, Christians are called to evangelize, and to be faithful in
that calling the Christian must engage in the medium of ideas. We must, as the
Apostle Paul wrote, "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against
the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:5). These arguments and opinions that
non-believers offer are based upon their beliefs of how the world works.
In order to destroy their arguments, we must ultimately change their beliefs,
but this is much more easily said than done.
Just how does one go about
changing a belief, anyway? Realize that a belief is an idea a person takes to
be true. In other words, if someone holds to the belief that Jesus was created
by the Father, then that person thinks the statement "Jesus is a created being"
is true. No person can be said to believe something that he consciously
acknowledges is not true. If he knows it isn't true, then he doesn't believe it,
even if he may continue to act as though the belief is true. The
contradiction is between his belief and his action, not between the truth value
he holds and the belief itself.
Two Ways to Change a Belief
There are only two ways that I can think of to change a belief. You can
either provide new information that the person hasn't yet considered, or you can
show how their current beliefs are contradictory and therefore cannot both be
true. Because beliefs reflect the truth value of a proposition, one cannot
simply decide to hold different beliefs, to change statements from false to
true. Beliefs don't work that way.
I've demonstrated this many times when
I've spoken to groups in the past. I've asked "How many of you believe that
there is a pink elephant in the parking lot across the street from this building
right now?" Consistently, my audience responds incredulously. I then modify my
question. "How many of you would believe that there is a pink elephant in the
parking lot across the street if I offered you a million dollars to believe it?"
Of course, a few hands go up, but then I ask, "Do you really believe that's true
or are you just assenting to the proposition to get the money, even though you
don't believe it?" Everyone agrees that they are just acting out the agreement,
but they don't really think there is a pink elephant in their vicinity.
1. Providing New Information
The first way to change a belief is to provide new information to a person,
or perhaps highlight information that they may know but have neglected to
consider. Going back to my pink elephant example, I usually ask my audience,
"Would your beliefs change if I told you that driving in today I saw a fleet of
Ringling Bros. trucks also parked across the street?" They will nod in agreement that the new fact helps open them to the possibility of an elephant nearby. I follow with something like "What if I also told you
that albino elephants will appear pink when wet; would that increase your
ability to believe the statement?" Now, they have two new facts and the ability for them to believe the statement is increased. I can then continue to build my argument, but I've eliminated some of their resistance to the idea already. You can clearly see that additional
information helps people believe things they may not have held before.
2. Showing a Contradiction
The second way one can change a belief is to demonstrate that the person's
current belief isn't valid. Let's use "Jesus is a created being" as an
example. Whenever I talk with Jehovah's Witnesses about the nature of Jesus,
they always tell me they believe that the Bible is true and the Bible teaches
that Jesus is a created being. I then ask, "What if I can show you where the
Bible explicitly denies this idea? Would you still believe it?" Usually the
reply is, "Well, it doesn't." But as I press, they usually relent, mostly
because they think I will be quoting from John 1:1 or something like that.
I preface my remarks by asking if they agree that everything we know can be
categorized into two compartments, that is placed in one of only two "buckets" if you
will: there are things that began to exist and there are things that never began
to exist. Everything you can think of falls into one of those two categories.
There simply is no third choice. To this I've had no one disagree.
take them to the book of John, chapter one verse three. (I skip John 1:1
altogether). In the NWT the verse reads, "All things came into existence through
him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence." I ask, "Is the
'him' in verse three referring to Jesus?" to which they answer "Yes." I then
explain, "Here, in John, it says that every single thing that came into
existence, it came into existence through Jesus. Jesus made every single thing that
had a beginning. The NWT explicitly says, "apart from Jesus not even one
thing came into existence." If that's true, then Jesus must exist before the
very first thing that began to exist. Jesus put everything
into the "came into existence" bucket. But that means
that Jesus must be in that other bucket. Jesus must have existed eternally. He cannot be a created being because
John 1:3 doesn't allow that option."
You can see the problem the
Witnesses have here. If they hold to their belief that Jesus is a created being,
then their own Bible, the thing that informs them about who Jesus is, is wrong.
If they want to hold that the Bible is true, then they have to give up their
belief that Jesus is created. They know they cannot believe a
contradiction, but they don't know what to do at this point.
Tomorrow I will end my short series
on beliefs by talking about how these techniques play out in the real world. In
short, there is no magic bullet that is going to make someone believe But
realize that these tools are necessary when we are engaging others in the battle
of ideas. Let's not go into battle unarmed.