The Causes of War

Meic Pearse’s book The Gods of War gives great insight into the charge that religion is the cause of most war. History shows this is not true: the cause of most war is the sinful human heart, even when religion is invoked as a reason.

The Accusation

Sam Harris, the popular author and atheist, says that “for everyone with eyes to see, there can be no doubt that religious faith remains a perpetual source of human conflict.”{1} Writing for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, fellow atheist Richard Dawkins adds, “Only the willfully blind could fail to implicate the divisive force of religion in most, if not all, of the violent enmities in the world today.”{2} Speaking more bluntly, one British government official has said, “theocrats, religious leaders or fanatics citing holy texts . . . constitutes the greatest threat to world peace today.”{3}

War is the ultimate act of intolerance, and since intolerance is seen as the only unforgivable sin in our postmodern times, it’s not surprising that those hostile to religion would charge people holding religious convictions with the guilt for causing war.

This view is held by many others, not just despisers of religion. A 2006 opinion poll taken in Great Britain found that 82% of adults “see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree.”{4}

To be honest, religion has been, and remains, a source of conflict in the world; but to what degree? Is it the only source of war, as its critics argue? Is it even the primary source? And if we agree that religion is a source of war, how do we define what qualifies as a religion? This leads to another question. Are all religions equally responsible for war or are some more prone to instigate conflict than others? Once these issues are decided, we are still left with one of the most difficult questions: How does a religious person, especially a Christian, respond to the question of war?

When confronted with the accusation that religion, and more importantly, Christianity, has been the central cause of war down through history, most Christians respond by ceding the point. We will argue that the issue is far too complex to merely blame war on religious strife. A more nuanced response is needed. Religion is sometimes the direct cause of war, but other times it plays a more ambiguous role. It can also be argued, as Karl Marx did, that religion can actually restrain the warring instinct.

In his provocative new book, The Gods of War, Meic Pearse argues that modern atheists greatly overstate their case regarding religion as a cause for war, and that all religions are not equal when it comes to the tendency to resort to violence. He believes that the greatest source for conflict in the world today is the universalizing tendencies of modern secular nations that are pressing their materialism and moral relativism on more traditional cultures.

The Connection Between Religion and War

When someone suggests a simple answer to something as complex as war, it probably is too simple. History is usually more complicated than we would like it to be.

How then should Christians respond when someone claims religion is the cause of all wars? First, we must admit that religion can be and sometimes is the cause of war. Although it can be difficult to separate political, cultural, and religious motivations, there have been instances when men went off to war specifically because they believed that God wanted them to. That being said, in the last one hundred years the modern era with its secular ideologies has generated death and destruction on a scale never seen before in history. Not during the Crusades, the Inquisition, nor even during the Thirty Years War in Europe.

The total warfare of the twentieth century combined powerful advances in war-making technologies with highly structured societies to devastating effect. WWI cost close to eight and a half million lives. The more geographically limited Russian Civil War that followed the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 resulted in nine million deaths. WWII cost sixty million deaths, as well as the destruction of whole cities by fire bombing and nuclear devices.

Both Nazi fascism and communism rejected the Christian belief that humanity holds a unique role in creation and replaced it with the necessity of conflict and strife. By the end of the nineteenth century, Darwin’s ideas regarding natural selection and survival of the fittest had begun to affect philosophy, the social sciences, and even theology. Darwin had left us with a brutal universe devoid of meaning. The communist and fascist worldviews were both firmly grounded in Darwin’s universe.

Hitler’s obsession with violence is well known, but the communists were just as vocal about their attachment to it. Russian revolution leader Leon Trotsky wrote, “We must put an end once and for all to the papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life.” Lenin argued that the socialist state was to be “a system of organized violence against the bourgeoisie” or middle class. While critics of the Russian Tsar and his ties with the Orthodox Russian Church could point to examples of oppression and cruelty, one historian has noted that when the communists had come to power “more prisoners were shot at just one soviet camp in a single year than had been executed by the tsars during the entire nineteenth century.”{5}

So, religion is not the primary cause of warfare and cruelty, at least not during the last one hundred years. But what about wars fought in the more distant past; surely most of them were religiously motivated. Not really.

Meic Pearce argues that “most wars, even before the rise of twentieth century’s secularist creeds, owed little or nothing to religious causation.”{6} Considering the great empires of antiquity, Pearce writes that “neither the Persians nor the Greeks nor the Romans fought either to protect or to advance the worship of their gods.”{7} Far more ordinary motives were involved like the desire for booty, the extension of the empire, glory in battle, and the desire to create buffer zones with their enemies. Each of these empires had their gods which would be called upon for aid in battle, but the primary cause of these military endeavors was not the advancement of religious beliefs.

Invasions by the Goths, Huns, Franks, and others against the Roman Empire, attacks by the Vikings in the North and the Mongols in Asia were motivated by material gain as well and not religious belief. The fourteenth century conquests of Timur Leng (or Tamerlane) in the Middle East and India resulted in the deaths of millions. He was a Muslim, but he conquered Muslim and pagan alike. At one point he had seventy thousand Muslims beheaded in Baghdad so that towers could be built with their skulls.{8}

More recently, the Hundred Years War between the French and English, the American Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars were secular conflicts. Religious beliefs might have been used to wrap the conflicts with a Christian veneer, but promoting the cause of Christ was not at the heart of the conflicts.

Pearce argues that down through the millennia, humanity has gone to war for two main reasons: greed expressed by the competition for limited resources, and the need for security from other predatory cultures. The use of religion as a legitimating device for conflict has become a recent trend as it became less likely that a single individual could take a country to war without the broad support of the population.

It can be argued that religion was, without ambiguity, at the center of armed conflict during two periods in history. The first was during the birth and expansion of Islam which resulted in an ongoing struggle with Christianity, including the Crusades during the Middle Ages. The second was the result of the Reformation in Europe and was fought between Protestant and Catholic states. Even here, political motivations were part of the blend of causes that resulted in armed conflict.

Islam and Christianity

Do all religions have the same propensity to cause war? The two world religions with the largest followings are Christianity and Islam. While it is true that people have used both belief systems to justify armed conflict, are they equally likely to cause war? Do their founder’s teachings, their holy books, and examples from the earliest believers encourage their followers to do violence against others?

Although Christianity has been used to justify forced conversions and violence against unbelievers, the connection between what Christianity actually teaches and these acts of violence has been ambiguous at best and often contradictory. Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians told to use violence to further the Kingdom of God. Our model is Christ who is the perfect picture of humility and servant leadership, the one who came to lay down his life for others. Meic Pearce writes, “For the first three centuries of its history, Christianity was spread exclusively by persuasion and was persecuted for its pains, initially by the Jews but later, from 63, by the Romans.”{9} It wasn’t until Christianity became the de facto state religion of the Roman Empire around AD 400 that others were persecuted in the name of Christ.

The history of Islam is quite different. Warfare and conflict are found at its very beginning and is embodied in Muhammad’s actions and words. Islam was initially spread through military conquest and maintained by threat of violence. As one pair of scholars puts it, there can be no doubt that “Islam was cradled in violence, and that Muhammad himself, through the twenty-six or twenty-seven raids in which he personally participated, came to serve for some Muslims as a role model for violence.”{10}

Much evidence can be corralled to make this point. Muhammad himself spoke of the necessity of warfare on behalf of Allah. He said to his followers, “I was ordered to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no God but Allah.'”{11} Prior to conquering Mecca, he supported his small band of believers by raiding caravans and sharing the booty. Soon after Muhammad’s death, a war broke out over the future of the religion. Three civil wars were fought between Muslims during the first fifty years of the religion’s history, and three of the four leaders of Islam after Muhammad were assassinated by other Muslims. The Quran and Hadith, the two most important writings in Islam, make explicit the expectation that all Muslim men will fight to defend the faith. Perhaps the most telling aspect of Islamic belief is that there is no separation between religious and political authority in the Islamic world. A threat to one is considered a threat to the other and almost guarantees religiously motivated warfare.

Pacifism or Just Wars?

Although most Christians advocate either pacifism or a “just war” view when it comes to warfare and violence, Pearse argues that there are difficulties with both. Pacifism works at a personal level, but “there cannot be a pacifist state, merely a state that depends on others possessed of more force or of the willingness to use it.”{12} Some pacifists argue that humans are basically good and that violence stems from misunderstandings or social injustice. This is hardly a traditional Christian teaching. Pearse argues that “a repudiation of force in all circumstances . . . is an abandonment of victims—real people—to their fate.”{13}

Just war theory as advocated by Augustine in the early fifth century teaches that war is moral if it is fought for a just cause and carried out in a just fashion. A just cause bars wars of aggression or revenge, and is fought only as a last resort. It also must have a reasonable chance of success and be fought under the direction of a ruler in an attitude of love for the enemy. It seeks to reestablish peace, not total destruction of the vanquished, and to insure that noncombatants are not targeted.

However, even WWII, what many believe to be our most justified use of force, failed to measure up to this standard. Massive air raids against civilian populations by the Allies were just one of many violations that disallow its qualification as a just war. As Pearse argues, “war has an appalling dynamic of its own: it drags down the participants . . . into ever more savage actions.”{14}

How then are Christians to think about war and violence? Let’s consider two examples. In the face of much violent opposition in his battle for social justice, Martin Luther King said, “be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. . . . We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process.”{15} Reform was achieved, although at the cost of his life, and many hearts and minds have been changed.

However, another martyr, German minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, rejected pacifism and chose to participate in an attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler, mainly because he despaired that an appeal to the hearts and minds of the Nazis would be effective.

Neither King nor Bonhoeffer were killed specifically for their faith. They were killed for defending the weak from slaughter, as Pearse puts it. Perhaps Pearse is correct when he argues, “If Christians can . . . legitimately fight . . . , then that fighting clearly cannot be for the faith. It can only be for secular causes . . . faith in Christ is something for which we can only die—not kill. . . . To fight under the delusion that one is thereby promoting Christianity is to lose sight of what Christianity is.”{16}

Notes

1. Meic Pearse, The Gods of War (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 16.
2. Ibid., 15.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 14.
5. Ibid., 31.
6. Ibid., 53.
7. Ibid., 54.
8. Ibid., 55.
9. Ibid., 134.
10. Ibid., 58.
11. Ibid., 59.
12. Ibid., 173.
13. Ibid., 175.
14. Ibid., 173.
15. Ibid., 180.
16. Ibid.

© 2008 Probe Ministries




Deism and America’s Founders

The views and beliefs of our country’s founders were as diverse and complicated as today. Don Closson focuses on the role of deism.

In his book Is God on America’s Side, Erwin Lutzer asks the important question, “Is the American dream and the Christian dream one and the same?”{1} If our national dream fails, does it necessarily follow that our Christian dream also dies? Lutzer’s book makes the point that it’s dangerous to see the goals of the state and the purpose of the church as one and the same. It’s dangerous to equate the “city of man” with the “city of God.”

Listen to the PodcastHowever, there are those who argue that because our Founding Fathers were devoted Christians who held to an orthodox Christian faith, the state and the church in America are already linked together, and that if America as a nation loses its uniquely Christian flavor, the church will fail in its task as well. They see America as a unique country that holds a special place in God’s plan for reaching the world. Additionally, they argue that we enjoy God’s special protection and blessings because of this Christian founding, blessings which will be lost if Christians lose control of the nation.

At the other end of the religious and political spectrum is the group who portray America and its founding as a thoroughly secular project. They argue that by the time the Revolution had occurred in the colonies, Enlightenment rationalism had won the day in the minds and hearts of the young nation’s leaders. They often add that the drive towards religious tolerance was the result of a decline in belief in God and an attempt to remove religious influence from America’s future.

For all those involved in this debate, the specific beliefs of our Founders are very important. Those who argue that America was founded by godless men who established a godless Constitution are, for the most part, wrong. Belief in God was practically universal among our Founding Founders. On the other hand, those who argue that our Founders were mostly devoted Christians who sought to establish a Christian nation devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ are not giving us the full picture either. Because both sides in this debate tend to define America by the religious faith of our Founders, both sides tend to over-simplify the religious beliefs of those early patriots.

It’s important, therefore, to consider the specific beliefs of some of our Founding Fathers so that we might get a clearer picture of religion in that era and avoid either of the two extremes usually presented. As we look into the actions and words of specific Revolutionary era leaders we will find that their beliefs represent a mixture of viewpoints that are every bit as complicated as those of America’s leaders today.

Deism

The issue centers on how much influence Deism had on our Founders. So a good place to begin is with a definition of the movement while remembering that Deists “were never organized into a sect, had no [official] creed or form of worship, recognized no leader, and were constantly shifting their ground.”{2} That said, Edward Herbert is often given credit for being the father of Deism in the seventeenth century. His five-point system is a good starting point for understanding the religious beliefs that affected many of our nation’s leaders nearly one hundred years later.

Herbert’s Deism begins with the fact that there is a God. However, Deists did not equate this God with the one who revealed himself to Moses or as having a special relationship with the Jews. Instead of being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Deists referred to him with terms like “the First Cause,” “the Divine Artist,” the Grand Architect,” “the God of Nature,” or “Divine Providence.”{3} Many Deists argued that more could be learned about God by studying nature and science than by seeking knowledge about him in the Bible.

Deists also thought that it naturally follows to worship this God, which is Herbert’s second point. This belief is arrived at by reason alone and not revelation; it is a common sense response to the fact that “the God of Nature” exists. The nature of this worship is Herbert’s third point. Deists worshipped their God by living ethically. Some acknowledged the superior example of an ethical life as lived by Jesus; others felt that Christianity itself was a barrier to an ethical life.

Interestingly, Deists included repentance as part of their system. What is not a surprise is that this repentance consists of agreeing with the Creator God that living an ethical life is better than to not live such a life. Herbert’s last point may also be a surprise to many. Deists believed in an afterlife, and that in it there will be rewards and punishments based on our success or failure to live ethically now.

What should be obvious by now is that Deism was derivative of Christianity. As one cleric of the day wrote, “Deism is what is left of Christianity after casting off everything that is peculiar to it. The deist is one who denies the Divinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement of Christ, and the work of the Holy Ghost; who denies the God of Israel, and believes in the God of Nature.”{4}

Anti-Christian Deism

The impact of Deism on Americans in the 1700s is complicated because the word itself represents a spectrum of religious positions held at that time. One extreme represents a group that might be called the non-Christian Deists. This faction was openly hostile to the Christian faith. Thomas Paine, of Common Sense fame, and a leading advocate of this position, wrote that Deism “is free from all those invented and torturing articles that shock our reason . . . with which the Christian religion abounds. Its creed is pure and sublimely simple. It believes in God, and there it rests. It honors Reason as the choicest gift of God to man and the faculty by which he is enabled to contemplate the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator displayed in the creation; . . . it avoids all presumptuous beliefs and rejects, as the fabulous inventions of men, all books pretending to be revelation.”{5} This quote clearly expresses the complaints and disdain that some Deists held against the Christian faith.

Although often accused of being godless pagans, it was not unusual for Thomas Paine and others in this group to see themselves as God’s defenders. Paine says that he wrote The Age of Reason in France during the French Revolution to defend belief in God against the growing atheism in that country. But he agreed with the French that the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church had to be removed. There was little love lost on the monarchy or the priesthood; one French philosopher wrote, “let us strangle the last king with the guts of the last priest.”

Deists were very confident in the power of human reason. Reason informed them that miracles were impossible and that the Bible is a man-made book of mythical narratives. This faction of Deists also saw Christianity as a barrier to moral improvement and social justice. And since for them, living an ethical life is itself true worship, Christianity was seen as an impediment to worshipping God as well.

Reason is highlighted by the writings of these influential colonists. The former Presbyterian minister Elihu Palmer wrote a paper titled Reason, the Glory of Our Nature, and the well known patriot Ethan Allen published the Deistic piece Reason: the Only Oracle of Man.{6} In the preface of his book, Allen wrote, “I have generally been denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism make me one.”{7}

It is not surprising that this focus on reason led Deists to reject the Trinity. Unitarianism was making great inroads into American colleges by the 1750s, and America’s best and brightest were now subject to this view at Yale, Harvard, and other prominent schools.

Church-Going Deists

It can be argued that there was a form of Deism in the late 1700s that was comfortable with parts of Christianity but was not entirely orthodox. Some of our most cherished and famous early American patriots fit into this category.

A good argument can be made that Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were all significantly influenced by Deism and Unitarianism. Let’s take a look at the actions and comments of two of these revolutionary era leaders who can justifiably be called church-going Deists.

Hearing that Benjamin Franklin was a Deist will probably not shock too many Americans. By some accounts he embraced Deism at the young age of fifteen.{8} As an adult he was asked by a minister to express his personal creed, and Franklin replied, “I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe: That he governs the World by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing good to his other Children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another life, respecting its Conduct in this.”{9} Franklin’s faith was focused on personal behavior rather than faith in Christ’s work on the cross. When asked about Jesus, Franklin said, “I have . . . some Doubts as to his Divinity, tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatize upon.”{10} Rather than being openly hostile to Christianity, Franklin contributed to every church building project in Philadelphia, as well as its one synagogue.

The faith of George Washington is a more controversial matter. Washington consistently used Deistic language to describe God in both public and private communications, rarely referring to Jesus Christ in any setting. Comments made by his contemporaries also point to Deistic beliefs. Washington’s bishop and pastor while he was in Philadelphia admitted that “Truth requires me to say, that General Washington never received the communion in the churches of which I am parochial minister.”{11} Another pastor added, “Sir, he was a Deist,” when questions about his faith arose shortly after his death. The fact that Washington was never confirmed in the Episcopal Church and ceased to take communion after the war adds to the case for him being a Deist. The controversy will continue, but much evidence points to his less than orthodox beliefs.

It must be remembered that, while Washington and Deists in general were quite willing to speak about the “God of Providence” or the “Grand Architect,” rarely are they found them referring to God as “Father,” “Lord,” “Redeemer,” or “Savior.”{12}

Orthodox Christians

Samuel Adams is often called the father of the American Revolution, but he is also known as “the Last of the Puritans,” a title that speaks to his commitment to orthodox Christianity.{13} His orthodoxy is confirmed by both his actions and comments. Adams was opposed to Freemasonry, which taught a belief system that was consistent with Deism. Neither ideology focused on Jesus or the Bible, and both accepted Jews, Muslims, Christians, or anyone else who believed in a divine being. In fact, the phrase “the Grand Architect,” often used by Deists as a title for God, came from Freemasonry, not the Bible.

Adams maintained a religious household by personally practicing grace before meals, Bible readings, and morning and evening devotions. More important, Adams’ religious language revealed an orthodox belief system. He referred to God as “our Divine Redeemer,” and the one “who has given us his Son to purchase for us the reward of eternal life,” phrases that a Deist would most likely not employ.{14} Even when thinking of his future passing Adams looked to Christ; his will spoke of his “relying on the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins.”{15} Although many leaders of the day left their orthodox upbringing, Adams “was a New England Congregationalist who remained staunchly loyal to the Calvinist orthodoxy in which he had been raised.”{16}

John Jay was president of the Continental Congress and the first chief justice of the Supreme Court; he also exhibited leadership in spreading the Word of God among the new country’s citizens. As president of the American Bible Society, Jay used his annual address to stress the authority of the Bible. He spoke of the events in its pages as events in history, not as religious mythology. He also employed the language of the church in his speeches and writings including “Saviour,” “King of Heaven,” and “Captain of our Salvation.”{17} Although Jay had many friends among the Deists of the day, he differed greatly with them concerning the relationship of reason and revelation. Jay wrote that the truths of Christianity were “revealed to our faith, to be believed on the credit of Divine testimony” rather than a product of human reason.

Just as today, the religious landscape of early America was varied and complex. Those complexities should neither hinder nor determine our efforts to build God’s kingdom in the twenty-first century. America has been blessed by God, but to argue that it is privileged over all other nations is presumptuous. Other nations have believed that their country would be used uniquely by God as well. Perhaps we stand on firmer ground when we look to the church as God’s vehicle for accomplishing His purposes, a body of believers that will draw from every nation, tribe, people and language.

Notes

1. Erwin W. Lutzer, Is God On America’s Side (Moody Publishers, 2008), 75.

2. David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (Oxford, 2006), 39.

3. Ibid., 47.

4. Ibid., 39.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. books.google.com/books?id=IHMAAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA1#PPA1,M1 accessed on 9/15/2008.

8. Holmes, 54.

9. Ibid., 56.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., 63.

12. Ibid., 65.

13. Ibid., 144.

14. Ibid., 146.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., p. 150.

17. Ibid., p. 158.

© 2008 Probe Ministries




Truth: What It Is and Why We Can Know It

Rick Wade explores truth from a biblical and philosophical perspective. Despite what many believe, it IS possible to know truth because of the role of Jesus Christ as creator and revealer of truth.

The Loss of Confidence

Download the PodcastDid you see the movie City of Angels? Nicholas Cage plays an angel named Seth who has taken a special interest in a surgeon named Maggie, played by Meg Ryan. Maggie’s lost a patient on the operating table, and she is very upset about it. Seth meets her in a hallway in the hospital, and gets her to talk about the loss. Here is a snippet of the conversation:

Maggie: I lost a patient.

Seth: You did everything you could.

Maggie: I was holding his heart in my hand when he died.

Seth: He wasn’t alone.

Maggie: Yes, he was.

Seth: People die.

Maggie: Not on my table.

Seth: People die when their bodies give out.

Maggie: It’s my job to keep their bodies from giving out. Or what am I doing here?

Seth: It wasn’t your fault, Maggie.

Maggie: I wanted him to live.

Seth: He is living. Just not the way you think.

Maggie: I don’t believe in that.

Seth: Some things are true whether you believe in ‘em or not.{1}

What did he say?! “Some things are true whether you believe in ‘em or not”?? Are you kidding?!? That’s crazy talk these days! I have a right to my own opinion, and if I don’t believe it, if it’s not my opinion, it’s not true . . . for me, anyway.

The meaning of truth has changed in recent decades. Whereas once it meant statements about reality, today it often means what works or what is meaningful to me. This kind of language is heard primarily in the context of religion and morality. We have lost confidence in our ability to know what reality is. So much emphasis has been put on knowledge through sense experience that anything outside the boundaries of the senses is considered unknowable. Moral and religious discussions frequently end with, “Well, that’s your opinion,” or the more colorful, “Opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone has one.” It’s assumed that opinions can’t be universally, objectively true or false. Each person is his or her own authority over what is true. Truth is a personal possession which is why people get so offended when challenged. A challenge is taken personally. “This is my truth. Don’t touch it!” Strong challenges are even taken as a sign of disrespect.

What does it mean when truth is lost? In philosophy, the result is skepticism or pragmatism. In society in general, one sees a degeneration from skepticism to hypocrisy to cynicism. First we say no one can know what is true—that’s skepticism. Then someone says “I have the truth” but then speaks or acts in a way not in keeping with that “truth” (if truth is uncertain, it can change with my moods)—that’s hypocrisy. Then we stop trusting each other—that’s cynicism. In politics, power and image are what count. In matters of morality, there is no standard above us; social consensus is the best we can hope for, or “human solidarity,” according to Christopher Hitchens. Justice has no sure footing. Might becomes right.

Elsewhere I have written that we don’t have to give in either to the demand for absolute certainty or to the skepticism of our day.{2} We can be confident in our ability to know truth even though not exhaustively. In this article I want to look at the nature and ground of truth, for these are of utmost importance in regard to the question of reliable knowledge.

Truth: The Significance of Its Loss

Let’s look more closely at what it means to lose confidence in knowing truth. One problem is that we become closed up in our individual shells with each of us having his or her own truth. Theologian Roger Nicole notes that the loss of truth means the loss of meaning in language; if we don’t know whether a proposition means what it seems to mean or its opposite, then language is impotent to convey reliable knowledge. And we get caught up in contradictions. As Nicole wrote, those who deny objective validity “presuppose such validity at least for their denial!”{3}

Problems are also created in the realm of morality. Historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto wrote this:

The retreat from truth is one of the great dramatic, untold stories of history. . . . For professional academics in the affected disciplines, to have grown indifferent to truth is an extraordinary reversal of traditional obligations; it is like physicians renouncing the obligation to sustain life or theologians losing interest in God—developments, formerly unthinkable, which now loom as truth diminishes. The trashing of truth began as an academic vice, but the debris is now scattered all over society. It is spread through classroom programmes, . . . In a society of concessions to rival viewpoints, in which citizens hesitate to demand what is true and denounce what is false, it becomes impossible to defend the traditional moral distinction between right and wrong, which are relativized in turn. Unless it is true, what status is left for a statement like ‘X is wrong’ where X is, say, adultery, infanticide, euthanasia, drug‑dealing, Nazism, paedophilia, sadism or any other wickedness due, in today’s climate, for relativization into the ranks of the acceptable? It becomes, like everything else in western society today, a matter of opinion; and we are left with no moral basis for encoding some opinions rather than others, except the tyranny of the majority.{4}

One of the worst problems for a well-ordered society is cynicism. First we say there’s no truth. But then we hypocritically push our views on others as though we have the truth. Then people stop trusting each other. “You say there are no fixed truths, but then you push your claims on me.” The result is cynicism.

Some people claim that truth claims are suspect because the words we use are changeable; they can’t carry fixed, eternal truths. If we don’t think it’s possible that words convey truth, then words lose their objective meaning, and we start giving them our own meanings.

The loss of confidence in knowing truth is significant for Christians, too, who, without realizing it, adopt similar patterns of thought. When such confidence in knowing truth is weakened, one cannot have confidence that the Bible is the true Word of God. Its authority in the individual’s life is weakened because what it says becomes questionable. Evangelism becomes a matter of sharing one’s own religious preferences, rather than delivering God’s authoritative Word. Bible study becomes a sharing of opinions with none being normative. Each has his or her own opinion and no one is supposed to say a given opinion is wrong.

Truth in Scripture

What is this “truth” thing we talk so much about? My dictionary has such definitions as genuineness, reality, correctness, and statements which accord with reality.{5} Truth can also be a characteristic of persons and things. Someone or some thing that is true is genuine or in keeping with his or its nature. And truth can refer to quality of conduct. The Bible speaks of people doing the truth rather than doing evil (cf. Nah. 9:33; Jn. 3:20, 21).{6}

To help in considering all these matters, let’s look at truth as understood in Scripture, and then at truth considered in philosophical terms.

What does the Bible teach about truth?

In the Old Testament, the word most often translated true, truth, or truly is ‘emet or a cognate.{7} This word is also translated “faithfulness.” Let’s consider the matter of faithfulness first.

For the Israelites, Yahweh was “the God in whose word and work one could place complete confidence.”{8} For example, God said through Zechariah: “I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God” (8:8). Nehemiah said to God: “You have acted faithfully, while we did wrong” (9:33). “The works of his hand are faithful and just,” said the Psalmist; “all his precepts are trustworthy” (111:7).

‘Emet also means truth as over against falsehood as when Joseph tested his brothers to see if they were telling the truth (Gen. 42:16), and when the Israelites were warned to test accusations that people were worshiping other gods to see if they were true (Deut. 13:14). Commenting on Ps. 43:3—“Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me”—theologian Anthony Thiselton says that “Truth enables [the writer] to escape from the dark, and to see things for what they are.”{9}

We shouldn’t conclude by these two uses of the word that on any given occasion “truth” always means both faithfulness and the opposite of falsehood. However, there is a connection between the two. Theologian Anthony Thiselton says the connection depends “on the fact that when God or man is said to act faithfully, often this means that his word and his deed are one. He has acted faithfully in accordance with his spoken word. Hence the believer may lean his whole weight confidently on God, and find him faithful.”{10}

Thus, in the Old Testament, truth is a matter of both words and deeds. “Men express their respect for truth not in abstract theory, but in their daily witness to their neighbour and their verbal and commercial transactions,” Thiselton says.{11}

In the New Testament, there is an increased focus on truth as conformity to reality and as opposed to falsehood. The Greek word alētheia means, literally, “not hidden.” When Peter was sprung from prison by an angel, he didn’t know if it was real (or true) or a dream (Acts 12:9). John the Baptist bore witness to the truth (Jn. 5:33). Jesus used the phrase “I tell you in truth” four times to emphasize the correctness of what he was about to say (Lk. 4:25; 9:27; 12:44; 21:3). When Jesus said “I am the truth,” (Jn. 14:6), He was identifying Himself with what is ultimately and finally real.

Truth in the New Testament isn’t disconnected from how we live, however. We are to walk in the truth (2 Jn. 4; 2 Pet. 2:22), and we are to obey the truth (Gal. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:22).

One mustn’t oversimplify scriptural teaching on truth. However, it’s safe to say that truth in the Bible means having the correct understanding of the way things really are, and living in accordance with this understanding.

Truth Considered Philosophically

Let’s look at truth now from a philosophical perspective, first as what is real, and then as true statements. This is important, because these are the terms according to which non-Christians think about the matter.

First, truth is a characteristic of reality. In short, if something is real, it is true. Or put philosophically, if something “participates in being,” it is true. When we say that the God of the Bible is the true God, we mean He really exists and really is God!

By analogy, we might ask if a plant we see in a room is a true or real plant. We want to know if it is organic, and not plastic or fabric. If we say a person has exhibited true love, we’re saying the person’s actions weren’t motivated by anything other than concern for the object of the person’s love.

Second, truth is a characteristic of accurate statements or propositions. Sentences which express true meanings convey truth. This is what we typically think of when we speak of truth.{12}

We often divide truth in this sense into the categories of objective and subjective. When we speak of objective truth, we mean that a statement truly reflects what is real, or really the case, apart from ourselves as knowers. And whether we believe it or not. Such truth is public; others can verify it. When we speak of subjective truth, we’re speaking of truth that comes from us individually, where we ourselves are the only authority. For example, “My leg hurts” is subjective in the sense that I am the sole authority. Or if I claim that “French vanilla ice cream is the best tasting kind there is,” that is a subjective truth claim.”

Both truth as what’s real and truth as objectively true statements are in crisis today. First, postmodernists say we can’t know what’s ultimately real. In academia this means there is no framework for integrating the various areas of study. In everyday life it results in fractured lives as we find ourselves having to conform to different situations without any integrating structure. French sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard had this to say about postmodernism: “[Postmodernism] has deconstructed its entire universe. So all that are left are pieces. All that remains to be done is to play with the pieces. Playing with the pieces—that is postmodern.”{13}

We can rearrange the pieces in a number of different ways, but there is, as it were, no picture on the front of the puzzle box to guide us.{14} Such a view of truth leaves one unwilling, or unable really, to say what is true about anything of importance, and, as a result, forces one into the rather mindless tolerance demanded today. Dorothy Sayers had this to say about such “tolerance”:

In the world it calls itself Tolerance; but in hell it is called Despair. It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin which believes nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.{15}

Second, although truth as true statements is still acknowledged today, some important matters are considered subjective which should be acknowledged as objective, such as statements about God and morality. Christians believe we can know what is ultimately and objectively real and true because the One who is ultimately real and true, God, has revealed Himself to us.

A Foundation for Knowledge of Truth

Now we finally get to the key idea of this article.

Christians claim that they have the truth, a claim that is met with scorn. We are tempted to point to the Bible as our basis for the claim, but critics claim that we’re jumping the gun. If no one can have confidence in knowing truth, then what good is the Bible? It isn’t the source that’s the question; not yet anyway. It’s the very possibility of knowing truth that is questioned. How are truth and the possibility of knowing it even possible?

In a nutshell, we have what philosophical naturalism has given up: we have a metaphysical basis for knowing truth, a basis in what is.

You see, for the naturalist, there is nothing fixed behind the changing world. Three things need to be the case about the world for us to know truth: that it is real; that it is rational; and that there is something fixed behind it. And we need to be able to connect with what is around us with our senses and our reason.

Here’s the key point: Knowledge of truth is possible because of the creating and revealing work of the Logos of God, Jesus Christ. I’ll return to this below.

It is not enough that Christians to simply throw their hands up in despair over this. We have a message that is true for all people. But it may not do to just point to the Bible as our source for true beliefs if the very possibility of knowing any enduring truth is in doubt. Upon what basis can we believe we can really know truth?

To have true knowledge of the world outside our own minds, there has to be a solid connection between our thoughts and the world. The world has to be rational, and we have to have the proper sensory and mental apparatus necessary to comprehend it. Christianity provides such a connection between our minds and reality outside us in the person of the Logos of God.

“In the beginning was the Word,” John wrote, the Logos (John 1:1; cf. Rev. 19:13). In Greek philosophy, logos was the impersonal principle of cosmic reason which was thought to give order and intelligibility to the world. John’s Logos, however, is not impersonal; a Person, not a principle. The Logos—Jesus of Nazareth—is the intelligent expression of God or the Word of God (Jn. 1:1,14; Rev. 19:13). He is not secondary to God, but is God.

The significance of this for the possibility of knowing truth is this: knowledge is possible because of the creating and revealing work of the Logos. Remember that Jesus, the Logos, is not only the One who reveals God to us, but is also the creator of the universe (Jn.1:3; Col.1:16,17; Heb.1:2). Because the universe came from a rational Being, the universe is rational. Further, there is no hint in Scripture that the world is an illusion; it is just what it appears to be: real. And because we’re made in God’s image, we’re rational beings who can know the universe.{16} Also, we can perceive the world around us because we were created with the sensory apparatus to perceive it.

But this is just knowledge of our world. What about knowledge of God? Not only has the Logos created us with the ability to know the world, He has also revealed Himself in a rational and even observable way. He is, as Carl Henry put it, “the God Who speaks and shows.”{17}

Because of all this, it is not arrogance that is behind the Christian claim that truth can be known. We claim it because we have a basis for it: Jesus of Nazareth, the Logos of God, the Creator, has made knowledge of truth possible, knowledge of this world and of God. Modern philosophy and theology denied God’s ability to reveal Himself to us in any significant way. But such ideas diminish God Himself. He made us to know His world. He gave us sense organs to know the empirical world; He gave us rational minds to engage in logical and mathematical reasoning and to engage in the many, many deductions we make every day of our lives. He also made us to know Him, and He revealed Himself to us through a variety of ways.

It’s no wonder that the naturalistic philosophy of our time is incapable of having confidence in knowing truth. It has lost a metaphysical ground for truth. Jesus of Nazareth is not only our source of salvation; He is also the Creator. And because of this, we can have confidence in our ability to know truth in general and truth about God in particular.

Notes

1. City of Angels, DVD, directed by Brad Silberling (Warner Home Video, 1998).

2. Rick Wade, “Confident Belief,” Probe Ministries, 2001, www.probe.org/confident-belief/.

3. Roger Nicole, “The Biblical Concept of Truth,” in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, eds., Scripture and Truth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 287.

4. Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Truth: A History and Guide for the Perplexed (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 165-66.

5. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed, s.v., “true.”

6. John V. Dahms, “The Nature of Truth,” JETS 28/4 (December. 1985), 455-465. This is parallel to Carnell’s triad of ontological truth, propositional truth, and truth as personal rectitude. See Edward John Carnell, Christian Commitment: An Apologetic (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1957), 14-17.

7. Nicole, 288. I am indebted to Nicole’s and Thiselton’s (cf. note 8 below) studies for much of what follows.

8. Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); s.v. “Truth” by A. C. Thiselton, III.877, quoting Alfred Jepsen, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, I:313.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. See Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. 5, God Who Stands and Stays, Part One (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1982), 336.

13. Jean Baudrillard, quoted in Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, Ill.: 2000), 169.

14. See Groothuis, 170.

15. Dorothy Sayers, Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1969), 4; quoted in Groothuis, 170.

16. As Henry says, “As creative, the Word of God is the ground of all existence; as revelatory, it is the ground of all human knowledge.” (GRA, 5:334) Also, “The Logos is the creative Word whereby God fashioned and preserves the universe. He is the light of the understanding, the Reason that enables intelligible creatures to comprehend the truth.” (GRA 3:212).

17. The subtitle to Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. 1.

© 2009 Probe Ministries




God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally

This article is offered as an introduction and overview of Doug Pollock’s book by the same title. Those who want to learn more about how to have natural and effective spiritual conversations are encouraged to read (and apply) Pollock’s book for themselves.

Creating God Space

download-podcast

If you’re a Christian, you probably wrestle from time to time with how best to share your faith with non-Christian friends and family. I mean, let’s face it. We often want to share our faith. But we’re a bit confused (maybe even overwhelmed) with how to go about it in a natural and non-threatening way. Is there a way to have spiritual conversations naturally?

According to Doug Pollock, the answer is “Yes”—and it all begins with something he calls “God  Space.” “I often wonder,” he says, “what would happen if . . . the body of Christ could create low-risk, high-grace
places for people to pursue their need to have spiritual conversations.”{1} But Doug not only wonders about it, he’s also spent the better part of his adult life actually doing it—and training others to do it too. Although he’s had many
roles, he’s probably best known for his work as an author, speaker, and evangelism trainer for Athletes in Action.{2} His passion, however, is pointing people to Christ through spiritual conversations in which people have the freedom to simply be themselves.

You see, Doug believes that people actually want (and even need) to have such conversations. Moreover, they’re often even willing to have them. The problem, of course, is that such conversations can often seem intimidating—even threatening—to both Christian and non-Christian alike. So Doug advocates creating a “safe space” in which to have such conversations. But he warns us that for many non-Christians in our world today, the church is often not perceived as safe.{3} Hence, he says, if we want to reach people for Christ, then we’ve got to go to them—and help create a “safe space” for spiritual conversations right where they are.

Doug calls it “God Space” —a space where “God is . . . encountered in . . .  ways that address the longings and cries of the heart.” In God Space “the ‘unworthy’ feel safe enough to bring their real selves . . . into the light, and to journey, one step at a time, toward the magnetic pull they sense deep in their souls.” It’s a space where “spiritual curiosity is
aroused, and the message of Christianity becomes plausible.”{4}

Does this sound like something you’d be interested in learning more about? Then keep reading as we consider Doug’s book in more detail.

Spiritual Conversation-Killers

Doug Pollock offers some great advice about how to have natural, non-threatening spiritual conversations with those who don’t know Christ. Before discussing this advice in more detail, however, we first need to pause and consider some of the ways in which we might unintentionally shut-down, or “kill,” a spiritual conversation before it even has a chance to get going.

Doug describes ten “spiritual conversation-killers” in his book. Although we can’t discuss them all, we’ll at least mention a few of them. To get started, think of the non-Christian people you know and interact with on a somewhat regular basis. How many of them would be interested in having a “low-risk, high-grace” spiritual conversation with you? If your answer is few to none of them, then you might be guilty of the most basic spiritual conversation-killer of them all: “an unbelieving heart.”{5} If we assume that the non-Christians we know aren’t interested in talking about spiritual things, then we probably won’t have many spiritual conversations with them.

And Doug says this is a big mistake. “I’ve had spiritual conversations with people all over the world,” he writes, “including the supposed ‘tough places.’ I think it’s because the Holy Spirit has given me a conviction that if God has put eternity in every person’s heart, which is what Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, then all people were made for spiritual
conversations.”{6} So let’s not “kill” an opportunity for spiritual conversations because of unbelief. Instead, let’s assume that if we approach such conversations wisely, we’ll find people eager to talk with us.

Okay, so how do we approach such conversations wisely? In my opinion, the best way to have good spiritual conversations is simply to apply some of the very same principles that go into having good conversations of any sort.{7} For example, how well would my conversation go if I was disrespectful of the other person’s beliefs or opinions? Or what if I came across as harsh, combative, or domineering? Would such conversations be successful? Probably not. And if that’s the case with everyday conversations, then it’s probably the case with spiritual conversations too. So if we want to have good spiritual conversations, we need to be humble, gracious, kind and polite. If not, we’ll
probably “kill” whatever spiritual conversations we might otherwise have had. And when that happens, no one wins.

Wondering Your Way Into Spiritual Conversations

In God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally, Doug has four great chapters on noticing, serving, listening, and wondering your way into spiritual conversations. For our purposes, let’s direct our attention to that final chapter, which involves “wondering” our way into spiritual conversations. “Of all the things you’ll read in this book,” Doug tells us, “this chapter holds the most promise if you truly want to see the quality and quantity of
your spiritual conversations increase.”{8}

So how does it work? How do we wonder our way into spiritual conversations? As Doug lays it out for us, there are essentially two steps. First, we have to be really good listeners.{9} If we’re not actively listening to what people are telling us, then we’re not going to have much to wonder about. That’s because we wonder our way into spiritual
conversations by asking good questions about what another person is telling us. That’s step two. After listening carefully to what the other person is saying, we begin to wonder “out loud” by asking questions that are relevant to the conversation we’re having.{10}

According to Doug, “good wondering questions” will “flow naturally out of your context and . . . conversations.” They reveal “that you have listened thoughtfully.” They “are open-ended and promote more dialogue and reflection.” They “probe sensitively and reflectively into someone’s belief systems.” And finally, such questions encourage “others to investigate the Christian life” for themselves.{11}

So by listening carefully and asking good “wondering” questions about what you’re being told, you can open the door to all sorts of spiritual conversations. Doug even offers some examples of “good ways to start wondering.”{12} Suppose your conversation partner has made an interesting claim or expressed an intriguing perspective on some issue. You might respond by saying, “That’s an interesting perspective; I’m wondering how you arrived at that conclusion?”{13} Notice how such a question not only demonstrates an interest in, and respect for, the other person and their views—it also serves to keep the conversation moving forward in a positive direction. Indeed, once you get a knack for listening carefully and asking good wondering questions, who knows how many spiritual conversations you might find yourself having!

Bringing the Bible Into Your Conversations

Let’s now discuss Doug’s advice about bringing the Bible into our conversations.{15}

The word of God is powerful. Paul describes it as “the sword of the Spirit.”{16} And the author of Hebrews tells us it can “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” {17} Indeed, it’s partly because the Bible is so powerful, that we need to be careful about the way in which we bring it into our conversations.

As Doug reminds us, “If people sense you’re trying to use the Bible as an authoritative ‘crowbar’ to beat them into submitting to your viewpoint, your conversation is likely over. However, if you humbly ask for permission to introduce the Scriptures into your dialogue, ‘deep spiritual magic’ begins to happen.”{18} The key point here, of course, is asking for permission. This is important and Doug encourages us to always make a habit of it.{19} After all, if the person has given you permission to share something from the Bible, then they won’t feel awkward or threatened when you do so. And if they haven’t given you permission, then it’s probably better just to wait and pray for a more opportune time.

Okay, that sounds good. But how can we know when it’s right to ask for permission? Here we need a measure of wisdom and even plain common sense. In general, however, when the person expresses an interest in some issue about which the Bible speaks, it might be a good time to ask for permission to share what the Bible says. Doug gives the example of talking with some non-Christian college students about the meaning of love.{20} The students were intensely interested in this topic, but they were having a hard time defining what the word even meant. After discussing the issue for a bit, Doug asked for permission to share what the Bible has to say about love. Having gotten their permission, he directed them to the famous love passage in 1 Corinthians 13. Primed and ready, the students eagerly listened to what the Bible had to say. Its message had suddenly become relevant to them, for it spoke directly to an issue about which they cared deeply.

If we could learn how to introduce the Bible like that, our non-Christian friends might be more eager to hear what it says. In the next section we’ll conclude our discussion of Doug’s book by considering “missed opportunities” and “burned bridges.”{21}

Missed Opportunities and Burned Bridges

We’ve considered several ways to improve our conversations, but it’s easy to make mistakes. So now we’ll consider Doug’s advice about “missed opportunities” and “burned bridges.” Can “missed opportunities” be reclaimed and “burned bridges” be rebuilt? And if so, then how do we do it?

Let’s first consider missed opportunities. Suppose you had a conversation with a neighbor who made a comment that left a wide-open door for spiritual conversation—and you said . . . nothing. We’ve probably all had conversations like this. Maybe the comment caught us off guard, and we just weren’t sure how to respond. Or maybe we felt too tired, or scared, or something else. Whatever the reason, we can “reclaim” such missed opportunities. It’s often not even that hard. Doug tells of missing out on a great opportunity because he just wasn’t sure what to say. About a month later, however, he got another opportunity. He told the person that he’d been thinking a lot about a comment which they had previously made. Intrigued, the person asked what it was—and almost immediately they were right back where they had left off a month earlier!{22}

Okay, that’s the easy one. But what if we didn’t remain silent. What if we said the wrong thing— and now feel like we’ve burned our bridges with another person? Granted, this is more difficult. But Doug throws down a challenge. For once we recognize and admit our mistake to ourselves, we can then confess it to God and bring the issue before Him in prayer. After praying about it, Doug says, we can actually go to the person and let them know that we’ve been thinking about how we “come across” in spiritual conversations. We can even ask if they’d be willing to give us “some honest feedback” about how others might perceive us in this area. And if so, then we can listen carefully and apologize for any mistakes we might have made. Of course, we can’t predict how the other person will respond. But by taking this approach, we can go a long way toward restoring the relationship.{23}

If you’d be interested in creating some “God Space” for your own conversations, then I encourage you to get (and read) Doug’s book for yourself. I think you’ll be really glad you did.

Notes

1. Doug Pollock, God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally (Loveland, CO: Group, 2009), 11-12.
2. For more on Doug, check out his website: www.godsgps.com/
3. Pollock, God Space, 16.
4. The citations in this paragraph can be found in Pollock, God Space, 20-21.
5. This is “Killer 1” in Doug’s view. See Pollock, God Space, 24.
6. Ibid., 25.
7. In what follows, I briefly mention several of the spiritual conversation-killers which Doug discusses on pp. 29-32. Specifically, Doug mentions conversation “killers” like disrespect, control, judgment and combativeness.
8. Pollock, God Space, 65.
9. See Doug’s chapter, “Listening Your Way Into Spiritual Conversations,” in Pollock, God Space, 53-64.
10. Ibid., 14.
11. All of the quoted material in this paragraph comes from a section on “Good Wondering Questions” in Pollock, God Space, 73.
12. See the examples under this section heading in Pollock, God Space, 73.
13. Ibid., 73.
14. This is one way in which Doug likes to refer to non-Christians. See Pollock, God Space, 16.
15. See Pollock’s chapter 9, “Bringing the Bible into your Conversations,” in God Space, 87-99.
16. Ephesians 6:17.
17. Hebrews 4:12 (NASB).
18. Pollock, God Space, 95.
19. Ibid., 93.
20. See the discussion in Pollock, God Space, 90-94.
21. Doug discusses this topic in chapter 10, “Reclaiming Missed Opportunities and Rebuilding Burned Bridges,” 100-106.
22. Doug shares this story on pp. 101-103.
23. The citations in this paragraph come from Doug’s discussion on p. 106.

©2015 Probe Ministries, updated 2018




Is Jesus the Only Way?

Paul Rutherford explains why Jesus is the only way to know God.

COEXIST Bumper StickerI was sitting in my car at a red light and I saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me that said, “Coexist.” Only, the letters on the bumper sticker are religious symbols. A crescent stands in place of the letter “c,” a peace symbol in place of the letter “o,” and some of the other symbols included a cross, a Star of David, and a yin-yang, all used to create the word “coexist.”

Perhaps you’ve seen an image just like this bumper sticker, but on a t-shirt or tattoo. It represents a common sentiment in our culture that everyone should get along, or coexist peacefully. And I love that sentiment. We should get along. In fact, I’m grateful to God I live in a country in which an unprecedented number of people from all different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities do, in fact, coexist every day, and for the most part without violent protest. The life we enjoy in the United States is historically unprecedented.

Download the PodcastBut the coexistence advocated in this bumper sticker is something more subtle. It’s a way of getting along that is more than meets the eye. It frequently calls for a peaceable lifestyle free of conflict between faiths. People hope that we can all unite in a single brotherhood and celebrate our differences, particularly religious ones. They don’t understand why we bicker over who’s right and who’s wrong.

The call to coexist is a reaction to the exclusive truth claims of religion, especially Christianity. In fact, its exclusivism is the most offensive aspect of Christianity today. “Repent. Believe. Come to Jesus. He’s the only way!” These are phrases easily associated with Christianity, especially street preaching. What should we do with Christianity’s exclusivism in a twenty-first century cosmopolitan society? Haven’t we progressed beyond such narrow-mindedness in these modern times? Isn’t claiming Jesus as the only way intolerant of other faiths? Don’t those Christians know all religions are equally valid paths to heaven? They shouldn’t force their beliefs on others!

Claiming Jesus is the only way to heaven is exclusive, I admit. It says there is no other way to God except by trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus most famously says this Himself in the Bible: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

Even though it’s offensive, I believe Jesus really is the only way to God. In this article we’re going to explore that question by discussing objections to it, and discover why He really is the only way.

Tolerance

As believers, when we claim Jesus is the only way, you often hear people give some variation of, “That’s so intolerant!” In doing so, they reject the claim. Often implied, but not said straight out, is the demand that the Christian “tolerate” others’ beliefs, or take back what he just said.

It’s worth pointing out that claiming Christianity to be intolerant is itself an intolerant claim. But the notion of tolerance is complex and has a long history. And rather than elaborate that contradiction, let’s begin by exploring the complexity of tolerance.

What’s usually meant by tolerance these days is including beliefs that include all others. This position generally rejects Jesus as the only way because diversity and equality are now celebrated as the highest values. “Tolerance” celebrates differences of religions and equality of opportunity to practice them. To claim Jesus is the only way squelches both equality and diversity by claiming only one religion is right. Since squelching diversity and equality are socially unacceptable, the exclusivity of Jesus isn’t tolerated.

But this issue is complex. (That might be apparent already.) Truth and tolerance are actually linked. In fact, tolerance relies on truth. In the book The Truth about Tolerance, David Couchman says, “If there is no real truth, there is no reason for me to be tolerant. Without some kind of beliefs which cause me to value you as a person, even though I disagree with you, why should I be tolerant towards you?”{1} For tolerance to exist at all, it relies upon a framework of truth. That resonates with an idea mentioned earlier, how intolerance contradicts itself.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Truth also relies upon tolerance. “[I]t is also the case that truth as a reflective goal for individuals and communities. . .needs a context of right-minded toleration to flourish in.”{2} Without tolerance, truth likewise becomes the hammer of oppression. We find then that truth and tolerance go hand in hand.

Nevertheless, tolerance is the hammer of choice in culture today. Too often suppression of Christians sharing the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation is justified in the name of tolerance. Don’t be taken captive by this distortion. Genuine tolerance acknowledges all positions, even those that are exclusive. A biblical worldview holds only one truth, Jesus is the only path to heaven, while maintaining respect and dignity for those who disagree. That’s genuine tolerance.

Absolutes Don’t Exist

Here is another objection you might hear: Christians can’t claim Jesus is the only way because there are no absolutes. What Christians claim is an absolute truth. And there simply are no absolute truths.

Their justification goes like this. We know from study, from reason, from the postmodern era, that society has moved beyond absolutes. There is no absolute truth. There is no overarching metanarrative (or idea of truth) which can transcend culture, nation, or time. Truth is a construct created by each man, each culture, and bound by the strictures of the time in which it was created.

This objection shares a similar weakness to the tolerance objection. Denying absolutes is also self-defeating. It contradicts itself. If we were to ask this objector if she really believed what she was saying was true, we could ask her, “You believe no absolute truth exists, right? Are you absolutely sure of that?” This objector would have to agree. That’s what the position holds, thus contradicting her own claim.

This objection often comes out of the postmodern school of thought, which says there is no such thing as objective truth, such as 2 + 2 always equals 4. Postmodern thought also denies the meaningfulness of history along with the ability to interpret literature in a unified and meaningful way. The unfortunate consequence is that we’re left with a bleak reality stripped of purpose or meaning, which frankly, isn’t very appealing. Without truth, meaning, history, or purpose, what’s the point?

The great irony of it all is that postmodern thought arrives at its conclusions by way of reason, which it then concludes isn’t true, and then holds it in contempt. It calls into question reason itself and the whole Enlightenment project along with it. So there’s a healthy dose of despair that frequently accompanies adherents to postmodern thought, including our friends who don’t believe Jesus can be the only way to God because there are no absolutes. But that’s the lie to which I don’t want you to be taken captive. Jesus really is the only way. He’s the only way to find peace in a wrecked world. He is meaning for a confused life. And He leads us home to heaven out of a world where we don’t belong. The remedy to that despair is Jesus.

Despair at the failure of reason to improve mankind is the sad but ultimate end of every god which usurps the rightful place of the one true God: Jesus Christ. The truth is, all gods fail, disappoint, and leave us desperate. The only one who is faithful is Jesus. (cf. Deut. 7:9; 2 Thess. 3:3) But we won’t find that satisfaction until we rest assured in the truth that Jesus really is the only way.

Pluralism

There is another category of objectors to Christ’s claim to exclusivity. A difficult but less in-your-face objection is pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that any variety of beliefs and values are all equally true and valid.

When I claim Jesus is the only way, some calmly object. Pluralists tend to be more laid-back. Typically they affirm my right to follow Christ, even celebrate it. These folks calmly share their belief that all religions are right: they all lead to god. Often they cite the Eastern proverb that there are many paths to the top of the mountain.

First, I’d like to point out that pluralism is intellectually lazy. It doesn’t take seriously the law of non-contradiction. (This law says that two opposite things cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way.) When a Christian claims the path is exclusive, that Jesus is the only way, the pluralist might think, “That’s nice, but actually, I know that all religions lead to heaven.” He doesn’t accept the Christian’s position as true. He says he believes Christianity is true while at the same time denying its central tenet, which is that Jesus is the only way.

But this response is not unique to Christianity. A conservative Jew sincere about his faith won’t say any path leads to heaven; neither will a Sunni Muslim. Pluralism attempts to make peace where there is none, and only succeeds in agreeing with no one.

Second, Christians who hold to exclusivism are sometimes falsely accused of pushing their beliefs on others. In condemning the exclusivist claims of Christianity, the pluralist imposes her beliefs on the Christian. It contradicts the very intended principle.

We all have beliefs or actions we want others to take seriously. There’s nothing wrong with that. From my experience, pluralism is usually based on fear, which is completely understandable. The other person disagrees but fears conflict. They fear the relationship might be at stake if they express their true belief. As believers we still accept and honor people even if they don’t agree with us. This is how we alleviate fear, demonstrating acceptance for those with whom we disagree. (And that’s the true meaning of tolerance, by the way.)

When someone throws up this smokescreen in conversation, it can feel scary—alarming. Suddenly, the person you’re talking to gets defensive. We can wonder, “Where did this come from?” In that moment it’s probably not wise to press. Ask them why they believe that way, or affirm them. Certainly no one has a right to force compliance on another unwillingly. Communicate that we don’t have to agree to be accepted. Further, don’t fall prey to this area where culture takes many believers captive. Jesus is the only way. Stand fast.

The Only Way

Is Jesus the only way? Yes. Multiple scriptures teach this truth. Let’s consider a few.

Matthew 11:27 says, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Jesus is claiming that God his Father has handed everything over to Him. This is an indirect claim to be God Himself. But Jesus also makes it clear He is the only one, since no one knows the Father but the Son.

Let’s also consider John’s gospel. Before Jesus even began his ministry John the Baptist responds to Jesus’ identity. “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) In Hebrew culture at the time, calling someone the Lamb of God was a claim to the Messiah who was prophesied (Isaiah 53:7). Further, only God has the power to take away sin. This was an unmistakable claim to divinity. It’s interesting also that Jesus doesn’t correct him, or deny Godhood. On the contrary, a short time later, Jesus picks up his first two disciples and encourages them, saying, “Come and you will see” (John 1:39).

It’s one thing to claim divinity and yet another to claim to be the only divinity. So, where does the Bible say Jesus is the only way? As we mentioned earlier, by Jesus’ own admission He is the only way to God in John 14:6—”I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Peter also explains the meaning of Jesus’ exclusivity in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Believers, take heart. Jesus Christ is the one and only way. Questioning Jesus’ exclusivity is a recent historical phenomenon. That question is commonly asked in the 20th century West, a culture increasingly influenced by postmodern thinking and multiculturalism. Take courage. We who accept the exclusivity of Christ are in a historical majority. Repudiation for Christians as being intolerant, exclusive, or uneducated is a recent occurrence. These are the current trends of our culture. Don’t be taken captive. Jesus is the only way.

Notes

1. David Couchman, quoted in The Truth about Tolerance, Brad Stetson and Joseph G. Conti, (InterVarsity Press, 2005), 75.

2. Brad Stetson and Joseph G. Conti, The Truth about Tolerance, (InterVarsity Press, 2005), 75.

© 2013 Probe Ministries




Who Wrote the New Testament?

David Graieg explores Bart Ehrman’s contention that we can’t trust the Bible’s supposed authors. Yes we can.

Bart Ehrman

What if eighteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were not written by the people who have traditionally been credited with their authorship?{1} Just such a claim is made by Bart Ehrman’s book Forged: Writing in the Name of God in which he argues that the Bible’s authors are not who we think they are.

Dr. Ehrman is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His work has been featured in Time, and he has appeared on NBC’s Dateline, The History Channel, National Geographic, and other top media outlets.{2} Ehrman has authored over twenty books, including three New York Times bestsellers: Jesus Interrupted, God’s Problem, and Misquoting Jesus, which argues that the New Testament manuscripts are unreliable and, hence, the text of the Bible is inaccurate. Ehrman’s works are having a huge impact on the way that people perceive Christianity both here in the U.S. and abroad. Believers need to be ready to give an answer to Dr. Ehrman’s claims.

Ehrman grew up in a liberal Episcopal church, but says that in high school a Youth for Christ leader took advantage of the loneliness that every teen experiences and led Ehrman to be born again.{3} Ehrman attended Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College where his studies in New Testament textual criticism began to fuel doubt concerning the importance of variants in the manuscripts. Ehrman went on to pursue doctoral work at Princeton University, and, partly due to an issue concerning who the high priest was in the second chapter of Mark, Ehrman went down the path of agnosticism.

Ehrman’s new book, Forged, contains eight chapters that include considerable overlap, and much of the space is devoted to forgeries outside the Bible. This makes the book’s subtitle, “Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are,” a little misleading. Also, there’s not much new here. These concerns are covered in most recent textbooks on the New Testament.{4} Ehrman sees himself as making the public aware of what scholars have known for years.

As for the claim of Forged, Ehrman argues that Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, James, Jude, and 1–2 Peter are not written by those whose names are traditionally attached to them. It follows that if these books are written by liars and are deceptive in nature, and God Himself does not lie, the Church must have been mistaken in thinking these books were inspired by God. It would also follow that these books should be
removed from the canon of the Bible. However, as we shall see, there’s good reason to think that these books are not forgeries.

Determining Authorship

To begin, we will look into the important question of how scholars determine the author of a book written thousands of years ago.

There are two main lines of evidence that scholars use to determine the likely author of a book. The first is internal evidence, the most obvious being a claim to authorship in the document itself. There might also be hints in the document about when and where it was written, which may or may not match what we know of the life of the author, or might just seem out of place. For instance, if someone wrote that he visited Dallas, Texas in July and adds that it froze overnight, this scenario is not impossible but is very unlikely. Thus, we would have good reason to question other claims in the text.

If we have two letters that are supposed to have been written by the same author, we can compare their styles for confirmation. Do the documents share a similar vocabulary? Do they use the same figures of speech and cultural expressions? Do they both use specific words or ideas in the same way or are they fairly distinct? If one of the documents uses a large number of unique words that are not used in the other, it may put in question mutual authorship.

Another important variable is the intended audience of a document since that can have a significant impact on its style and vocabulary. For instance, a medical doctor might write a work-related letter to a fellow oncologist and on the same day send a personal email to her husband. Ten years later, that same doctor writes a letter to her friend about a personal hobby. In all three cases, it’s the same person writing, but there would be three distinct styles and vocabularies in each letter. Determining authorship can be a very complicated matter when considering both objective and subjective elements.

There’s also external evidence to consider, information gathered from outside the letter itself. Eyewitness accounts can affirm a document’s authorship. For instance, Grandma might have a letter that says, “Happy Valentine’s Day, from your secret admirer.” Grandma insists that she received this letter from Grandpa fifty years ago when they were still dating. Although there is nothing in the letter that identifies Grandpa as its author, we have the external testimony of a reliable witness. Such evidence is not certain, as Grandma might be a bit of a romantic who after all these years forgot who it was really from, but it is more probable than not that she is correct.

What Is at Stake?

What if Ehrman’s main contention is right, that seven of Paul’s books, as well as James, Jude, and 1–2 Peter, are not written by who we traditionally have attributed them to? Not that I think Ehrman is right, but let us grant that he is. Is Christianity now false? Not at all. Ehrman concedes that Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon were written by Paul and that Revelation was written by someone named John. Even with these few books, the heart of the Christian faith is maintained. Ehrman even includes the earliest account of the death and resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. So while I do not think Ehrman is right in even one accusation of New Testament forgery, it is worth keeping all of this in proper perspective: Christ still saves and we still need to trust him.

So what evidence does Dr. Ehrman use to establish his claim of forgery? Let’s consider his strongest case, that of 1 and 2 Peter. Ehrman’s main argument is that Peter could not have written either of these books because he was a simple fisherman from Galilee and would surely have been illiterate.{5} He points to Acts 4:13 which says that when Peter and John were brought before the Jewish high priest, it was realized that they “were unschooled, ordinary men.” From this Ehrman assumes that they were illiterate.

There is one major problem with this line of argument. Ehrman considers the book of Acts to be a forgery. So by Ehrman’s own standard, Acts is unlikely to be reliable. That aside, it’s more likely that Acts 4:13 is not indicating that Peter and John are illiterate, but that the Jewish leaders were comparing their training in the best schools of the day to the two men who lacked a rabbinic education.

Luke describes Peter’s family’s fishing business as having several boats along with the necessary nets and men to operate them. The business was located in Capernaum, only a few miles from the large Greek cities of Tiberias and Sepphoris. As a successful merchant, Peter likely had some knowledge of the Greek language as well as basic literacy. Even if we allow the shaky assumption that Peter might have been illiterate, it doesn’t necessarily follow that 1 and 2 Peter are forgeries. It’s likely that Peter may have used a secretary to write down his words, a common practice in the first century.

Dr. Ehrman has failed to make his case that 1 and 2 Peter are forgeries. We still have good reason to trust these books as they guide us in defense of the faith and encourage us to endure sufferings for righteousness sake.

Paul’s Letters

Ehrman argues that Paul could not be the author of Ephesians because the letter contains some unusually long sentences, and the book “has an inordinate number of words that don’t otherwise occur in Paul’s writings.”{6} Ehrman notes that Ephesians has fifty percent more unique words than found in Philippians which he says is about the same length.

It’s true that Ephesians does have long sentences, but this is a bit subjective. There are long sentences in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians and Titus, which Ehrman accepts as Pauline. His comparison with Philippians is also a bit unfair. Ephesians is thirty-three percent longer than Philippians and should be expected to have a greater number of unique words. In fact, Galatians has even more unique words than Ephesians but again is accepted
as Pauline by Ehrman. Further, Ephesians is a circular letter that was meant for a broader audience. It’s reasonable to expect that it would address different topics from Paul’s other letters and have more unique words.

Another point made by Dr. Ehrman is that Ephesians uses the words “saved” and “raised” mostly in the present tense while other Pauline letters refer to them as future events.{7} But is this really the case? In Romans, Paul talks of the believer as already saved being dead to sin and alive to Christ, and in Galatians Paul declares that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Ehrman’s case against Ephesians is less than conclusive.

According to Ehrman, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus should be removed because the letters contain unique expressions not found in Paul’s other works. Phrases such as “promise of life” and “with a pure conscience” are unique to these books.{8} Ehrman also argues that these pastoral letters replace an emphasis on the imminent return of Christ with nformation on the organizational structure of the church.

Paul does use unique vocabulary in his books to Timothy and Titus, but these letters are to individual friends and most of Paul’s other letters are to community groups. Stylistic variation would be expected because of the different audiences. Other scholars point out that Ehrman exaggerates his case regarding the information about church structure. He seems to ignore the fact that there is information on church leadership and organization in Romans, Galatians, and especially in 1 Corinthians, letters accepted as Pauline by Ehrman.

In summary, it can be said that Dr. Ehrman often overstates his case and is somewhat selective in his examples.

Presuppositions

To wrap up this article, I will look at some general problems in the way that Dr. Ehrman builds his case that many of the NT books are forgeries.

As with everyone, Dr. Ehrman interprets the world through a set of presuppositions. For instance, he has come to the conclusion that Jesus was merely an apocalyptic prophet.{9} Ehrman’s Jesus proclaims that God is going to reveal himself in history and overthrow evil as represented by the Roman Empire. Ehrman discounts the role that the resurrection played in both confirming Jesus’ claims to divinity and establishing Christianity itself. The result of constructing Jesus in this untraditional manner causes him to view passages that speak of the resurrection as inauthentic and probably later fabrications.

Another weakness in Forged is that Ehrman doesn’t seriously consider the role that secretaries (or an amanuensis) could have played in the writing of the New Testament.{10} Ehrman himself admits that “Virtually all of the problems with what I’ve been calling forgeries can be solved if secretaries were heavily involved in the composition of the early Christian writings.”{11} Other scholars have argued that secretaries did play a significant role in the formation of the NT.{12} Ehrman assumes either no secretaries were involved, or if they were, they had no impact on the wording of the texts. Such a conclusion is at odds with modern scholarship on the subject. Dr. Ehrman either needs to interact more with this scholarship, or at worst he should take an agnostic position on the authorship of the NT books.

This is important because we know that secretaries were involved in helping Paul write his letters. Tertius inserts a greeting in Romans 16:22 as the one who “wrote down this letter.” In 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philemon, Paul makes a point of telling his readers that he had written the letters with his own hand, acknowledging that other letters were written down for him. It is also recognized that others may have contributed to Paul’s writings or at least had an impact on the style of some sections of his letters. For instance, Sosthenes, Silas, and Timothy are recognized contributors in the introductions of Paul’s letters to the churches at Corinth, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica.

Dr. Ehrman raises important questions regarding the text of the New Testament, but his accusations of forgery seem somewhat subjective. He has not given us good enough reason to abandon the authenticity of the New Testament writings nor their message of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Notes

1. This article is a slightly adapted version of the program that aired on the Probe radio program.

2. Bart D. Ehrman. www.bartdehrman.com (accessed November 6, 2011).

3. Gary M. Burge, “The Lapsed Evangelical Critic,” Christianity Today, June 1, 2006, vol. 50, no. 6. (accessed November 6, 2011).

4. D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005); Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction. 4th ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1990).

5. Bart D. Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2011), 70-77.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., 97.

9. Ehrman lays out his view on this in: Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophets of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). For an evaluation of the different views on Jesus see: James K. Beilby, and Paul R. Eddy, The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

10. Ehrman, Forged, 133-139.

11. Ibid., 134.

12. E. Randolph Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991).

© 2012 Probe Ministries




The Tug of War of Reason and Faith in C.S. Lewis’s Favorite Novel

Byron Barlowe examines the timeless battle between reason and faith in C.S. Lewis’s novel—his favorite—Till We Have Faces. Are they mutually exclusive or can they balance one another? How do we reconcile them? “To rationally look at love and logic and to gaze along, to creatively depict and model its living out, may soon be all that is left to us to reach a new generation.”


“You think the gods have sent you there? All lies of priests and poets, child . . . The god within you is the god you should obey: reason, calmness, self-discipline.”

– The Fox, Greek tutor in Till We Have Faces[1]

“Heaven forbid we should work [the garden of our human nature] in the spirit of . . . Stoics . . . We know very well that what we are hacking and pruning is big with a splendour and vitality which our rational will could never of itself have supplied. To liberate that splendour, to let it become fully what it is trying to be, to have tall trees instead of scrubby tangles, and sweet apples instead of crabs, is part of our purpose.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves[2]

A strong relationship between C.S. Lewis’s conceptions of Contemplation and Enjoyment persists throughout his novel Till We Have Faces. It seems most fruitful for today’s apologist to examine two primary characters’ relationship to the concepts in this way: the Greek slave-tutor known as the Fox, represents cold, hard, factual rationality which grudgingly gives a nod to the divine, but only in a limited, controlling way. He represents Stoicism more than any other school of thought. Meanwhile, the barbarian-pagan Priest of the god Ungit represents a less worldly wise, more mysterious and superstitious faith, rooted in earthy experience (fertility rites, blood sacrifice, etc.). Either worldview can limit human nature, truth and meaning. The Greek-infused contemplative life-view (nowadays seen most strongly in Modernism and its irreligious pupils), largely eschews the heartfelt experience of the latter, while the latter’s religiosity often dismisses the thoughtful, discerning caution of the former. This artificially strict dichotomy and lack of balance shows forth at every turn in the Church today, creating a blindly loyal fideism with few answers for contemplative questions; or we see, in an overcorrection, a clinical, spiritless, formulaic religion of pure reason. The former, an unreflective modus operandi, chills—and according to testimonies of many apostates and atheists, creates—skeptics, who much like the Fox, seizing on pure reason, ceaselessly explain away the immaterial and numinous. In doing so they, like the Fox’s star student Orual, act as plaintiffs against God or the gods. One apologist recently found that nearly all the young men he surveyed who serve as leaders of college atheist/agnostic groups in the U.S. were raised in church and attended Christian youth groups. Given the ubiquity of broken families, where little love borne of God-given freedom exists—much like the main character Orual’s situation—and know-nothing, superstitious Christians, it is no wonder that a mass exodus of youth from the Church continues. One antidote to the current state of imbalance of Contemplation (reasoned examination toward applied wisdom) and Enjoyed faith (in Lewis’s sense, experientially realized) may be to use and model the dual approach of Lewis’s The Four Loves alongside Till We Have Faces. To rationally look at love and logic and to gaze along, to creatively depict and model its living out, may soon be all that is left to us to reach a new generation.

In the mythic Till We Have Faces, which we will discuss here, the dual (and often dueling) dynamics of reason (often couched in secularized religion) versus mystical religion (often superstitious) interplay in various characters. It may help to explore these chief characters Lewis creates to embody the story of clashing worlds and worldviews, as well as the Fox’s prize student, Orual. Meanwhile, we will briefly attempt to apply the lessons Lewis teaches apologists into the modern milieu.

First, Lewis revealed the predominant worldview, the Fox’s philosophy, early in the novel as he tutored Orual. His Platonic views were summarized thus, “‘No man can be an exile if he remembers that all the world is one city,’ and ‘Everything is as good or bad as our opinion makes it.’”[3] As a well-taught classical Greek, he sets out to import real learning into the barbarian kingdom to which he is enslaved. Orual admired her “grandfather’s” constant quest for knowledge and carried on his tendency to question, Socratically, all that went on. Yet, since her dear Fox, always the philosopher, seemed “ashamed of loving poetry (‘All folly, my child’), she overachieves in philosophy to “get a poem out of him.”[4] Foretelling the dismissiveness and globalizing of the numinous by today’s naturalistic thinkers, the Fox scoffs at surpranatural / supernatural explanations with a curt, “these things come about by natural causes.”[5] In an ancient instance of positive-mental-attitude-laced freethinking, he lectures, “we must learn, child, not to fear anything that nature brings.”[6] When Orual’s sister Psyche goes about ostensibly healing the townspeople, and Orual asks about the validity of the claims, Fox the Naturalist characteristically keeps the options limited but somewhat open. “It might be in accordance with nature that some hands can heal. Who knows?”[7] Herein lies a bit of epistemic humility, somewhat disingenuous it seems, something this writer detects quite a lot among materialist-naturalists.

The Fox’s framework of Platonic forms emerges in his assessment of Psyche’s ethereal beauty, “delight[ing] to say, she was ‘according to nature’; what every woman, or even every thing, ought to have been and meant to be, but had missed by some trip of chance.”[8] While talk of gods peppered his language (“Ah, Zeus” and “by the gods”—more than curses?), fate seems to drive the universe’s cause and effect. He considers suicide and opines about returning to the elements in death, fatefully acquiescing, to which Orual beseeches, “But, Grandfather, do you really in your heart believe nothing of what is said about the gods and Those Below? But you do . . . you are trembling.” His Gnostic-tinged response: the body fails me. I am a fool, being trapped in it so long.[9] From what little the writer knows of Greek theology, its progeny thrives in and out of the Church today as an admixture of practical atheism, pantheism and pragmatism. Lewis sneaks in the side door of the skeptical fortress by characterizing so strongly the Fox, whose loving humanity belies his deadening philosophy. If Lewis’s retelling of ancient myth can be refashioned again, or better, simply read, truth and meaning may get through.

On the second worldview, Lewis sets forth the theme of a grounding darkness, holy and otherworldly, chiefly through the pagan Priest of the local goddess Ungit. The Priest served as prophet, harbinger of judgment. He repeats the warning of Ungit’s all-hearing ears and vengefulness to the irreligious king on two occasions[10] He carries out shadowy, ancient rituals without explanation and in dark places, sticky with blood offerings. Even outside the dank and sacred temple, “every hour the Priest of Ungit walked around [the sacred fire],” narrates Orual, “and threw in the proper things.”[11] Throughout, Lewis equates the holy with the mysterious, the hidden and darkened. Divine silence, corresponding to the biblical God’s hiddenness and holiness, presents as a major theme of Till We Have Faces. The Priest offers few and brief explanations.[12] The god judging Orual in the afterlife allows her lifelong complaints to speak for themselves. Her resultant epiphany balances the equation between reason and religion, witty words and wordless (if corrupted) wisdom, and reconciles the silence: “I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word [of inner secret] can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble we think we mean?”[13] These characters serve as foils for one another, a creative way to tie Modern rationalism to man’s inexorable and entirely unnatural acknowledgment of both the spiritual, or numinous and the moral law.

Sixteen years previous, Lewis had published The Problem of Pain, wherein he explores this undeniable yet insanely irrational or rather supernaturally revealed sense of numinous awe and moral law inherent in every man and culture. As if foreshadowing the clash of worldviews in discussion, Lewis writes, “Man . . . can close his spiritual eyes against the Numinous, if he is prepared to part company with half the great poets and prophets of his race, with his own childhood, with the richness and depth of uninhibited experience [the Fox, to a high degree, or] . . . He can refuse to identify the Numinous with the righteous, and remain a barbarian, worshipping sexuality, or the dead, or the lifeforce, or the future [the old Priest].”[14] The concepts of Contemplation and Enjoyment intertwine through a scholar and a man of the altar, through the gods and humans alike. In life and in myth, “men, and gods, flow in and out and mingle.”[15]

The Fox’s and Priest’s views of one another and each other’s worldview clashed like contemporary apologetic debates. The Fox saw the Priest’s work as “mischief”[16] and nonsense. “A child of six would talk more sense” was the Fox’s response to the apparent contradictions of the Priestly doctrines regarding the Great Offering.[17] Contrarily, the Priest reflexively dismisses the Fox’s Greek wisdom. According to Orual, “like all sacred matters, [a sacred, acted ritual] is and it is not (so that it was easy for the Fox to show its manifold contradictions).”[18] Yet, “even Stoicism finds itself willy-nilly bowing the knee to God.”[19] The Fox at times let down his learned persona, evidencing the axiom that man is inherently religious. Yes, he gave a regular nod to the gods, and at the birth of Orual’s sister Psyche he says wistfully, almost wishfully, “Now by all the gods . . . I could almost believe that there really is divine blood in your family.” Though his comment regards the family bloodline, one picks up here and elsewhere a religious man, who then quickly covers the sentiment with appeals to reason, even rationalization. Such characterization seems both autobiographical on Lewis’s part and testimony to his many dealings with materialist, humanist, secularist, liberal Christian, and unbelieving scholars and laymen.

The Priest’s mythical, experiential religious conviction versus the Fox’s worldly wisdom weaves itself through a climactic showdown. A death sentence falls on Psyche as the Accursed, to be offered to the goddess Ungit. (Here is the clash of wills between man and the divine in a crisis of state and religion so often seen in history.[20]) “Ungit will be avenged. It’s not a bull or ram [sacrifice] that will quiet her now,” pronounces the Priest.[21] He mentions “the Brute,” who legend says will take away the human sacrifice. In classic rational fashion, the King challenges, “Who has ever seen this Brute . . . What is it like, eh?” In this moment, the Fox presents himself as the King’s counsellor, living out his reasonable raison d’etre. Prosecution-style, he determines that the Brute only exists as an image, a shadow, six-year-old nonsense. The Priest dismisses this as “the wisdom of the Greeks,” and seeks the peoples’ fear as a fallback position. (Interestingly, many who either believe in or dismiss the supernatural and mystical seek strength in numbers, popular opinion to make their case, which is no argument at all.) The high stakes exchange illustrates the gravity and consequences of the age-old clash. If religion is to be followed, it must be regulated by reason; if reason is to properly play its part, it must bow to realities beyond its grasp.

The Priest and Fox provide an extremely stark contrast of views during this conflict. The Fox presents a compare-and-contrast list of the Priest’s teachings, revealing what he believes defies the Law of Non-Contradiction.[22] The Priest first responds to the abstractions by appeal to concrete realities. Greek wisdom “brings no rain and grows no corn.” He portrays such constricting logic as unable to offer “understanding of holy things . . . demand[ing] to see such things clearly, as if the gods were no more than letters written in a book . . .nothing,” he continues, “that is said clearly [about the gods] can be said truly about them . . . Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”[23] The apologist cannot help but think of the frustration of trying to communicate the mysterious paradoxes of spiritual truth and meaning to skeptics who demand only linear logic from a naturalist point of view. (The Fox continually appeals to “the Nature of things” and says “according to Nature.”) One must also guard against becoming Fox-like, limiting inquiry and explanation merely to that accessible to the physical senses and human reason. Either philosopher or accommodating priest / poet can make that mistake; via their opposite approaches, whether overly from man’s reason or God’s assumed reasons, deny the paradoxes of reality.

Ironically, Orual’s conversion to real belief in the numinous—halting and years-long—begins during this fight. Though she’d “have hanged the Priest and made the Fox a king” if she could, she realized the power lay in the Priest’s position.[24] Her convincing comes in a climactic moment, when pressed at literal knifepoint to stop prophesying the unwelcome judgment, the Priest shows unearthly peace, calm, and indeed a willingness to die. “While I have breath,” he intoned, “I am Ungit’s voice.” Resolute and full of faith at death’s door, his was evidence beyond reason, much as the testimony of Christ’s Apostles in their martyrdoms. This was not lost on Orual, who narrates, “The Fox had taught me to think—at any rate to speak of—the Priest as of a mere schemer and a politic man” who pretended and said whatever would provide him power or gain, in Ungit’s name.[25] The Fox’s prize student now saw through personal experience—the kind he taught her to guard against—that the Priest was sincere unto death. “He was sure of Ungit.”[26] He may have been mistaken or misled, but he did not pretend. One of the modern apologist’s greatest arguments is a convinced life and a faith, well-tested, sometimes right in front of the skeptic. The ultimate witness: a life and death scenario.

After a lifetime, in the afterlife, the Fox repents of his constraints and biases of the supernatural and religious. In this, Lewis communicates a truth applicable today. “I taught [Orual], as men teach a parrot, to say ‘Lies of poets,’ and ‘Ungit’s a false image.’ . . . I never told her why the old Priest got something from the dark House [of Ungit] that I never got from my trim sentences . . . I made her think a prattle of maxims would do, all thin and clear as water.”[27] How like so many testimonies of those who, in our day, come to Christ after years of dismissing and rationally ruling out the reality of the transcendent. Words are cheap and book knowledge only gets one so far, the Fox admits. What a mirror of teachers who lead people of faith away from that which requires revelation using smart-sounding verbiage. Hence, for those enamored with the Richard Dawkinses of our time, a reading of this novel may be the foxiest way of all to reach them.

Orual is a product of her own Need-Love[28], which is serviced alternately by her Fox-taught Greek rationalism and belief in humanoid gods, whom she thinks she can control. As a young woman being flirted with by a prince on the lam, she characteristically staunches true emotions. “I had a fool’s wish to lengthen” the encounter, she says. “But I came to my senses.” On her odyssey to save her sister from a supposedly evil god, Orual blocks every sentiment with controlling motherly logic, eschewing all glimpses of and desires for the divine. She chooses to outwit the gods. She ends up the pawn in the hands of the gods, however gracious, that she fancied to be her equals.

The Orual-Queen-Psyche’s-twin character spends a lifetime employing Greek wisdom learned under the Fox to seek out life’s mysteries of human and divine relations, up to the bittersweet end, constantly denouncing the gods for the woes she experiences. Face to face with divinity, her bitter hiding reveals her glorious humanity. Now, true-faced, she is free. Up until then the helpless, yet defiantly and impressively skillful independence she exhibits as a mothering sister, and later as regent, so well illustrate fallen human defiance of the true God of the Bible, seen most vividly in well-educated apostates and atheists today. Those unbelievers, consumed by angry confusion regarding suffering and life’s seeming futilities, should find both empathy and resolution in this novel.[29] While doing excellently (in human terms) for a lifetime, as Orual did, one can still deny the existence of the divine while cursing the god’s or God’s supposed effects on mere mortals. Orual’s torturous private thought life increasingly revealed her sin nature, which she turned back into ravings against the fate of the gods. Control was her only weapon, until the deaths of all who propped up her life and kingdom, and until visions of her corrupted affections forced humility upon her. Such desperate machinations to live a meaningful life in the face of deadening routine punctuated by tragedy, in turn, raises the biggest questions of life: Why are we here? Are we mere mortals or eternal beings with a destiny? If the latter, what or who determines our fate—is there really meaningful choice or only divine whim or something else? Lewis creates multi-layered characters who live out the quest for ultimate answers.

In another resolution of sorts, the myth comes full circle through the Fox and priesthood back to Greece. Arnom, the new Priest of Ungit, adds a notation on Orual’s book (at our novel’s end) entreating anyone travelling to Greece to take it there,[30] which may ironically imply that the barbarians had something to teach the world’s greatest philosophers. Likelier, Arnom, who put himself under the tutelage of the Fox, meant to dedicate the Queen’s life saga to a greater civilization. Is this a symbolic merging and maturing of the two schools of thought and faith? A reference to Arnom as “priest of Aphrodite,” likely indicates his fuller “Greekification.” Whether this change was for ill, good or neutral is hard to say. Perhaps the former priest of the crude barbarian goddess Ungit was effectively sending a message, as if to preach: “To those in Greece, supreme land of learning and reason, place of the gods of the philosophers, we commend you this account of a Being beyond description who revealed our Queen’s aching fallenness, journey into redemption, and glorified revelation as a goddess in her own right.” This writer’s weak grasp of Greek mythology and theology notwithstanding, it seems clear Lewis offers much resolution of reason and religion, of the contemplative and the Enjoyed, however incomplete it must naturally be.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, (San Diego and New York: A Harvest Book / Harcourt, 1956), 302-303.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, (San Diego and New York: A Harvest Book / Harcourt, 1960), 117.

[3] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 7.

[4] Ibid., 8.

[5] Ibid., 10.

[6] Ibid., 14.

[7] Ibid., 31

[8] Ibid., 22.

[9] Ibid., 17-18.

[10] Ibid., 15,54.

[11] Ibid., 14.

[12] Ibid., 15-16, etc.

[13] Ibid., 293-294.

[14] Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1940), 14-15.

[15] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 301.

[16] Ibid., 33.

[17] Ibid., 49.

[18] Ibid., 268.

[19] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 13.

[20] From the little the writer knows of Plato’s Republic, there seem to be echoes of it here in the Fox’s views. Worth exploring.

[21] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 46.

[22] Ibid., 49-50.

[23] Ibid., 50.

[24] Ibid., 51.

[25] Ibid., 54.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 295.

[28] Lewis, The Four Loves, chapter 2 (“Affection”).

[29] The writer plans to use the novel and its contemplative companion, The Four Loves, to reach out to a struggling apostate with mother issues on both sides of her adoption.

[30] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 308-309.




Crossing the Worldview Divide: Sharing Christ with Other Faiths

Christians need to introduce the gospel differently to people with different worldviews. Steve Cable provides ways to talk to Muslims, Hindus, Mormons and postmoderns.

Changing Worldview Landscape

Growing up in the sixties and seventies, I had very limited exposure to other worldviews significantly different from my own. Raised in a small town in New Mexico, I was exposed to a number of Hispanic Catholics, and I knew at least two families that were Mormons. Frankly, I never had either of those groups share their worldview with me. But, by and large, most people appeared to have a pretty conventional Christian worldview, answering the basic worldview questions as follows:

•  What about God? God is the creator and sustainer of this universe.

•  What about man? Mankind is separated from God’s provision by our sin nature.

•  What about salvation? Jesus Christ is God’s answer to our desperate need, offering redemption through faith in Him. When people die, those who have put their faith in Jesus will go to heaven while those who refuse will be relegated to hell.

•  What about history? History is a linear progression culminating in the creation of a new heavens and new earth.

download-podcastSince leaving the college campus in 1977, I have lived in suburbs of major metropolitan cities. Over the last thirty-five years, the makeup of those suburbs has changed significantly. I worked as an electrical engineer with several Indian Hindus and Jains. I teach English as a Second Language to a group of Muslims, Hindus, Baha’is, atheists and Latin American Catholics. From 2000 to 2010, the Muslim population of my area grew by 220%. All of these groups have a worldview significantly different from my own. In sharing Christ with them, I cannot appeal to the Bible stories they learned in vacation Bible school as a child. I need to be aware that what I say is being processed through their worldview filter. So that what they hear may not be what I meant to say.

The apostle Paul was very much aware of the issue of worldview filters. While on his missionary journeys, he preached the gospel

•  in synagogues established by Jews living away from Israel,{1}

•  in market places containing Gentiles with a common Greek worldview,{2} and

•  in front of Greek philosophers at the forefront of creating new worldviews.{3}

In each of these environments, he preached the same truth: Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead for our sins. But he entered that subject from a verbal starting point that made sense to the audience he was speaking to. For example, in Athens he began by drawing their attention to an idol dedicated to the unknown god and he quoted some of their poets. Was he doing this because the idol was really a Christian idol or because their poets were speaking a Christian message? Of course not. He was bridging the worldview divide between their thought patterns and those of Judaism. Having done that, he finished by saying, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”{4}

In the same way, if we want to share effectively with those from different worldviews, we need to make the effort to know how to share in a way that makes sense from their worldview perspective. We want to shake up their worldview, but we have to be able to communicate first. In the remainder of this article, we will consider the differences with and ways to share the gospel with people from four different worldview perspectives: Islam, Hindu, Mormon, and popular postmodernism.

Bridging Across to a Muslim Worldview

Islam is the second largest religion in the world with about 1.5 billion adherents or over 20% of the world population. In America, there are over 2.6 million Muslims with most of them located in major metropolitan areas accounting for 3-4% of the population in those areas. If you live in a metropolitan area, you are probably aware of several mosques in your area.

How can I share Christ with my Muslim acquaintances in a way they can understand? To answer this question, we need to understand how their worldview differs from our own and what communication issues may come into play. Let’s begin by considering the four worldview questions introduced earlier:

•  What about God? Christians believe that a transcendent, loving God created the universe and mankind. Muslims believe that a transcendent, unknowable Allah created the universe and mankind.

•  What about man? A Christian believes man is created in the image of God, but mankind is now fallen and separated from God by our sin nature. Muslims believe that, although weak and prone to error, man is basically good and is fully capable of obeying Allah.

•  What about salvation? For a Christian, the answer to our problem is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who provided a way for us to reunite with God through grace. Muslims must focus on good works to earn their way into heaven. They have no instruction as to what level of goodness is required. Certainly, they must pay attention to the five pillars of Islam: reciting the creed (the shahada), daily prayers, giving 2.5% of one’s income to the poor or to the spread of Islam, a pilgrimage to Mecca, and fasting during Ramadan.

•  What about history? For a Christian, the world is moving through time, not repeating itself, to reach the end God has prepared for it. For a Muslim time is a linear progression as well and it is moving forward exactly as Allah has willed.

The key difference between our worldviews lies in the way to redemption: by faith through God’s grace or as a reward for our good works.

How can you share effectively with Muslim friends and acquaintances? First, there are some important issues and confusing terms that will sidetrack your discussion in their minds. These include:

•  The high cost: in most Muslim families and societies, converting from Islam is a terrible offense, resulting in expulsion and sometimes death. Most Muslims will not enter into a conversation if they know the intent of it is to convert them to another faith.

•  The Trinity, including Jesus as God’s Son: Muslims are told that Christians worship three gods when there is only one. This area is especially problematic in thinking that God could be born to a woman and be crucified.

•  Belittling Mohammed will offend most Muslims, causing them to cease listening to you.

•  Using corrupt Scripture by quoting from the New Testament which they have been taught has been changed and corrupted. An interesting note on this argument for Islam and against Christianity: a study of recently discovered early copies of the Quran show that current Aramaic copies of the Quran are only consistent with the early copies 88% of the time; while similar studies of the New Testament show a 98% reliability between current translations and the earliest documents.

Let’s be clear. We are not saying that you don’t need at some time to address the Trinity, the role of Mohammed as a false prophet, and veracity of Scripture. But first, you need to be able to communicate the gospel to them in a way that they will hear it.

To share with a Muslim, you must begin with prayer for your Muslim acquaintances who are captive to powerful social ties and equally powerful demonic lies. Pray that God will work to prepare their hearts. God has been working in powerful ways preparing Muslims to listen to the gospel of Jesus Christ.{5}

Start your conversation with their most important need. Ask them, “How can you be sure that you have done enough to get into heaven?” Listen to their thoughts on this important question. Point out that the gospels say, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”{6} Are they that good? God loves us and knows that we cannot do it on our own. For this reason Jesus came to pay our penalty through His death and bring us into God’s household through His resurrection.

In some Islamic countries, a good way to begin the discussion is to look at what the Koran says about Jesus to draw their attention to the specialness of Jesus. If they show an interest, you move quickly to the Bible as the true source of information on Jesus and eternal life. For more information on this approach, check out The Camel Training Manual by Kevin Greeson.

Bridging Across to a Hindu Worldview

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world with about 900 million adherents. However, there are only about 1.2 million Hindus in the United States, about 0.4% of the population. Since they are mostly located in high tech, urban and suburban areas, the percentages are much higher in those areas, closer to 2% and growing. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you have probably seen one or more temples in your area.

How does the Hindu worldview compare with a Christian worldview on the four worldview questions introduced earlier?

•  What about God? The Hindu believes that the universe is eternal and the concept of an impersonal god is contained in the universe.

•  What about man? Hindus believe that our current state is a temporary illusion and our goal is to merge into the Brahman, the god nature of the universe.

•  What about salvation? For a Christian the answer to our problem is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who provided a way for us to become reunited with God. This salvation can begin now and will be fully realized in heaven. For a Hindu, the answer to our problem is to live a life in such a way as to merge with Brahman at death. Unfortunately, the vast majority will be reincarnated to suffer again as another living creature.

•  What about history? For a Hindu, the universe is eternal and history repeats itself cyclically.

As you can see, the worldview of a Hindu varies significantly from that of a Christian on almost every point. Salvation for a Hindu is to reach a state where they no longer exist. They are integrated into the universal god. Both Hindus and Christians believe that mankind faces the problem of being born into a world full of suffering and hardship. For Hindus, there are three paths that could lead one out of this situation into oneness: 1) performing appropriate good works, 2) reaching a state of knowledge that pierces through the deception of this existence, and 3) devoting oneself to service of one of the many gods.

Being aware of these worldview differences can sensitize us to some of the communication problems in sharing with a Hindu. First, when you share with them that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth in the flesh, they will probably agree with you wholeheartedly. This is exactly the response I received when sharing with a Hindu couple at a Starbucks in an exclusive shopping area. After all, there are many forms of god in the Hindu pantheon. Just because someone is a god, doesn’t mean I should leave off worshipping my current gods to worship this new god exclusively.

How can I share with a Hindu in a way that helps be clearly explain the gospel in the context of their worldview? I would suggest two important aspects.

First, you can begin by asking this question: What if there were only one God who transcended His creation? We are not created to be subsumed back into God, but rather we were created in His image to be able to exist with and to worship our Creator. Our Creator does not want us to worship other gods which we have made up to satisfy our desire to understand our world. If you cannot get a Hindu to understand this basic premise, then other things you tell them about the gospel will be misinterpreted because of their existing worldview filter.

Second, you can tell them that you agree that the problems of this world can be seen in the pain and suffering of life on this planet. Man has tried for thousands of years and yet the pain and suffering continue. This state of despair is the direct result of man’s rejection of the love of God. We can never do enough in this life through good works, special knowledge, or serving false gods to bridge the gap back to God. God was the only one who could fix this problem and it cost Him great anguish to achieve it through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.{7}

Bridging Across to a Mormon Worldview

There are only about 15 million Mormons worldwide, but almost 45% of them live in the United States. They make up about 2% of the population of the United States. Compared to Muslims and Hindus, their U.S. population has remained fairly constant as a percentage basis over the last few decades. Because of their young adult missionary teams, many Americans have had some exposure to the evangelistic message of Mormonism.

How do Mormons compare with Christians in answering the four worldview questions introduced on day one? First, we need to understand that not all Mormons believe the same things. The president of the Mormons can introduce new doctrine which may contradict prior doctrine. One prominent example is the Mormon doctrine on blacks which was changed in 1978. The statements below represent my understanding as to the current orthodox Mormon position:

•  What about God? Where a Christian believes that God is eternal and transcendent, Mormons believe God was once a man like us and ascended to godhood

•  What about man? Where a Christian believes that man is born in sin and separated from God, Mormons believe men are born in sin, but have the potential to become gods in their own right

•  What about salvation? Where Christians believe in salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone, Mormons believe salvation comes from putting our faith in Jesus and performing good works. The good works are intended to pay back Jesus for the price He paid for us. In addition, Jesus is not eternal but was born to God and one of His spirit wives.

•  What about history? Both Christians and Mormons believe that history is linear, but Mormons believe it is leading to a day when they could be gods ruling their own planets.

Even though some would like to consider Mormonism as a branch of Christianity, one can see there are significant differences between the beliefs of Mormons and Christians.

In sharing your faith with a Mormon, there are terms and concepts you need to watch out for as they will be misinterpreted. First, you are relying on the Bible as the complete and only direct revelation from God. When you do that, you need to be aware that they will assume anything you say that they don’t agree with is countered in the Book of Mormon or the Pearl of Great Price. Point out to them that the clear meanings of the Bible don’t need reinterpretation. Also, you can tell them that the Bible written between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago has been consistently supported by archaeological findings while the Book of Mormon written 175 years ago has no historical or archaeological support.

When talking about God the Father, Jesus, Satan, and man, be sure to make it clear that God and Jesus are one kind of being, the transcendent God of the universe, that Satan is a created angelic being, and that men are created different from the angels. A Mormon will use those terms, but will normally group all four of those beings as made basically the same.

Be leery of expecting to win over Mormon missionaries on mission. If they are sharing with you, of course, you should try to share with them. However, normally they are too focused on fulfilling their mission to really listen to someone else. It is best to share with them when you introduce the topic.

In sharing with a Mormon, you may want to consider how good one would have to be to earn their way to eternal life. After all, Jesus said, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” If you can admit you are not perfect, then the only way to redemption is through God’s grace.

Some of them may feel that in the matters of the church, they are keeping the faith in a sinless manner. What if a future president changes some criteria of behavior and you find out that you have now been sinning for years? Does it make sense to you that God’s criteria for righteousness should change?{8}

Bridging Across to a Postmodern Worldview

Postmoderns may not seem as exotic as some of the world religions we have considered to this point. But they have a distinctly different worldview than do Christians and are the largest segment of non-Christians in today’s America. An actual postmodern believes that absolute truth, if it does exist at all, is impossible to find. A Christian believes that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” and that “truth comes through Jesus Christ.”{9} Jesus is truth applicable to every man in every situation. What do we need to understand about postmodernism to be better equipped to share the truth with them?

Popular postmodernity has a broadly defined identity, but they should resonate with this definition: postmodernity is “incredulity toward metanarratives.”{10} In other words, they reject the possibility of anyone knowing truth about the basic questions of life; e.g., our worldview questions.

As before, we will begin with our four worldview questions. Keep in mind that we just said they don’t think anyone can know the truth about these types of questions.

•  What about God? Postmoderns believe that we can’t really know where we came from but we probably evolved from nothing over millions of years.

•  What about man? Postmoderns believe that humans are neither good nor bad and are shaped by the society around them which defines what is good and bad for them.

•  What about salvation? For a Christian, the answer to our dilemma and hope for eternal life is the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son. For a postmodern, each group has their own answer that helps them get through the hard times of life, but none of the answers can be counted on as true. What is important is not their truth, but their helpfulness in coping with life’s challenges.

•  What about history? For a postmodern, history is linear moving forward to whatever happens next. Hopefully, the future will be better than the past, but there is not grand plan or purpose for mankind. In any case, if there is a grand plan, we can’t know it with any certainty.

It is hard to present Jesus Christ as the source of all grace and truth to someone who denies the existence of truth or at least our ability to know it. As Dave Kinnaman writes in his book UnChristian, “Even if you are able to weave a compelling logical argument, young people will nod, smile, and ignore you.”{11} Constructing a rational argument for Christ may not be the place to start. As Drew Dyck reported hearing from one postmodern, “I don’t really believe in all that rationality. Reason and logic come from the Western philosophical tradition. I don’t think that’s the only way to find truth.” Dyck concluded, “They’re not interested in philosophical proofs for God’s existence or in the case for the resurrection.”{12}

To begin the process, we need to develop their trust; be their friend. Possibly, invite them to serve alongside you in ministering to the needs of others, exposing them to the ministry of Christ to the world around them.

The postmodern should be interested in your personal story, the things you have found that work for you. But don’t fall into the traditional testimony rut (i.e., I was bad, I was saved, now I am wonderful); make it real by sharing real issues you have dealt with. Then convey the gospel story in a winsome way, emphasizing Jesus concern for the marginalized around Him, realizing the gospel is a metanarrative providing a universal answer to a universal problem.

Share with them why you are compelled to commit to a universal truth. I cannot live my life without making a commitment to what I believe to be the Truth. Saying “it doesn’t matter” is basically giving up on eternity. Admit that claiming to know the truth about God, creation, and eternity is crazy from man’s perspective. It can only be true if it is truly revealed by God. From my perspective, Jesus is the Truth.{13}

We’ve taken a very brief look at four distinct worldviews, different from a Christian worldview and different from each other. A simple understanding of those worldviews helps us avoid confusing terminology. We can focus on bridging the gap from their fundamental misunderstanding to faith in Christ. Only God working through the Holy Spirit can bring them to true faith, but we can play an important role in making the gospel understandable when filtered through their worldview.{14}

Notes

1. Acts 17:1-2, 17 for example
2. Acts 17:17, 19:9ff for example.
3. Acts 17:18-32
4. Acts 17:30-31
5. See the web articles “Breaching the Barriers to Islam” by Steve Cable and “Islam in the Modern World” by Kerby Anderson. Both can be found at www.probe.org.
6. Matthew 5:48
7. For more information on Hinduism, you can access the article “Hinduism” by Rick Rood at www.probe.org.
8. For more information on Mormonism, please access “Understanding Our Mormon Neighbors” by Don Closson and “Examining the Book of Mormon” by Patrick Zukeran. Both can be found at www.probe.org.
9. John 1:17
10. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans., Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv.
11. Dave Kinnaman, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity . . . and Why It Matters (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan), 2007.
12. Drew Dyck, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith . . . And How to Bring Them Back, Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2010
13. See the article “The Answer is the Resurrection” by Steve Cable at www.probe.org
14. For more information on postmodernism, you can access “Truth Decay” by Kerby Anderson and “Worldviews Part 2” by Rick Wade at www.probe.org.

© 2013 Probe Ministries




Challenging the New Atheists

The new wave of bitterly anti-God, anti-Christian atheists offer arguments against God. Patrick Zukeran provides several good answers.

The New Atheist Agenda

download-podcastNearly thirty years ago John Lennon sang the song, “Imagine.” The words went like this:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Imagine there’s no heaven. . .
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

In other words, the source of much evil in the world is religion: belief in God, life after death, and a universal moral code. Would the world be a better place if faith in God was eliminated? Many atheists now think so. Richard Dawkins states, “Imagine with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine, no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ killers’, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no honour killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‘God wants you to give till it hurts’). Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing one inch of it.”{1} The goal of the new atheists is to rid the world of belief in God or religion and replace it with reason and science. The new atheists believe that religions that embrace a belief in God, particularly Christianity, are not just irrational but dangerous and therefore must be extinguished.

The new atheists are not presenting new arguments but instead they are promoting their ideas very aggressively with strong, confrontational, and condemning language. They have gained a following amongst the young academic crowd, and they have been quite influential in public education. Some of the notable names who have written popular work include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, and Christopher Hitchens.

In this work we will cover four popular arguments presented by the new atheists. The first is that belief in God is irrational. The second argument is that Christianity in particular is dangerous. Third, science has clearly proven God does not exist. Fourth, religion is the result of a natural man-made evolutionary process motivated by man’s need for a divine father figure and the need to find meaning in the universe.

In this series, we will examine these arguments and see whether belief in God is irrational or if there are good reasons for belief in a creator.

Belief in God is Irrational

The new atheists allege that faith in God is the result of irrational thinking and that a rational person would not believe in God. Sam Harris writes, “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them ‘religious’; otherwise they are likely to be called ‘mad,’ psychotic,’ or ‘delusional.’”{2}

Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, says that belief in God is the result of delusional thinking. He asserts that belief in God is a delusion built on empty assertions and not evidence. He states, “Faith is blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence.”{3} His conclusion is that there is no evidence to support the existence of God; in fact, all the evidence goes against God.

The assertion that belief in God is irrational is not a new argument but a very old one. It is true that many who believe in God are not able to present reasons why they believe. However, Christianity is not founded on “blind faith” but faith built upon evidence, and there are good reasons that make belief in God a reasonable conclusion. One significant individual who has come to believe in the existence of God is Antony Flew. Flew was this generation’s greatest atheist philosopher. However, Flew, through philosophical reasoning, came to believe in God.

Flew states that he wrestled with three key, major scientific questions. First, how did the laws of nature come to be? Second, how did life come from non-life? Third, how did the universe come into existence?{4} The naturalists’ answers, which are heavily dependent on Darwin’s theory, were unsatisfactory. Flew discovered that the classical theistic arguments provided the best answers in light of the evidence. The cosmological argument, or argument from first cause, and the teleological argument, or argument from design, provided a much more reasonable answer.{5}

For centuries, Christian apologists have presented these and several other reasoned arguments for the existence of God and many have come to a belief in God as Flew did. Antony Flew’s conversion from atheism to theism deals a devastating blow to the arguments of the new atheists. Not only was he a titan among atheist philosophers, but he is another example that demonstrates belief in God is not irrational. Reasoning individuals who are willing to study the evidence and follow it wherever it leads may find a strong case for a creator.

Is Science at War with God?

The new atheists allege that science and faith are at war. Therefore real scientists must be atheists, for science clearly proves God does not exist.

How do these atheists explain the display of design in the universe? Leading atheist spokesman Richard Dawkins believes Darwin’s theory answers the design argument. However, recent discoveries reveal the shortcomings of Darwin’s theory. Darwin’s theory fails to explain the cause of the universe. It also fails to present evidence that that life came from non-life. There is also the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record, and there is no mechanism for macro-evolutionary change. Mutations and natural selection have failed to conclusively show they can produce macro-evolutionary change. In short, the new atheists have a lot of faith that Darwin’s theory will answer these challenges.

Science and the Christian faith are not enemies. In fact, the more scientists study nature and the universe, they continue to discover complexity and design which make it highly improbable such complex systems could have come about by chance or natural forces. For this reason, the number of scientists who are acknowledging an intelligent creator continues to grow. This is a fact the new atheists neglect to acknowledge.

Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome project and author of The Language of God, tells how the order and precision in the DNA code led him from atheism to belief in God. Collins writes, “Many will be puzzled by these sentiments, assuming that a rigorous scientist could not also be a believer in a transcendent God. This book aims at dispelling that notion, by arguing that belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are in fact complimentary with the principles of science.”{6}

Physicist Stephen Hawking states that his study of the universe reveals that “The overwhelming impression is one of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws. . . . You still have to ask the question why does the universe bother to exist? If you like, you can define God to be the answer to the question.”{7}

Francis Collins and Stephen Hawking are just two examples of numerous award-winning scientists who acknowledge the scientific evidence points to a creator. The more we learn in the various fields of science such as biology, microbiology, astronomy, physics, etc., the evidence continues to point to design. The complexity of life and the order displayed in the universe make it more reasonable to conclude a God created it, and the greater leap of faith would be to conclude it all occurred by chance and natural forces.

Belief in God Is Dangerous

The new atheist movement asserts that religion is dangerous, for it is the source of much of the conflict in the world today. Many assert that religions, especially Christianity, teach intolerance and discrimination. To build their case, however, the new atheists unfortunately attack misrepresentations of religions, especially Christianity.

For example, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins states, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”{8} What Dawkins displays is his superficial understanding of the Bible. Certainly no Christian believes in a God as described by Dawkins.

Another error is the misuse of labels. New atheists apply the term “fundamentalist” to Evangelical Christians as well as fundamentalist Muslims, creating the illusion the two are equivalent in their teachings. When Dawkins points to the example of the Islamic riots against the Danish cartoons, he equates this incident not with Islam but with religion, all religions.{9} However a careful study reveals that there is a huge difference between Jesus’ teachings and Muhammad’s teachings. This huge difference is also revealed in the lives they lived.{10} A careful reading of the New Testament quickly reveals that violence goes against the nature of Christ’s teachings who taught His disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Mt. 5:38-48). Application of the true teachings of Christ would lead to a peaceful society.

New atheists allege that religions promote division by the creation of in-groups and out-groups. Indeed, there are religions that discriminate, including some Christian groups, but in Christianity that is a perversion of the teachings of Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice and gift of salvation is offered to all (Jn. 3:16). Throughout His life Jesus reached out to those despised by the culture, and His disciples die—many in foreign fields—preaching salvation to all. Even in the Old Testament, the mission of Israel was to be a blessing to all the world (Gen. 12). Application of true biblical teachings would lead to non-discrimination.

A significant point that the new atheists do not mention is the destructive consequences of atheist philosophies. Nietzsche predicted that the death of God would lead to a moral relativism which would result in blood in the streets.{11} Communism has lead to the death of millions in the twentieth century. Millions were put to death under the regimes of Marx, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung. Some religions are responsible for conflict, including Christians who have misused biblical teachings. However, atheism has shown to be dangerous as well.

Religion Is the Result of an Evolutionary Process

New atheists assert that religion was created out of a need for a father figure, or for comfort in a cruel world, or out of fear of the unknown. They rely on the work of James Frazer and his book the Golden Bough, written in the nineteenth century. Frazer taught that religion developed through a natural evolutionary process which began first with animism, a belief in spirits in nature. The worship of nature spirits eventually lead to polytheism. Eventually, amongst all the gods, one was viewed as the most dominant. Eventually this dominant god alone was worshipped and monotheism developed. This was known as the evolutionary theory of religion. New atheists believe eventually man’s need for God will end and atheism will be the end of this evolutionary development. Unfortunately, the new atheists once again are not presenting a new theory but reiterating an old theory which has been shown to be flawed.

One of the flaws of this theory is that it was influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution and lacked serious empirical evidence and study.{12} One of the most significant and well-researched works was produced by anthropologist Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt in his four-thousand-page treatise, The Origin and Growth of Religion. His research of hundreds of cultures revealed that monotheism is the oldest of religions. The development of religion was discovered to have gone in the opposite direction of the evolutionary theory. All cultures began with a belief in a heavenly father, and this monotheistic faith eventually degenerates to polytheism and then animism. This theory is called “original monotheism.”{13} The evidence displayed by Schmidt, and later by anthropologist Don Richardson, is consistent with the progression of religion as revealed in Romans 1. Serious research and evidence appears to favor the biblical model.

The new atheists present few new arguments. What are new are not the arguments but the method and strategy of this group. How should we meet the challenge of the new atheists? 1 Peter 3:15 challenges us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We are called to love those who question or even attack the Christian faith. Christians must answer their challenges with humility and grace. As we present a well-reasoned case and the evidence, the Holy Spirit will use our apologetic defense and our unshaken but loving attitude to speak to their mind and heart.

Psalm 14:21 states, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” Might it be the new atheists who are irrational?

Notes

1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2006), 23-4.

2. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: Norton, 2004), 72, quoted in Dawkins, The God Delusion, 113.

3. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 2006), 198.

4. Antony Flew, There is a God (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007), 91.

5. Ibid., 89. For more on this, see Gene Herr, “Case for a Creator,” www.probe.org.

6. Dr. Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2006), 3.

7. Gregory Benford, “Leaping the Abyss: Stephen Hawking on Black Holes, Unified Field Theory and Marilyn Monroe,” Reason 4.02 (April 2002): 29 quoted in Flew, There is a God, 97.

8. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 51.

9. Ibid., 46-50.

10.See Patrick Zukeran, “The Lives of Muhammad and Jesus,” at www.probe.org.

11. Amy Orr-Ewing, Is Believing in God Irrational? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 208.

12. Alister McGrath and Joanna McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 60.

13. See Patrick Zukeran, “The Origin of Man’s Religions,” www.probe.org.

© 2010 Probe Ministries




Secularization and the Church in Europe

Christian beliefs and church attendance are playing a much smaller role in Europeans’ lives in general than in the past. Rick Wade gives a snapshot of the place and nature of Christianity in Europe.

At the end of a talk about the state of the evangelical mind in America, the subject turned to Europe, and a man said with great confidence, “The churches in Europe are all empty!” I’ve heard that said before. It makes for a good missions sermon; however, it doesn’t quite do justice to the situation. Not all the churches in Europe are empty! The situation isn’t like in Dallas, Texas, where churches dot the landscape, but there are thriving churches across the continent.

Listen to the Podcast That said, however, there is more than just a grain of truth in the claim. Church attendance in Europe is down. Traditional Christian beliefs are less widely held.

It’s important to know what the situation is in Europe for a few reasons.

First, we have a tendency to write Europe off in a way we don’t other parts of the world. The church is struggling there, but it isn’t a lost cause by any means! Maybe we can even learn from the thinking and life’s experience of believers across the Atlantic.

Second, learning about the church around the world is good because it broadens our understanding of the interaction of Christianity and society. This should be of interest to us here in America.

Let’s look at a few numbers in the area of church attendance. To provide a contrast with the situation today, the best estimate for church attendance in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century was between forty and sixty percent of the adult population.{1} By contrast, in 2007, ten percent attended church at least weekly. About a quarter of those (about two million people) self-identify as evangelicals.{2} Although there has been large growth in so-called “new churches,” that growth hasn’t offset the loss across other denominations, especially the Church of England.

What about some other countries? In 2004, Gallup reported that “weekly attendance at religious services is below 10% in France and Germany, while in Belgium, the Netherlands, [and] Luxembourg . . . between 10% and 15% of citizens are regular churchgoers. . . . Only in Roman Catholic Ireland do a majority of residents (54%) still go to church weekly.”{3}

As we’ll see later, reduced numbers in church doesn’t mean all religious belief—even Christian—is lost.

The Golden Age of Faith

There is a story of the prominence and demise of religion in Europe that has become standard fare for understanding the history of Christianity in the modern world. The story goes that Europe was once a Christian civilization; that everyone was a Christian, and that the state churches ensured that society as a whole was Christian. This was the so-called “golden age of faith.” With the shift in thinking in the Enlightenment which put man at the center of knowledge, and which saw the rise of science, it became clear to some that religion was really just a form of superstition that gave pre-modern people an explanation of the world in which they lived and gave them hope.{4}

This story has come under a lot of fire in recent decades.{5} Although the churches had political and social power, there was no uniform religious belief across Europe. In fact, it’s been shown that there was a significant amount of paganism and folk magic mixed in with Christian beliefs.{6} Many priests had the barest notions of Christian theology; a lot of them couldn’t even read.{7} Sociologist Philip Gorski says that it’s more accurate to call it an Age of Magic or an Age of Ritual than an Age of Belief.{8}

On the other side of this debate are scholars such as Steve Bruce who say that, no matter the content or nature of religious belief in the Middle Ages, people were still religious even if not uniformly Christian; they believed in the supernatural and their religious beliefs colored their entire lives. “The English peasants may have often disappointed the guardians of Christian orthodoxy,” Bruce writes, “but they were indubitably religious.”{9}

So what changed? Was there a loss of Christianity or a loss of religion in general, or just some kind of shift? Historian Timothy Larson believes that what has been lost is Christendom.{10} The term Christendom is typically used to refer to the West when it was dominated by Christianity. The change wasn’t really from religion to irreligion but from the dominance of Christianity to its demise as a dominant force.

Religion has come back with significant force in recent decades even in such deeply secular countries as France, primarily because of the influx of Muslims.{11} Although the state Christian churches are faltering, some founded by immigrants are doing well, such as those founded by Afro-Caribbean immigrants in England. It seems that critics sounded the death knell on religion too soon.

European Distinctives

Although Christian belief is on the demise in general in Europe, the institutional church—the state church specifically—still has a valuable place in society.

In Europe’s past, the church was a major part of people’s lives. Everyone was baptized, married, and buried in the church. That tradition is still such a part of the social psyche that people fully expect that the church will be there for them even if they don’t attend. Sociologist Grace Davie describes the church in this respect as a public utility. “A public utility,” she writes, “is available to the population as a whole at the point of need and is funded through the tax system.”{12} Fewer people are being married in churches now, and far fewer are being baptized. However, there’s still a sense of need for the church at the time of death along with the expectation that it will be there for them.

Another term that characterizes religion in Europe is vicarious religion. Vicarious religion is “religion performed by an active minority but on behalf of a much larger number, who . . . understand [and] approve of what the minority is doing.” Church leaders are expected to believe certain things, perform religious rituals, and embody a high moral code. “English bishops,” Davie writes, “are rebuked . . . if they doubt in public; it is, after all, their ‘job’ to believe.” She reports an incident where a bishop was thought to have spoken derogatorily about the resurrection of Jesus. He was “widely pilloried” for that, she writes. Soon after his consecration as bishop, his church was struck by lightning. That was seen by some as a rebuke by God!{13}

Another indicator of the importance of the church in European life is the fact that, in some countries, people still pay church tax, even countries that are very secular. Germany is one example. People can opt out, but a surprisingly high number don’t, including some who are not religiously affiliated. Reasons include the possibility of needing the church sometime later in life, having a place to provide moral guidance for children, and the church’s role in positively influencing the moral fabric of society in general.{14}

From Doctrine to Spirituality

I described above two concepts that characterize religious life in parts of Europe: public utility and vicarious religion. There’s a third phrase sociologists use which points to the shift in emphasis from what one gets through the institutional church to personal spiritual experience. The phrase is “believing without belonging.”

Sociologist Peter Berger believes that, as America is less religious than it seems, Europe is less secular than it seems. “A lot goes on under the radar,” he writes.{15}

A phrase often heard there is heard more and more frequently in the States: “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” This could mean the person is into New Age thinking, or is interested in more conventional religion but doesn’t feel at home in a church or in organized religion, or just prefers to choose what to believe him- or herself. A term some use to characterize this way of thinking is “patchwork religion.”

One frequently finds a greater acceptance of religion in Europe when religion in general is the subject and not particular, creedal religions. Davie notes that “[generally speaking] if you ask European populations . . . do you believe in God, and you’re not terribly specific about the God in question, you’ll get about 70 percent saying yes, depending where you are. If you say, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, you’ll get a much lower number. In other words, if you turn your question into a creedal statement, the percentages go down.” A “cerebral” kind of belief doesn’t hold much appeal to the young. The essence of religious experience isn’t so much what you learn as it is simply taking part. “It’s the fact that you’re lifted out of yourself that counts.”{16}

The loss of authority in the state church hasn’t resulted in the triumph of secular rationalism among young people, which is rather surprising. They experiment with religious beliefs. “The rise occurred right across Europe,” Davie notes, “but is most marked in those parts of Europe where the institutional churches are at their weakest.” This isn’t seen, however, “where the church is still strong and seen as a disciplinary force and is therefore rejected by young people.”{17}

Some Closing Thoughts

Allow me to make some observations about the subject of secularization and the church in Europe.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as we face a Western culture that is increasingly hostile to the Gospel. First, we routinely hear the charge from people that religious people are living in the past, that they need to catch up to modern times. Such people simply assume as obviously true the long-held theory that secularization necessarily follows from modernization. This theory is sharply disputed today. Europe’s history isn’t the history of the rest of the world. Modernization appears in different forms around the world, including some that have room for religious belief and practice. America is a prime example. It isn’t the backward exception to the rule, as haughty critics would have us believe. Some say it’s Europe that is the exception with its strong secularity.{18} In fact, I think a case can be made that the modern propensity to separate our spiritual side from our material one is artificial; it violates our nature. But that’s a subject for another time. What we can be sure of is that the condescending attitude of people who want Christians to catch up to modern times is without basis. There is no necessary connection between modernity and secularity.{19}

A second thing to keep in mind is that the church doesn’t require a Christian society around it in order to grow. Christianity didn’t have its beginnings in a Christian society, but it grew nonetheless. The wide-spread social acceptance of Christian beliefs and morality is not the power of God unto salvation. It is the word of the cross.

Third, religion per se will not disappear because we are made in God’s image and He has put eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). Christianity in particular will not die either, for the One who rose from the dead said even the gates of hell won’t prevail against it (a much more serious adversary than the new atheists!).

What should we do? The same things Christian have always been called to do: continue in sound, biblical teaching, and learn and practice consistent Christian living. It is the way we live that, for many people, makes our beliefs plausible in the first place. And proclaim the gospel. Despite any constraints society may put on us, the Word of God is not bound.

Notes

1. Steve Bruce, God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Wiley-Blackwell, 2002), 63-64.
2. Tearfund, “Churchgoing in the UK,” available on the Web at www.tearfund.org/webdocs/Website/News/Final%20churchgoing%20report.pdf.
3. Robert Manchin, “Religion in Europe: Trust Not Filling the Pews,” Sept. 21, 2004, www.gallup.com/poll/13117/religion-europe-trust-filling-pews.aspx.
4. Kevin M. Schulz, “Secularization: A Bibliographic Essay,” The Hedgehog Review, vol. 8, nos.1-2 (Spring/Summer 2006), 171. Online at www.virginia.edu/iasc/HHR_Archives/AfterSecularization/8.12RBibliography.pdf.
5. Sociologist Rodney Stark is one of the most prominent doubters of secularization theory. See his “Secularization, R.I.P. – rest in peace,” Sociology of Religion, Fall, 1999, available online at findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0SOR/is_3_60/ai_57533381/.
6. Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London, England: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971), 41; quoted in Philip S. Gorski, “Historicizing the Secularization Debate: Church, State, and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ca. 1300 to 1700,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Feb. 2000), 144.
7. Stark, “Secularization, R.I.P.”
8. Gorski, “Historicizing the Secularization Debate”: 146.
9. Steve Bruce, God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Wiley-Blackwell, 2002), 47.
10. Timothy Larsen, “Dechristendomization As an Alternative to Secularization: Theology, History, and Sociology in Conversation,” Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XV, No. 3.
11. See Jean-Paul Williame, “The Cultural Turn in the Sociology of Religion in France,” Sociology of Religion 65, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 373-389.
12. Grace Davie, “Is Europe an Exceptional Case?” The Hedgehog Review 8, nos.1-2 (Spring/Summer 2006): 27. Online at www.virginia.edu/iasc/HHR_Archives/AfterSecularization/8.12DDavie.pdf.
13. Grace Davie, “Is Europe an Exceptional Case?”: 24-26.
14. See Peter Berger, Grace Davie, and Effie Fokas, Religious America, Secular Europe? A Theme and Variations (Ashgate Publishing, 2008), 15.
15. Charles T. Mathewes, “An Interview with Peter Berger,” The Hedgehog Review, vol. 8, nos.1-2 (Spring/Summer 2006):155. Online at www.virginia.edu/iasc/HHR_Archives/AfterSecularization/8.12PBerger.pdf
16. “Believing Without Belonging: Just How Secular Is Europe?” A discussion with Grace Davie at the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life, December 2005. pewforum.org/events/?EventID=97.
17. Ibid.
18. Berger, Davie, and Fokas, Religious America, Secular Europe?.
19. Sociologist Christian Smith edited a volume titled The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life (UC Press, 2003) in which the case was argued that secularization became so powerful here because of a concerted effort by people who wanted it, not because of some natural, teleological progression.

© 2010 Probe Ministries