In doing apologetics — attempting to provide a rational basis for Christian doctrine — one comes across Christian anti-intellectualism from time-to-time. With good intentions, these sort of folks trot out the usual responses like, “We don’t need reason, we just need faith.” Christian anti-intellectualism, more or less, views reason as the enemy of faith. After all, Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is blind, right? Who needs reason?
As I’ve described in other places, it should be no surprise that on this understanding of faith many young Christians walk away from their faith when confronted with counter-evidence to their beliefs. Take a teenager, who has never been taught why they believe in Christianity, and drop them off at your average University today, and are we really surprised by the statistics? I’m not.
Telling teens with doubts that they need to just ‘have more faith’ is a serious problem. First of all, what does this even mean?
What is Faith?
I’ve already argued (and linked above) that Hebrews 11:1 is not arguing for a blind faith. Hebrews 11:3 makes that interpretation impossible. The author of Hebrews believes that we can have faith in a God that we cannot see based on the creation that we do see. In other words, the object of our faith (God) may be unseen, but the nature of our faith is based on the evidence of what we do see (creation). The move from the seen to the unseen is a move of reason. We can trust, or have faith, that God exists because of what we observe.
But faith, at least in the Biblical sense, is more than just knowledge. After all, The demons have knowledge of God and Jesus, yet surely they do not possess what some have called saving faith. The difference is loyalty. The demons know God and Jesus, yet refuse to pledge their loyalty. For the Christian, to have faith in Jesus is not to have blind faith, but to have believing loyalty that is based on evidence.
Have More Faith
Back to our original situation: what does it mean to tell a young, doubting believer to “Have more faith.” If you mean they should have more trust in Christ, very well. However, as we have just seen, this trust is based on evidence. For example, say the young Christian is having doubts as to whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead. They are saying things like, “I want to believe, but there are billions of people who have died throughout history and not one of them has ever risen from the dead.” They are having trouble trusting in Jesus because they aren’t finding sufficient evidence to support their belief.
To answer this doubter with “Have more faith” is simply to say “Believe anyway.” “Keep believing even if there isn’t any evidence.” This ridiculous statement wouldn’t be applied under any other circumstances, but for some reason when it comes to our religious beliefs, many people think this a sufficient way of reasoning. Name one instance where it is reasonable to believe something without any evidence, outside of your religious beliefs. If you think religious beliefs deserve special treatment, show me where you get that idea from. If you think the Bible advocates for believing things even if there is no reason to believe them, show me where.
The good news is that there are reasons “for the hope that is within us.” We shoot ourselves in the foot when we give nonsense answers like “Well, just have more faith.” If you don’t know the answer to someone’s doubt, at least be honest and say “I’m not sure, but I bet there is a good answer” rather than radically redefining the word “faith.” Rather than admit ignorance, which is fine, some have opted to make the Christian faith completely unintelligible. I’m guessing it would be a good idea to stop that.
For these reasons, let’s stop being lazy and start doing the hard work of apologetics. Let’s stop being dishonest and admit we don’t always know the answer. There are reasons to believe, and we will only benefit from knowing them. Imagine how much stronger this young person’s faith would be if we provided them with a good answer. Perhaps, with a stronger faith, these all-too-familiar statistics will begin to decline.