Responding to Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe?

This is a popular clip that tries to provoke some thought about why religious people believe what they believe. Do we know why we belive what we believe? If the clip wants people to examine what they believe I am all for it.

However, this clip attempts to point out that there is no way test a revelatory model. Furthermore, what about all those contradictory revelations?  Is there one God who gives a clear revelation? Or, is there a God, or “god” who gives conflicting and contradictory revelations? Futhermore, if religious people start with their Holy Book (The Bible, The Quran, The Book of Mormon), they are begging the question as to how they know their sacred text has it right. Furthemore, everyone seems sincere about what they believe. So is sincerity a test for truth?  No, I am afraid not. I seem to recall that there have been alot of books written on this topic.

Regarding the deity of Jesus, here are the claims  about Him from various faiths:

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).

Islam/Traditional Judaism: Jesus in not God and  man. 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. 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. For further study, see Answering Islam and Is Jesus the Messiah? Resources For Further Study.

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. For further reading, see Why Mormonism is not Christianity– the Issue of Christology

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.

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. For further reading, see Why Jesus Instead of the Buddha?

After examining the differences in each of these faiths, 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.” -Newport, John C. Life’s Most Important Questions: A  Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas,   Texas. Word Publishing. 1989, pgs  452-453.

In some cases,  it seems to be much easier to just complain about conflicting revelatory claims and say there is no possibility to navigate through them  and arrive at the truth. I generally respond in the following way:

First, historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. The late Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask when and where God has broken through in human history. So to say there is no way to test revelatory claims calls for some clarification. I generally ask three questions:

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

When we do this we will see that while there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God.  However,  they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation.

As a Christian, I don’t think God wants the world to be confused. If God wants the world to know Him, it seems to me that he would give a clear revelation to humanity.

So I  fully agree with the skeptic that there are contradictory revelatory claims. For example, to assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Paul’s creed in 1 Cor. 15: 3-8 is dated only 3-5 years after the death of Jesus. The Quran is dated much later and says Jesus did not die and rise from the dead. I tend to stick with the  historians on this one. They want the record that is closest to the original event.  Furthermore, as we see above,  what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s? Mormonism (which has very little if any external evidence) and the Watchtower Society) both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim.  If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.

In the end, we need to dispense with the complaint that there is just no possible way to look at various religious claims and find the truth. For those that are willing to have an open mind and do the homework, it can be a rewarding experience. When I took this approach to Christianity and other religions, I arrived at the following conclusion:

1. A miracle is an act of God that confirms a messenger from God.

2. Jesus offered a cumulative case that confirms He is the incarnation of the God of Israel—His fulfillment of prophecy, His sinless life, His messianic actions/messianic miracles, His speaking authority, and His miraculous resurrection.

3. Therefore, Jesus offered several lines of evidence that  confirm that He is the incarnation of the God of Israel

Conclusion: Do You Want to Be a “Doulos”?

In the end I think the real issue behind the skeptic’s complaint is whether people want a God who has given a clear revelation to humanity. For if God does intervene into the world, we as humans are accountable to him.

This leads me to my final point about the issue of slavery in the New Testament:  The epistolary literature focuses on the figurative usage of slave. These books frequently use the primary term for slave, doulos [dou’lo”], as a metaphor of being a servant to God ( Rom 1:1 ; Php 1:1 ; 2 Tim 2:24 ; Titus 1:1 ; James 1:1 ; 1 Peter 2:16 ; 2 Peter 1:1 ), to fellow believers ( 2 Cor 4:5 ), and even to sin ( Rom 6:20 ). This is a most striking metaphor because a Greek person linked personal dignity and freedom together. Freedom was power and something about which to be proud. The use of doulos [dou’lo”] to image relationship to God and fellow believers sent a message of commitment and abandonment of autonomy ( 1 Cor 7:22 ; Eph 6:6 ; Col 4:12 ). [1]

To become a slave of Christ was a tough sell in the first century (who would make up such a thing?) and it is tough thing to swallow today. Also, in a culture that demands personal autonomy and personal rights, it is only going to get harder.  Perhaps this is why Jesus said “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”- Matthew 7: 13-14.

Who wants to be a “Doulos” for Christ? If not, admit the fact that  you hope God has not given a clear revelation to humanity in the person of Christ.

Sources:

1. Walter A. Elwell ,  Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books) 1996.

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