Friday, November 26, 2010

Leap of faith?

The concept of the leap of faith is pretty central to the view of religion which most people hold in western culture today.  It can be given a positive or a negative spin.  Negatively, the leap of faith is portrayed as ignoring the facts, running contrary to the evidence, 'committing intellectual suicide', throwing oneself into the darkness even though the light of knowledge is shining all around.  On this view, a leap of faith means plunging into absurd mysticism, usually because one is unwilling to deal with the cold, hard facts of life.  Positively, the leap of faith is portrayed as reaching out for something 'beyond', something that transcends the mundane, something that provides meaning and purpose in a universe otherwise devoid of both.  Although the leap does take us beyond knowledge, per se, it is somehow a virtue to trust in something - almost anything - that will give our lives a bit of content - and who knows, maybe that something is really out there.

Christians tend to divide into those who hate the idea of a leap of faith and see no place for it in Christianity, and those who embrace it.  Broadly speaking, the former believe that Christianity is based on evidence and rationality, can be demonstrated, and does not involve any leaping because it is all within the bounds of what is ordinarily referred to as knowledge.  They tend to be keen on the discipline of apologetics, and to have some regard for natural theology.  The latter, on the other hand, do not believe that the arguments and evidences will get you all the way.  They may vary as to how far they will get you - perhaps very close - but at the end of the day, you will have to make a leap.  You will reach the end of your intellectual resources, and the arguments and evidences will take you to a point from which you just have to jump.  If God is there, presumably he'll catch you.

I would suggest, of course, that neither of these positions is quite right, mainly because they both have something desperately wrong in common.  Both believe that human beings can work it out, sort it out, and live it out, without assistance.  Either we have to think it through, or we have to jump.  Either way, the decisive action is ours, and comes on our side.

What if revelation were needed - personal revelation, God stooping down to meet me?  What if instead of the leap of faith we were presented with the 'leap of grace'?  What if it was all, in the end, about receiving?

"If we know ourselves, as the Christian does, we cannot think that we are capable of this leap.  And the whole idea of a leap that we have made or are making is best abandoned.  No one makes the leap.  As Christians, we are all borne on eagles' wings."


  1. Leap of *grace*! Brilliant. Consider the phrase stolen...

  2. This is a helpful thought. I will have to think about it some more...

  3. All well and good. Here's what concerns me: what do you think of Jennifer's testimony?

    this terrifies me, and here's why: it sounds like a lot of christian testimonies.

    I'm sure we agree that in 1 corinthians 1 it's not that God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching, but the foolishness of what we preach: namely, Christ crucified, that the messiah, in space time and history was crucified - we preach the weakness of God on the cross, the foolishness of God on the cross, which in light of the resurrection we see is wiser than men ("we have testified about God that he raised him from the dead", ch.15). God chose what is weak in the world (namely the cross) to shame the strong, God chose what is foolish in the world (namely the cross) to shame the wise.

    Otherwise any old foolishness would do. And that's what I'm concerned with in this video - according to what many people say about faith (it is to shame the wise by making them believe something stupid, for instance), then mormonism fits the bill. But it's specifically the event of the cross, that if we're in the dark about the resurrection, we'll never preach; but in view of his resurrection, we'll preach as of first importance.

  4. Hi Chris - yes, absolutely yes. What Jennifer is describing in the video is, I think, exactly a leap of faith. The emotion/intellect dichotomy absolutely captures that. And you're right - that could be faith in anything. Faith for faith's sake, which is what I think most people in our culture think faith is all about.

    Vis a vis 1 Cor 1, I think we do agree, although I'd want to add: the method of presentation is also weak and foolish, to match the message being presented. Hence most of 2 Cor, and Paul's view of his own apostleship as a weak thing.

    I should add: I'm not here being negative about apologetics per se (although I am being negative about natural theology, and will continue to be as negative as I can). Preaching, even persuasive preaching based (as all Christian preaching must be) on the historical reality of Christ's death and resurrection, is not, I think, something that will bring people to Christian faith, or even part of the way to Christian faith, unless through it God makes himself known.

    More on this tomorrow.