Does Christianity Require a “Leap of Faith?”
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I recently engaged in a brief conversation with a non-Christian who said that he could not take the “leap of faith” required to become a Christian. This is what I wanted to say to him, but our time for conversation was limited and he didn’t ask my opinion about the matter.
Many people seem to believe that being a Christian requires, perhaps among other things, a “leap of faith” which, to them, seemingly, means a sacrifice of the intellect, a leap into the dark, so to speak, against all reason.
Danish philosopher-theologian Soren Kierkegaard usually gets blamed for this “leap of faith” requirement, but it actually goes back much further—as far back as church father Tertullian if not into the New Testament itself. Some would say Jesus required it of his followers.
On the other hand, many devout Christians throughout the centuries have talked about traveling a road of reasonable cognition to Christianity and basing their Christian faith, in part, at least, on evidence and reason.
Here is my answer. Becoming and remaining a Christian requires a “step of faith” rather than a leap of faith. And that step of faith is not unique to Christianity. Throughout life we do many things that require a step of faith. A person who commits himself or herself to another person in marriage always takes a step of faith—from feeling and reason to commitment, not knowing with absolute certainty how that is going to turn out or if it is even absolutely the right and best thing to do. The same is true of having a child, especially adopting a child.
There is much evidence and reason supporting the truth and reliability of basic, “mere” Christianity. But committing oneself to Jesus Christ requires a step beyond evidence and reason into, not the dark, but the “arms” of Jesus Christ.
Every thoughtful person who does not want to be a chronic skeptic, who wants to have meaning in life beyond mere pleasure, who wants to know “the great hidden secret” of life, has to take a step of faith. Every philosophy of life, every worldview, requires that step of faith from evidence and reason into commitment. The alternative is suspension of belief in anything except the mundane pleasures of daily life. If someone is satisfied with that, with having no worldview, no answers to life’s ultimate questions, there is little hope for him or her—when it comes to the deeper life of mature thought, of commitment, of involvement, of escape from nihilism, to hope for the future.
No, Christianity does not require a “leap of faith” insofar as that means a sacrifice of reason, of intellect, but it does require a step of faith. But it is not unique in that. All commitment requires a step of faith because solid, undoubtable proof is evasive in this life.
My answer to my conversation partner is “You have to land somewhere” and by that I meant anywhere you land, in terms of a philosophy of life, requires a step of faith. And without some philosophy of life, some world perspective to which you commit yourself, you will forever be bereft of a foundation for ethics beyond your “gut feelings” or “going along with the culture.”
Unfortunately, in my experience, very, very few people are willing to have a deeper conversation about these matters. In my experience, anyway, the “I can’t make a leap of faith” argument is a conversation stopper more than a conversation starter. For those who want to know if Christianity is reasonable and requires only a step of faith, not a leap of faith, I recommend Greg Boyd’s book Letters from a Skeptic.
Finally, as a kind of addendum or footnote to the above: I understand that atheists and agnostics will argue that their world perspective does not require even a step of faith. I disagree, of course. As Catholic theologian Hans Kueng so eloquently argued in Does God Exist? An Answer for Today, everyone needs what psychologists have called “basic trust” in the meaningfulness of life to escape nihilism. The only question is, what provides the best grounding for basic trust in the meaningfulness of life? Atheism, agnosticism, or some partially faith-based worldview that includes something transcendent such as God? Belief in something or someone transcendent to nature who gives life ultimate meaning, who provides a ground for basic trust in the meaningfulness of life, requires a step of faith. Christianity says that the step of faith will be answered by God and that Jesus Christ is his answer. And, if Jesus Christ was not God, he was either a lunatic or a liar (C. S. Lewis).