How Truth, Doctrine, and Good Thinking Can Help Your Emotional State

I run into alot of Christians that are ruled by their emotions. Now, I am not saying we should be stoics and not use the emotions God gave us for his glory. I also know that sometimes we are in great emotional pain. But I recently came across this quote from Tim Keller. He says:

“In Philippians 4:8–9, Paul says, “Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure . . . think about such things. . . . And the God of peace will be with you.” Now, when we hear terms like “noble” and “right” we might think that Paul is merely recommending high and inspirational thoughts in general. But scholars of Pauline literature tell us that is not the case. He is not referring to general loftiness of mind but rather to the specific teaching of the Bible about God, sin, Christ, salvation, the world, human nature, and God’s plans for the world—the plan of salvation.Paul also uses the word logizdomai to describe how we are to think about these things. That is an accounting word, sometimes translated “to reckon” or “to count up.” Paul is saying if you want peace, think hard and long about the core doctrines of the Bible. This is so completely different from what you will find if you walk into any bookstore and go to the section on anxiety, worry, and dealing with stress. Here is what you will never see: None of the books will ever say, “Are you stressed, unhappy, or anxious? Let’s start dealing with that by asking the big questions: What is the meaning of life? What are you really here for? What is life all about? Where have you come from, and where are you going? What should human beings spend their time doing?” Never! Contemporary books go right to relaxation techniques and to the work-rest balance. For example, they will say that every so often you should go sit on a beach, look at the surf, and just bracket out worrying and thinking about things. Or they will give you thought-control techniques about dealing with negative thoughts and emotions, guilt thoughts, and so forth.

Why don’t contemporary books on stress and anxiety tell you to respond to it by doing deep thinking about life? It is because our Western secular culture is perhaps the first society that operates without any answers to the big questions. If there is no God, we are here essentially by accident, and when we die, we are only remembered for a while. Eventually, in this view, the sun will die and all that has ever been done by human beings will come to nothing. If that is the nature of things, then it is no wonder that secular books for people under stress never ask them to think about questions such as “What are we here for?” Instead, they advise you to not think so hard about everything but to relax and to find experiences that give you pleasure. Paul is saying Christian peace operates in almost exactly the opposite way. Christian peace comes not from thinking less but from thinking more, and more intensely, about the big issues of life. Paul gives a specific example of this in Romans 8:18, where he uses the same word, logizdomai, and speaks directly to sufferers. He says, “I reckon that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

To “reckon” is to count up accurately, not to whistle in the dark. It is not to get peace by jogging or shopping. It means “Think it out! Think about the glory coming until the joy begins to break in on you.Someone reading this might say, “You are talking about doctrine but what I really need is comfort.” But think! Is Jesus really the Son of God? Did he really come to earth, die for you, rise again, and pass through the heavens to the right hand of God? Did he endure infinite suffering for you, so that someday he could take you to himself and wipe away every tear from your eyes? If so, then there is all the comfort in the world. If not—if none of these things are true—then we may be stuck here living for seventy or eighty years until we perish, and the only happiness we will ever know is in this life. And if some trouble or suffering takes that happiness away, you have lost it forever. Either Jesus is on the throne ruling all things for you or this is as good as it gets. See what Paul is doing? He is saying that if you are a Christian today and you have little or no peace, it may be because you are not thinking. Peace comes from a disciplined thinking out of the implications of what you believe. It comes from an intentional occupation of a vantage point.”- Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, pg 298-299.

What are some of my picks on learning the basics of doctrinal truths?

1.What Christians Ought To Believe

What Christians Ought To Believe - By: Michael F. Bird

2. Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief

Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief / Revised - eBook - By: Bruce Milne

 

Why Apologetics Takes Hard Work!

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Pet. 3:15: “But in your hearts acknowledge Messiah as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have yet with gentleness and respect.” In the context of this verse, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of persecuted Christians. The Greek word for “reason” in this passage is “logos,” which is defined as “a word, inward thought itself, a reckoning, or a regard.”

While I know many Christians are engaged in a variety of ministries that are making a difference around the world, I want to demonstrate why apologetics takes hard work. When I mean “hard work,” I mean that many of the objections we hear require lots of research, plenty of of patience and time, and alot of perseverance.

The Internet

First, there is no doubt that the internet is a blessing and a curse. For anyone who is asking questions about the Christian faith or looking for reasons to believe or not to believe, they are just a click away from a You Tube clip, a Wiki article or some other resource that can make them into a skeptic in 20 minutes. Also, it is on the internet where a lot of apologetic discussions are taking place.

So what do apologists need to know? Let me give some examples of some of the common objections that get rehashed every decade:

Historical skepticism: Questions and comments

“I am not sure if Jesus existed”
“ The New Testament authors are biased”
“ We can’t know much of anything in history”
“ History is always written by the winners”
“Jesus’ Followers Fabricated the Stories and Sayings of Jesus”
“The New Testament story of Jesus was borrowed from paganism/mystery religions!
“ There are books that are supposed to be in the Bible that were kept out. Hence, we can’t trust the books we do have in the Bible.”
“The Bible has been translated over and over. We can’t trust it!”
“The Gospels are not written by eyewitnesses.”
“Paul doesn’t discuss the Historical Jesus”
“The genre of the Gospels are historical fiction”
“There are no contemporary sources outside the Bible that mention Jesus.”

Skepticism about the Bible and issues of Interpretation

“I don’t think we can take the Bible literally”
“ I cant accept Genesis if it says the earth is only 6,000 years old”
“ You can’t expect me to accept a book that condones the killing of innocent people (i.e. the Canaanites, etc)”
“ Why does the Bible condone slavery?”
“Why does the Bible say women are supposed to be in submission to men?”
“How can you accept a book as an authority when it says homosexuality is wrong?”

Evolution and Science/Creation conflict

“Evolution has shown we don’t need to posit God as an explanation for the complexity of life”
“ Science has a better track record than religion. We keep looking for answers. Your God arguments are science stoppers!”
“Intelligent Design is bad science and not even science at all”
“ Evolution is fact” (never mind that fact that every time someone says this that they don’t even define what evolution is).

Religious Pluralism Objections

“How can you possibly know which religion is true?”
“How do you know your God is the one true God?”
“ I just think all religions are true and everyone should get along”
“ I think it is arrogant to say one religion is right!”
“ I just prefer to be agnostic about religions. There is no way to know the truth”

Naturalism Objections

“ Why don’t we see miracles today?”
“We can’t know if the miracles happened in the Bible”
“ Given we don’t see men rising from the dead today you can’t expect me to believe a man rose from the dead 2,000 years ago”

God’s existence
“There is no evidence for God”
“I can’t empirically verify the existence of God. Hence, he must not exist”
“I think religion is just psychological phenomena. It is just a function of the brain”
“ There is no proof for the existence of God”
“ I just don’t think we can know if God exists”
” I think there is maybe a force of some kind. He is in everything”
“ I don’t see what difference it would make if God exists. After all, I am a good person”
“If your belief in God provides you comfort and makes you a better moral person that is fine. But it does not mean it is true.”
“If God exists or created the universe, what caused God”
“ I don’t need God to be a moral person”

Common objections about Christians

“Why are Christians so anti-intellectual?”
“Why do Christians only target homosexuality?”
“Why are Christians so weird?”
“Why are Christians so involved in politics?”
“Why do Christians have to force their beliefs on others?”
“I see so many Christians who profess their faith but they don’t live it out at all”

Common Objections about Jesus

“ I love the moral teachings of Jesus but I don’t think he is divine”
“I don’t think the miracles of Jesus are to be taken literally”
“ Jesus never said he was God”
“ I don’t see that difference believing in Jesus would really make in my life. I am a moral person.”
“Jesus was just another failed prophet”

Conclusion: Someone has to do the job!

In another post on my blog, I provide a page with resources to answering these objections. You may look at the list of these objections and be overwhelmed. This is why so many of us that labor in the field of apologetics spend time providing answers/resources for these common objections. Also, apologists have to cross over into a variety of academic disciplines and are responsible for making material that is accessible to the lay person. If you are truly looking for answers, just visit a website likeThe Poached Egg, Apologetics 315, Wintery Knight’s Blog, Cold Case Christianity or others. Dig deep! There are answers!

Why Apologetics Isn’t About Getting Rid of All Doubt

Whenever I teach an apologetics class, I always clarify the relationship between faith, doubts, and questions. It is important to remember that asking questions about what you believe is not necessarily the same thing as doubt. For example, when I was a new Christian, I had all kinds of questions. And I still have questions to this day. Asking questions is a part of spiritual growth.

Let’s look at a more technical definition of doubt. Baker’s Evangelical Online Dictionary says the following about doubt. Daniel L. Aiken says the following:

“It is possible to have questions (or doubts) about persons, propositions, or objects. Doubt has been deemed a valuable element in honest, rational inquiry. It prevents us from reaching hasty conclusions or making commitments to unreliable and untrustworthy sources. A suspension of judgment until sufficient inquiry is made and adequate evidence is presented is judged to be admirable. In this light, doubt is not an enemy of faith. This seems to be the attitude of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Questioning or doubting motivates us to search further and deeper in an understanding of faith. However, doubt in Scripture can be seen to be characteristic of both believers and unbelievers. In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises. In the unbeliever doubt is virtually synonymous with unbelief. Scripture, as would be expected, does not look at doubt philosophically or epistemologically. Doubt is viewed practically and spiritually as it relates to our trust in the Lord. For this reason, doubt is not deemed as valuable or commendable.”

So having said this, here are some few tips when dealing with doubt.

First, identify the type of doubt.  Second, be honest with God about your doubt. Many of God’s servants have dealt with the same issues for centuries. As far as types of doubt,  perhaps we can ask some questions:

  • It is emotional doubt? Does God’s presence seem to be quite distant at times?
  • Does God seem painfully absent?
  • Is it an unanswered prayer issue?
  • It is factual doubt?

Remember that when it comes to factual doubt, there is no need for exhaustive knowledgeAs Paul Copan says in his article, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? A Response to Skepticism, Being less than 100% certain doesn’t mean we can’t truly know. We can have highly plausible or probable knowledge, even if it’s not 100% certain.”

In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria:

(1)  It cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation

(2) It can’t be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.

Remember, a judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized on the basis of more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.

How many of our claims past the test of certitude? Not many! Does this mean we are left to blind faith? No! There are two kinds of defeaters: rationality defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the rationality of a basing a belief on certain grounds) and knowledge defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the legitimacy of a claim to knowledge on behalf of a belief based on certain grounds). The two kinds are not mutually exclusive: some defeaters function at both levels, including those that challenge the objective alethic reliability of one’s actual grounds (see Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, Epistemological Objections to Materialism in The Waning of Materialism).

Why do I bring this up? Remember, if  we had a 100% doubt free belief system, there wouldn’t be any room for faith/trust in God. Any Christian that thinks they have a perfect, doubt free faith are setting themselves up for disappointment. Also, anyone who assumes apologetics is supposed to answer every single question exhaustively has misunderstood the limitations of apologetics. By the way, I also remember when Paul Davies (a non Christian physicist) noted in the article called Taking Science on Faith that there is a relationship between faith and science. Naturally, this led to the scorn of many atheists. So sad!

If you haven’t purchased the book Doubting Toward Faith by Bobby Conway, please do. It is a great book. I came across this section which is quite helpful. He says:

“Here’s a thought to digest: In the absence of certainty, there’s always room for doubt. And this applies not only to the Christian but to everyone. No one, in any belief system, can prove his or her faith with 100 percent certainty. But 100 percent certainty is also not required in order to believe in something or to have reasonable assurance that what you believe is true and trustworthy. • I believe my wife when she says she’ll be faithful to only me. • I believe my friends when they say, “I’m telling you the truth.” • I believe the red light will turn green in a reasonable amount of time. • I believe my government won’t collapse tomorrow.

But Bobby, I feel 100 percent certain that Christianity is true,” you may contest. And I would add, we cannot confuse feeling certain and being certain. There’s a difference. Mormons also feel certain their beliefs are true, as do Muslims, atheists, and many others. Feeling certain and being certain aren’t necessarily equivalent. As we all know, feelings are fickle. One day your moods may sing the praises of your faith and the next day your moods will betray you, drowning you in the despair of doubt. Many people who walk around saying “I know with 100 percent certainty that my faith is true” haven’t thought much about their faith. They’re often blissfully naïve, which insulates them from an onslaught of doubts.The reality is, even those who feel 100 percent certain can’t prove Christianity with 100 percent certainty. And we do the church a great disservice when we act like we can. Not to mention, we also set new believers up for a future doubt crisis when they realize things in our faith aren’t as tidy as they once thought. In any event, we must avoid two extremes, this time as it relates to certainty. On one extreme we have philosophers like René Descartes who seek certainty through doubting everything, and on the other extreme are those who doubt nothing in order to feel good about their supposed certainty. Neither solution is helpful.”

 

You can read all kinds of arguments on both sides. Both sides will present defeaters. It never ends. So at some point, you will have to get over the need for certitude or exhaustive knowledge.

For an in depth treatment of the subject of doubt, see these two free online resources:

Gary Habermas: Dealing with Doubt

Gary Habermas: The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God