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When in Doubt

It is part of human nature to doubt. In a world in which the prominent worldviews are contrary to Christianity, it is no surprise that many followers of Christ have doubts about their faith. I know from personal experience that doubts can often seem overwhelming, and that it is extraordinarily easy to blow them out of proportion. What should simply prompt reflection and consideration instead causes one to become anxious and defensive both internally—emotionally and intellectually—as well as externally—in one’s interactions with others. In such cases, there are two missteps that believers should beware of. Firstly, we can mistakenly perceive an objection as undermining a particular Christian belief, when in fact that belief has little or nothing to do with the objection. Secondly, we can assign far more importance to a given belief than it truly has. As a result of these two missteps, doubts and objections can appear to have implications that they do not necessarily have.  

As an example of the first misstep, take the so-called slaughter of the Canaanites. Critics often argue that God’s command to the Israelites to kill the Canaanites[i] was immoral, and therefore the God of the Bible cannot be good. Obviously, this conclusion is troubling for all who believe that God is essentially good. Must we accept it, or is there an alternative? One option would be to repudiate the argument. This, in my opinion, has been successfully done by a number of apologists[ii]. Another alternative would be to grant the argument, but deny the conclusion. Let’s see what happens if we explore this route.

Suppose that God’s command to kill the Canaanites was immoral, and that an essentially good God could not have issued such a command. Rather than inferring that God is not good, the Christian could instead conclude that the Israelites were mistaken in thinking that God had issued such a command. If we draw this conclusion, then the objection does not undermine God’s goodness, but rather biblical inerrancy, since the command is recorded in scripture. Clearly this is still a troubling conclusion for most believers. Nonetheless, it serves as an example of the first misstep that doubting Christians can fall into; namely, perceiving an objection as undermining a particular Christian belief (e.g. God’s goodness) when it actually does not necessarily do so.

This brings us to the second misstep: assigning more importance to a belief than it warrants. In the Christian worldview, some beliefs are more central—more important—than others. For example, the belief that God exists is vital, while beliefs regarding the rapture and tribulation are far less significant. Philosopher William Lane Craig offers a helpful analogy that emphasises this point. He states:

Our system of beliefs as Christians can be compared to a spider’s web which radiates out from a central point. These strands of the web represent different doctrines or affirmations that we as Christians believe. Some of these doctrines are more central to the web of belief. If one of these doctrines were plucked out, the reverberations would be felt throughout the entire web and the web might even collapse. But if one of these peripheral strands were to be removed, there would be little reverberation in one’s system of beliefs.[iii] 

If we picture Christian beliefs like a web, then the existence of God would be a core strand, along with the deity of Christ and his bodily resurrection. If these claims turned out to be false, then so would Christianity.

Returning to our earlier example, then, which belief is more central to the Christian faith—belief in God’s goodness, or in scripture’s inerrancy? Although giving up either would send colossal tremors through one’s web of beliefs, I believe that abandoning the former would do more damage than the latter. That is to say, belief in God’s goodness is more central to Christianity than belief in biblical inerrancy. The danger is that, in constructing our web of beliefs, one might place more importance on a doctrine than it warrants. Then, when that doctrine is challenged, the accompanying doubts appear to strike far closer to the heart of the Christian faith than they should. The moral of the story is that, when in doubt, we should think carefully about what belief an objection undermines, and make sure that we place that belief in its appropriate place in our ‘web of beliefs’; neither attributing more significance to it than is warranted, nor underestimating its importance.


Endnotes:

[i] See Deuteronomy 7:2; 20:16-18.

[ii] For some responses to the so-called slaughter of the Canaanites, click here and here.

[iii] https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-revelation/doctrine-of-revelation-part-7/

Apologetics is the Answer to Everything

Anthony Horvath, a pro-life advocate and Executive Director of Athanatos Christian Ministries, has written a provocative post about the importance of apologetics for the witness of the church in the post-Christian world:

“Some Christians will begin seeing red just from reading the title of this entry.  They will be angry and annoyed and may even jump up out of their seats.  Therefore, let me say it again:  apologetics is the answer to everything.

Whether it be the rapid decline of the Christian Church in America, the brisk acceptance of homosexual ‘marriage,’ the prevailing and deepening culture of death, the shallow spirituality of many of the Christians who actually remain in the Church- and certainly much of the lack of action- and many other issues can track back to nothing less than disobedience, for the Scriptures themselves command:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  1 Peter 3:15

Horvath argues that our proclamation of the Gospel has been harmed by an abandonment of an assumption that was central to the witness of the early Christians:

“What is this assumption that the apostles carried with them wherever they went and the unbelieving world they interacted with shared, and generally still tends to share, yet many Christians today have jettisoned?

It is simply this:  that what is objectively true and real in the world requires our assent in mind, body, and soul.

In short, apologetics rejects the relativistic and post-modern notions that we all get to make up our own ‘truth’ as we go.   Apologetics carries with it the assumption that what is described in the Bible really happened.  Jesus, to his very own disciples, appealed to the fact that they themselves had witnessed miracles- that really happened.  The Bereans strove to show that what Paul was saying really happened was really consistent with their Scriptures.  Paul directed Agrippa to investigate what had really happened.  If Jesus did not really rise from the dead, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Horvath suggests that, in contrast to the early church, we have succumbed to the postmodern denial of both the existence of objective truth and human access to it. This has consequences:

“If you walked around thinking that your articles of faith were in fact nothing more than articles of faith without any grounding in reality, how willing would you be to share your views?   If this is what you thought, how excited would you be to evangelize?  Easily answered:  not very.”

What is his solution?

“Apologetics is the answer to everything- in the sense that knowing what you believe and why you believe it is that which gives you the confidence to act in a society that does not share your values and beliefs.   The notion that the Church should confine itself to ‘spiritual’ issues has more than passing resemblance to the gnostic heresy.    God created ‘earthly’ things, too, and said they were good!  Ah, but is that just an article of faith, or is it an actual truth?

The apologetically minded individual tends to be someone who believes that what he is presenting and defending is an actual truth about the real state of affairs.   Not presenting and defending the Christian faith implies to Christian and nonChristian alike that Christianity is a collection of arbitrary dogmas.  Merely asserting those dogmas accomplishes the same thing.  Defending the Christian faith poorly cements the notion in people’s minds (Christians as well!) that ‘faith is believing what we know isn’t true.’”

You may not agree with everything he says, but it is worth taking the time to read the whole thing.

Dr Matthew Flannagan on Belief without Proof

What: Dr Matthew Flannagan speaking on Belief without Proof

When: Tuesday 31th March – 7:00pm

Where: Lecture Room 2, Laidlaw College, 80 Central Park Drive, Henderson, West Auckland

Format: Talk followed by questions, answers and discussion.

Cost:  Free!  (Donation appreciated)

 

Dr Flannagan will address the objection that Christianity is irrational in the absence of proof. He will unpack this claim and offer an alternative method of looking at faith and reason demonstrating that lack of evidence does not make faith in God irrational.

Dr Flannagan holds a PhD in Theology, a Masters degree in Philosophy. His area of expertise is the interface between Philosophy and Theology, Applied Ethics and Worldviews. He is an adjunct lecturer in Philosophy for Laidlaw College, writes for the MandM blog and has nearly 15 years experience engaging and challenging secular culture both in New Zealand and internationally.

He is a former student President at the University of Waikato, has formally debated the Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ’s Dr Zoe During and the NZ Association of Rationalist Humanist’s Dr Bill Cooke; he has been published in several international journals of philosophy and has a personal reference from the then President of the Evangelical Theological Society in his resume.

He is used to speaking to a wide range of audiences so you will not need a PhD to understand him.

Thinking Matters – Auckland

 

Thinking Matters is a community of professional and lay apologists dedicated to offering credible reasons to believe and rationally answering objections to the Christian faith.

 Thinking Matters Auckland hold regular Apologetics seminars, showcasing New Zealand’s best Apologetic talents and screen DVDs of the world’s top Apologists defending the Christian Faith. Opportunity for analysis, discussion and questions follow each event.

 The seminars are held in Lecture Room 2 of West Auckland’s Laidlaw College, fortnightly on Tuesdays, from 7-9pm; there is no charge although donations are welcome. The seminars are accessible to all with an interest in Apologetics, suitable for teenagers through to adults and open to anyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

 

For further information contact:

Madeleine Flannagan

09 835 1554

021 026 94751

Thinking Matters