In all of my studies, I have come to a conclusion. The term “leap of faith” actually does not make sense. The foundations of the faith are not unknown. Scripture clearly lays out all that we need to know not to take a blind leap but a calculated step in the direction of Christ. After realizing this, I came across a part in a book that addressed this exact topic.
“‘Historical criticism produces only probable results. It relativizes everything. But faith needs certainty.’ Some have tried to make a virtue out of this crisis, by arguing that faith, by its very nature, far from needing certainty, takes a risk and leaps into uncertainty. They say, ‘Criticism frees us from the tyranny of history and makes the vulnerability of faith clear.’ They might quote 2 Corinthians 5:7, ‘We walk by faith, not by sight.’ But this passage is referring to the future hope that we can’t see, not to the past basis for hope that we may be able to see: ‘We are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:6). Indeed, ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1). Yes, the things believed are unseen. But the New Testament does not say that the foundations of faith are unseen.” (John Piper)
Approaching this section in my book, it was talking about the separation and working together of the Holy Spirit and our own human intellect. Where does historical reasoning fit into our faith? For most, they do not attend seminary nor have any formal bible teaching. Wolfgang Pannenberg, a German theologian, argued that the separation of faith from its historical grounds is “injurious to the essence of faith” and leads “into blind credulity.” And faith that leaps into the dark does not and cannot glorify the object of which we have faith. But, if “historical reasoning is the only way by which men can attain faith, then faith becomes the possibility for only the few who can think historically, and faith for the common man is possible only if he is willing to commit himself to the authority of a priesthood of historians” (Daniel Fuller, Fuller Seminary). So the question becomes, how then can common man have certainty of divine things founded on real evidence and good reason?
Jonathan Edwards is persuaded, as I think we should all be, that “the fruit of Christian faith is no better than nonsupernatural virtue unless this faith is rooted in a reasonable persuasion or conviction.” He explains:
“By a reasonable conviction, I mean a conviction founded on real evidence, or upon that which is a good reason, or just ground of conviction. Men may have a strong persuasion that the Christian religion is true, when their persuasion is not at all built on evidence, but altogether on education, and the opinions of others. . . And though the thing believed happens to be better; yet that [doesn’t] make the belief itself, to be of a better sort: for though the thing believed happens to be true; yet the belief of it is not owing to this truth, but to education.”
Edwards believes it is essential for genuine faith to be based on “real evidence, or up that which is a good reason, or just ground of conviction.” So it is with God. “If God says, ‘Why did you trust my word?’ and we say, ‘No reason, I’m just taking a risk,’ God is not honored and we are fools” (Piper). Edwards is right to say that the fruit of Christian faith is no better than “merely natural virtue” unless faith is rooted in “a reasonable persuasion or conviction.” The apostle Paul had this similar approach. He believed that “reasoning” and “explaining and proving” were fitting ways, legitimate ways to lead a person to well-grounded faith. “Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explain and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise form the dead and saying ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3).
Now, this is not to say that knowing and believing are the same thing. Believing always includes a heartfelt embrace of what is believed, where as knowing does not always include this, at least in the saving sense. However, it is important to see that believing and knowing are not alternatives in the new testament. Belief is based on knowledge and leads to deeper knowledge. “We believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:13-14). So when Edwards says saving faith “must be based on real evidence, or upon that which is a good reason, or just ground of conviction,” he is reiterating what Scripture already says.
Before we dive into what “real evidence” is, we must define what the object of faith is. According to Edwards, it is “the great things of the gospel.” But here’s a crucial fact: “the object of our faith is not merely the factuality of the gospel, but also of the ‘holy beauty and amiableness [the old meaning of lovely] that is in divine things.’ It is the glory of God’s moral perfections. It is the beauty, or the glory, of these perfections that are the proper object of our conviction. It is the ‘supreme and holy excellency and beauty of those things’. . .-these are the qualities of the gospel of which saving faith must be certain. Not just historical facts or doctrinal propositions.” (Piper) For just merely believing in the existence of divine reality does not mean you believe in a way that will do you any good. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder” (James 2:19)! The demons know there is a gospel and they know that the Bible is God’s word. But what they do not see, is the “beauty, excellency, perfection, loveliness, and holiness of the truth.” As it says in Matthew, “Seeing they do not see” until God “[gives] you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened…” (Eph. 1:17-18).
If the glory of God in the gospel is what we are to see, and what we are to put our faith in, then it is not only the eyes of our head but the eyes of our heart that must be opened. It is not just a faith that is based in head knowledge and historical reasoning, but it is a matter of the heart. The two must work together in order to find a saving faith. And that is how the common person can step onto the road of faith toward Christ, eyes wide open. Because spiritual perception or understanding “consists in a sense and taste of the divine, supreme and holy excellency and beauty of those things” (Edwards), and since this is the aim of our study in historical, theological evidences, both are considered a saving faith. “Therefore, well-grounded faith is not only reasonable faith (based on real evidence and good grounds), but also spiritual faith, that is, it is enabled by the Holy Spirit ad mediated through spiritual perception of divine glory in the truth of the gospel. Not all reasonable conviction is saving conviction” (Piper).
In my personal life, I had very little knowledge, if knowledge at all, on theological matters. I knew not what the gospel was, or the historical evidences for the Scriptures. But I had an opening of the eyes of my heart, a Spiritual experience up on a mountain. I was completely alone for about four hours, with a bitterness and hardened heart toward God. When God came into my life that day, He opened my Bible to Romans 8 and in that moment, just that little knowledge of Scripture spoke greatly into my life and right then and there, I surrendered. Ever since, I have felt such a desire and hunger to know more, and deepen my understanding. I have read and soaked in so much information that has opened the eyes of my head to the wonders of the Bible and supportive supplements. I have created from my own longing a grounds for faith that is not blind, but well-grounded with good reasoning and historical evidences. The Holy Sprit can teach more than any book this world has to offer, but it is important for us who have access to resources that will strengthen our faith and knowledge, to not take that for granted. Though your salvation does not depend on it, when you experience the Lord, you cannot help but WANT and DESIRE to know more, to experience more of Him. I urge you all to dive into Scripture, and take advantage of a world where the wonders and mysteries of Christ are so clearly explained by those who came before us.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk. . .if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).