The role of faith
My good friend said something the other day implying that people of faith should be comfortable with their faith or what they believe. He is right in a sense. If you are not comfortable with what you believe it will cause stress and internal strife. If a main goal of life is to feel comfortable then you should avoid feeling uncomfortable. However, learning and growing, in my experience, almost always involves growing pains and learning things that I don’t necessarily or immediately like. In fact, I might believe something and feel comfortable about it for a long time before I find out I am wrong about it. And hearing that I am wrong and accepting it does not feel good unless what I have learned illuminates reality.
The structure of faith
I have heard that Christian faith involves three aspects: 1. Understanding a proposition (you cannot believe something unless you know what it is you believe. There needs to be content to the proposition that you say you have faith in.), 2. Assent, or believing “THAT” the proposition is true (at this point one can still decide to reject the proposition by believing that it is true but not trusting in it), and 3. Trust, or belief “IN” the proposition’s truth (this would involve aligning one’s life around its precepts and acting upon them). (Groothuis, 2004) I would argue that the Trust aspect of faith is something that we all do at a certain level whether we know it or not. We all are trusting and relying upon certain truths and we are acting upon that truth. Even someone who says that they do not care about this whole discussion and says that it is a waste of time to inquire into it is still holding a worldview, trusting, and acting upon that worldview. They believe that religion and philosophy are unimportant and so ignore it while not realizing that they have a religion/philosophy that is guiding their behaviors.
What about people who have faith in non-Christian religions or in no religion at all?
- Has God revealed himself to all?
According to the Bible (more can be said about the historical reliability of the Bible we have today and why it is trustworthy), God has made himself known (eternal power and divine nature) to us generally through the existence of the universe and in nature (creation). He has also made himself apparent by placing in us a conscience, which makes us aware that moral duties and values exist. He purposefully chose a time and place and culture for us to all live so that we would search for Him and find Him (I think it is interesting that all cultures in history have had and still have a yearning for the transcendent). This means that all people in every culture were put on earth to find God because he can be found. Whether people reject him or not, is a choice that they make. All people will be judged fairly by God according to how they respond to his general (nature and conscience) and special (Jesus Christ) revealing of himself to humanity. If someone rejects the free gift (salvation cannot be earned) of grace that Jesus offers then God will allow them to be apart from him. God is impartial and loves all equally but he will never force anyone to choose to love and follow him. (Read the book of Romans)
- Sin, Guilt, and Redemption
No person is perfect. All people in the world are guilty of sin (bad thought, bad deed, selfishness, greed, lust, lying, cheating, stealing, doing something we know to be wrong, etc…) If there is a personal creator of the universe who is perfect and to whom we are accountable, we will be found wanting. Many in the west understand the idea of a judge who we will answer to upon death and many think that he will weigh the good and bad deeds that we commit and if the scale tips to the “good” he will let us go to heaven. Only people like Hitler are reserved to eternal separation from God. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding.
It is not a misunderstanding that the judge of the universe will judge our every deed. The misunderstanding is that we can actually tip the scale toward the “good” on our own. The book of Romans makes it clear that ALL men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Indeed, without Christ we have no hope of being reconciled to God because of his perfect justice and our disobedience to him. Who would expect a fair judge to pardon a crime just because the person who committed the crime did a good deed? Someone who commits murder still needs his due punishment even if he walks an old lady across the street or saves a life. If someone sins against or rejects the God who created him, the crime is committed against someone who is infinitely good and just which requires and infinite penalty. Further, how could we ever know if we have done enough good deeds or good works to make up for our bad ones? There is no way to know! All we can do if we do not trust that Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to cover our sins before God is to trust our own deeds and works to do it.
- How do Eastern Religions answer the question?
The doctrine of many eastern religions teaches reincarnation or perpetual rebirth until we are properly enlightened and free of karma and the illusion of this world. These doctrines cannot be simultaneously held with the Christian doctrine of the atoning death of Christ for our sins which was once and for all time. We don’t pay for our sins by rebirth, Jesus paid for them by his death and God raised him from the dead. There is no conception of the forgiveness of sins in eastern religions. They require that we work our way out. They do not have any personal being to whom we are accountable and in whom all moral duties and values are rooted. A Divine Principle or Impersonal Idea does not seem to have any causal power to demand justice or, even more, to create personal beings.
- Are all religions One?
Ironically, these eastern religions and the subsequently popular “New Age” movement claim that all religions are one and the same. However, in just one example above, we are able to see that these worldviews are contradictory on their idea of God/the All. To name a couple other examples of differences in these worldviews, in order to dispel the idea that all religions are the same, consider the following topics: the idea of the self, the ultimate goal of life, the purpose of the cosmos, the understanding of the beginning of the universe, the eternal destiny of people, the foundation of morals and ethics, the way to salvation or enlightenment, the view of transcendent logical rules, the idea of caring for the poor and destitute, the concept of truth, how God/the all is revealed to man, view of humanity compared to animals, etc… All of the above topics are areas where the so-called “inclusive” eastern religions will disagree with Christianity. How can you disagree if all is one?
There are many nominal believers in various religions around the world. This means that they might self-identify as an adherent of a specific religion even if they only do so in name and not practice. Also, some might find cultural identity or even have ethnic ties to their religion such as Islam (most Arab countries are Muslim) and Hinduism (Most in India are Hindu) and because of that tie they are labeled Muslim or Hindu. In my opinion, this does not mean that the above examples are rejecting God just because they are in a certain cultural milieu that describes them as a Muslim or a Hindu. Notwithstanding, the ideologies and doctrines of these religions by themselves (without considering its adherents) are antithetical to a Christian worldview.
I know there are Muslims and Hindu’s and Buddhists and Atheists and Christians who are affable and easy to get along with. There are also Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, and Christians who are difficult to get along with. The argument above has nothing to do with the likeability of individuals but the truth and falsity of their worldview. If every religion claims to be correct in its assertions about all of reality it follows that either all are FALSE or one is TRUE and the rest false. It is logically impossible for all the contradicting assertions to be true at the same time. (Read Romans 2:1-16 AND the book of Acts 17:16-34 for how the Bible handles both how God judges all people AND an explanation of all humans were created to search for God)
William Lane Craig, describes the doctrine of Middle Knowledge as being sufficient to answer the perceived problem of religious diversity in the world. Look up “middle knowledge” and then “religious pluralism” on his website www.reasonablefaith.org
- Is there truth in other worldviews?
There is truth in other worldviews! When I say this, I mean that people of all religions can apprehend that there are ethical and moral duties and values that exist. They differ in the way that they describe how we come to knowledge of these truths and where the moral viewpoints originate and what their purposes are. But, most people in the world have a conscience and are aware of it. You don’t have to believe in the Christian God to understand that there are moral truths that exist outside of us. However, adherents of other religions who do not believe in a moral and personal law-giver do so without understanding or attempting to explain the basis for the moral truths. All people can also weigh and test the truth of different worldviews by trusting what they know to be true about the external world and comparing that with the truth claims of others. Unfortunately, the doctrine of Maya in Hinduism does not allow for an externally knowable or testable world as it is all illusion. Although it is an illusion in theory/religion, most Indians in practice, treat the external world as knowable and testable. (This is from my observations. I have not been to India but I have heard about it and read about it and assume that people cannot practically do their day-to-day activities without expecting that the world actually exists).
- Other questions/difficulties for Eastern religions
Some of the ethical teachings of Buddha indicate that he understood there to be a “path” to achieve enlightenment/nirvana which included observing a specific code of ethics. Unfortunately, that religion does not adequately address other aspects of human existence such as the beginning of the universe or who/what grounds the moral truths that Buddha espoused. Also, the concept of self in Buddhism is not robust enough to sustain its claims of moral accountability as there is NO SELF. How can someone reincarnate if there is no self to reincarnate? How can a non-self be morally responsible or produce karma? They have no will or choice unless there is a self/soul.
On the topic of Buddhism, it is difficult to really know what he actually taught as the first biography of his life was written 500-600 years after his death. Conversely, all the books of the New Testament that talk about Jesus’ life were written within decades of Jesus’ death and the available early manuscript copies show the Bible to be more historically authoritative and reliable than any other book in antiquity. It has been transmitted and translated without significant error throughout time, it has external archeological sources corroborating its historical accuracy, and it is internally consistent. (Mcdowell, 2015) These facts would not allow enough time for myth or legend to grow out of Jesus’ story as people were still alive who saw him crucified when the books were written. He existed and was worshipped as God by his followers as documented by Roman and Jewish historians contemporaneous to the early church in late first and early second century A.D. (Mcdowell, 2015) ALSO (See The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict AND More Than a Carpenter By Josh McDowell for more on this. The former is a more comprehensive approach and the latter is an introductory look at the topic of EXTERNAL and internal evidence for the authenticity of the Christian conception of Jesus)
Another question that I have that seems to be a difficulty in Hinduism is: how and why are new populations of people coming into existence in terrible conditions? If the population of the world is increasing and has been increasing exponentially for thousands of years, where did the new souls come from and why are most of them put in a lower/poor caste if they did not exist before and thus did not have the opportunity to create karma for themselves?
Further, the social justice system in Hinduism does not seem to encourage adherents to intervene on behalf of the poor and destitute. If one intervenes, are they not interfering with the law of Karma and stopping what that person deserves?
What faith is not
Fideism is defined in wikipedia as follows: “(/ˈfideɪˌɪzəm, ˈfaɪdi–/) is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths (see natural theology). The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means “faith-ism.”
Theologians and philosophers have responded in various ways to the place of faith and reason in determining the truth of metaphysical ideas, morality, and religious beliefs. A fideist is one who argues for fideism.” (Wikipedia.com)
I disagree with fideists in that they say faith is hostile to reason. This does not make sense to me. Faith, in my opinion, involves reason. Reason leads people to adopt certain ideas about the world and how it works. When reason has led someone to adopt a position in a certain area but does not provide a 100% concrete solution that is when someone must trust or have faith in what they cannot prove. The evidence and reasonableness that led up to their faith could not have led to another conclusion and to the best of their knowledge their conclusion is trustworthy. They have no reason not to trust their conclusion.
Faith does not imply irrational belief by any means. At least not Christian faith. An irrational belief would be something like believing that there is no such thing as people on earth other than myself and everyone else is an illusion created in my mind. This would go against everything that we observe and deduce in our day-to-day activities. Sure, people can believe this but should they feel comfortable about that belief? No! Should other people try to convince them that their belief does not reflect reality and could be detrimental to their life and other’s lives? Yes!
Everyone has faith in something for one REASON or another. The question is why do we believe or have faith in what we do?
Properly basic beliefs
Some evidence is not empirical but is properly basic in the sense that we don’t need any proof. The idea that a triangle exists does not need any proof because a triangle is, by definition, a tri-angled or three-sided/angled object (Groothuis, 2004). That is what a triangle is and it needs no proof. The idea of God can be considered a properly basic belief that needs no explanation, as we can understand that He exists through nature/creation and conscience and through reflection. After all, if God did create us, he might have created us with a predisposition to understand that something greater than ourselves exists in the universe.
Some naturalists and atheists have tried to show that our predisposition to believe that God exists is a “god gene” that has been passed on from our ancestors. They claim that this, if true, proves that our ancestors developed in such a way to need the notion of God to survive even though God is not real. Unfortunately for the atheists, this would not prove that God does not exist even if it is true. The argument is fallacious in that you cannot argue for the truth or falsity of a belief based upon how the individual came to hold the belief (genetic fallacy). Also, if God wired us to want to find him or to see God in the universe, he could have done that. He is God!
Trusting Jesus without external evidence?
I accepted and trusted Jesus when I was 10 years old. However, later in my life, I started becoming skeptical about my decision that I made when I was 10. My problem was not as much about the truth of Christianity as it was about the ability of a 10 year old to make that type of decision. I had a real problem for a while believing that children, who did not know anything about the “real world” could make a true decision to follow Jesus. After all, many people reject God when they get older once they “know more”. Furthermore, children making an emotionally driven decision, often guided by their parents, seemed to me a reason to doubt my own salvation.
God helped me realize that my thinking was incorrect on the subject for two reasons: 1. Decisions have consequences (both good and bad) and 2. Children are able to understand and trust sometimes better than adults. Let me explain further with the use of a fictitious story.
Let’s say that when you were eight years old you decided to take your parents car for a joy ride. You had always wanted to but you finally had a chance as the keys were left in the ignition. You turn the ignition and pull out of the driveway with a huge smile on your face. While driving through your neighborhood you get distracted and accidentally hit another child who lives down the street. The child ends up in a coma for several weeks and finally dies with his parents at his side. He was four years old.
That is a morbid example but it has a point. You will be very sad about what you did that day. As an eight year old, you know that what you did was wrong and you know that what you did has bad consequences. However, it is not until you are older and have been through life and maybe have a son of your own that you truly realize the consequences of your actions. Until you had a child, it was impossible to really understand how the four year olds parents really felt. Although this is true, you still live with the choice you made every day from eight years old until you are an adult.
In my opinion, making a decision to follow and trust Jesus is something that many children make and they know full well that the decision will impact their lives. Do they understand truly what it means to be forgiven of sins forever? They might not understand this fully until they are older and have made enough mistakes to understand to a greater extent why the grace of God is so magnificent. Most children are innocent compared to an adults and don’t understand how destructive and painful human sin can be. However, this does not change the fact that a child can still make a decision that will impact his or her future even if they don’t fully understand the extent.
The second reason that children can make this type of life changing decision is for the simple reason that I am not convinced that children are not MORE spiritually in tune with God than some adults are. Jesus told us to have faith like a child. Children trust because they have not been corrupted and have no reason not to trust. That is what God asks us to do. We were made for communion with God and as we get older and more and more set in our ways, we can be more rigid in our ability to trust or follow something that does not feel good. A child, who makes a decision to follow Jesus, like I did, understands that they are in need of a savior. So they are making a reasonable decision even though there is so much that they do not know yet. What they do know is what matters and they make a decision off of that knowledge. A child making a decision to follow God is doing so WITH evidence. The evidence is God revealing himself to them and becoming so real that it does not make sense for them not to decide to follow God. There will obviously be difficulties that these children will encounter as they get older but they still had an experience with God and that is greater than all the arguments in the world.
As they grow with God in their lives they will grow to understand more deeply the love and grace of God, which will hopefully help them to lead a grateful and spirit-led life.
- Reformed Epistemology and Warranted Christian Belief
Alvin Plantinga is a philosopher and professor at Notre Dame and was perhaps the most well-known and prolific Christian philosopher in the last half of the 20th century and today. He dubbed a term called Reformed Epistemology to describe how Christians can have a warrant for their belief in Christ without necessarily having to resort to argument or external evidence to support their beliefs. (see his book- Warranted Christian Belief). He argues that Christians have a dual warrant for their belief in that they have the Holy Spirit living in them who testifies to God’s existence AND they have external corroborating evidence in the cumulative apologetic case for Christianity. (SEE William Lane Craig’s On Guard AND his Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview for an evaluation and cumulative argument for Christianity) The Christian can choose to use the latter warrant of Christian argument and external evidence if they want to but they will always have the internal corroborating Holy Spirit who acts as a defeater for any argument against God’s existence. Because the Christian knows God and has lived with the knowledge of Him in their lives, they do not need to be convinced of the evidence for his existence outside of their own internal knowledge. (go to www.reasonablefaith.org and look up “reformed epistemology” and “properly basic belief”).
Even if there is a perceived defeater for the external evidence for Christian truth, they still have an internal defeater-defeater that they need no evidence for other than their experience. Personally, the internal knowledge and witness of God in my life is illuminated further through studying the external evidence for God’s existence alongside the Bible. Some people don’t feel a need for the external aspect of Christian warrant but it helps to have it if you are like me and are naturally skeptical. It also helps to understand the external evidence if you care about helping others understand your worldview.
Are we damaged goods?
We were created in the image of God but we are also damaged goods and “Deposed Royalty” (Groothuis, 2004) Humans as a category have great attributes (creativity, love, passion, care, language, rationality, artistic ability, progress etc…) that animals DON’T have but we also are terrible in our capacities of rape, torture, war, racism, murder, lying, coveting, hate, envy, jealousy, neglect, etc… (Groothuis, 2004) How do we describe the human predicament? In my opinion everyone should be interested in this question if they care about humanity and our future.
Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher and mathematician circa mid-17th century, argued that only the Christian hypothesis/doctrine of the human condition, as a theory, has the best explanatory power in addressing the great and terrible attributes that man perpetuates (Groothuis, 2004). The Biblical and historically Christian understanding of the human condition is that we were created for relationship with God and were put in a perfect creation without sin or death. However, man chose to sin against God by disobeying him (this is called “the Fall”), which let death and sin into the world for all. Jesus offers redemption for the world and one day this world will be destroyed and a new heaven and new earth will be put in its place in which God will be with his people (those who trust in the redeeming blood of Christ).
Coming to conclusions
It is not arrogant to say that something is true. However, we should be willing to stand up to scrutiny when we assert a truth claim. If we are wrong we should admit it. We should also not be insensitive to other’s beliefs. With this said, being sensitive does not require that we assent to or promote beliefs that are opposed to ours. As stated above, I am always learning and should be open to new ideas. While being open to new ideas it is important to have a basic ethos through which one can make decisions and live consistently through changes.
If we will never know if we are correct or incorrect about our beliefs then it would still benefit us to live according to what we at least THINK is a well-founded system of belief. This way we did our best. What else can we do? If we are wrong then we are at the mercy of whatever happens after we die, if anything happens. However, if there is a real God who made us a thinking person, why would we not use the gifts that we were given to seek truth?
People debate for various reasons. Some want to trumpet their beliefs and show how smart they are. Some want to learn more about the other side. Some want to exercise their God given ability to reason and think and debate their beliefs. If I want to debate it is because the other person represents a TRUTH claim that is opposing to mine and I am interested in whether or not my worldview can properly answer their objections to what I believe. If I cannot answer their questions or objections right away, I do not immediately abandon my belief system. But I will think and search for answers. To NOT do this would leave lingering concerns. If I am constantly changing my beliefs then there will be no consistency with me and I would constantly be paralyzed with indecision. We should, in my opinion, believe what we initially believe and trust it as true unless we find our belief to be deficient in some way.
History of Defending Christianity
The orthodox doctrines of Christianity regarding the reality of the universe and the future state of mankind are not too popular these days, although they were very popular leading up to the Enlightenment period. This is not to say that Christianity had an easy start. The opposite is true as the message of Christianity was NOT popular for the polytheistic culture of its founding. The church fathers (early Christian leaders who led the church after the disciples of Jesus were martyred) were persecuted and murdered for their beliefs. They were not the Catholic Church that we think about when we look at medieval and latter European church whose political power and corruption are often pointed out. The “popularity” of the “universal” Catholic Church was under attack entering the enlightenment as its worldview seemed antiquated to philosophers of the time. The assertion of the Enlightenment philosophers was that man does not need to rely upon superstitious religion to figure out the truths of the universe. All man needs to do is to use their reason and intellect in order to thrive. These lines of thinking are still seen in modern day humanism and the secular majority. Although, in my opinion, humanism does not reason through many aspects of human existence adequately enough.
Although many of the ideas of the enlightenment focused on empiricism (only things observed by the five senses are real and can afford us knowledge— AND in principle, denying that miracles can ever be the best explanation of an event (David Hume)) (Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism is a rigorous treatment that addresses the idea of a “closed universe” and the possibility of miracles) I believe that much of the effort against the organized church was in reaction to the political corruption that it had wielded for hundreds of years. In other words, lay people and thought leaders of the time were not necessarily against the idea of God as creator or Christianity as the truth about reality. However, the ideas of the Enlightenment and modernity still linger in society today, forcing Christians to always be prepared to answer questions and to give a defense for their faith (1 Peter 3:15)
Society today has a split personality in regards to its approach to truth and knowledge in that we tend to give credence to the physical sciences as the only true path to knowledge while out of the other side of the mouth we assert that anything “religious” is subjective and cannot be known. This is an issue for several reasons although that is for another article.
Along with society’s predisposition to resist anything that claims ultimate truth, the holy scriptures of Christianity commands its adherents to defend the faith and to refute arguments that come against the knowledge of God. The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, also commissions its followers to preach the good news of the gospel of Christ to the lost along with making them disciples (followers) of Him. So it is no surprise when Christians invite their friends to church and talk about God in public. It is because they are expressing the greatest commandment according to Christ: we are to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, MINDS, and strength AND the second greatest commandment is to Love our neighbors as ourselves. If we truly love God we will obey him and if we love our neighbor we will tell them about the joy and hope we have in Christ.
How to be saved
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13 (ESV)
Groothuis, Douglas (2004) http://www.relyonchrist.com/lecture.htm
Groothuis, Douglas (2011) Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith
McDowell, Josh (2015) God-Breathed: The Undeniable Power and Reliability of Scripture
www.wikipedia.com – search: “FIDEISM”
Helpful Resources on Hinduism and Buddhism: