fruits”. And these people haven’t produced anything close to what the New Testament defines as following in the way of Jesus. They use the name “church” or “Christian,” but it’s really not. They are something else completely.

    I don’t know what they think they’re doing, but this is a perversion of Christianity, in the same way that pedophilia is a perversion of human sexuality – only the people doing it remotely think it’s acceptable. These people are roundly criticized and their theology and actions are heinous — on this we are all agreed.

    • VJ says:

      Since my family is now asleep (children and beautiful wife Jody), let me chime in on this joust. Jody so loves intellectual tit for tat (so do I. She usually wins)… My perspective,…. I don’t believe that “scientific” is the same as religious belief and can be packaged as “well, there are things I don’t understand but accept in science and therefore it is equivalent to religious belief”. The reality is that while quantum mechanics while unknowable in an everyday experience, it has tangible measurables and real “touchable” things we can point to that act as surrogate (solar cells are a good high tech example). There isn’t a God equivalent. In fact, it is quite hard coming from the other side, i.e., “There is a God, please set aside your deterministic principles”. The reality is that in the modern world most of our common day experiences can be rationalized by plausible scientific theories that are partially, if not completely testable with known scientific fact.

      Even if we go extreme “Why am I here”… Well, you are here because after the creation of atoms at the big bang, after a billion years resultin amino acids, after a billion years resulted in packaging within cellular lipids, which in a billion years resulted in cells, which in a billion years resulted in multicellular organisms, A billion years…. Eventually humans……

      Much of this is now testable…. with accelerated testing… So why believe in something outside of this!!!….. Well because in my own experience, even after taking into account reams of science it is incomplete….. It is incomplete trying to fit to a SCIENCE or GOD equation.,… So we are left with a choice…. Exist here and have your questions unanswered, or “take a leap of faith” and accept..… “There is more here than is knowable by my science”……Look forward to debating this in the days and weeks ahead….

  4. Kraig says:

    I think there are really good, purely intellectual, reasons to think that God exists. I do not think these reasons are such that anyone who understands them is psychologically incapable of not believing in God; that is, they are not ultimately conclusive proofs. But, they are more than enough to make belief in God rational, for anyone interested to pursue that belief.

    Here is one such reason: take naturalism as the view that nothing exists that isn’t constitutively part of the physical universe. On such a view, beauty exists only as the result of the existence of beings capable of bestowing the value of beauty on objects. Therefore, in a universe is which all or most such beings (that is, beings capable of bestowing the value of beauty) believed that that a parent’s hatred of her child was more beautiful than a parent’s love of her child, then (in that universe), a parent’s hatred of her child would be more beautiful than a parent’s love of her child. But the conclusion is false. A parent’s love of her child will is always more beautiful than a parent’s hatred of her child, and it doesn’t matter what you or I or everyone thinks about that.

    As such, we can see that beauty at least sometimes exists objectively and yet not as a constitutive part of the natural world. It follows that some things exist that are not constitutively part of the physical universe, and naturalism must be false. Since science is only fit to tell us about the natural world, there are some important things (like beauty) that science simply doesn’t speak to.

    • VJ says:

      Kraig…. Nice argument…..by extension, if we accept that nature of humanity is good, the only such definition of God can come from a belief in God. Naturalism has no need for “goodness” that world view….

  5. VJ says:

    Sorry…a few key typos before…. must have been rushed this AM.

    Kraig…. Nice argument…..by extension, if we accept that the nature of humanity is good, then we can argue that the only such definition of Good can come from a belief in God. Naturalism has no need for “goodness” in that world view….

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