Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dumb Christian

"The difficulties of belief are great; the absurdities of unbelief are greater.“ -- George Hanson.

A friend of mine emailed me a link to a video taped discussion between Richard Dawkins (a prominent author, scientist and atheist) and Alister McGrath (Christian theologian and apologist). A few days later, as I was pursuing the Stand to Reason website, I came across a link to the same interview. Not one to believe in coincidences, I took the hour or so to watch the interview. The interview was filmed for the Dawkins television documentary "Root of All Evil?" but was left out of the final version. Although it is unedited, raw footage, it proved to be a very thought-provoking and worthwhile hour. I enjoyed the intellectual give and take where the two were able to disagree without being disagreeable. McGrath gives a respected defense of Christianity. One facet of the discussion, pertaining to faith, grabbed my attention.

My last post touched on the difficulty Mother Teresa had with her faith. The Dawkins/McGrath interview brought to mind the question of the definition of faith itself. Dawkins (I am paraphrasing) looks at faith as if Christians blindly believe in God, based on nothing concrete. McGrath, on the other hand, clarifies that Christian faith is based in reason and thought.

As a young Christian, I had many questions about my religion. I became a Christian in grade school but never had a strong foundation for my beliefs. It was difficult to find answers to issues such as: the existence of evil and suffering; validity of the Bible; deity of Christ (and existence of God in general); why is Christianity the only way to God -- just to name a few. Since I did not find answers, I thought I just needed to have more "faith" to be a Christian. In fact, some older Christians even told me this. It was a depressing idea and I could not bring myself to having faith in something that did not make sense. I envied some persons who had been raised Christians from birth, for they did not seem to ask the why and how questions that I could not get out of my head. In short, I concluded that one could be a dumb and naive Christian or a smart non-believer.

When I married my wife, I began attending church again. I enjoyed my Sundays off, but going was important to her. She had been a Christian for many years. Even though I went, I kept a skeptical outlook on what was being preached.

During a bible study in 1 Peter 3:15 one evening, I came across a verse that commands us to be prepared to make a defense for our beliefs. The word that is translated in English as "defense" is the Greek word "apologia" meaning "a reasoned statement or argument." For the first time I was confronted with the concept that that the Bible equated reason and logic to belief and faith. God does not want us to have "blind faith" but a faith of substance. If this was true, then I concluded that there must be answers to the questions that I posed over the years...and there were. I found that I was not the only Christian to ever struggle. In fact, there were those that had more difficult questions that I had ever contemplated.

I went on to find that there were several Bible verses that encourage reason and thought:

  • The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 that we should “test everything.”
  • Matthew 22:37 says, among other things, that we must love God with our “minds” (or intellect).
  • Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the “substance (or assurance) of things hoped for; the evidence of things unseen.” The word for evidence in this context is the Greek word elegchos, which is a legal term dealing with the conviction of a person. A Greek lexicon notes that the word implies not merely the charge on the basis which one is convicted, but also the manifestation of the truth of the charge. In other words, early Christians believed that there is truthful evidence and substance for our faith -- and that it can stand the test of critical assessment.
  • Finally, Jesus promised, as documented in John 8:32, that if we continue in His word, we will "know the truth and the truth will make you free."

Based on these writings, Christianity seems to encourage reason. Moreover, it encourages us to test its claims. Since Christ promises that truth is within our reach, it is the responsibility of all Christians to determine why they believe what they believe. Anything less is disrespecting God’s commands. Jesus called us to be “disciples” not just believers. It is not enough just to show up to Church on Sundays sing a few songs, sleep through the pastor’s sermon and go home. We are called to take up our crosses and follow Him. We cannot do this if we only half believe in the teachings of Christ.

Since I have become a father, one of my greatest hopes is that my children will grow up to believe in the teachings of Christ and dedicate their lives to serve Him. I do not, however, want my children to believe simply because mom and dad said they needed to do so -- a “blind faith.” I want them to believe because it is a choice that they make for themselves. It is vital to own your choice of submitting to God’s will (I know this starts to get into the Calvinism/Armenianism debate, but I will save that for another day). I want my kids to feel safe to ask questions, knowing that they will not be shunned or disowned by their parents. I hope I can do this because of the difficulties I went through with coming to grips with my faith, which is definitely not “blind” any longer.


Daniel Cheng Zheng Lin said...

What a beautifully clear presentation. If you ever leave the political arena you should take up writing!
Bruce and I miss chatting with you guys at Masterminds.

Andrea said...

I have found myself reading and re-reading your first few posts with incredible interest. I can't help but wonder why you didn't start a blog a long time ago! :) What an amazing writer you are. You have certainly stirred new thoughts and provoked a desire for deeper study in myself, and I'm sure many other's out there.

Keep the posts coming! I'm eager to read what's next.