How Jesus Took the ‘Leap of Faith’ For Us: The Relationship of Historicity, Faith, and Christianity

Christianity it has been said is one of the most historically contingent, and grounded religions out there. Indeed. If as the Apostle Paul argued, ‘if Christ be not risen our faith is in vain.’ But historicity and facticity often get in the way of what is of even more import, and that is what actually happened in the ‘history’ making event, in the ‘fact’ making event. What happened, for the Christian (and for the unbelieving world) is even more important than being able to “prove” that it did indeed happen. The reality of what Christ did in the incarnation, lived life, cross, death, burial,
jesusleapresurrection, ascension, and current priestly session are all realities, that in themselves ground the possibility, epistemically (and ontologically, for that matter) wherein our ‘beings’ as human agents come to have the apparatus needed in order to actually see what indeed did happen in history; it gives us the conditioning needed, the illumination required in order to have space to taste and see that God in Christ is indeed good. Historicity remains highly important for the Christian, relative to who God is and has revealed himself to be in Christ. But what is more important is what was accomplished in that history. This is what Thomas Torrance is getting at as he appeals to Kierkegaard on how faith and history, bounded up in the Christ event, implicate one another, and then us as people in need of more than just brute history for our salvation. TFT writes:

The Nature of faith: Kierkegaard on the apprehension of God in time

Now let us turn for a moment to the teaching of Kierkegaard that if we are to apprehend a historical fact we must apprehend not simply what has actually taken place and is now a static fact of history, but apprehend the happening itself, and indeed how it happened. But in apprehending a movement, the coming into being of a historical event, we must behave in terms of it. This apprehension involves an act of decision or an act of faith. Thus the New Testament witnesses report the events or happenings in the life of the historical Jesus, but they also bear witness to their belief that Jesus disclosed and authenticated himself to them as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Yet in the nature of the case they cannot transmit in ideas or factual reports that to which they bear witness in their belief. Their witness and belief challenge us to decision and belief with them, and only by an act of decision or belief can we enter into the situation that confronted them, and apprehend what they apprehended. Our way of apprehending Christ’s self-presentation in his actions must involve on our part a way of action corresponding to his action. Our mode of knowing Christ must be analogous to the mode of Christ’s coming into being in history. This entails on our part a movement of reason which Kierkegaard called the ‘leap of faith’, or resolution, or a decision.

There is no doubt that this is important. Unless in some real sense we share here in the life of Christ, we really cannot apprehend him; unless in some real sense what took place in his crucifixion and resurrection takes place also in an analogous way in our own experience, it can finally mean nothing to us. That is a very strong emphasis, for example, in the fourth Gospel. The truth conveyed to us by Christ is not simply a truth revealed by word, but a truth embodied in his person, so that to apprehend it we must personally have an experience of Christ himself as the one sent by the Father. Only by going through Christ to the Father can we come to know Christ as the Son of the Father. Only by an act of decision in obedience to the challenge of Christ can this come about. In Kierkegaard, the important element is not found in the decision of faith itself, but in the fact of Christ behind the decision. In encounter with Christ, decision derived its importance from the person of Christ himself, and therefore the decision cannot be abstracted from what Christ himself was and did.[1]

In our History Channel age we get so hung up on rationalist certitude about everything that what often gets lost is the significance of said history itself; in and of itself. If what Torrance describes vis-à-vis Kierkegaard has teeth, what should stand out to us is that as we talk about historicity and factualism, all along, the resurrected Christ is sitting there at the right hand of the Father just smiling as he sees the masses wringing their hands (or not) about whether he really died and rose again to begin with.

For the Christian, according to Torrance, it’s not ultimatelyreally even faith alone that matters, what matters is that Christ is standing behind that faith as a channel waiting to encounter us over and over again. The good news is that ‘faith’ itself is not something that we have to construct or muster up out of our own resources; for as Torrance develops in the following paragraphs to what I just shared from him, it is the importance of Christ’s vicarious faith for us that is made available to us in Christ (which we have addressed multiple times here at the blog in the past). For the Christian history is important, facts are important; but Jesus is more important.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, Illnois: IVP Academic, 2008),

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