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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
A few weeks ago I engaged in a conversation with a man who was seeking to know God. "John" said he was seeking to know the evidence for God's existence. He told me he "was desperate to believe" that God is real. After a few minutes of conversation, I learned some facts about John: he claims to be agnostic, he's read Bart Ehrman and feels his arguments are strong, he feels the problem of evil argues against the existence of God. John holds a PhD in Philosophy.
Given that John has an expertise in philosophy, I began to engage him in the arguments for God's existence – how the Bible cannot be considered circular given that it isn't one source but a collection of 66 different books written by many authors over a 1500 year period, how the Kalam shows that everything that has a beginning must have a cause, how moral theory shows that for evil to exist we must have an absolute standard against which to measure what counter with others. However, with each exchange John was becoming more combative and entrenched in his position.
I couldn't figure out at first why he was becoming so argumentative. He had originally sounded so desperate to find out reasons to know that God is there, but the more I provided, the more he fought me. It was at this point that God opened my eyes to something - my approach was all wrong. John was a trained philosopher since most of that training was from an atheistic perspective, he had been trained to think about philosophy in a particular way. In arguing with him intellectually, he would merely fall back on what he had learned and react almost as a reflex. The more I engaged philosophically, the more he was unplugging from weighing the evidence. Instead he reacting with stock responses that he was taught.
It was at this point that I asked him, “Wait, you came to me and said you want to believe. What about your desire?” When I switched from head issues to heart issues, his tone and demeanor immediately changed and he basically said "Yes, please pray for me. I want to believe but my heart and my mind are disconnected." And this is where true communication began to happen.
You see, many people need to understand reasons why their objections against God are not valid, so we should know those reasons. However, by only engaging people intellectually, you limit the ways God can reach individuals. I got to pray with this man -an agnostic - who had all the answers to arguments for the existence of Go d except one, he could feel God’s presence pulling on his heart.
It’s important for the apologist to understand that we must not rely on only our arguments as our sole apologetic. The real motivation here is to allow people to see the truth – that God exists and that Jesus offers salvation. If we confine ourselves to only head knowledge, we may miss the most powerful evidence for God’s reality we have - the self-attesting witness of the Holy Spirit. When I pushed hard on answering intellectual objections with John, it entrenched him more deeply in his agnosticism. In holding a PhD, he didn’t want to be shown his extensive years of study have lead to wrong conclusions. But he couldn’t deny that there was a yearning to know God. In forgetting my head knowledge for a bit, I was able to at least talk to him about how he feels and I was able to pray that God would continue to make himself real to John, as I still pray.
Next time you have a witnessing opportunity, think a minute before you answer. See where the person you’re talking with has needs. Meet him or her there. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is to stop being smart and start feeling.
Friday, August 06, 2010
I recently saw Inception, which was good movie that opens the door to many questions. One of those is the question of changing people's beliefs. Can we change someone else's beliefs? Absolutely and we do it all the time in a myriad of ways answers Ophelia Benson. Writing in U.K.'s The Guardian, She states:
"We're offered potential beliefs all the time, in news reports and advertising and conversation. We don't accept them all; we reject some, we doubt others, and even those we accept we may be prepared to change or reject if we learn more. We know perfectly well – or if we don't, we should – that it's not sensible to believe everything that turns up."
But she says there's an even more important question we must ask - how do we test the beliefs we hold?
The important issue isn't how we acquire a belief so much as how we test it, question it, evaluate it. Belief isn't a straight yes or no thing, or at least it shouldn't be. Once we're past childhood (and assuming we've had a decent education), we should know better than to believe whatever we're told.
Benson says that people treat religious beliefs as the exception to this rule. Maybe some (or possibly most) people do. However, I do agree that it shouldn't be so. Being rational means holding onto true beliefs. And Christianity has always been a faith that challenges both its adherents and its skeptics to put it to the truth test. For examples of this, we can look to the New Testament.
Paul instructed the Thessalonian church to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."(1 Thess 5:21) And in 1 Corinthians 15 - the oldest passage of the New Testament - Paul writes that if Jesus did not rise from the dead (as a real fact of history), then the Christian faith is worthless, we are deceived of God, and to be pitied above everyone else!
Christians shouldn't be afraid to face questions that ask about the truth of the Christian faith. We do a disservice to the believer and the seeker when we say that we shouldn't question faith. This doesn't mean we need to engage in any off the wall objection that someone thought of - people will many times be motivated not by a search for truth but simply want to waste your time. We should be willing to talk with those who have honest questions and show the reasons for Christianity. Christianity is not merely a belief - it is a true belief and we need to get that message out to the church and the world.
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