Together with my ministry class “Principles and Methods of Teaching” I am reading James Fowler’s book Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. I had read a part of the book in a seminary course years ago, and was so impressed at that time that I assigned to rest of it for this course.
After reading the first five chapters, I am no less impressed with the work. Fowler begins by laying deep foundations for the discussion of the idea of faith (whatever that might be) and as he does he hits some vitally important points. He draws a sharp distinction, for instance between the concept of “belief” and “faith.” Belief, he says, has come to have a relatively technical meaning related to an acceptance of certain propositions, while faith connotes the much deeper sense of “setting one’s heart” after a thing. Belief, in others words, is a cold thing. Faith is always warm.
This largely tracks with my understanding of faith. It reminds me (as Fowler literally did) of Jesus telling us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (John 6:21). It calls to mind Luther’s understanding of faith not as fides (belief) but fiducia (trust). That we do not believe randomly into the thin air, but believe in Someone.
I think here of the classic sermon illustration (whether true or not) of the tightrope walker over Niagara Falls. He could do no wrong, it seemed. As the crowds gathered to watch he called to them asking if they believed he could cross over carrying a man on his back. “Yes!,” they cried. Well then, he asked, “Who will go with me?”
That second question? That’s the question of faith.
Is faith a blind leap? There are mysterious elements to faith, certainly. But faith is more than just grasping straws. It is a grasping on something real. A call to not just guess, but know. Faith is not just belief, or a set of beliefs. It is, as Fowler might say, the foundation for our being.