A blind faith?

A critique often leveled against Christianity is that Christians embrace a kind of "blind" faith.  Famed atheist Richard Dawkins, for example, has written that "Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principle vice of any religion" (Is Science a Religion?).  Some Christians welcome the challenge and, citing Hebrews 11:1, happily boast that the less evidence there is, the greater their faith.  In other words, faith is blind, and a blind faith is a blessed faith. Really? I don't buy it.

On the contrary, it seems to me that the New Testament writers worked very hard to give evidence of the reality about which they wrote.

Thus, Luke did some pretty thorough research, talked to eyewitnesses, and then carefully compiled an "orderly account."  Why?  So that we might have a blind faith?  No, of course not.  He did all this "that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:4).

Likewise John carefully records the story of Jesus' life.  He says, "these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ" (John 20:31).  In his first epistle,  John takes great pains to ground the Christian faith in real, physical evidence.  He writes:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).

Paul tells us that nature gives evidence of the reality of God.  "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20).

Paul also reminds us that when Jesus rose from the dead, he really did rise from the dead, as evidenced from the hundreds of people who saw him (1 Corinthians 15:4-8).

Peter cites his own eyewitness experience with Christ to refute the idea that the Christian faith is a myth.  "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).

In no way do the Scriptures present the Christian faith as a "blind" faith.  Our belief in Christ is appropriately grounded in evidence.

What about Hebrews 11:1,  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen"?

To be sure, that sounds like it is promoting "blind" faith.  But if we continue to read through this great "hall of faith" chapter, we quickly discover that it is full of men and women to whom God gave plenty of real, tangible evidence for his existence.  Consider Noah.  God spoke directly to Noah.  Noah knew without question that God existed.  The real question of faith for Noah was not over God's existence, but over whether or not he should believe and trust God.  Thus the author of Hebrews writes, "By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark..." (Hebrews 11:7).

Thus, the"conviction of things not seen" in Hebrews 11:1 refers, not to a blind faith in God without evidence, but to a question of trust.  Will you believe what God has said?  Will God be true to His Word?  Do God's promises have real substance?  These are the "unseen" elements of faith in Hebrews 11.

So, it's about time we put an end to boasting in blind faith.  Dawkins is right.  A faith not based on evidence is a vice, and I would add, unbiblical at best.

Pilgrims in Babylon

In the very helpful book, Selling Out the Church: The Dangers of Church Marketing, authors Philip Kenneson and James Street remind us, "If the Church's mission is to announce the erupting reign of God, and to do so by being sign, foretaste, and herald of that kingdom, then it will not be able to do that if it expunges all its oddness in the name of building bridges to unbelievers" (145).  The overwhelming biblical witness is that we are pilgrims in Babylon (John 18:36; 1 Peter 2:9-11).  That is, we belong ultimately to another king, another kingdom, another city, another home.  Therefore, if nothing is odd or foreign or strange or new or counter-cultural within our lives or our churches, then how can we possibly point lost souls to God's kingdom (which is truly odd, foreign, strange, new, and counter-cultural when compared to the world's kingdoms)?  As Jesus reminds us, we are not of this world (John 17:14-16), we therefore don't look like the world when we gather for worship and when we live our lives as pilgrims.

In the midst of all of our striving to be relevant, perhaps we need to learn anew a lesson from some of the earliest Christians.  According to one account from the late second century, the early Christian's relevance, apologetic, and cultural influence was grounded primarily in his odd, foreign, strange, new, and counter-cultural way of life.  After calling Christians a "new race of men," the ancient text of The Epistle to Diognetus highlights the "remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship."

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom.  For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric life-style.  This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious men, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do.  But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one's lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship.  They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.  Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland  is foreign.  They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring.  They share their food but not their wives.  They are "in the flesh," but they do not live "according to the flesh."  They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.  They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.  They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.  They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life.  They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything.  They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated.  They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect.  When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life.  By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility (quoted from The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd edition, p. 299).

Of the many things that stand out in this early defense of Christianity, perhaps the most significant is the apparent comfort these first Christians had at being foreigners and aliens, even in their own countries.  They knew they were pilgrims in Babylon.  Their lives showed it.  Their witness was strengthened by it.  They were not hip and relevant, they did not have a seat at the cultural table of their day, nor were they fashionable and respected.  But they were faithful.  They loved their God and their neighbor.  And as strange as this new race of men was to the world, they continued to grow and thrive under the blessings of God.

Veritas Forum Comes to the University of Pittsburgh

The Veritas Forum is coming to the University of Pittsburgh, Oct. 15 and Nov. 12.  They say:

The Veritas Forum at the University of Pittsburgh seeks to explore the possibility of truth, beauty and goodness in every aspect of our academic and personal lives. The forum is an opportunity for the entire university community to explore and discuss life's hardest questions together. By asking the pressing questions on campus and answering them with respected university voices, we hope to engage the entire university in fruitful discussion.

We, the planners of the forum, are inspired by the idea that Jesus Christ has something relevant to offer our modern university in its search for knowledge, truth and significance. We welcome and honor skeptics and their questions, and even bring some of our own. The Forum is not meant to be a typical academic exchange of abstract and unembodied ideas. Rather, it should come out of real community earnestly exploring questions of real importance.

FALL 2008 SCHEDULE Wednesday, October 15
Is Physician-Assisted Suicide Ever Justified? 12:10 PM, LR-3 Scaife Hall. Refreshments served at noon. Robert Orr, M.D., C.M. Consultant on Clinical Ethics at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity Winner of the AMA Isaac Hayes and John Bell Award for Leadership in Medical Ethics
Wednesday, November 12 Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas
12:10 PM, A-115 Public Health Building. Refreshments served at noon. Kelly Monroe Kullberg Author of Finding God at Harvard and Finding God Beyond Harvard Founder of The Veritas Forum.

For more information, see www.veritas.org/Pitt.

Debate: Has Science Buried God?

Richard Dawkins thinks so.  But he will be challenged this this month (Oct. 21) by John Lennox in an important debate at the Oxford Museum of Natural History.  The debate, Has Science Buried God, is sponsored by the Fixed Point Foundation. The debate is being billed as "Huxley vs. Wilberforce, Part II" because it will take place at the same museum as the famous 1860 debate between T.H. Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce.  Huxley called himself "Darwin's Bulldog" and today many are calling Dawkins "Darwin's Rottweiler."

While on study leave in Oxford this summer for an apologetics course I "ran into" Richard Dawkins at the Oxford Museum of Natural History (see picture left), the museum where the debate will take place.  When I walked into the museum I was surprised to see Richard Dawkins there being interviewed by a television crew.  He was, of course, talking about his views on science and religion.

I also had the pleasure of sitting under the teaching of Dr. John Lennox during that week in Oxford.  Dr. Lennox taught during each of our morning sessions on the book of Acts and he will undoubtedly provide a solid defense of the Christian faith during this forthcoming debate.  Dr. Lennox's book, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, provides a very strong defense of Christianity in the light of modern scientific ideas, easily the best I've read.

Unfortunately, if you were hoping to attend this debate, tickets sold out quickly.  You can, however, take advantage of the following resources: