Why Christians Can’t Avoid Being Evidentialists

foto of world religion - Drop shadows add depth to this collection of symbols of Contemporary World Religions from Bahai to Shinto useful as an icon set - JPG

Introduction

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. What about the question, “How do you know your faith is true?” In other words, if a Mormon and a Christian ask each other this question, they both may assert that the test for the truthfulness of their faith is a religious experience. In this case, the confirmation of the Mormon faith happens through the heart confirming through what is already true in the mind. In other words, the Mormon appeal to a religious experience sounds a bit like the Christian appeal to the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Religious experience should not 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?

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]

Let’s look at some of the claims of the major faiths of the world:

Orthodox  Christianity/Messianic Judaism: Jesus is  both God and man/Jesus is an uncreated being. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Jewish Scriptures 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 Jewish Scriptures. 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.

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 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. 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. In Hinduism, polytheism and pantheism go hand-in-hand with one impersonal Brahman and 330 million-plus personal manifestations of the one impersonal ultimate  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.”

Why All Christians Do Utilize Evidentialism

It is obvious that in order to evaluate any faith or belief system, Christians have to appeal to evidence. When Christians say “What we believe is a matter of faith, and not evidence” they sound inconsistent. After all, they expect evidence and good reasons to believe in any other belief system. For example, if a Jehovah Witness or Mormon came to your doorstep, would ask them for evidence or reasons for what they are telling you? I assume so. So don’t scorn those who demand the same of you. Three questions to always ask are the following:

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

Remember, 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.

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 Hitchens 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’s no possible way to look at various religious claims and find the truth. For those that have an open mind and do the homework, it can be a rewarding experience. When I took this approach, 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

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
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