Monday, June 14, 2010

Is your faith in God intelligent?

"The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1 ESV).

Josh McDowell's book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, is an impressive pop-level apologetical work. I've long appreciated the work, even though I find many of its underlying assumptions a bit flawed.  Any attempt to express the truth of Christianity deserves praise.

Yet McDowell recently gave an interview where he made some troubling comments. They are troubling not so much for what they claim, but for what McDowell presupposes.  The article states,
In his 50 years of ministry, McDowell has asked several thousand pastors and leaders how they could be certain Jesus Christ said "I am the truth" and not one of many truths or a truth.
"Not one person has ever given me an intelligent, bibilically-based answer," said the author of The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
During the past six years, he asked hundreds of Christians and leaders why they see themselves as Christians. Again, no one gave him an "intelligent" answer.
In the past 17 years, he has asked over 4,000 pastors, leaders, and parents why they believe the Bible is true.
A mere six "came close to giving an intelligent answer", McDowell noted.
There was much in the article that is praiseworthy on McDowell's part.  What is troubling is the presupposition that Christians must acquire a reasonable argument for their faith.  As a proponent of what is known as Evidentialist apologetics, McDowell in one swift stroke has undermined the biblical witness and placed biblical faith on the defensive.  While there certainly is a place for apologetics and defenders of the faith, do we really believe we can give an "intelligent" answer to someone who is determined not to believe?  

Scripture never seeks to defend the notion that God exists.  It simply presupposes it.  The very first words in the Bible say "In the beginning God...". It understands that belief in God is the logically starting point of any conversation.  Nothing can exist, not even meaningful discourse, without a presupposition in God.

Even the ancient philosophers understood this (though in a pagan context). Aristotle was so throughly disgusted by atheists that he forbade his students from having discussions with them, believing that reasoned arguments would just be wasted upon their stubborn foolishness. Cicero, in his Reply to Aurusius, said "Who can be so blind as not to sense the existence of God?"  Elsewhere he said "where can you find a race or nation so bas not to have, in not formal teachings and doctrines, yet at least an innate awareness of the divine.  In other words, the barbarian is the one who denies God, not the one who has faith in Him. Seneca also wrote, "There never was a nation so dissolute and abandoned, so lawless and immoral, as to believe there is no God." Aelianus notes that "None of the barbarous nations ever fell into atheism, or doubted of the gods whether they were or not, or whether they took care of human affairs or not; not the Indians, nor the Gauls, nor the Egyptians."  Plutarch remarks, "If you go over the earth, you find cities without walls, letters, kings, houses, wealth, and money, devoid of theatres and schoos; but a city without temples and gods...no man ever saw". In another work (The Nature of the Gods, Book 2) Cicero writes, "The beauty and the order of the heavens proclaim that there exists some supreme and eternal power, which is worthy of the respect and admiration of the human race." This is precisely Paul's point in Romans 1:20. 

The majority of Christians are not scholars (it should therefore not surprise us that they don't give us scholarly answers), at least by McDowell's standards. Yet this beloved brother seems to have forgotten Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge".  Perhaps it is true that few Christians have ever given an "intelligent" answer. Not all are meant to author books and give lectures. But it is also true that the world has never heard an "intelligent" atheist challenge. 

In the end, the council of Cyprian (an Early Church father) still holds today: "This is the epitome of sin, to refuse recognition to the One of whom it is impossible for us humans to be ignorant" (On the Vanity of Idols).


2 comments:

  1. Per the article:

    "
    Ministries|Thu, Jun. 03 2010 05:43 PM EDT
    Most Christians Cannot Explain their Faith, Says Apologist
    By Edmond Chua|Christian Post Correspondent

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    The faith of most Christians, even that of many pastors, will not stand up to intellectual scrutiny, according to renowned apologist Josh McDowell.
    Related

    * Survey: Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church
    * Saving Youth from Church Exodus Not Enough, Says Youth Leader
    * 'Lost' Christians Greatest Crisis in American Church, says Author

    This is a concern because pastors’ inability to present biblical truth comprehensibly and relevantly has led to children from Christian families leaving the church, research has shown.

    In the United States, the age at which nearly all such children leave church has decreased to 18 years.

    Not even the children of many successful ministers are spared.

    McDowell made his comments at a recent networking dinner among various men’s ministries organized recently by Men-in-Covenant. MiC is the men’s ministry of Covenant Evangelical Free Church.

    He recalled speaking with the pastor of one of the largest U.S. churches, a man known for his expository preaching. Confiding in him, the pastor said their church was losing its youth right after high school graduation.

    In his 50 years of ministry, McDowell has asked several thousand pastors and leaders how they could be certain Jesus Christ said “I am the truth” and not one of many truths or a truth.

    “Not one person has ever given me an intelligent, biblically-based answer,” said the author of The New Evidence that Demands A Verdict.

    During the past six years, he asked hundreds of Christians and leaders why they see themselves as Christians. Again no one gave him an "intelligent" answer.

    In the past 17 years, he has asked over 4,000 pastors, leaders and parents why they believe the Bible is true.

    A mere six “came close to giving an intelligent answer,” McDowell noted.

    “If anything is based upon truth, it’s the Christian faith,” he said. “Christians who do not know why they have faith or believe have a very difficult time expressing themselves to others.

    "The saddest thing is people come to me and say, ‘What’s the answer?’"

    “I say, ‘There’s no answer… There are hundreds of answers.’"

    Well, Mr. McDowell then does not give us the answer(s), either.

    One could make the point that the evidentialist answer would not be, by his own terms, "intelligent," since it cannot be definition meet what appear to be his own terms of definitive truth.

    ReplyDelete
  2. All I can say in response to this post, Josh, is a hearty AMEN! Psalm 19:1 is one of the most practical and delightful verses engraved on my heart. Praise be to God that He has revealed this to us.

    ReplyDelete