What is Your Truth Language?

The other night we had Dr. Michael Licona to our campus to speak on the resurrection of Jesus. He discussed just as the book The Love Languages has been so popular, perhaps Christians need to ask what exactly is their truth language? In other words, just as for married couples there are different love languages, perhaps there are possible ways to approach truth for Christians? Is there one one truth language? The analogy applies to truth and the existence of God. When Christians  attempt to think about how they know Christianity is true, or even why they think it is true,  you will hear a variety of answers.  For example, for some Christians might say the following:

#1: The Revelatory Approach

For many Christians they think Christianity is true because God has revealed it to them through both natural and revealed theology. For example, there is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Thus, people are dead, blinded, and bound to sin.

Christianity stresses that  the God of the Bible is capable of giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions.  Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” There are three things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.

The mediums God uses in the Bible are general revelation (Creation; Psalm 19:1-4;Romans 1:20 Conscience; Rom. 2:12-15); Special Revelation: physical appearances of God (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4 34:5-7 ) dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2 ) visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7), the written Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17); Prophecy (Isaiah 41:21-24; 42:8-9), and most importantly—Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), and Messengers (Acts 10:30-33).

But why the need for revelation? First, we need to know the character of GodHence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil. Thus, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God. And without a clear revelation we wouldn’t know our destiny.

The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him.  Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  However, there seems to be other texts that indicate  people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation.

Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel. But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly  with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and he shows the world who God is (Heb. 1:1).

#2: Historical Arguments/Prophecy

Many Christians have been challenged by the revelation argument. After all, the Bible is considered to be God’s revelation to mankind. However, The Quran, The Book of Mormon, and other holy books are considered to be The Word of God. Who has it right?  The late Christopher Hitchens said:

Since all these revelations, many of them hopelessly inconsistent, cannot by definition be simultaneously true, it must follow that some of them are false and illusory. It could also follow that only one of them is authentic, but in the first place this seems dubious and in the second place it appears to necessitate religious war in order to decide whose revelation is the true one.[1]

The objection by Hitchens shouldn’t be discarded. For the follower of Jesus, there is the call to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19). Any attempt to reach out to a lost and needy world will result in several encounters with people from a variety of spiritual backgrounds. Many Christians can be surprised to find out that many people from non-Christian backgrounds are incredibly sincere about their faith. Unfortunately, sincerity is not a test for truth. Many people have been sincerely wrong about many things. Almost all the people I have encountered from religious backgrounds think they have “true” revelation. And they are just as fervent and committed to their beliefs as devout Christians are. There is no doubt that religious experience shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, the issue of religious experience brings up an interesting point in apologetic dialogue. Which revelation is true? What god is the individual encountering?

John P. Newport sums up the issue rather nicely:

No sane person tries to accept as authoritative revelation from God all writings which are self-declared to be such. However eager we may be for harmony and tolerance, we cannot be intellectually honest unless we face the fact that there is a real contradiction between conflicting truth claims. As we reflect on how we are created in the image of God, we need to remember that we are creatures of both will and mind, of faith and reason. We are called to think as well as act and feel; therefore our faith will always have a rational element to it.[2]

But even though I wholeheartedly agree with Newport, I still think it is fine to follow what Randy Newman calls the “plausibility factor.”

Isn’t it reasonable to believe that a God who created us could, if he wanted to do so through the vehicle of inspired writing?” In other words, does it make sense that God should provide a revelation of Himself to humanity? [3]

If we go ahead and say “yes” to the following question, we then can ask if God has revealed Himself in the course of human history, when and where has He done this? We can look at religious texts and see if they pass the tests for historicity.  Thus, we enter the domain of historical apologetics. Remember, all  claims have to be taken on a case by case basis. We need to evaluate the evidence for each claim in its own historical and religious context.

For example, former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Another aspect of the historical argument is the argument from prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy does take a good bit of exegetical work and we don’t want to jump into it too lightly. See more here: : The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case  for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I tend to agree with Dr. Daniel Wallace when he says the following about the relationship between history and our faith:

“The best of biblical scholarship pursues truth at all costs. And it bases its conclusions on real evidence, not on wishes, emotion, or blind faith. This is in line with the key tenets of historic Christianity: If God became man in time-space history, then we ought to link our faith to history. It must not be a leap of faith, but it should be a step of faith. The religion of the Bible is the only major religion in the world that subjects itself to historical inquiry. The Incarnation has forever put God’s stamp of approval on pursuing truth, wrestling with data, and changing our minds based on evidence. When we deny evidence its place and appeal to emotion instead, we are methodologically denying the significance of the Incarnation. Much is thus at stake when it comes to a text such as the story of the woman caught in adultery. What is at stake is not, as some might think, the mercy of God; rather, what is at stake is how we view the very Incarnation itself. Ironically, if we allow passages into the Gospels that do not have the best credentials, we are in fact tacitly questioning whether the Lord of the Gospels, Jesus Christ himself, became man, for we jettison historicity in favor of personal preference. By affirming a spurious passage about him we may be losing a whole lot more than we gain.

It is the duty of pastors for the sake of their faith to study the data, to know the evidence, to have firm convictions rooted in history. And we dare not serve up anything less than the same kind of meal for our congregations. We do not serve the church of Jesus Christ faithfully when we hide evidence from laypeople; we need to learn to insulate our congregations, but not isolate them. The Incarnation of Christ demands nothing less than this.”- Daniel Wallace

 

#3: God or Theism as an Explanatory Hypothesis?

Some Christians have followed the C.S. Lewis approach when he said that “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” (see The Weight of Glory). To apply what Lewis says, we might utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:

  • How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  • How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?

Using God as an explanatory explanation is seen in philosophical theology or natural theology arguments. The book The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology does a fine job in handling this issue. To see a short example of this approach online see,  The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

An example of this approach is seen in a book like A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the  Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt.

#4: Pragmatic Arguments?

Many Christians think Christianity  is true because of the pragmatic benefits they see in their own lives. This is a very popular approach. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life.  In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”

This does have some merit. After all, if the Christian faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. The challenge of this argument is that in some cases, it seems Christianity doesn’t work. Christians have challenges in their families, work related issues and relationships. However, just because Christians don’t always reflect the character of Jesus and don’t always show the difference it makes, this doesn’t mean Christianity is false. It could be that the person is not under healthy teaching/discipleship or living in sin. So the pragmatic argument can be a tricky one. Everyone knows Christians have done some amazing things for the world (see here), but we also have some inconsistencies.

#5: Existential Arguments

There is no doubt that many Christians are Christians for existential reasons. In the latest book by Clifford Williams Called Existential Reasons For Belief in God is another approach to why people believe in God.

According to Williams, for some people logic and reason are dominant and in others emotion and satisfaction of needs are dominant.

Williams mentions 10 existential needs from his book:

  • the need for cosmic security
  • the need for meaning
  • the need to feel loved
  • the need to love
  • the need for awe
  • the need to delight in goodness
  • the need to live beyond the grave without the anxieties that currently affect us
  • the need to be forgiven
  • the need for justice and fairness
  • the need to be present with our loved ones

Conclusion:

All Christians owe it to themselves as to why they are Christians. Also, do they care if their claims have any basis in reality? Do they care if they are true?  What is your truth language?

Sources:

  1. Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2009), 97-98.
  2. John C. Newport, Life’s Most Important Questions: A  Contemporary Philosophy of Religion (Dallas, Texas. Word Publishing. 1989),  452-453

Handling An Objection: “But Apologetics Doesn’t Convert Anyone!”

In the past, I have already mentioned some of the obstacles getting apologetics in the local congregation.  One thing that comes up quite frequently is that we need to simply give people the Gospel. After all, the Gospel is what brings someone into a relationship with God. First, let me say the following: Several years ago, I read a popular level book on apologetics which was Norman L. Geisler’s and Frank Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. In this book, they rely on the classical method. The outline of the book goes like this:

1.Truth about reality is knowable
2. Opposites cannot both be true
3. The theistic God exists
4. Miracles are possible
5. Miracles performed in connection with a truth claim are acts of God to confirm the truth of God through a messenger of God
6. The New Testament documents are reliable
7. As witnessed in the New Testament, Jesus is God incarnate
8. Jesus’ claim to divinity was proven by an unique convergence of miracles/his resurrection
9. Therefore, Jesus was God in human flesh.
10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) affirmed as true, is true
11. Jesus affirmed that the Bible is the Word of God
12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God

Now let’s say you are trying to share the Gospel with someone, and they bring up objections that are listed here such as “I don’t think the God of the Bible exists,” or ” I think David Hume has shown miracles aren’t possible.” If this is the case, the Gospel may fall on deaf ears. The other issue is the continual confusion between evangelism and apologetics. In Mark Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. I appreciate these comments about the relationship between evangelism and apologetics. There can be a tendency to confuse them. Dever says:

“People mistake apologetics for evangelism. Like the activities we’ve considered above, apologetics itself is a good thing. We are instructed by Peter to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). And apologetics is doing exactly that. Apologetics is answering questions and objections people may have about God or Christ, or about the Bible or the message of the gospel. Apologists for Christianity argue for its truth. They maintain that Christianity better explains that sense of longing that all people seem to have. Christianity better explains human rationality. It fits better with order. They may argue (as C. S. Lewis does in Mere Christianity) that it better fits with the moral sense that people innately have. It copes better with problems of alienation and anxiety. Christians may – and should – argue that Christianity’s frankness about death and mortality commends it. These can be good arguments to have. Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been a part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism. Apologetics can present wonderful opportunities for evangelism. Being willing to engage in conversations about where we came from or what’s wrong with this world can be a significant way to introduce honest discussions about the gospel. For that matter, Christians can raise questions with their non-Christian friends about the purpose of life, what will happen after death, or the identity of Jesus Christ. Any of these topics will take work and careful thought, but they can easily lead into evangelism. It should also be said that apologetics has its own set of dangers. You might unwittingly confirm someone in their unbelief by your inability to answer questions that are impossible to answer anyway.

You can easily leave the impression that if you don’t know how to answer your friends’ questions, then you don’t really know enough to believe that the Christian gospel is true either. But just because we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. All knowledge in this world is limited. We proceed from what we know, and we work that out. Everyone, from the youngest child to the most celebrated research scientist, does this. Apologetics can be very important work, but it should be undertaken with care. By far the greatest danger in apologetics is being distracted from the main message. Evangelism is not defending the virgin birth or defending the historicity of the resurrection. Apologetics is defending the faith, answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda that others set. Evangelism, however, is following Christ’s agenda, the news about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the good news about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him.

One of the most common and dangerous mistakes in evangelism is to misinterpret the results of evangelism – the conversion of unbelievers – for evangelism itself, which is the simple telling of the. gospel message. This may be the most subtle misunderstanding, yet it is a misunderstanding still. Evangelism must not be confused with its fruit. Now, if you combine this misunderstanding with a misunderstanding of the gospel itself, and of what the Bible teaches about conversion, then it is very possible to end up thinking not only that evangelism is seeing others converted, but thinking that it is within our power to do it! According to the Bible, converting people is not in our power. And evangelism may not be defined in terms of results but only in terms of faithfulness to the message preached. John Stott has said, “To ‘evangelize’ . . . does not mean to win converts . . . but simply to announce the good news, irrespective of the results.” To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.”—  Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism,  (pgs. 76-79).

I always start with the Gospel with people. Hence, I do evangelism. But in many cases, I have to do apologetics as well. If you talk to people on a regular basis, you will most likely run into the same issue.