faith

No Such Faith (Part 3)

Previously, in parts 1 and 2 of this series, we’ve examined Exodus 3-14 and Acts 16 in order to better understand how the Bible defines faith. Today we turn to the gospel of Mark to see how Jesus’ teaching reinforces the idea of faith as active trust based on knowledge and evidence.


 A Lame Man Walks:

Our final example is found in Mark 2:1-12, where we observe Jesus establishing the same model of faith that is evident in Exodus and Acts. In this passage, Jesus had recently returned to the seaside village of Capernaum after ministering throughout Galilee. Before long he was preaching to an overflowing room of curious listeners. During his teaching, a paralysed man, being carried on a mat, was bought to see him. Regrettably, there was no way for the cripple to gain access due to the number of people surrounding Jesus. This didn’t dishearten those carrying him, however, and they soon climbed onto the roof, created an opening, and lowered the paralytic down. When Jesus observed their faith, he spoke to the crippled man: “Son, your sins are forgiven”. Several Jewish scribes were present, and they questioned Jesus in their minds, thinking him blasphemous. Since God alone has the right to forgive sins, the scribes were understandably aghast at Jesus’ claim. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus addressed them: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?”. Jesus was aware that by forgiving the paralytic’s sins he was making an unfalsifiable claim. Who’s to say he couldn’t forgive sins? How could anyone present possibly prove him wrong? On the other hand, healing a man meant acting in the physical realm where the witnesses could verify his claim—or know him to be a liar if he failed. Jesus continued: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—and he turned to the paralytic, commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. Immediately the man stood up and walked.

Jesus’ response to the scribes is deeply significant in what it teaches about faith. He knew that no one could disprove his ability to forgive sins, but he didn’t tell the audience to simply “take it on faith”. He didn’t respond, “Look, you just have to believe”. Instead, he demonstrated his power in the physical realm by healing the paralytic, thereby lending credence to his claim to authority in the spiritual realm. Because of the evidence of his authority in the physical world, those present knew he also held authority over spiritual matters, and were able to place their trust in him. Once again, it is evident that knowledge, evidence and reason are integral to biblical faith, and are not contrary to it.

In summary, we’ve seen that Exodus 3-14, Acts 16, and Mark 2 do not describe blind belief but are instances of active trust based on evidence and knowledge. When God asked Moses to lead the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, He gave Moses the power to perform miraculous signs in order to demonstrate that He was truly at work. In the New Testament, the Philippian jailer’s conversion took place against the backdrop of the apostolic witness in Philippi and the miraculous occurrences of the evening. With these in place as evidence, the jailer had good reason to believe what Paul and Silas told with him, and thus to place his faith in Jesus. Finally, Jesus’ own behaviour towards the lame man, the scribes, and the onlookers in Mark 2 implies a model of faith that incorporates and includes knowledge and reason. These are but three examples of scripture affirming the compatibility of faith and reason, and I’d encourage you to examine other passages to see for yourself whether they also demonstrate this model of faith. With this in mind, it seems that we can agree at least in part with A. C. Grayling’s polemic as quoted in part 1. Although as bible-believing Christians we should reject Grayling’s definition of faith, we can agree that people who subscribe to such “faith” and affirm the truth of a belief against all reason are somewhat ignorant and irresponsible. As C. S. Lewis puts it: “if… [a sane man] thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid”[i]. Fortunately, Christianity requires no such faith.


Citations:

[i] Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity, p. 138. New York: HarperCollins.

faith

No Such Faith (Part 2)

On Monday we examined Exodus 3-14 in order find out how the Bible portrays faith. We saw that, contrary to accusations of many critics, the Old Testament presents faith as active trust in God based on knowledge and evidence. Now we continue our study by turning to the book of Acts.


 Prison Break:

One of the central messages of the New Testament is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and be saved”, which is to say that when one places their faith in Christ, His work on the cross brings salvation. Must such a step of faith be groundless and unreasonable? Acts 16, which details Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi and the subsequent conversion of their jailer, suggests not.

Let’s take a look at the context in which the events of Acts 16:25-34 occur. The apostle Paul and his colleague Silas have recently arrived in the Roman colony of Philippi, with the intent of preaching the gospel to the Macedonians. They do so, and are eventually jailed for casting a spirit from a fortune-telling slave girl who was a source of income to her owners. After being unjustly beaten and bloodied, the apostles are placed in prison with their feet fastened in stocks. Incredibly, rather than becoming distraught and downcast at their predicament, Paul and Silas joyfully pray and sings hymns of praise to God. During the night a severe earthquake shakes the foundations of the prison, and the doors swing open as the prisoners’ bonds come undone. Upon seeing the prison cells open, the jailer concludes that the prisoners have escaped, and prepares to take his own life. Fortuitously, Paul cries out “Don’t harm yourself, we’re still here!”, and the jailer rushes in and falls at the apostles’ knees, asking “What must I do to be saved?”. Paul responds “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and all your household” (v. 31). They then share the gospel with the jailer and those in his home, who place their faith in Jesus and accept salvation.

What does this passage tell us about the jailer’s faith, and by extension about faith in general? The immediate context and the jailer’s response to the events suggests that his belief wasn’t a blind leap, but was founded on knowledge. It’s crucial to keep in mind that Paul and Silas’ exhortation to believe in Christ and the jailer’s subsequent step of faith did not occur in a vacuum. The jailer had at least three reasons to believe the apostles’ testimony. Firstly, Paul and Silas were jailed for casting out a spirit of divination. This act fit within the framework of the gospel they preached, and demonstrated the power they held through Jesus. The entire city was in an uproar because of this, and it’s likely that the jailer would have been aware of it. Secondly, Paul and Silas’ behaviour was hardly standard prison conduct; their attitudes undoubtedly lent support to the truth of what they preached. It seems unlikely that they would sing praises in such a circumstance if their belief was insincere, so at the very least the jailer would have known that they genuinely believed the gospel. Thirdly, the earthquake and the freeing of the prisoners from their bonds further validated the fact that Paul and Silas were servants of God, and not just any god, but the risen Christ, who exists in space and time and who answers the prayers of His followers. These three reasons cumulatively laid the foundation for the jailer’s conversion. It’s also worth noting that Paul and Silas spent time speaking with the jailer and his household and explaining the gospel before they believed. According to Francis Schaeffer, this passage shows that “true Christian faith rests on content. It is not a vague thing which takes the place of real understanding”[i].

Once again, a model of faith involving evidence, knowledge, and trust is evident. The apostles’ conduct and the miraculous events at the prison served as evidence of the truth of their teaching. The jailer came to a knowledge of the truth through witnessing the events and through conversation with Paul and Silas, and consequently placed his trust in Jesus as his saviour. Evidence, knowledge, and active trust—the three hallmarks of biblical faith.

On Friday we’ll finish with a passage from Mark which further reinforces this conception of faith.


Citations:

[i] Schaeffer, F. (1990). Trilogy, p. 146. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

 

faith

No Such Faith (Part 1)

“Faith is a commitment to belief contrary to evidence and reason… to believe something in the face of evidence and against reason – to believe something by faith – is ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant, and merits the opposite of respect” – A C Grayling[i]

Many people perceive religious faith as foolish and unreasonable; a form of wishful thinking for gullible or thoughtless dreamers. Such faith is thought to be the ultimate form of irrationality, in which a person trusts without any evidence or against all evidence. For example, Richard Dawkins, the outspoken atheist biologist, equates religious faith with “belief in something for which there is no evidence”[ii], while an article in the British Spectator pits faith against rationality when it asks, “does not all religion place faith above reason?”[iii] Sadly, even among some Christians this perspective prevails, betraying itself in statements such as “if you have evidence for what you believe, that detracts from real faith”, or “God is entirely beyond our comprehension, you just have to believe”. This sort of thinking, though widespread, exposes a deep misunderstanding of biblical, Christian faith. Examination of scripture reveals that the biblical conception of faith involves reason, evidence, and knowledge. Far from being contrary to genuine faith, these elements undergird faith in both the Old and New Testaments. This is evident upon examination of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt in Exodus 3-14, as well as the account of the Philippian jailer’s conversion in Acts 16. Furthermore, Mark 2 provides good grounds for thinking that Jesus’ own conception of faith included knowledge and evidence. These passages will be examined over the course of three blog posts, by the end of which it should be clear that biblical faith is not opposed to reason, evidence, and knowledge, but actually encompasses them.


Escape from Egypt:

Let’s take a look at our first example, namely the account of the Israelites’ escape from captivity in Egypt (Exodus 3-14). At the beginning of this passage, Moses encounters a burning bush in the wilderness, which God uses to speak to him. Having seen the Israelites’ afflictions, God instructs Moses to approach Pharaoh and command him to free the Israelites, that they might know and serve their Lord. Doubtful of his ability to lead, Moses objects that the captive Israelites will neither believe nor follow him, but instead will deny that he’d heard from God. In response, God asks:

“What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the Lord said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you. (Exodus 4:2-5)

Here Moses is given the power to perform a miraculous feat in order to prove that he’d heard from God. Why is this significant? Well, note that God didn’t expect the Israelites to take a blind leap of faith and just “believe”. He didn’t instruct Moses to chastise them if they asked for some form of evidence. He didn’t want blind, irrational faith. Rather, He offered the Israelites several miraculous signs, of which this was the first, thereby vindicating Moses’ claim to have heard Him, and providing a foundation for rational, knowledge-based faith.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason points out a recurring pattern that emerges upon examination of faith in this and other Biblical narratives[iv]. Firstly, God gives evidence. This leads to knowledge, which then serves as the foundation for active trust or faith. In this case, God enabled Moses to perform miraculous signs to serve as evidence that he’d heard from God and was following His commands. Upon witnessing these signs, the Israelites knew Moses was speaking the truth, enabling them to place their active trust in him as their leader and God as their liberator. Furthermore, this pattern is also reinforced in Moses’ interaction with Pharaoh. When Pharaoh ignored Moses’ pleas for the freedom of his people and dismissed warnings of the calamities that would befall the Egyptians as a result of his obduracy, God plagued the land of Egypt, thereby demonstrating His power and providing an opportunity for the Egyptians to know that He is Lord. Unfortunately, rather than placing his faith in God, Pharaoh retreated deeper into stubbornness and obstinacy, resulting in the death of his firstborn son and the decimation of the Egyptian army. The outcome of this was that “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

Both of these circumstances indicate that Biblical faith is based on knowledge. God didn’t ask the Israelites to trust Him without any evidence, nor did he require the Egyptians to free the Israelites without a demonstration of the truth of Moses’ claims. By offering evidence of His power, God enabled the Israelites and Egyptians to know him and to place their trust in Him. On this view, evidence and knowledge are far from antithetical to genuine faith—they are part and parcel of active trust in the living God.

Be sure to check in again on Wednesday for part 2, in which we’ll discuss faith as presented in Acts 16.


Citations:

[i] Grayling, A. C. (2007). Against all gods, pp. 15-16. London: Oberon Books.

[ii] Big think (2011, June 2). Richard Dawkins: faith [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm220Q5wks4

[iii] Hobson, T. (2013). Richard Dawkins has lost: meet the new new atheists. The Spectator. Retrieved from http://www.spectator.co.uk/2013/04/after-the-new-atheism/

[iv] Koukl, G. (2009). Faith is not wishing. Retrieved from https://www.str.org/publications/i-take-it-on-faith#.V9X-EJjJvIU

 

Cold Case Christianty Bundle with Free Delivery

Cold Case Christianty for Kids – Christmas bundle special

We are excited to have just taken delivery of the following new-release for kids and tweens – just in time for Christmas!

Cold Case Christianity for KidsBetween the ages of 8 and 12, kids often start to wonder if Christianity is true. In Cold-Case Christianity young readers are drawn into the thrill of high-stakes investigation and taught “how to think, not just what to think”.

This is a children’s version of the bestselling book Cold-Case Christianity where detective Jim Wallace gets kids excited about testing witnesses, examining the evidence, and investigating the case for Christianity. Includes author illustrations and links to a website (coldcasechristianityforkids.com) where kids can download activities, fill in case notes, and earn a certificate of merit.

Cold-Case Christianity for Kids follows the same chapter sequence as the adult version of the same book, so parents and children can discuss and explore the evidence together, chapter by chapter.

As of today there are 54 reviews for this new release on Amazon.com – with an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars – that’s quite impressive!

Cold Case Christianty Bundle with Free DeliveryWe would love to see these getting into Christmas stockings across New Zealand – so we have put together a special bundle deal of BOTH the adult version of this book (which is an easy ready also suitable for teens) AND the kids version for just $39 FREIGHT FREE if you order before Christmas!

free-choice

Freeing inconsistency

According to philosopher, Douglas Groothuis, one of the foundational aspects of a worldview is coherency. A worldview needs to internally make sense before it can hope to stand up to external scrutiny and be considered worthy of adherence.

In an article in The Atlantic, a philosopher called Stephen Cave revealed a glaring inconsistency in the naturalistic worldview that dominates Western civilisation. In There’s No Such Thing as Free Will (But we’re better off believing in it anyway), Cave describes a logical conclusion of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Executive summary – your brain is hardwired in a certain way which you inherited from your ancestors. Your thoughts, desires, dreams, and the actions they precede, are all the creations of firing neurons dictated by your inherited genetic structure. This, combined with the impact your surroundings have, determines you. Nature and nurture shape you and you have no more control over the inner workings of your brain (and therefore, your actions) than you can will your heart to beat. Therefore, there really is no such thing as free will.

This form of scientific determinism is gaining popularity among scientists and skeptics alike, where human responsibility is significantly reduced, even removed. When caught red-handed, they can simply point to their skull and say, “My brain made me do it”. According to Cave, “when people stop believing they are free agents, they stop seeing themselves as blameworthy for their actions”. No wonder, when all my bad habits and predispositions have been programmed by my ancestors and environment. But this isn’t even the shocking part of the article from a worldview perspective.

Doubletake

Despite appealing to science and reason to conclude that free will is indeed an illusion, Cave then turns around to defend the very thing he has tried to bring down. Through various experiments, it became clear to Cave that denying free will may not be a good idea:

“…Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.”

If denying in thought and deed that free will exists can have such a negative impact on society, should we perhaps think harder about this? Saul Smilanksy, a philosophy professor at the University of Haifa, in Israel, apparently has:

“Smilansky advocates a view he calls illusionism—the belief that free will is indeed an illusion, but one that society must defend. The idea of determinism, and the facts supporting it, must be kept confined within the ivory tower. Only the initiated, behind those walls, should dare to, as he put it to me, “look the dark truth in the face.” Smilansky says he realizes that there is something drastic, even terrible, about this idea—but if the choice is between the true and the good, then for the sake of society, the true must go.”

Whoa.

Freeing inconsistency

I admire Cave’s integrity in acknowledging the logical conclusion of Darwinist materialism. At the same time, I am dumbfounded that he then holds back and clings to free will. He knows that abandoning free will would lead to societal chaos but he can’t bring himself to declare this. Instead, he whispers and recommends these facts, too truthy for the masses, remain in the brave world of academia.

Perhaps there is a better way. Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God, may have found it. If we believe we all make choices we are responsible for then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If we insist on a secular view of the world and yet we continue to live as though free will is a reality, then we begin to see the disharmony between the world our intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that our heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion that we know isn’t true (“I don’t have free will”) then why not change the premise?

Who knows – perhaps in the near future, people will click that they are living on borrowed capital and acknowledge the God who makes them responsible. Or maybe history will turn once again into a dark corridor where any semblance of guilt and culpability are forsaken.

For now, thank God for this inconsistency.