Monday, 4 June 2007

Quote of the day: being believable

Many people in that [educated, scientific] world are skeptical about the Christian faith, but they doubt not so much what we believe than our seriouness and integrity in believing it. They tend to think we are hypocrites rather than dupes. What we need in order to make Christian faith credible in the modern world, rather than a faith defined down to a "believable" but not very substantial core [à la Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age], is to show in our lives what we mean by what we say in our special language and practices.

- Michael D. Bush, Christology & the "Y" chromosome, in Unapologetic apologetics.

This comes towards the end of a paper on the virgin conception and naturalistic incredulity. Certainly he doesn't make a blanket statement but notes a tendency. (Please note too that he is not opposing orthodoxy with orthopraxis, as if they could be divided, but saying that rather than downgrading Christian doctrine to what "people find believable", we must practice Christian doctrine to show its belief.)

"They tend to think we are hypocrites rather than dupes." If true, it's interesting. Is not the moral always at the heart and root of the intellectual rejection of truth? Is not the moral always bound up with the intellectual in witness? It was in Eden, it was in Pilate's praetorium, and it continues both in the heart of rejection of Christ's claim of Lordship, and in the evidence for it - the new life he gives, on display in the life of his Church.

The other day a friend expressed to me his frustration at his family's view that he is looking into liberal and philosophical views on Christianity only to find excuses for his heart-rejection of it. He found this judgement offensive. I sympathise: it's rather dismissive, and I suspect, not engaging with the ideas he's looking into. But it made me ponder: I don't think he imagines his rejection of Christianity to be subsequent to his study - he gave different reasons at the time. The insinuation is rather, I suppose, that he's not intellectually honest if his research is subsequent to his prior rejection of faith. Yet for the Christian, the moral and the intellectual are always indivisible, because truth and goodness are indivisible, both defined by God and proceeding from God. Of course his turning to naturalistic theology is bound up with his rejection of Christ. Similarly, my reading of such theology (and any material) is bound up with my faith in Christ! No human activity is morally neutral when performed - it is either from faith, or unbelief. So to say that someone's reading of X is because they have morally pre-decided Y is not a particular slur on them, but a statement of how we all operate, following the desires of our hearts. To put it another way, none of us are intellectually neutral when it comes to morals, or morally neutral when it comes to the intellect.

The atheist may of course object to this Christian outlook and continue to find it offensive. It assumes a Christian worldview which he doesn't share. But that leaves the very real question - why did he find it offensive in the first place? An insinuation of intellectual dishonesty. What's dishonesty to any highly but randomly evolved organism? What's integrity without God? We know we want it - we care about it. But there's no reason on earth why. [Do fire back in the comments, please!]


Chris said...

Fascinating. Is then the answer for my friend who has stopped going to church because he struggles with their interpretation of genesis and has taken months away, feeling like he's "growing up", for himself...basically to say,

"mate, don't you fear sin?"

étrangère said...

I'd be inclined to say that's the question to ask any believer who's not meeting with his local church at present. Hebrews speaks that quite loudly - chs3-4 have application in 3.12-13, and 4.11 - all collective activities under the word. See also Hebrews 10.19-39! If you fear being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, then you will fear God aright and keep meeting together to encourage each other and stir one another up to love & good deeds - knowing that you can approach the throne of grace with confidence! We "grow up" as a body, into the head, which is Christ. An individual brick does not grow into a building. That's not God's plan.

On interpreting Genesis, he might find Henri Blocher of Vaux helpful - in French, Révélation des origines (PBU), in English, In the Beginning (IVP). Not everyone will agree with all of it, but it's a helpful study to show that liberal scepticism isn't the only alternative to fundamentalism. I imagine Schaeffer's Genesis in space & time would also be helpful. Haven't read either fully though.

matt j said...

Much of my apologetics seems geared towards the modernist/naturalist. But the postmodernist merely listens politely and says the old: 'it's probably true for you...'

I have heard to some conversation on postmodernism and Christian witness; an idea floating around was very similar to your quote. That they primarily need to see Christianity in action (asuming they've heard the gospel, of course) -- social action being a main one.

What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Hi Rosemary
Why do you recommend (or link to)
The discerning reader site?
Its not discerning at all. It stocks titles such as Chalkes lost message????????????????????????????????????????????????

étrangère said...

Er, anon, have you worked out what the site is? It's not a bookshop; it gives reviews of books, most of them popular Christian books. It only accepts or links to reviews from a Reformed perspective. If you'd had even a brief glance at the page on Chalke's LMOJ, you'd have seen they link to 2 reviews - ref21, and Al Mohler, neither of whom recommend the book in the slightest. I link to it because it offers a valuable service, reviewing books. The fact that it offers a link to Amazon to buy the book doesn't mean it endorses it! Rather than book burning and censorship, it provides reviews to help the reader grow in... discernment.

I'd ask please that you sign your name when you post - faceless discussion has limits. Cheers!

étrangère said...

"assuming they've heard the gospel, of course"

I think that's often the mistake. We assume people know the gospel, and that their problem is they haven't seen that it's a good thing: therefore we need to show them Christians are nice. This is usually mistaken on several fronts -
a) they usually don't know the gospel - they've heard something vague about Jesus... perhaps.

b) their problem is not necessarily that they haven't seen it's a good thing - their problem might be that they find it an offensive thing to their pride, or that they stumble over part they can't understand (intellectual pride?) or that they see Christians as inconsistent - the message sounds good but I'm not seeing it 'work'.

c) showing people that Christians are 'nice' won't help with any of (b). If they're stumbling over pride, or intellectual concerns, no difference. If they're concerned with hypocrisy, then seeing a few Christians being nice / helpful won't convince them the gospel is good news. It might convince them that Christians aren't as bad as they thought they were - wow, they're almost as good as humanitarians and socialists!

What convinces someone that the gospel is indeed good news is conviction that we need a Saviour. Not that we need the world cleaning up a bit, or that we could be nicer people, but that we're condemned sinners in the hands of a just God, against whom we've offended, whose world we have desecrated, whose love we have spurned, whose patience we've scorned, whose rules we have broken, whose word we have disbelieved, whose goodness we've questioned, whose glory we have stolen, whose worship we have given to the things he spoke into being and sustains with his breath - that is, to ourselves. And he's provided a Saviour! And then it makes sense to say, wow, amazingly good news - do I see people around me saved by this Saviour living as if they know this God? Yes! Brilliant! (Or would it be, erm... I'm not sure - do they really believe this? Oh... they don't seem that serious about it. Doesn't seem to affect their lives... maybe I've got it wrong & it isn't such good news after all.)

What M.D.Bush was saying here is not that we don't need to tell people the gospel or persuade of its truthfulness - this was in an apologetics paper after all - but simply that rather than dumbing down the gospel to accommodate what people nowadays can believe / find acceptable, we need to proclaim the full gospel and show the fruit / evidence that it's real by living it out. Not only point to evidence for the resurrection historical (without which we've nothing), but also for the resurrection life he's given us. And that's always been the case - it's not a postmodern thing. It runs throughout 1 Thessalonians both in how Paul & co. brought the gospel to the Thessalonians and how the Thessalonians responded to it. The message came to you with words - and 'you know how we lived among you'. The gospel of sacrificial love produces communities living in sacrificial love - see 1 John. What is sometimes refered to as social action is often a short-term, pathetic affair compared to that - lacking full-blooded love which lives & tells the full-blooded gospel without feeling like it's a sales pitch. It's never an either-or.

PG said...

you mention evidence "for the resurrection historical"...this is dependent on a person believing the Bible (well, aside from the already mentioned living a Christian life). For someone who is questioning the historical Christ in the Bible and the resurrection through that, there is not much one can say. No? (ie: what's to say he even died on a cross, nevermind got put into a tomb)

We then have to revert to evidence for the Bible and the argument gradually expands wider and wider.

étrangère said...

Peter I wasn't suggesting that the only historical evidence we give is for the resurrection! It's the key though. You're right, if someone is being anti-historical and refusing that the gospels are historical accounts, we need to question their assumptions on that. Why do they think not? And go into that. While not neglecting the living of a life transformed by hearing God's word and putting it into practice.

David said...

"To put it another way, none of us are intellectually neutral when it comes to morals, or morally neutral when it comes to the intellect."

Well said!

I remember reading that Josh Mcdowell studied the resurrection in college with the intention of disproving it, only to be convinced of its truth and come to Christ. Perhaps he actually began studying it in order to disprove his own disapproval of it?

Anyhow, thanks for your thoughts on this!