Why Do People Completely Misunderstand the Word “Faith?”

by Eric Chabot

This past February was one to be remembered for us at Ratio Christi. We hosted an event at The Ohio State University called “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist” featuring my friend and Christian apologist Frank Turek. One thing that stood out from the event is that many people don’t understand the word “faith.” Furthermore, most of the media and the university don’t help the situation.

Without sounding arrogant, if you take the time to read through this post, you may find yourself coming out ahead of the average person in the media, the university, and maybe even the Church as well. Yes, many Christians don’t know how to explain the word “faith.” This is why some theologians and apologists have suggested it might be a good idea to substitute the word “trust” in place of the word “faith.” This has some merit to it. Joseph Thayer says the following:

“To believe” means to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit, [to] place confidence in. [And in] a moral and religious reference, pisteuein [from pisteuo] is used in the N.T. of a conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul. “ (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 511).

Here are some of the examples of faith in our popular culture:

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: starring Harrison Ford & Sean Connery as Indy’s father) – At the end of the story, Indy must retrieve the Holy Grail to save his father’s life. He makes it through a long corridor of obstacles; only to find he is standing on the edge of a deep chasm he must cross. He steps out “in faith” and finds he is actually walking on a camouflaged footbridge. Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING IN THE FACE OF CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE.

2. Revolutions: the third movie in The Matrix trilogy: In the final scene the Oracle is asked if she always knew that Neo was “The One”? She replies, “Oh no. But I believed. I believed.” Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING WITHOUT REALLY KNOWING.

3. The Polar Express: The boy, who is skeptical about whether Santa Clause is real, finally is lead to say, “I believe, I believe.” Just then, Santa appears to him. Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING MAKES IT REAL. (1)

The Leap of Faith or Leap to Faith?

Another common assertion is that faith in God or Jesus as the Messiah is nothing more than a “leap of faith.” Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), became one of the foremost contributors to existential philosophy because of a reaction to one of the largest influences on his life, that being George Hegel, who believed the only way to discover reality was through rationalism. (2) Another contributing factor to Kierkegaard’s existentialism was the experience he had in his formal church that was located in Denmark.

It was there that practicing faith with passion was discounted. Out of his reaction to the cold formalism, Kierkegaard discovered what was important was to have an existential encounter with God. (3) Many assume that the phrase itself “leap of faith” finds its origins in the writings of Kierkegaard. However, he himself never used the term, as he referred to the leap as a “leap to faith.” For Kierkegaard, since man finds his authentic existence in a relationship with the Creator, the decision to believe must involve a criterionless choice.(4) Even though Kierkegaard says there are no rational grounds to take the leap to faith, the individual must do so or he will forever remain in an inauthentic existence. (5)

Kierkegaard was correct in calling people to a passionate experience with God. After all, faith is not simply about adhering to a set of objective, historical, propositions.

In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics , Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith.

Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself.

Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God…


Why Do People Completely Misunderstand the Word “Faith?” « Ratio Christi-Ohio State University

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:   Handbook of Christian Apologetics / The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe / Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics / More apologetics resources >>>