Friday, October 26, 2012

“I Just Believe,” the Anti-Intellectual Faith Barrier to a Reasonable Faith

by Rob Lundberg
roblundberg.org

A few weeks ago following a worship service, I had an opportunity to speak with a potential member for our Ratio Christi club at the University of Mary Washington.  The conversation moved from discussing Ratio Christ toward a discussion concerning her spiritual beliefs and convictions.  Talk about a divine appointment. She was at church for the first time in a long time, and considered herself a seeker; but not really a Christian in the biblical sense.   This particular morning, she had come to church as a way of her investigating the Christianity of her father.  After a conversation and sharing with her about her need for Christ, her father listening in, thanked me and told me that he had been talking to her about her spiritual condition for some time.  We both agreed that our conversation was truly a divine appointment being the first day back in a church and her openness to the subject matter of her spiritual condition.

The conversation between this gal’s Dad and myself carried out into the open area coffee bar, where I had the chance to introduce Dad and daughter to Ratio Christi at the University of Mary Washington.  As my conversation continued with the Dad, we started talking about how 75-88% of the kids coming out of Christian homes are walking away from their faith during the first or second years of university and that we were on the campus to show how Christianity has great reasons for believing it to be true.  So I can get into the crux of this essay I was surprised to hear “Dad” tell me that we don’t need any reasons, “I just believe Christianity is true.”

Here is a Dad, with his daughter, who is investigating Christianity, the faith of her father.  And here is a college student, who is finding it difficult to navigate her biology core, and needing help with some answers to why she should believe that Christianity is true.  The dilemma here is a father who is concerned about his daughter, and does not believe that Christianity needs reasons for believing why his daughter should believe it to be true.  Well, I respectfully disagreed with him and asked him some “what if” questions, like:

"What if you were confronted by one embracing Islam and you told them 'I just believe' how do you think that would go?”  Or "what if you were confronted by one of the groupies of the new atheism and told them that, what do you think would happen?"  And lastly, "what if they had convincing 'evidence' to embrace their ideology, and they were to rattle your belief, how would that hold up, 'I just believe?'”  His response was disturbing, “I don’t know, I just believe.”

Believe what?  Why do you believe what you do if you do not have a reasons to believe it?  Folks this is what is being called by many of my colleagues and mentors in apologetics as the new fideism in the church.  Really it is not new, as it has been around for a long time.  


What is fideism you ask?  Digging back into some of my resources, one being an outline I put together years ago on fideism from Norman Geisler’s Christian Apologetics book, I am convinced that this view which says, “I just believe” is seemingly the extreme opposite of the empiricism which led to skepticism in Hume.  To support this, I find Dr. Geisler posing the following question,

Does truth in religion then rest solely on faith and not on a reasoning process [1]?  Those who hold to this kind of blind leap of faith answer this question with a resounding “Yes.

Since the philosophy of rationalism failed to demonstrate its first principles, this kind of fideism becomes a more viable (so called) option for their religious epistemology.  Therefore the crux of fideism proper tells us that truth rests solely on faith and not a reasoning process.  Just simply believe in spite of the evidence.  This is the key to this anti intellectual response, “I just believe.”



Exposing the Reality of Blind Faith


Fideists confuse epistemology (the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related to the issues such as justifying how and what we know and truth [2]) and ontology. (Ontology deals with being and the equivalent of metaphysics [3]).  They think that since I have faith, that is all I need to know and what I need to know.  But faith must also have a starting point, when it comes to knowing how I know what I know, so that I might place my faith in what is ontologically real.

Fideists fail to clearly distinguish “belief in” versus “belief that” there is a God.  I believe in God. But that is not the same as I believe that there is a God.  The former deals with my direct belief in a being who is uncreated, infinite, transcendent and yet imminent, infinite in all His attributes, uncaused, and the first Cause of all we see in the general revelation, vis-à-vis creation.  The latter is just a general statement, like “Sure I believe that there is a God.”  There is no object of my belief in that statement.  In other words, there is no clear differentiation between the basis of belief in God (the location or object of that belief) and the support or warrant for the object or direction that belief.

If you can’t know with certainty, how can you know what to have faith in?  One cannot have a biblical faith if they don't know in whom or what they are placing their faith. 



Ripping Away the Blindfold.

By way of reflecting on conversations with fellow apologists at the recent National Christian Apologetics Conference, one thing is for certain.  This “I just believe” kind of faith is a form of cognate dissonance is about believing something without examining it to be true.  To give you an example, let’s say I were to ask someone, “Do you own a house?”  They respond with “Yes, I do.”  I then ask another question, “What is the address?” Their response is, “I am not sure.”  Then I follow up with, "What color is your house?"  They respond with, "I'm not sure." Does this make sense?[4] 

Of course not!  This whole issue reminds me of Socrates’ statement, “an unexamined life is a life not worth living.”  May I follow up, at the risk of drawing friendly fire from adherents to this blind follow-ship, and say that an unexamined faith is a faith not worth believing, let alone following.

So is there a way to respond to this?  Pondering on the fact of having to go back to work the next day, I found myself thinking while driving home on the five and half hour trip from Charlotte this past weekend. I think I have at least one analogy that might work, that I have yet to try.  Let me see if I can unpack it for us.

I work in the car business for a Christian owned dealership, and being a non-commissioned sales associate affords me to talk to folks, if the opportunity lends itself, about more than the car they just bought.  In this job I also do a lot of financial counseling with folks who are struggling to keep their credit above water and be able to purchase a car.

Sometimes we get responses from the bank where a customer with not so strong credit will need proof of income, or proof of residence.  This is due to the fact that the customer has not been at their job or at their home long enough for a sure approval from the bank.  In other words, the bank needs proof and the customer needs to provide that proof for the bank in order for the loan to be officially approved.

Now let’s take this analogy and use it with the question, “why are you a Christian?”; and using the fideistic response, “I just believe Christianity to be true.”  Here’s how I might follow up with this,

Me:  Can you give a reason why you believe why Christianity is true?”

Sir/Ma’am”  I don’t know, I just believe it’s true.

Me (cutting to the chase):  Can you prove where you live if I were the bank asking you for proof in order to approve your car loan?  Can you prove to me where you live?

Sir/Ma’am:  I am supposing their response would be a “Yes.”

Me:  If the bank were to ask you to prove your income, would you be able to do that ?  Can you prove how much you have in your checking or savings account?

Sir/Ma’am:  I suppose I could do that.

Me:  So you just told me that you are a Christian, and you say you believe and don’t need any proof.  Why do you think that proving where you live or how much money you make or have in your accounts is more important than giving proof for your spiritual beliefs that you tell me that you just “believe?”

I am working through this to make it a little smoother and more tactful, but I think you get the gist.  There are people out there, who profess to have a personal relationship with the living God, and cannot give a reason for the hope that is in them, for various reasons.  But that is another posting sometime down the road.

Conclusion.

Let me say, that this is one of the biggest roadblocks for apologetics in the church and apologetics in the milieu of discipleship.  Perhaps we should just turn the fideistic believing folks over to the skeptics to see them “get crushed.”  As frustrating as it is, I can't allow myself to be silent on this issue.  I will try the aforementioned analogy to see how it goes.  For those of you reading this article, let me encourage you to use it or some other similar analogy that might speak the person you are dialoguing with in your setting.

Anti-intellectualism abounds, and we as apologists need to keep our boots on the ground and “stay alert, alive and oriented” to the wiles of the enemy in the church.  That’s right, I believe that this “I just believe” response is being used by the enemy of the church to draw and dumb down the saints for the coming delusion. 

Let us lovingly stand vigilant and continue in this warfare, not walking in the flesh but with the gospel in focus, and ready to tear down the speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” our Lord and Redeemer.


Notes
[1] Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976): 47.

[2] C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2002): 39, s.v. “epistemology.”

[3] Ibid., 85: s.v. “ontology.

[4] While I have received some "friendly fire" from some folks in the apologetics community on Facebook, I cannot recant the thought communicated in an earlier edition of this posting, concerning this epidemic in the church today.  That epidemic, because it seems such an adamant fideism, it boggles the mind to see folks not wanting to think about why they believe what they do.  The word I used was "cultic" in the context of the fact that when conversing with folks and we encourage them to think, they hold back and shut down.  This is very similar to when the mind shuts down with a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness when they begin to realize the liberty of thinking upon the truth of the historical Christian faith.  This might sound divisive. It might sound cruel.  It is not intended to be.  It is the perception that is given from a handful of conversations with fellow believers that embrace this non-thinking kind of faith.  It is scary to think that one does not think their faith is important to think deeply about.  It is not about how one is wired.  It is about one's obedience to loving God with all their heart soul and MIND.
 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is the God of Islam the Same as the Judeo-Christian God? No!


Have you ever been involved in a conversation with someone who said something like this, "Muslims and Christians and Jews all worship the same God?"  Did you believe them?  Do you believe the political pundits gussying up to the move to allow Islam a place in politics when they say Islam's Allah is the same as the God of the Jews and the Christians?  Here are three reasons why I don't believe that and neither should you.

Reason #1:  Etymologically They are Not the Same.


We are well aware that the name Allah is used by Arab speaking Christians for the God of the Bible. In fact, the root from which the name is derived, ilah, which originates out of the ancient Semitic languages, corresponding to the Mesopotamian IL, as well as the Hebrew-Aramaic EL.  As an example of this we see the names like Ishma-el, Immanu-el, Isra-el. These terms, IL and EL,  were often used to refer to any deity worshiped as a high god, especially the chief deity amongst a pantheon of lesser gods.  

As such, the Holy Bible uses the term as only one of the many titles for Yahweh, the only true God, Elohim.  Yet the problem arises from the fact that Muslims insist that Allah is not a title, but the personal name of the God of Islam. This becomes a problem in the discussion because, according to the Bible, the name of the God of Abraham is not Allah, but Yahweh (YHWH):

God spoke further to Moses and said to him, "I am Yahweh (YHWH) and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty; BUT BY MY NAME, YAHWEH, I did not make myself known to them." Exodus 6:2-3

Therefore, Arabic Christians will say that it is okay to use Allah as a title or a generic noun for the true God, but NOT as the personal name for the God of the Holy Bible.

Reason #2:  Because of Abrogations in Islamic Revelation, They are Not the Same.

Another distinction between Allah, and the Judeo-Christian God, comes in the attributes of God.  Those attributes are the fact of the God of the Judeo-Christian faith being immutable or  unchanging.  When you look at the definition of immutability, you will notice that it refers to something that cannot be changed once it has been created.

The caveat here is that when we speak of God, we are talking about a Being who is the greatest of all beings, who is uncreated, all powerful in every one of His attributes, transcendent and imminent at the same time, loving, holy and just.  The Judeo-Christian God is immutable in all of these attributes, because He is a necessary Being.  

I am often reminded of the God’s words to Malachi 3:6, where God says to Malachi, “I the Lord (YHWH) do not change.”

It is not the same in the Qur’an.  In the Qur’an we see what are called abrogations.  An abrogation is a change or a repealing of a previous revelation, in this context, for one that is new or improved.  Looking at Mormon history, we see this same thing happening as well, but that is another discussion for a later time.

However, when we look at the Quran,  Allah reveals a verse only to have it canceled out a short time later:

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten but We substitute something better or similar- Knowest thou not that Allah has power over all things? Surah 2:106

When We substitute one revelation for another- and Allah knowest best what He reveals (in stages)- They say, "Thou art but a forger"; But most of them understand not. Surah 16:101

What does this show to those who believe in an unchanging God?  It leaves us with a difficulty of having a God, who does not remain consistent and one that changes his revealed purpose at the drop of a hat.  How in the world is one to know that the promises of such a divine being in reference to eternal security can truly be trusted?  Just as Allah changes his mind in relation to the revelation, he also has the divine privilege of changing his mind to the believer’s ultimate destiny without anything stopping from doing so.

Again, this is different from the God (YHWH) of the Holy Bible who does not change because His nature is unchanging.  Because He is unchanging, He can be totally trusted in fulfilling all His promises.  To give some Scripture to back this up, let’s look at the following:  

“God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good?” Numbers 23:19

For I, the Lord Your God (Yahweh), I do not change. Malachi 3:6

If we are faithless, he remains faithful; he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:13

Reason #3:  Because of Who and What YHWH is, They are Not the Same.

I could go on much further in the study of the abrogations demonstrated in the Qur’an.  I could also bring more examples from the Bible that point to God’s immutable nature.  However at this point, I want to close this argument with a practical illustration that I think deals with the essence of who God is and how He reveals Himself in contrast to Islamic monotheism.

So what I would like to do here is discuss briefly (ya, right!) the personal attributes conveyed in orthodox Christianity and what it teaches about how God discloses (reveals) Himself.

At first glance of the Shema, the word LORD is used, which is one of many names for the Judeo Christian God.  Remember earlier in this post, I mentioned that the word, God, is generic title.  In Islam, as in the case of Judaism, Allah and God (YHWH) respectively, are seen as a monad.  


By using this word monad, I am referring to a term meaning "unit" used by philosophers to signify a variety of entities from a genus to God.  We see this monad in both the Shahada of Islam and in the Shema of Judaism.

The first part of the Shahada states, “There is no god but God.”  while the Shema starts out with “Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). If you look at the nature of God in both the Islamic and the Judeo-Christian contexts you would find some agreement on this issue of God being one.  However . . .God does not, in the Judeo-Christian context reveal Himself just as a single monad.  He discloses Himself as triune within that monad.  You ask how can that be? 

God (title) is triune, which means that He (personally) reveals Himself through the Persons of the Trinity.  Yes God is one God but He is triune in His personal nature.  Taking this title/personal relationship a little further, God reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Sometimes when we speak in theological terms, we use phrases like, “God the Father,” “God the Son,” or “God the Holy Spirit.”  Notice the title “God” with the person.  Are you starting to see it?

The Father (Who) is God (Title) (Luke 3:21-22; c.f., Matthew 3:16,17).  The Son (Who) is God (Title) (see John 1:1, 14; 8:58).  The Holy Spirit (Who) is God (Title) (See Acts 5:3,4) .  God is not three Gods but one God. As the great hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” declares, “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.”  It is like the mathematical equation, 1 X 1 X 1 = 1.  God, in His essence is a divinely, all powerful, infinite, and personal.  He is distant, but He is also imminent.  With all these infinite attributes, wouldn’t it stand to reason that God is able to disclose Himself in this manner?  All three are revealed to be God, all at the same time. 


When you look at the creation, one cannot help but see this personal nature playing out in the creation, how everything is finely tuned for our survival.  One cannot help by think that God has a personal interest in we see around us.    

Again, God is transcendent, but He is also imminent.  Although God is distant, He desires us to know Him intimately; unlike Islam where the Muslim will say that Allah is knowable only when they pray the salat. But the Muslim will say that you cannot know God in the personal sense, like we claim that we know God in the Christian context.  I find it interesting that the Muslim is willing to admit that Allah (God) is loving, but how do they know that if they cannot know God personally and intimately?  If God is loving and He is only a monad, who was God loving before he created man?

But God in Islam is not knowable in the personal sense of knowing another person.  How does the Christian and those who hold to a monadic view of God come to know Him personally? 

We come to know God through His Son, Jesus who is fully God and fully man, and through the working of the Holy Spirit who takes up residence in the life of the believer upon believing that Jesus is the only way, truth and life, and the only one who can bring us to God the Father.


Conclusion


There are many other reasons that can be given as to why YHWH and Allah are not the same deities. So the next time you are in a conversation with someone who “spouts off” and says, “the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same gods” or if you are talking to a Muslim, and they tell you something like, “we worship the same God,” remember these three points.  

Oh, by the way, if you do hear that from a Muslim that we all worship the same God, it may be that he or she is trying to get you to see things their way and their interpretation as the only right interpretation.  Friends, in formal logic this is called “the appeal to authority.”  Stand firm and lovingly hold your ground standing on the Word of God.

If you would like to know more about how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, click on the link in the navigation bar of this blog, and learn more.  For now I close with these words from the Apostle Paul, (see 2 Corinthians 13:14), known in theological circles as the Trinitarian benediction, 

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Who), and the love of God (the Father (Who) and fellowship of the Holy Spirit (Who) be with you all.”