June 2008

On 6/27/08, the Presbyterian Church USA made several moves to sanction the ordination of homosexual clergy at their General Assembly. Now the measures go the 173 presbyteries for vote. It is expected that the will pass. See Albert Mohler’s discussion of this historic and lamentable event.

When people ask Christians how we know Christianity is true, it is common for us to respond with something like, “Because I feel Jesus in my heart” or “Because I have experienced the risen Christ.” While I think faith is rational even apart from rational evidences/arguments, this sort of justification for Christian belief seems inadequate. It can always be asked how we know it was Jesus we encountered, as opposed to some other deity. Did Jesus appear to us? No. We merely had an experience that seemed undeniably supernatural in nature. So why think it was an experience with Jesus, then?

I would venture to say that we claim to have encountered Jesus because of the context in which our supernatural encounter occurred. We encountered the supernatural after having heard and believed the message of Jesus’ resurrection, and then interpret the encounter to be the result of such a belief, and confirmation that the belief is true. Hence, we say we felt Jesus in our heart, or experienced the risen Christ.

The problem is that a wide variety of religions, each with competing truth claims, profess to experience the divine. They also interpret their experience in light of the religious teaching they have been taught. They conclude that they have experienced God X, and that such an experience vindicates the truth of their religious tradition.

A religious pluralist might argue that no group experiences the deity they claim to have experienced (Jesus, Allah, Brahman, etc.). They might argue they had a genuine experience with the unknowable God, but mistakenly tried to identify Him with the God as described by their faith tradition. So when a Christian encounters God, he thinks he has encountered Jesus, and this is proof that Christianity is true. When a Muslim encounters God, he thinks he has encountered Allah, and this is proof that Islam is true. How do we respond to such an interpretation?

On one level, I agree with the religious pluralist. His explanation makes sense of the variegated inter-religious claims to have encountered with God. People actually do encounter God as he reaches out for them, but they misidentify Him because they interpret their experience of Him in light of their false religious tradition. Where I think the pluralist is mistaken is that he applies his interpretation to all religious traditions, not holding out the possibility that one faith tradition may have properly identified the God whom they have encountered.

If it is possible that one religious tradition properly identifies the God people experience, how would we know which religious tradition it was? What has been said already should highlight the problem of using religious experience as a proof for one religious tradition over another. Something more than an experience is needed to adjudicate competing religious traditions, otherwise we are left arguing in a circle. So how can we know that our interpretation of the divine is the correct one, as opposed to theirs? I would argue that we must test the various faith traditions using our rational faculties. Are they philosophically viable? Are they internally consistent? Are they confirmed/contradicted by scientific or historical data? And the list goes on. When various faith traditions are subjected to such tests, I think Christianity comes out on top as being the most viable, and that is good reason to believe the God we encountered in our experience is indeed the risen Christ.

I take the train to work. Most days, there is a man playing the saxophone near the staircase at the depot. He always displays some sort of message to the passerbys, usually of a religious or philosophical bent, and not always profound. Today’s message struck me as particularly dumb: For every question, personal experience is the final test of truth.”

Really? I wanted to ask him if he had ever been to Naples. I would expect a negative answer, at which time I would respond, “So I assume you don’t believe Naples exists, then, right?” If personal experience is the final test for truth, and we have not experienced it, then it cannot be true. In my own life, a whole host of things cannot be true: murder, wealth, and the like. Very dumb. And yet, empiricism is how many people go about determining truth.

Many Americans are Deists. Few would claim that title, but their view of God is deistic in either actual profession or actual behavior. They either believe in a creator God who is not involved with His creation, or they live their lives in such a way that assumes God is uninvolved with creation. So I thought I would formulate a brief definition of Deism that both defines it and criticizes it all at once. Here you go: “Deism is the deadbeat dad version of theism; the half-way house between theism and atheism for those who have enough sense to see the intellectual bankruptcy of atheism, but no tolerance for the presence of a personal God who might interfere in their personal lives.” You can quote me on that!

A week or so ago, it was reported that archaeologists uncovered what they believed to be the world’s oldest surviving church, in Jordan. The archaeologists dated it to the 1st century, and due to a mosaic with the inscription “the 70 beloved by God and the divine” on the floor, they suggested the cave church was started by the 70 disciples of Christ who fled Jerusalem due to persecution.

I was extremely skeptical of the claim upon hearing of it. While I held out the possibility that this cave was a gathering of 1st century believers, I found it beyond belief that it was started by the 70 disciples of Christ. It appears my skepticism is warranted. National Geographic has an article detailing the counter-arguments of critics. They not only dispute the claim that this cave church was started by the 70 disciples of Christ, but that it was a first century church as well. This appears to be another instance of archaeological sensationalism.

Many holiness-minded individuals fear the doctrine of grace by faith because they think it leads to antinomianism. I have no doubt that some have used grace as a pretext for sin, but they do so without the support of Scripture. Scripture is clear that the grace that saves is the same grace that teaches us to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:12), and empowers us for holiness (Romans 6:14). To calm the minds of grace-fearers, and to correct the minds of grace-abusers, let me offer the following medical analogy.

Sin is like a cancer. It destroys the good cells in our body, and eventually leads to death. To treat this deadly disease one must undergo chemotherapy (grace). But would anyone in their right mind willingly inject their body with cancerous cells simply because a treatment for the ensuing cancer is available? Of course not! So why would anyone intentionally sin simply because grace is available to treat it? The purpose of the New Covenant was not to provide us with a license to sin, but to provide us with grace that would not only wipe away our past transgressions, but give us the power to avoid future transgressions.

Isn’t it ironic that those who espouse to Darwinian evolution are also the least likely to have multiple children and most likely to support and/or obtain abortions. They are supposed to believe in survival of the fittest. Only those who reproduce stand a chance at survival, and those who reproduce the most stand the greatest chance for survival and subsequent evolution. Apparently Darwinian liberals are not fit to survive!

In all seriousness, I think this reveals the cognitive dissonance of liberals. They cannot consistently live out their worldview. In fact, given the maxim that people behave in accordance with their beliefs, I tend to think most adherents of Darwinism do not really believe it. They may give intellectual assent to it, but they don’t live it. All that matters is that God is out of the picture.

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