Archive | March, 2014

Why I am Not Completely Certain Christianity is True

Indubitable: adj – Beyond the possibility of a doubt; unquestionable

I don’t believe the Christian faith is indubitable, but I do believe that it is true.

I tell this story when talking about the bankruptcy of requiring indubitability before you believe something (Yes, I’ve told this before):

I play this game with my kids that drives them crazy. Sitting in the room, with no one but us, while they are not looking I will slap them on the rear-end and act like I did not do it. They turn and say, “Daddy! I know you did that.” I say, “I did not.” “Then who did it?” they respond (thinking they have settled the issue with this one question).  I say, “A guy ran in the front door and slapped you and then ran out.” They look at me like I am crazy and exclaim, “Daddy! We know you did it.” “Look!” I respond to their skepticism, “The front door is not locked. It is possible that someone could have come in since the door is not locked.” Upon further looks of skepticism, I force them go check the door to see if it is locked. Once they see it is unlocked, I have won the day. I have poked a hole and their certainty and even caused them to confirm it by checking the door. No longer possessing the indubitably that I have required for their epistemic verification, they now have lost poise in their former confidence. In other words, I tricked them into thinking that one has to be absolutely certain about something before it can be believed.

Ideas about the value of certainty are currently on the theological stage of debate. With the intellectual challenges of the so-called “new atheism,” some Christians are opting for a fidist approach to the faith (ignore the evidence, just believe). Others, however, are responding to their challenges with precise and cutting vigor. However, many are on wild goose chases checking doors to see if they are locked and becoming frustrated, even doubting, when they find that the door is not locked.

Objection: “You can’t be certain that Christianity is true. One scholar has proposed Christianity borrowed from other ancient religions to get its story.”

Response: Oh great. Yes, most people don’t believe this, but what if this one scholar is right? What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “You can’t be certain Christ rose from the grave since his body might have been stolen.”

Response: I supposed this could be true. Though there does not seem to be any evidence for this, it might have been stolen. What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “It would seem you have a problem since there are two angels in one resurrection account and only one in the other. Which one is it?”

Response: While they both agree that Christ rose from the grave, should I continue to believe when these two accounts cannot agree on this most basic detail?

Objection: “Stephen Hawking said that a black hole could have created our universe out of nothing.”

Response:  I have no idea what this means, but what if Hawking is right? He is a very smart man.

Often, a skeptical world will will provoke us with the reality that we cannot be indubitably certain about any of our beliefs because of the infinite amount of alternative possibilities.  No matter how unlikely these alternative possibilities are we find ourselves spending time defending against positions that are well beyond tipsy in their stability. When people poke “holes” in our beliefs with arguments that are no better than “look, the door is not locked” we find ourselves missing the big picture, backed into a corner seriously discussing the security of the door.

How do we get here? Glad you asked. Continue Reading →

Why I Am Not Completely Certain Christianity is True

Indubitable: adj – Beyond the possibility of a doubt; unquestionable

I don’t believe the Christian faith is indubitable, but I do believe that it is true.

I tell this story when talking about the bankruptcy of requiring indubitability before you believe something (Yes, I’ve told this before):

I play this game with my kids that drives them crazy. Sitting in the room, with no one but us, while they are not looking I will slap them on the rear-end and act like I did not do it. They turn and say, “Daddy! I know you did that.” I say, “I did not.” “Then who did it?” they respond (thinking they have settled the issue with this one question).  I say, “A guy ran in the front door and slapped you and then ran out.” They look at me like I am crazy and exclaim, “Daddy! We know you did it.” “Look!” I respond to their skepticism, “The front door is not locked. It is possible that someone could have come in since the door is not locked.” Upon further looks of skepticism, I force them go check the door to see if it is locked. Once they see it is unlocked, I have won the day. I have poked a hole and their certainty and even caused them to confirm it by checking the door. No longer possessing the indubitably that I have required for their epistemic verification, they now have lost poise in their former confidence. In other words, I tricked them into thinking that one has to be absolutely certain about something before it can be believed.

Ideas about the value of certainty are currently on the theological stage of debate. With the intellectual challenges of the so-called “new atheism,” some Christians are opting for a fidist approach to the faith (ignore the evidence, just believe). Others, however, are responding to their challenges with precise and cutting vigor. However, many are on wild goose chases checking doors to see if they are locked and becoming frustrated, even doubting, when they find that the door is not locked.

Objection: “You can’t be certain that Christianity is true. One scholar has proposed Christianity borrowed from other ancient religions to get its story.”

Response: Oh great. Yes, most people don’t believe this, but what if this one scholar is right? What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “You can’t be certain Christ rose from the grave since his body might have been stolen.”

Response: I supposed this could be true. Though there does not seem to be any evidence for this, it might have been stolen. What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “It would seem you have a problem since there are two angels in one resurrection account and only one in the other. Which one is it?”

Response: While they both agree that Christ rose from the grave, should I continue to believe when these two accounts cannot agree on this most basic detail?

Objection: “Stephen Hawking said that a black hole could have created our universe out of nothing.”

Response:  I have no idea what this means, but what if Hawking is right? He is a very smart man.

Often, a skeptical world will will provoke us with the reality that we cannot be indubitably certain about any of our beliefs because of the infinite amount of alternative possibilities.  No matter how unlikely these alternative possibilities are we find ourselves spending time defending against positions that are well beyond tipsy in their stability. When people poke “holes” in our beliefs with arguments that are no better than “look, the door is not locked” we find ourselves missing the big picture, backed into a corner seriously discussing the security of the door.

How do we get here? Glad you asked. Continue Reading →

How Jesus Became God—or How God Became Jesus? A Review of Bart Ehrman’s New Book and a Concurrent Response

Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God, released just yesterday, is the most recent example of a scholarly tradition of books with similar titles offering to explain how Christianity turned a simple itinerant Jewish teacher into the Second Person of the Trinity. Two of the earlier, notable such books were Richard Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God (1999) and Larry Hurtado’s How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? (2005). In what may be an unprecedented publishing event, a book by evangelical scholars critiquing Ehrman’s book was released at the same time yesterday, entitled How God Became Jesus. The concurrent publication of the rebuttal book was facilitated by the fact that its publishing house, Zondervan, is owned by HarperCollins, which published Ehrman’s book under the HarperOne imprint.

Ehrman, of course, has more name recognition in the English-speaking world than any other biblical scholar today, due especially to his de-conversion story (enthusiastically disseminated in the mainstream media) of abandoning evangelical Christian belief and becoming an agnostic. Sadly, he is probably a hundred times better known than any of the five scholars who contributed to How God Became Jesus. In particular, it is a shame that Craig A. Evans is not better known. Evans is also the author of what I consider the stand-out chapter responding to Ehrman. More on that later.

An Overview of the Two Books

Ehrman’s thesis is that Jesus was not viewed, by himself or his disciples, as in any sense divine during his lifetime, but that belief in his divinity arose almost immediately after his disciples had visions of Jesus that they interpreted as meaning that God had raised him bodily from the dead. Continue Reading →

Why it is So Easy to Doubt Christianity

Christianity is the easiest religion to doubt. In fact, I think I would go as far to say followers of Christ doubt their faith more than followers of any other God. I have spoken about this previously in a slightly different context, but I think this idea will help alleviate some of the problems associated with the vast number of people who believe that they can no longer maintain their faith with integrity. There is reason for your doubt, and in some ways it is very understandable.

The “easiness” of doubt concerning Christianity is not difficult to understand when you think about it. I mean . . . after all . . . there is just so much to doubt. Wait a moment. I don’t think I put that down well. You are most certianly hearing something different than what I am saying. Let’s go in this direction: the less you know, the easier it is to believe. Or, maybe you have heard it this way: ignorance is bliss. Now, let me unpack some of this.

My God expects so much. My God reveals so much. My God is so much. Faith is easy when it is one-dimentional. If my faith were simply a bunch of rules to be kept, it would be simple. If my faith were just a basic philosophy about truth, knowledge and wisdom, there would be no problem. If my faith were about some distant God who did not get his hands dirty with mankind, I think I would often be more at ease. If my God hadn’t loved me so much that he died for me, I would not raise an eyebrow. Had my God stayed silent and not written such an extensive book, I would have experienced much less intellectual anxiety. However, it is precisely because of these things that my faith suffers such challenges. When we suffer from over-exposure to the sun, we frequently get burned.

Let me put it another way . . .

Relationships are easy so long as we keep our distance. I know many of you, but I only know you well enough to continue to like and trust you. As long as our relationship stays distant, we are going to get along fine. But the moment I get to know you too well (and vice-versa) is the moment I begin to have problems. Add to this the expectations we anticipate in our relationship. Then things really begin to fall apart. I don’t want you to have any responsibilities toward me, nor me toward you. In that way, we cannot let each other down. I want us to have one of “those” kinds of relationships. You know: the kind that works! That’s what makes the relationship with your hair stylist so much easier than the one with your spouse—it stays one-dimensional. Continue Reading →

The Gospel of BREAKING BAD

I don’t like the first part of the Gospel. Let me rephrase that. I don’t like telling people the first part of the Gospel. It’s tough to swallow. You know, the part that goes like this: “You’re a sinner,” “you’re totally depraved,” and “if you really want life you can’t get it on your own.” The heart of it is that no one likes to be told what to do. And what’s more, no one wants to hear the words “you need to be saved” either. We like to encourage people. Part one of the Gospel is pretty discouraging and we don’t always know just how to say it. Of all things, could it be possible that Hollywood’s come to the rescue? Could some television networks, like AMC for example, actually be helping us in our efforts to tell the world why it needs a savior? Scandalous thought, I know, but at least hear me out.

AMC’s corrupt crime-drama, Breaking Bad, is one of my favorite television shows of all time. So many reasons. To name a few, it’s got an airtight narrative and the dialogue and the acting are anything but average. It’s safe to say the show stands out. It’s also safe to say that it stands out as a poignant expression of the darker side of entertainment. Except I wouldn’t be so quick to call that a problem. Better put, maybe Breaking Bad stands out most because it’s actually a moving trailblazer, slowly arranging network television on the path toward Gospel redemption.

Let me back up for a second. Much of media today, telecasts and transmissions we fill our susceptible craniums with, is taking a plunging nosedive into moral bankruptcy where the Gospel is wholesale absent. It’s no secret to anyone with a pulse that a result of postmodern thinking is relative truth. Since the nineties (some would argue the sixties), protective boundary lines, once held securely in place, have been moving around haphazardly. Black and white are melting together into many shades of gray and a motion toward subjective experience over that which is concrete and knowable is on the rise. Media and mainstream television wield some of the largest swords in the arena where truth is being constantly defined and redefined.

Hang with me. I’ll get to Breaking Bad in a minute. But there are some things that need to be understood first. Continue Reading →

Four Lessons I’ve Learned from Reading Broadly

(Lisa Robinson)

It’s comfortable for Christians to read inside our denomination/tradition. People who think like us, who draw the same conclusions make learning fun. But I think we can become too tribal about Christianity, put our stake in the ground to quickly and use it to battle others in the body, often unfairly.

I’m increasingly realizing the value of reading broadly and by extension, learning broadly. By broadly, I mean works outside of our denominational/doctrinal perspectives. Actually, I don’t think I read broadly enough. But the more I do, I’ve recognized some characteristics about myself have emerged that reinforces the need to get out of the comfy box.

1.  My discernment: or rather lack thereof. There’s something about having to read through work that doesn’t necessarily align with my doctrinal/denominational perspective that forces an examination of what the author is really getting at. I love that in seminary, some professors intentionally assign books for this purpose. Some books even have such troubled theology that sounds really good, not unlike what we might encounter in the contemporary evangelical landscape. I’ve observed that going through the exercise of deciphering what is valuable and what is opposed to historic Christian orthodoxy, sharpens discernment. But if we only read from one perspective, the tendency might be to oppose anything that doesn’t sound like how the gurus from our tribe define it.  Reading broadly on the other hand with the intention of understanding, strengthens discernment. That last part is important because reading to tear something down defeats the purpose of learning.

2.  My arrogance: I can place a great deal of confidence in own investigation. And I have certainly done this. Of course, there were many instances where I claimed to “fairly” evaluate all sides. But honestly, I really didn’t.  Reading broadly confronts that sense of superiority I feel when I think I have everything figured out. It helps me realize that I can learn from others, even those with whom I disagree. When combined with point #1, I’m increasingly finding some valuable nuggets that a more tribal perspective might suppress…and has suppressed.  In fact, I can’t even count how many times I’ve dismissed something just because it’s aligned with a certain teacher or doctrinal perspective without giving it a fair shake. Yep, arrogance. Continue Reading →

The Problem of Christian Unity

Puzzle-Unity

So much of the time we lack perspective in our inquiry. Our minds have the privilege of being pessimistic and skeptical about so many things. We demonstrate the tendency to focus exclusively on what is wrong, while we are seemingly oblivious to the those things which are right. All one has to do is reference their own marriage to see the truth of this!

When it comes to objections to Christianity, there are striking similarities. We stress the problem of evil (if God exists, how do we explain all the evil?), yet fail to realize the “problem” of good (if God doesn’t exist, how do we explain all the good?). Atheists say theists must give an answer to the creation by God, while at the same time dismissing their own obligation to explain the existence of everything else! Skeptics talk endlessly about the discrepancies in the Gospel stories, but are silent about the myriads of agreements which far outweigh what appear to be disagreements, both in number and significance. The unfortunate consequence is that many people (including Christians) become discouraged and full of doubt due to the many disagreements that Christians experience among themselves. Catholic vs. Protestant. Baptist vs. Presbyterian. Calvinist vs. Arminian. Premillennialists vs. Amillennialists. Young Earth vs. Old Earth. The truth of the matter is that for centuries Christians have disagreed among themselves concerning many issues from the interpretation of certain Scriptures to the role of tradition as an authoritative norm in our faith. However, I would encourage people to gain some perspective here. It is time to call on Christians, as well as non-Christians to focus not only on our respective disagreements, but also observe and gain strength from the many areas in which we agree.

In the Credo House, we have placed on one of our walls St. Vincent of Lerins’ dictum (in Latin): “What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” This early creed about Christian orthodoxy emphasizes the idea that the most important doctrines of the Christian faith have broad and nearly universal consensus. While there is disunity in the Christian church, essential orthodoxy is defined by those things which have been believed by the entirety of the Christian church. Please remember that minor exceptions do not make the rule here. I am talking about those individuals and groups who legitimately find their roots in any of the three great Christian traditions: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

This is to say that while there may be problems as a result of disagreements among Christians, these difficulties are miniscule when compared to the problems caused by agreements just for the sake of appearing to be in consensus among Christians.

Here is a sampling of the primary tenants where we find consensus:

All Christians, always and everywhere, have believed . . .

  • that there is a God
  • that God created all there is
  • that God created all there is out of nothing Continue Reading →

A Theology of Acquiescence

acquiescenceOne of my best friends and I agree we’re going to work out together at the gym. We get all excited about the possibilities related to this new strategic partnership. First, we’ll be able to hang out together on a consistent basis. We are both married with kids so it is increasingly more difficult to have consistent “guy time.”

Second, since we are both believers in Jesus we will be able to sharpen each other spiritually as we talk about the Lord in between reps. We will also have opportunities to minister together as we are able to share the hope within us to the other gym rats.

Third, our wives will give us that look as we turn into lean mean fighting machines. Enough said on that point.

Fourth, our children will be happier as we have more energy for them. Our energetic healthy bodies will engage our kids instead of handing them an iPad and sending them away.

I could go on and on dreaming up all the benefits resulting from me and my buddy working out together. But this is just an illustration so let’s not get carried away. So my buddy and I now start talking about the details of our workouts. We’ll definitely hit the weights. Bench Press. Lat Pulldowns. Curls. Yes, we are both getting excited. We both enjoy running so we’ll spend some time every week doing laps on the indoor track. That’ll be great.

Then my buddy opens his mouth and says the worst thing, “Oh, I love swimming. We gotta spend some time busting out laps at the pool.” Dang. He had no idea but I hate swimming. I know how to swim. I like to swim outside on a hot summer day but not laps at a gym. That’s not my thing. Here we were so excited to work out together. We agreed on pretty much everything but now he wants to swim and that’s not my thing.

How do we move forward? This is just one part of our workout strategy. He loves to swim and would like to make it part of our plan. I want to leave it out. What if I offered a solution saying, “Let’s compromise, let’s not swim.” Would that really be a compromise? Of course not, I’d be getting my way. It wouldn’t be a gracious move. The situation is of a nature where I automatically win and get my way if any solution involves us not swimming.
Continue Reading →