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On the Difference Between: Child-like & Childish Faith (Miniblog #134)

by Carson T. Clark on October 6, 2012

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (NRSV). This same message is recorded in both Mark 10 and Luke 18, and was a major theme I heard growing up via the Christianese rendering: child-like faith. I have to admit something, though. I cringe almost every time I hear people use that term. While Christ’s actual teaching is golden, in my estimation it’s typically misunderstood and commonly used to justify all sorts of terrible things.11.Antipathy for even basic theology? Child-like faith. Militant anti-intellectualism baptized with piety? Child-like faith. Christians knowing little to nothing more about the Bible today than they did five years ago? Child-like faith. Condemnations of all ritualism? Child-like faith. Condescending dismissal of formal ecclesiastical structures? Child-like faith. You get the picture. Of course, the problem isn’t the term itself. Actually, I kind of like it. It seems to me the problem lies in our profound misunderstanding of the term, the concept it’s supposed to summarize and express, and the passages upon which it’s based. Lemme shoot straight with you. The plain reality is that far too many of us have mistaken child-like faith with childish faith. One is a matter of trust. The other immaturity. Reception of God’s kingdom isn’t dependent up perpetual intellectual, psychological, and spiritual adolescence; rather, it’s dependent upon an abiding confidence and dependence. That’s what the kingdom is all about.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    One of my favorite Matt Chandler sermons is on the difference between childish and child-like faith. Random but semi-related thought.

  • Gill

    Yup – and my personal feeling is that a lot of people abandon their faith, because their faith never grew up with them.

  • Harvey Edser

    Yes indeedy. I’ve found the Fowler/Scott Peck ‘stages of faith’ idea helpful in this – essentially the idea that faith has a kind of life cycle and changes as it matures. So we all have to go through a stage of childish faith, and it’s fine to be in that phase if you’ve only been a Christian for a few years (or are a child). But if that childish phase continues longer-term, it becomes problematic.

    I’d say the childish phase is characterised by unquestioning allegiance to authority (often to revered preachers and their interpretation of Scripture), and by literalism, legalism and an either/or mentality – them/us, right/wrong, in/out, true/false, goodies/baddies. Difference is seen as bad, and questioning as dangerous.

    It seems to me that (by contrast) child-like faith is actually a deeply mature faith, characterised by (as you say) confident trust, along with playfulness and an almost inexhaustible capacity for joy and wonder, and rooted in a deep knowledge of God as Father. It’s a faith that has learnt to embrace mystery and paradox and is content not to have all the answers.

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