Were evangelical supporters of President Obama naïve to think that he would seriously try to limit abortions? Or were they displaying Christian charity by giving him the benefit of the doubt?

When a Christian father trusts that God will take care of his family without recourse to an American luxury like life insurance, is he displaying godly simplicity, or immaturity?

When someone prays for a parking space at the mall, is it childlike faith, or childishness?

These are some of the ways the tensions between naïveté and Christian virtues arise today. To accuse someone of naïveté can be a handy way of dismissing someone else's effort to practice faith concretely. On the other hand, Christians can also hide behind "simplicity" to evade serious responsibilities or thinking through serious matters. Depending on what we mean by the word, naïveté can be helpful or dangerous to the authentic Christian life.

Natural ambiguity

In the mid-17th century, English speakers began adopting the French words naïve and naïveté, terms that were coined as reactions to the opulent reign of Louis XIV; these words derive from the Latin adjective naturus, or "natural."

Those who know their Bible will understand why the word natural is ambiguous! For it evokes Adam and Eve, and both the beauty and vulnerability of human nature. The whole concept is complicated by the diminution of human nature since the Fall (so that we now say, "to err is human"), and by the intricacies of this fallen world.

Yet there remain passages in Scripture that exalt the simple, the unretouched: "unless you change and become like little children …"; "only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better . …" In my late ...

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