Myth: All You Need is a “Child-Like Faith”

Throughout the Scriptures, one theme becomes clear: The Gospel and the truth of God are not merely intellectual facts to be grasped. Even Jesus himself called a number of humble fisherman to be his disciples rather then the most learned men of the age, whom he most fiercely condemned! This point isn’t lost on the Apostle Paul either, who declares, “…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise…” (1 Cor. 1:27, ESV). Clearly, our faith isn’t all about head knowledge. At the same time, there seems to be a commonplace resistance to the idea of ‘theology’ or becoming ‘too theological.’ From what I’ve heard, this concern is sometimes supported by what feels like a claim rooted in the teaching’s of Christ that “all we need is a child-like faith.” Yet, from the moment I first heard this idea, something smelled a bit off. Finally, I decided to investigate.

For one, I learned that the specific language of “child-like faith” is found nowhere in Scripture, although there are some passages that encourage us to learn from and even become like children. The most obvious two of these are probably Matthew 18 and Mark 10. These texts share some similarities but also appear to be in different contexts. In Matthew 18, Jesus responds to a question from his disciples:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4, ESV)

And in Mark 10, Jesus responds to a situation where the disciples are trying to prevent children from being brought to him:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16, ESV). 

Now, when Jesus teaches that one must “become like children” or “receive the kingdom like a child”  in order to “enter the kingdom of God,” is he teaching that our faith must be childlike? Perhaps, if what we mean by ‘childlike faith’ is a faith rooted in humility – this is made obvious by the statement directly following the command in Matthew 18, and probably implied by the text in Mark as well, where the disciples’ attempt to deny the children access to Jesus was more than likely tied to an assumption on their part that Jesus had more important people to attend to. 

In this way, the essence of both of these passages in Christ’s exhortation to become like children is deeply connected to a humility that is staunchly opposed to the proud. It is those who are poor in spirit and meek who inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3-5, ESV). We then ought to be humble in all things, including our faith. But I’m still not convinced that the oft-touted man-made metaphor of child-like faith we are dealing with here lives up to its reputation.

Consider another encounter Jesus has, indeed one where he criticizes the learned! I found this in my reading this morning from Luke 11. Here, Jesus, having been invited by one of the Pharisees into his house for a meal, proceeds to powerfully admonish his host and the whole of their religious order. What most stood out to me was Jesus’s scathing remark toward the lawyers (who are likely the group of the scribes most concerned with the study of the law)-

“…You have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52, ESV). 

Hard to image a more difficult dinner guest! This “key of knowledge” the teachers of the law neglected was the faithful exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures. That sincere teaching would have produced the fruit of inner righteousness of the heart and outward grace toward others. Ultimately, faithful exposition would also point to Christ as the long-awaited messiah. Instead, however, the teachers of the law insisted on the strict observance of man-made perversions of God’s law, and their hearts were hardened toward the Gospel. 

This is a nugget of truth attached to fears that theology today leads people astray: Any interpretation or view of Scripture that is not faithfully Christ-centric is not one worth believing. It will only lead to a hard heart!

At the same time, it’s crucial we grasp the truth that our life and faith in Christ ought to be grounded in a rightful, systematic understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures! In other words, exactly what the pharisees and teachers of the law rejected. Any human teaching or metaphor that causes us to stray from an earnest pursuit of knowing God as he is revealed in the Bible (theology) ought to be discredited

Christ modeled this approach perfectly in his appearance after his resurrection to some disciples travelling on the road in Luke 24:13-35. It says that he, beginning with Moses and the prophets, “interpreted them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV). The Apostles, also, were faithful to follow Christ’s model for theology in their preaching and teaching – just look at the richly-scriptural preaching in the book of Acts or the densely (and might I add beautifully) theological teaching of some of the New Testament Epistles!

In the words of Paul to the Corinthian Church:

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Cor. 14:20, ESV).

The bottom line is that the Bible teaches a profound and trusting child-like humility alongside a heart for learning and standing firm in truth (2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Cor. 16:13; etc.). Lacking one or the other will undoubtedly cause problems. This idea that “all we need is a child-like faith” is a sort of myth. We must pursue knowing Christ with both our hearts and minds (Luke 10:27)! And it is in the faithful pursuit of knowing God with the whole of our being that we will find life, hope, and peace.


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