Answers for the Skeptic

October 26, 2017

While reading a biography, I came across the following views of a young skeptic.

You ask me my religious views: you know, I think, that I beleive [sic] in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name are merely man’s own invention—Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn’t understand—thunder, pestilence, snakes etc.: what more natural than to suppose that these were animated by evil spirits trying to torture him. These he kept off by cringing to them, singing songs and making sacrifices etc. Gradually from being mere nature-spirits these supposed being[ s] were elevated into more elaborate ideas, such as the old gods: and when man became more refined he pretended that these spirits were good as well as powerful.*

What do you think? Is this a likely candidate to come to belief in God? Will this skeptic ever be convinced of the death, burial, and resurrection? If you are thinking to yourself that this is a hopeless case, let me reveal the young skeptic’s identity — C.S. Lewis.

Lewis loved intellectual argument, not the belligerent kind of harsh words, but the logical type. He eventually saw the weaknesses of the case for skepticism and came to see the case for Christianity. It was not a quick process in his life. From self-proclaimed atheist at age 15, he did not come to believe in Jesus Christ until age 32. First, he had moved from naturalism to idealism, and then from idealism to theism, and from theism to confessing Jesus Christ.

We shouldn’t be afraid of the skeptic’s questions. Good answers exist, and we don’t have to have all the answers when confronted. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for time to think about something. We also can’t expect a skeptic to move from naturalism to belief in Jesus Christ in one bounding leap. (It may be possible but not always likely.) It will be more like moving the football down the field one play at a time. We can also overload people with information. It is better to answer things in their time and simply make progress.

Lewis in the above quote assumes the evolution of religions. This makes religions simply a human phenomenon. Anthropologists had proposed an evolutionary progression. The first stage was mana, a word found in Melanesia in the South Pacific, which means a general awareness of a spiritual force. Next came animism, then polytheism, followed by henotheism (worship of one god, although there may be more), and finally monotheism. The evolutionary model, however, cannot be shown to have actually happened. Further ethnographic studies have led some to propose an original monotheism that led to de-evolution. This would fit with the picture in the early chapters of Genesis.

Let’s share the good news with everyone. You never know who will be a truth seeker. Let’s remember that there are answers for the skeptic.

*The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, p. 56

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They Had Believed

July 14, 2017

Jesus addressed a group described as “the Jews who had believed in him” (John 8:31). Yet the speech which follows may seem odd given this description of the audience. C.H. Dodd captures the tension with these words, “A group of Jews described as believers are accused of attempted murder and roundly denounced as children of the devil.”*

Yet, the description of the audience needs to be noted: “they had believed.” There was a point in their past in which they had come to believe in Jesus as the Christ. But observe this commitment in their past was not enough. Jesus’ instructions make a great deal of sense given this audience.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  (John 8:31–32, ESV)

What does it mean to abide? The standard Greek lexicon states it is used “of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere: remain, continue, abide” (BDAG, p. 631). This is the person who continues to believe in and practice the teachings of Jesus. Only such persons can be described as “truly my disciples.”

What is the benefit of this continued relationship with Jesus? “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what kind of freedom is envisioned? Jesus makes this clear in 8:34-36. It is freedom from sin. It is to no longer be enslaved to sin. Earlier in this section of speeches Jesus had said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV).

But what was true of this audience as Jesus addressed them:

  • They were seeking to kill Jesus, 8:37, 40.
  • They were not able to hear Jesus’ words, 8:43.
  • They are acting like the Devil’s offspring, 8:44.
  • They do not believe Jesus, 8:45.

Believing is not something I check off my list. It is not enough for it to be true of my past. Believing in Jesus must be something that continues, abides, and remains. These “Jews who had believed” are a warning example of starting off right and finishing wrong.

If continuing and present evidence for belief is missing, it would be a sad epitaph to have said, “they had believed.”

*As cited by George R. Beasley-Murray, John, p. 132.


Willing to Do God’s Will

January 31, 2015

I could describe my life as one of faith seeking answers. I was blessed with a believing mother and grandparents. I was able to lead with faith. But I relate to the father of the demon possessed boy who was challenged by Jesus with these words: “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23, ESV). The father gives a wonderful reply, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Faith is like that. It is difficult for humans to have faith completely unmixed with doubt. We are given the encouragement that even faith as small as a mustard seed can do great things. Faith can grow!

Jesus says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17, ESV). Willingness to do God’s will is necessary. This kind of willingness can be instructed. It too can grow.

Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli provide an interesting analysis about psychological motives for unbelief in a footnote near the end of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics.

    The most powerful psychological motive for unbelief, as distinct from the most effective argument to undermine belief, is a different matter. The answer to that question is almost always moral rather than intellectual. That answer is addiction to sin and selfishness, usually in one or more of the following areas:
  1. Addiction to power in this world. How often have you heard about the value of detachment or otherworldliness lately? Yet all the saints extol this as indispensable.
  2. Addiction to lust, our society’s favorite pastime. A sex addict is hardly more capable of objectivity than a cocaine addict.
  3. Addiction to greed, the sin Christ spoke against the most frequently, and the one our consumerist society relies on for its very survival.
  4. Addiction to worldliness, that is, acceptance and popularity, not being distinctive, like the prophets or the martyrs.
  5. Addiction to freedom, defined as “doing your own thing,” “accepting yourself as you are,” “self-assertiveness,” “looking out for Number One”—in short, acting like a self-centered child and calling it the psychology of maturity.1

Unbelief is not just about intellectual problems. Moral issues can get in the way of coming to faith. My own observations in life would confirm Kreeft and Tacelli’s observations. Faith requires someone willing to do God’s will.

1Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 202–203.