Remembering 9-11— Which Revelation is True? The Need for Reason in Evaluating Religious Claims

Introduction

As I reflect on what happened at September 11, 2001, there are many lessons to learn from this tragic event. It seems that 9-11 caused alot of atheists to come out of the closet and voice their objections to religion. Religious claims such as “God told us to do this,” or “Our sacred book tells us to do that” caused many to ask, “Does reason play any role in religion?”

Some of the outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins and others want to eradicate religion from the world. In my opinion, this is a waste of time. Christianity and many other faiths will be here long after Dawkins is gone.

Which Revelation is True?

Biblically speaking, the acceptance of revelation is of fundamental importance to the Christian faith. The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word ” apokalupsis” which means “an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” However, the issue of religious experience brings up an interesting point in apologetic dialogue. Which revelation is true? What god is the individual encountering?

One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is infinite and transcendent while man is finite, God takes the initiative in revealing himself to mankind. Since Christianity as well as several other faiths claim to be founded on divine revelation, it is impossible to not utilize reason and evidence to examine the revelation claim in its religious and historical context. One aspect of reason utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A. Without the law of non-contradiction, we could not say God is not non-God (G is not non-G).

After looking at the following religious claims, it is evident that it is impossible to not use the law of non-contradiction which states that two opposite views cannot be true at the same time. Regarding the deity of Jesus, here are the claims about Him from various faiths:

1. Orthodox Christianity/ Messianic Judaism: Jesus is both God and man/Jesus is an uncreated being. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings) as well as the second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11).

2. Islam: Jesus in not God and man. In the case of Islam, Islam’s founder is Muhammad who was forty years old when he began having visions accompanied by violent convulsions during which he received his revelation from Allah. His writings are called the Koran, which he claims were dictated to him directly by the Angel Gabriel. Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore, never risen. The Qur’an was written some six hundred years after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament.

3. Mormonism: Mormonism claims to be founded on divine revelation. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being.

4.The Watchtower Society/Jehovah Witnesses: In the Bible, Jesus is the second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11). This is rejected by Jehovah Witnesses.

5.Buddhism/Hinduism: are not theistic faiths, they are pantheistic (all is God). Therefore, they are already different from Christianity. Buddhism teaches that Jesus was an enlightened man, but not God. Hinduism says that Jesus was a good teacher and perhaps an incarnation of Brahman who is an impersonal, supreme being.

6.Judaism: The primary revelation for Traditional Judaism is the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Traditional Judaism says Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh. Jesus may be simply regarded as a prophet or teacher but not divine.

Let’s Be Intellectually Honest

The issue of religious experience demonstrates that there needs to be the willingness to implement critical thinking. There also needs to be a call to intellectual honesty. While there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God, they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation.

In evaluating any religious claim, here are a few guidelines:

1. What does it claim to know?
2. How does it claim to know it?
3. What is the evidence for it?

Faith and Reason: What is the Relationship in Evaluating Revelatory Claims?

It could not be more obvious that reason is always a necessary element in evaluating any religious claim. In their book, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective: Norman L. Geisler and and Paul D. Feinberg show the relationship between reason and revelation. They say the following:

There is some truth in all of the basic views on reason and revelation: (1) “Reason is over revelation” is correct in that reason is epistemologically prior to revelation. The alleged revelation must be tested by reason. (2) “Revelation is over reason” is right in the ontological sense. God created reason and it must be His servant, not His master. (3) “Revelation only” is correct in the sense that ultimately and ontologically all truth comes from God. (4) “Reason only” has some truth, since reason must judge epistemologically whether the alleged revelation is from God. (5) “Revelation and reason” is correct because it properly assigns a role to each and shows their interrelationship. One should reason about and for revelation, otherwise he has an unreasonable faith. Likewise, reason has no guide without a revelation and flounders in error.

Conclusion

As a Christian, I have no problem with people asking me to present reason and evidence as to why I think Christianity is a true revelation from God. I conclude with a quote by John P. Newport who 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)

Sources:

1. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 32
2. Newport, John C. Life’s Most Important Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas, Texas. Word Publishing. 1989, pgs 452-453.

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