Wednesday, 23 November 2011

reasonable faith?

I'm currently in the process of writing a short talk on the title "The Bible: boring, irrelevant, untrue?" and while I don't in anyway think the answer to this is yes, I am writing a talk to challenge the ideas of those who might indeed think this. There could be several reasons for this, perhaps because their only experience of the Bible is through Church when they were very young and it all went a bit over their head, apart from the nice stories, but they aren't really true are they? Or because the only bits they know (the nice stories... I'm thinking Noah's ark, Jonah and the Big Fish, Mary riding on a donkey...) just don't seem to have any relevance to their life now. As I start to tackle these ideas I find it difficult to avoid the fact that although I might be able to satisfy someone's intellectual curiosity with regards the historicity of the Bible (or the NT at least... the modes of thinking in the OT are in some instances too far removed from our own "scientific" mindset as to make the question of historicity to some extent irrelevant) it is not really their intellectual curiosity that I'm concerned with. I'm concerned with presenting Christ to them and 10 mins barely seems long enough to get from how we can trust the Bible (a complicated question to address even when you're preaching to the converted) to the person of Christ without the audience having some prior concept of the relationship between Christ and Scripture (or between a man who lived 2000yrs ago and a book written by 40 different people over a millenium, which may included the story of Jesus, but includes an awful lot of other things as well) .

Anyone coming to such a talk is either a Christian, eager to learn for themselves or to discover how to combat the questions of their non-Christian friends, or someone interested in history for its own sake. It will be a very, very small minority who is there because they know what the Bible teaches and yet cannot quite make that final step to belief because they are uncertain of the trustworthiness/value of the text itself. And it will not be through the power of carefully reasoned argument that they are enabled to make that step. Those people who become Christians through apologetic talks are always those in whose hearts God is already at work.

The heart is the centre of our being in more ways than simply as the organ that keeps our blood flowing. The Bible frequently speaks of the heart as the root of human sinfulness. The people of Israel spend their time turning away from Yahweh, because their hearts are hard. That is why in Ezekiel 11:19 Yahweh saves them by giving them a new heart, and only by having a new heart will Israel follow the commands of Yahweh. Only by having a new heart will Israel see that it is reasonable and right to follow His commands. So the change of heart has to come first. I think this is why I have long had doubts about the reason Christians in certain circles are so keen on Apologetics, as it sometimes seems to rest on the belief that if we can persuade people of the reasonableness of Christianity, we can remove a barrier to faith. However, what this doesn't perceive is that Reason itself comes from faith, from the desires and focus of our hearts. Reason does not allow or create faith, it justifies it.

Let me offer an example (borrowed from this talk which was part of the inspiration for this post...: There are two Christian students, both lead busy lives and have a busy day ahead of them. When their alarm goes off the first student, lets call him John, decides that he really needs another hour sleep, and that if he has that then he will be better able to serve Christ for the rest of the day, even though that hour will mean he misses his quite time. The second student, Sally, feels just as tired as John, but gets up to spend some time alone with God before she gets on with her day, she knows that it is better to start her day in this way than to get an extra hours sleep even though she needs it. Both these students have reasons as to why they act the way they do, and they might both sound reasonable! But John's justification for staying in bed springs from a heart that loves sleep more than spending time with God, while Sally's justification springs from a heart that loves God more than sleep.

My point is not that we should sleep less and pray more (though there are times when I for one need to do that) but that both Sally and John's reasons for acting as they did were reasonable, but the desires of their hearts were very different. Each of them used their Reason to justify, and their Will to act upon the desires of their hearts. The same is true of the difference between Christians and non-Christians, it is not that one is irrational and the other reasonable (though you would be forgiven for thinking that if you have heard any of the debates between prominent atheists and apologetic Christians...), but that for Christians the desires of our hearts is Christ Jesus, and our Reason can demonstrate the reasonableness of our faith to us, while for the atheist, their hearts do not desire Christ but hate Him, and their Reason can demonstrate the reasonableness of their stance to them. For the Christian, faith is rational and unbelief irrational, while for the non-Christian the opposite is true, because Reason is in slavery to the desires of our hearts. I cannot persuade someone purely by rational argument, to become a Christian. God has to change their hearts. What converts people is not a rational understanding of who Jesus is, for even the devil knows that, but a relationship with Him, brought about through the Spirit's work in our hearts.

What then is the place of apologetics? Clearly I am not seeking to convert people by my reasons for why we can trust the Bible as history, largely because to those who cannot hear the voice of God in Scripture my reasons may well be insufficient. My aim instead must be to introduce them to Christ, who can change their hearts. Even though Reason is enslaved to the desires of our hearts, the world cannot see that, and so presenting reasoned argument does perhaps have a place in the attempt to demonstrate that Reason itself cannot be a sure basis for belief, but rather belief in Christ is the proper foundation for Reason. C S Lewis puts it beautifully when he says "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else". Faith is not based on Reason but on a relationship. Only a living relationship with Christ can allow us to see everything as it is, and from that viewpoint Christian faith is reasonable, because Christ is the desire of our hearts.