Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So How Do We Take A Stand?

As I said in my last post, we Christians must defend our faith in this deeply secular age, not just for the sake of the church but for the sake of the society. As an example, Charles Murray has a wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal today (3/30/2014) in which he gives young people some practical advice for living a happy life. Murray is well aware of the widespread unbelief that infects the millennial generation.  His advice to this group includes getting married and staying married because you found your soul mate. In other words, the road to a happy life follows the ancient path of love and marriage, not the modern path of the "hook-up" culture. Even more radical than his advice about love is his advice to this generation to consider the religious path. In this regard, he advises young men and women who have been socialized into a secular worldview to give religion a serious look, implying that there is something legitimate and beneficial to be found there. He is actually in the process of taking his own advice. His wife began attending Quaker meetings a few years ago and he, a skeptic, has joined her. He's right, of course, faith is one of the unheralded secrets to a happy life and he is beginning the process of considering the claims of Christ himself. In giving this advice, he is not engaging in theology or apologetics, he is merely appealing to common sense.

Murray is a good example of how we, as Christians, can stand up for our faith in Christ in this postmodern age. First, we can and should appeal to traditional wisdom; it is not as out of favor as we think. Even if common sense isn't politically correct, it still has the power of human reason and experience behind it. There is also an intuitive element involved in this process. We "know" these things are true even if we cannot always rationally explain why they are true.

Francis Schaeffer often pointed out the contradiction between the beliefs of many of the leaders of modern thought and the choices they made in their lives and relationships. For instance, they may believe there are no moral absolutes or that mankind is just a species of animal, but they love and care for their children, teaching them to be polite, honest, and caring, and would never think of equating those children with their household pets. In other words, there is a part of our lives where the so called traditional values are assumed to be true. They are, in fact, a profound part of our humanity. It is the reason that secularists deeply oppose racism or child abuse without so much as a thought that this might contradict their philosophy. Their anger at injustice is not an expression of their philosophy, it is an expression of their humanity.

Second, we do not always need to engage in a deep and formal argument with those who deny the faith. In part, because those who reject Christian beliefs often don't base their rejection on those philosophical arguments. Those arguments primarily serve as rationalizations or excuses for their unbelief. Their "beef" with Christianity is usually more personal than philosophical.

 An example of a good "answer" to skeptics is Jesus response to the cynicism of the Saducees in Mark 12. The Sadducees were the "skeptics" of that era, they denied a resurrection on philosophical grounds, thus their mockery of the teaching of the resurrection in their question about the widow of seven brothers. What is interesting is that Jesus didn't indulge their skepticism and engage their specific question, at least as his first response. He simply asked a rhetorical question, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken..." There is a sense that even they knew that they were wrong. Jesus was not being dismissive or engaging in ad hominem, he was appealing to common sense and common wisdom. God exists and there is life after death. I remember reading a written debate on the existence of God in which Kai Nielsen argued the atheist position. Nielsen attempted to say that the burden of proof was on the Theistic side because empiricism made atheism the default conclusion of human experience. It was a novel approach considering that the complexity of human experience has led a majority of the human race to the opposite conclusion. And this is spite of the fact that God can't be seen, felt, or heard with the physical senses. The wonder of creation and the complexity of the human soul have, throughout history, placed the burden of proof on atheism. As Mircea Eliade, the famous scholar of world religions said, "Mankind is incurably religious."

Jesus went on to explain why the Sadducees were mistaken, "You do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God." As our culture demonstrates, with its dismissal of the Bible, it is possible to profoundly underestimate the wisdom found in the Word of God. In the case of the Sadducees, it was a superficial view of the resurrection, while in our era it is a loss of the awareness of moral responsibility (sin) and the holiness of God. In other words, it is not that the skeptics of the past and of today criticize Scripture from an intimate knowledge of its content, but rather from a shallow and often distorted understanding of its teachings. One of the points that Murray makes in his appeal to the youth of today is that they must give religion a serious examination. He encourages them to read Aquinas, Augustine, or C.S. Lewis. I would add that they should read the Gospel of John and continue on into the rest of the New Testament. We can be assured, the word of God contains the wisdom of God.

As skeptics, the Sadducees lacked faith. For them, and the same could be said of skeptics today, God was an abstraction. They had no sense of His personal involvement in the world and much less in their lives. Dr. Craig Keener has written an incredible two-volume study of the evidence for miracles. The book is a powerful description of the very real power of God to heal and to save. One of the stated intentions of the book is to contradict the anti-supernatural bias that we see in many Western intellectuals. And while he presents many of the logical fallacies that underlie the argument against miracles, the strength of the book is the vast number of documented miracles substantiated by eyewitness testimony and actual medical evidence. His book stands as a modern testimony to the power of God.

So, what is my point? It seems to me that we don't always have to go into a detailed explanation of what we believe and why we believe it. I sometimes wonder if that is not the reason that for all of the many books on apologetics and theology, we appear to have so little impact on our culture. There are times when we should not be afraid to simply state the obvious and call men to simple faith. In the same way, it is appropriate for us to appeal to the better impulses in people, as well as their innate and often unconscious longing for God, as Charles Murray did. This does not mean that there is no need for apologetics or theology, they are very important for the process of deepening our understanding after we've made our first steps toward God. In other words, we must appeal to a man's heart before we will have the opportunity to reach his head. Often, a few simple truths spoken with conviction can be the means by which we let our light shine in this dark world.