Faith, Security, and Risk

Introduction to the Second Edition


In the eight years that have passed since the first publication of this book, a new era of communication, that of the world-wide-web, has entered into the picture. It is not as if the usefulness of printed-on-paper form of publishing has ceased, but more and more we able to access documents electronically that we hesitate to accumulate in book form, even if we had the space to store them. And although this book was, in its first published edition, only a slim 192 pages (including index), it is hoped that this electronic version will prove even more accessible.

Although this edition, like original, features a table of contents that contains the subdivisions of each chapter, nevertheless to enhance accessibility the luxury of a separate table of contents had to be sacrificed. Likewise, all bibliographical material has been moved into either the text or as an additional reference at the end of each chapter. In addition, each chapter exists as a separate HTML file which can be down-loaded with relative efficiency, even by those with older machines. Links are provided at the end of each file to move the reader either to the next chapter or else back to the table of contents.

One feature, the "Questions for Reflection and Discussion" at the end of each chapter, which I had thought of dropping fearing that some readers might find a bit intimidating (or in some cases, in their original form, slightly outdated), I have decided to keep. Originally included as a stimulant for classroom and small-group discussion --having been a teacher myself, I realized how much these might enhance the value of the book for anyone faced with giving out home-work assignments--it is hoped that these might now serve even more as a means of helping the reader relate in a very personal way to the matter at hand. For this book is not so-much about religion or beliefs in the abstract, but rather, is about the psychology or even more, the psychodynamics of religion or the process of faith. Unless each of us can relate what we read to what we ourselves have gone through in terms of our beliefs, or even our doubts and disbelief, what I have attempted to describe in this book will have no relationship to the reality of our own life.

While it has become fashionable in recent years to downplay the historical value of the gospels, especially those parts that relate so-called "miraculous" events, there appears a story (related in three of the four gospels) that I have always found arresting and provocative when it comes to the subject of faith. It is the one about Jesus coming to the apostles by walking across the Sea of Galilee -- a story not without it's parallels in Buddhism and some other religions. But among the Christian versions of this story, only Matthew (8:21-28) relates how Peter challenged Jesus to identify himself by bidding Peter to meet him by walking on the water as well. Having climbed over the side of the boat and ventured out to meet Jesus, we're told that Peter had second thoughts about what he was doing, and, as a result began to sink beneath the waves and cry out for Jesus to save him. Then Jesus, after rescuing him, upbraids him for being a "man of little faith."

This story (whether it be true or not) raises some very probing questions. Was Peter really engaged in an act of faith or foolhardiness? What was the impetuous apostle really thinking? Was it really their "Master" who was approaching them across those stormy waves or was it an apparition of some kind or even the figment of their own frightened imaginations? It seems that Peter had to know for sure, for himself. There could be no passive waiting for him. Yet, almost immediately, aghast at the risk to his own life and paralyzed by fright, Peter began to sink. Seeking the assurance of the Master's presence, Peter had risked himself, only to flounder in the waves of doubt. Was it really Peter's faith or was it a lack of faith that had impelled him to want to walk across the water to meet this strange figure that approached them? Why couldn't he be content like the others to wait and see? Was not the temporary security of the storm-tossed boat enough? Why insist on the additional insurance of the Lord's presence when months before, on that same lake, Jesus had insisted that faith itself was all that was needed?

How like Peter we all are, even if we lack his boldness. Often we seem to believe, only to doubt and lose courage when the going gets rough. There is an inborn tendency in us to seek the security that faith would provide and, at the same time, a profound aversion to take the risks involved. If Peter's brash act of faith failed to meet the test, perhaps it was because Jesus required of him a greater test of trust -- or of patience. But one thing is sure: whatever was required of him involved a risk and at the same time a commitment. Once venturing out on his chosen path of faith, Peter could not afford to turn back or to lose courage, except at yet a greater risk. Faith, and life, are like that.

So we can not avoid risk. The American philosopher and psychologist William James saw this only too clearly. James' idea of faith, as we shall see, was based on the pragmatic idea of "nothing risked, nothing gained." We cannot advance spiritually (or any other way in this life) unless we are willing to let go of the security that so often binds us to what is familiar and comfortable. In other words, faith involves risk. Faith, then -- at least a living faith -- is not so much a thing as an attitude or a way of life. And like life itself, it is always on the move, always reaching out toward the future. "To live is to change", said Cardinal Newman, "and to have lived fully is to have changed often." Whatever doesn't change is already dead. Faith is alive only when it grows, develops, and continually matures.

If I have briefly turned to William James as someone who both underscored the dynamic idea of faith and underlined its dangers, I have turned to Viktor Frankl even more to show how this dynamic works in our life and on every level of faith. Ever since I first read Frankl's own engaging account of his survival of the Nazi concentration camps many years back, I have been convinced that his personal story, as well as his theories, contains the essence of what the life of faith is all about. Over the years I have attempted to apply his insights to several aspects of the spiritual life, but it is only now that I have attempted to apply his thought, along with some ideas borrowed from theologians Paul Tillich and Avery Dulles, to a more thorough understanding of the structure and dynamics of faith. Yet, if this book of mine were to be dedicated to anyone, I think Viktor Frankl would be the most deserving of credit.

As far as the stages of faith development used in this present book, they are based for the most part on the work of James Fowler and his colleagues, as well as inspired by the pioneering work done by forerunners in developmental psychology such as Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, along with others who have been brainstorming in this field as of late. I should stress that my contribution is not meant either to endorse the work of all these researchers as being the last word on this topic or, on the other hand, to try to critique their findings in any serious way -- I am hardly in a position to do so. Much the same could be said of the earlier work of Pierre Babin in France upon which I have drawn. I only use their work as a handy framework or scheme with which I can elaborate some of the major variations and implications of Frankl's central insight as it applies to the life of faith and spiritual growth.

So what this book most of all proposes to do is not so much to spell out all the details of the various stages or levels of faith as to try to help the reader understand why it is that all too often our faith fails to develop as it should. In this respect faith development becomes synonymous with "spiritual development" or growth in spirituality, even holiness. In this vein, even my use of Frankl, like my use of the latest in developmental research and theory, is primarily meant to help us understand the particular challenges that face us at each stage in hopes that we will be able to guide ourselves to a more mature spiritual life as well as a better understanding of the psychodynamics of faith.

It is here, especially when it comes to the higher reaches of spirituality, that we come full circle and will find, I maintain, that the wisdom of the great mystics and religious thinkers of the past remains eternally valid even when understood in a new light. Thus what I have borrowed from Frankl is only a new restatement of the central truth behind all religious faith, when it is actually and authentically lived.

Although regrettably, since the first publication of this book, Viktor Frankl has passed from this world (as well as Karl Rahner --- another luminary of our time) there are others to whom I am indebted and who are fortunately still with us. Among them is Donna Kustusch, O.P., who first introduced me to the work of James Fowler some years before the publication of his first major book, as well as those who read through much of this manuscript before it's initial publication, among them being Bruce Gotts, Tim Uhlmann, Tony Morse, Shelly Fitzgerald, and Mary Flinn. Special thanks is due to Larry Boadt, CSP, at Paulist Press. under whose guidance this book first took its printed form.

Richard W. Kropf,
Johannesburg, Michigan
December, 1998

Further Acknowledgments:

All scriptural quotations, unless otherwise noted, were taken either from The Jerusalem Bible, edited by Alexander Jones or The New Jerusalem Bible, edited by Henry Wansbrough, both published by Doubleday and Company, 1966 and 1985.

Passages from The Teachings of the Second Vatican Council are as edited by Gregory Baum, and published by The Newman Press in 1963.

I also wish to acknowledge the following publishers and holders of copyrights:

The Bollingen Foundation for material taken from The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, published in the United States by Princeton University Press;

Crossroad Press for material from Avery Dulles, The Survival of Dogma, 1982;

Doubleday and Company for material from Hans Kung's Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View, translated by Peter Heinegg ( 1988) ;

Harper and Row for James W. Fowler's Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (1981) and Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian: Adult Development and Christian Faith (1984); and for the passage quoted from Paul Tillich's The Dynamics of Faith (1957);

Herder and Herder for passages from Pierre Babin's The Crisis of Faith: The Religous Psychology of Adolescence, translation by Eva Fleischner, 1963;

The Institute for Carmelite Studies for a quotation from The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (1973) ;

New American Library for material taken from Viktor E. Frankl's The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (1969);

W.W. Norton for selections from Erik Erikson's Young Man Luther (1958) and Gandhi's Truth (1969);

Random House/Vintage publishers for the quotations from: Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, originally published by Pantheon Books, 1951; Viktor Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., (1955, 1965).

The Religious Education Association of the United States and Canada for information taken from the 1985 study Faith Development in the Adult Life Cycle produced in conjunction with the Gallup Organization;

Simon and Schuster, for passages taken from Viktor E. Frankl's The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology (1975); Viking Penguin Co. for the passage quoted from the 1970 edition of Abraham Maslow's Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences (from The Further Reaches of Human Nature, copyright 1971 by Bertha G. Maslow).


Proceed to Chapter 1

Return to Table of Contents


File:fs&rintro.html 12/6/98