5 Dangerous ideas about faith
Imagine if, out of a desire to get your child to eat healthier, you told her there is a little leprechaun who will throw cereal a her while she sleeps, if she eats Lucky charms for breakfast?
Do you think she would believe that story? Possibly. It depends on how young she is and if she has seen you as trustworthy in telling her the truth in other matters. What would be the consequence of your child believing this idea? If she believes this story, she may find it funny or get really scared at night if she accidentally sneaks in some Lucky Charms for a bedtime snack. This could result in her not sleeping well and other behavioral issues. Also, the parent may find it humorous that the child believed them, and grateful that their child is allegedly making better food choices out of being scared away from the unhealthy option. However, she will most likely find out later that the appearance of a real leprechaun was, in fact, not true and that Lucky charms taste delicious. This may result in her trusting what her parents say on certain topics less. The consequences may vary, but this little scenario is most likely not going to wreck a child and parent's relationship. Nonetheless, all ideas have consequences for good or ill.
What if you told your child these things instead:
"There is no absolute truth and whatever you believe in about the purpose of life is up to you…as long as you are sincere and happy is all that counts.”
Can you think of any potential problems with this statement?
How is a child supposed to determine what truth is really true if truth is up to her to decide? How is this saying supposed to work out in the real world? How can you determine the meaning of life if you are the sole decider of that purpose? What if someone else comes up with a contradictory meaning of life that may cause harm to you? Since everyone is different, our changing feelings can't be the standard of the purpose of life. It must be beyond us and an unchanging standard
The meaning of life must transcend humanity: meaning that is objectively beyond humanity’s own definition from within. Thus, our ultimate purpose in life is something that we must discover, not create.
If all humans were created for a purpose by a divine being and will someday stand before him in judgement, then our purpose in life must conform with WHY the creator made us. Meaning must correspond to the reality of our divine designer's intentions.
However, if humans were not created by a divine being and are just the result of a cosmic accident and mutations that led to us today, then how can we objectively have purpose, value, an unchanging standard of right and wrong, and ultimate justice for all the wrongs done in this earth?
All of these ideas have dramatic consequences that are far weightier than what type of cereal our kids chose. As parents, teens and college students, it is vital that we develop our ability to test all ideas and learn how to respond to them.
We are going to look at 5 big ideas in our culture that sound good, but are actually dangerous:
Dangerous idea #1 “There is no absolute truth.”
This statement is usually qualified with, as mentioned above, that people simply need to follow “their truth or their heart” for happiness and meaning in life. This sounds really nice and welcoming, but it doesn’t actually work in the real world. To claim that there are no absolute truths is a self-defeating statement: it’s an absolute truth claim that there is absolutely no real truth in the world.
The consequence of this idea is that people feel justified in following whatever “feels right” to them and their good feelings towards something being the standard of what is right and wrong. This is dangerous because, what if someone else follows their truth that its ok to lie to people for fun? All people would agree that it is wrong to lie to people for wrong; thus, it an absolute truth claim that people don’t like to be lied to for fun. Truth is not something we create, it is something we discover. Truth is that which corresponds to reality.
This also means that contradictory statements cannot be true. The belief that there is a God and that there is not a God cannot both be true. Also, the belief that all religions are basically the same and that Christianity is true cannot be true either. In Christianity, Jesus claims to be THE ONLY WAY to God and that Jesus is God himself. Whereas, all other religions reject Jesus’ claim to be God and that the Bible alone is sufficient for knowledge about God. At some very basic levels, we can quickly see that between atheism and theism there are conflicting views. Between Christianity and pluralism (belief in many religions as the way) there are conflicting views.
Contradictory views seem obvious, yet I hear these claims nearly every day as an Uber driver. Why is this?
The problem is that most people are not actually on a truth quest.
Oh, they may claim to be, but in reality they aren’t. How do I know? In the past couple of months, I have talked with several hundred people at the mall and in Uber rides, and most of the people we have talked with have never heard that there is any logical and scientific evidence for the existence of God or the reliability of the gospels. If someone is legitimately on a truth quest, it should lead them to examine the gospels. The gospels have more copies available of any ancient manuscript in (over 5,800 in Greek), is the text for the largest world religion, and has a leader that claims to have risen from the dead, performed miracles and turned the roman empire upside down. To fail to examine the evidence for the existence of God and claims of the gospel documents is a failure to pursue truth. The truth is that if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then the implications are huge for our lives now and after we die. In the words of famous author and scholar C.S. Lewis:
“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.
Many fear what would have to change in their life if they embrace the truth. Thus, we run away from it because we think that we will find something more freeing and satisfying if we live in our “own reality…our own sense of truth.” the words of famous 17th century Philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal:
“Most people invariably arrive at their beliefs not based on what is true, but on what they find attractive.”
For us to truly live with joy and freedom, we have to pursue and live in truth. Living in truth should cause us to rejoice. However, living in a delusion is a superficial and fleeting sense of comfort.
Living in truth will help us discover the purpose that we are on this earth and that will truly be satisfying. Thus, we must unite truth and faith together. Religious truth should reflect reality. If it doesn’t, it SHOULD be rejected.
If we act like there is either “the truth and science people” or “ the people of faith” we are running into another dangerous idea. How we view faith and reason is the next dangerous idea that we will cover.
Dangerous Idea # 2 “Faith is blind”
It has become popular in some circle to talk about faith in God, miracles and the Bible as something that people embrace who are not intellectually or scientifically inclined. In fact, I have heard many times in conversations with my Uber riders that someone decided that they couldn’t believe in God because they are a science person and the Bible just didn’t seem logical and agree with Science. Thus, they reason that they will have to put aside the mythological trappings of their upbringing in order to be a whole person that has consistency with their mind and heart. They feel like they can resonate with Mark Twain’s quote about faith being “believing in something you know ain’t so.”
If they are honest, they may admit that there is an internal conflict regarding their heart and mind. In their heart, they may find it comforting to believe that they were created by a Divine being that loves them, cares for them, gives them purpose, a sense of ultimate justice and paradise at the end of life.
However, also waging war in their heart, they feel like it would be easier if God didn’t exist so that they could pursue living in ways that are contrary to how the Bible describes what they believe the good life is.
They may believe that when it comes to certain issues of morality and pleasure that God might have gotten it wrong and consequently, he might have gotten other things wrong. All of the sudden it becomes more appealing to be open to the idea that God might not actually exist.
Now, if someone doesn’t have adequate reasons to understand or justify the existence of a divine, all powerful, personal, perfectly good creator, then the price tag of walking away from the idea of a creator will be very low. It’s the next logical step. This is where many current atheist, skeptics or agnostics may find themselves.
The connection between the mind and heart in regard to faith was described well by author Dr. Stephen Meyer when he said:
“The heart cannot exult in what the mind rejects.”
If belief in God doesn’t make any logical sense to you, then your only justification for maintaining belief and making sense of hard times will be your feelings of comfort and kinship that you receive from others in a faith community. So long as believing in God “works for you” (pragmatism) then it will be a convenient belief. As long as it stops “working” for what you want out of life, then its an easy intellectual step to redefine who God is or reject belief in him altogether. In the end, your heart can’t be passionate about what you know, deep down, your mind thinks is illogical. You heart truly can't become passionate about what your mind rejects.
However, as mentioned earlier, religious truth should reflect reality and we can only discover joy and our purpose in life if our lives are in conformity with truth. We should describe faith as trust based off of evidence.
Here are a couple of scriptures in the Bible that demonstrate the evidential, reasonable nature of faith:
“Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed” Luke 1:1-4
“You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38
Biblical faith should not be afraid of questions, testing, and doubting. Are you willing to test everything that you believe to see if it is really true? Scripture gives us permission to do so.
“…But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1
If you believe something and are expected to simply accept it without question that may be a bad sign. For a belief to be true, it needs to be the BEST explanation for reality, not a belief despite what reality tells me.
The inability to question an idea is a sign of insecurity in its foundation: the fear that deep down, this belief really isn’t justified, and I may have to change my entire life. Organizations that will not allow you to ask questions about their fundamental beliefs should be questioned themselves. If we are in a deep pursuit of truth, I believe that doubting, if addressed with objectivity and humility can lead to deeper levels of faith. This is to be distinguished from the type of doubting that turns towards cynicism and distancing from belief. The type of doubting I am referring to is the kind that will make the pursuit of truth a top priority because it longs to embrace and grow deeper in a belief that best explains Why and how we are on this earth.
Responding to your doubts and questions may lead you to deeper levels of faith. However, it will not result in you being able to understand and answer everything related to faith (called scientism). For example, for a time, I questioned if the New Testament had been reliable transmitted over the centuries. I investigated the transmission process of the New Testament and discovered that the case for its reliable transmission is stronger than ever. This does not mean that I have no doubts or questions at all, but I believe that the most reasonable conclusion is that we have exactly what they wrote (I will explain why in a future post- don’t worry.) If God exists and has spoken to humanity, we should be able to understand and apprehend His message to us. However, we should not expect to fully comprehend an infinite being since we are finite, limited, creatures. We can have a reasonable faith based off of good evidence though.
You may be asking yourself at this point: OK, then give me one reason why I should even believe that God exists! If you are saying that faith is not blind but based off of evidence- show me.
I will explain logical and scientific evidences for God’s existence in future blogs in depth, but for the sake of brevity I simply want to show at this point that faith, as defined by the Bible, "is trust based off of good reasons" and give you something to think about. Much like when you are walking a get a rock in your shoe and you eventually decide to stop and address the issue: this is my goal with the nonbeliever reading this blog.
I simply want to put a stone in your shoe with these questions:
If there ever was a time that there was nothing, why is there something? Can matter create Itself? If space, time and matter had a beginning, wouldn’t the cause for all of space, time and matter be beyond space, time and matter? We are therefore all (both theist and atheist) looking for a space-less, timeless, immaterial cause to everything in the universe. What is the more logical conclusion: either everything was caused by a space-less, timeless, immaterial Divine being or everything was caused by a space-less, timeless, immaterial nothing?
Out of nothing, nothing always comes. Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit.
Which option seems more logical? In my future blog posts, I will go more in depth on this particular topic relating to the beginning of the universe. Right now, I simply want to persuade you by asking some questions to get you thinking about the reasonableness of faith. Next, I want to discuss another popular lie in out culture regarding how we should even move forward in persuading people towards truth.
Dangerous Idea # 3 “We just need to love people and not try to persuade or argue with them”
This claim sounds persuasive. Really persuasive. This generation of teens have seen our country arguing and very divided over issues of morality, immigration, abortion, elections, religion and more. We are all tired of all of the mudslinging and insulting that we see every election cycle. It has gotten old. As a millennial, I grew up hearing that we should “avoid talking about religion and politics” if we want to get along with people. In an attempt for everyone to get along and feel welcomed, we have promoted tolerance and acceptance as one of our key virtues that can help our society move forward into the future. This definition of tolerance is different than the traditional one though. The traditional definition used to be “getting along with people even though you hold opposite views.” In our culture today, tolerance has been defined to mean:
“accepting all ideas as equally true.…. everyone has their truth and we must respect it. In order to love people, we must celebrate whatever viewpoint or life choices they make. To do otherwise, is not loving.”
We have also seen this viewpoint influence the way Christians think about engaging with others. Amongst believers, It is generally viewed as more effective to just “love people and not try to argue with them.” After all, it is said, people were never argued into the kingdom; thus, Christian apologetics (presenting evidence and reasons for the Biblical worldview) is not necessary.
Is this approach truly the best way forward to engage with each other?
To claim that our posture should be either avoidance or accepting all ideas as equally true is self-defeating towards creating real dialogue and only perpetuates a superficial sense of community.
Maybe the better way forward is that we learn HOW to think and act in dialogue with people that have opposing views.
First, it seems that we should probably be clear on how we are defining the word Love. Is it just a feeling? Is it kindness? It is physical intimacy with someone else? Or could there be a more robust definition of it? I believe there must be. There must be an unchanging definition of love rooted in something transcendent (beyond changing humans) because everyone seems to define love differently in our culture.
If there is anything objectively wrong, then there must be an objective standard to measure something as evil or wrong. For rot to exist, there must be a tree. Rot is a negation of the standard of “treeness.” In the same way, the existence of evil, negation of good, is evidence that there is an objective, unchanging standard that transcends humanity. This standard must be an unchanging- personally-good divine being: God. He himself, his nature of perfect goodness is the standard. Since His nature is the standard and source of goodness- then our definition of love must be connected with understanding who God is.
If the New Testament is true, then when it writes about God, love and his followers, we should take notice:
“Dear friends, let us love another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins…. whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God-God remains in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.”
1 John 4:7-11;15-16
“Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in truth.” 1 Corinthians 13:6
“I give you a new command: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus in John 13:34-35
"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
Jesus in John 14:6
If God is the standard and source of all life, goodness and love then defining love based off Who He is makes sense. From what we know from these verses, God’s love can be defined as:
Having full knowledge of who we are yet being fully committed to us.
As author and pastor Matt Chandler says,
“Love is saying ‘I have seen the ugly parts of you and I’m staying.”
This is what God is like. This is the perfect expression and definition of love: God.
God is committed to our greatest good. What is our greatest good? To know the truth of why we exist. what is the trust of why do we exist? To be in relationship with the source of life and love and to reflect that love back to others. Thus, the most loving thing we can do for others is share the truth with them. Love always delights in others knowing and embracing the truth.
Is serving others helpful in persuading them to live and see things the way you do? Certainly, but the claim that “we should only love and serve people” is making an argument against using arguments. It doesn’t even meet its own standard. Its impossible to escape using logic. We should be gracious and serve people, but truly loving them is telling them the truth. Unfortunately some people are welcomed into organizations that have faulty assumptions about life, its purpose and who Jesus is and they end up embracing that system of belief primarily because they WANT it to be true cause it feels so attractive to be welcomed and have belonging there. When the standard for which Church to attend is primarily just on how welcomed you feel and not "is the truth challenged here? Am I allowed to ask tough questions about their truth claims and find satisfactory/reasonable answers?"
There will always be a disconnect and malfunction in society and in faith communities when love and service is separated from a rigorous pursuit of truth.
Serving, loving and welcoming others into our lives, even those that may never even come to faith, possibly our enemies, is one of the greatest callings of every Christian believer. We are called to genuinely love and care for others and share the truth with those we care about and whoever will listen. Christianity is a worldview that should allow for real tolerance and welcoming of those they disagree with into our lives. All the while realizing that welcoming is not equal to celebrating a viewpoint we don't agree with or compromising a conviction, but seeing each person as valuable and made in God's image and worthy of respect and honor. Serving others, even our enemies, is the example of Jesus and He is what makes Christianity so attractive. We must pray that our lives would match our message of who Jesus is and reflect his attractive, relentless love for others.
Second, we must recapture the art of respectful debate. Without this how can we even test ideas, see other perspectives and change. We must learn to listen to understand instead of listening primarily to respond. We must learn to see things from the other person’s point of view instead of misrepresenting their view and then refuting a false caricature of their view. Handling conversations this way is neither loving nor respectful. In a letter from one of Jesus' disciples and a leader in the early Church, Peter, we see him explaining how we are to be defenders of truth and hope that engage with others in an attractive manner.
“Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscious clear.” 1 Peter 3:15
In summation: Loving someone means that we would should speak the truth to them. Debate is good for all people. It just must be done with care and humility. We must reclaim debating well and learning what real tolerance looks like: getting along with people that we disagree with.
This leads us right into our next dangerous idea in our culture….
Dangerous Idea # 4 “Apologetics is not for everyone”
An Apologist is someone who responds to objections and gives reasons for a certain viewpoint. Everyone is an apologist to some degree. If I attacked your favorite movie, you better believe that you would be an apologist for it and defend it! An apologist isn't afraid to make a case for why they believe that their viewpoint is true and worth believing in. As we have already established by this point:
there is absolute truth
faith is not blind
debating is good and vital for everyone to discover truth and refine their thinking
Since those three things are true, then everyone must receive training in apologetics! What kind of apologetics? Defending the greatness of the Flash against other Super Hero’s? We may be able to do that, but If Christianity is true, wouldn’t it make sense that out of our love for God and others that we should receive training in Christian apologetics. Why? Because we should care about and celebrate truth.
Since everyone is an apologist, the question becomes, are you an apologist for a worldview that best explains reality?
What if we end up defending the pursuit of money and stuff as the greatest aim of life? Then we may be subtly communicating that nature and material things is all that is or that exist. We all have a worldview that one way or another we end up defending with our words and how we choose of how we spend our time. Is our life defending something that is truly valuable though?
Most of our friends and family may not be at the point now where they would read a book on the scientific and logical evidence for Christianity, but they may be open to hearing from you to present the Case for Christianity. If you were in a position without knowledge of the truth, wouldn’t you want your friends and family to work hard to communicate and persuade you to the truth?
Famous tv show magician and atheist, Penn Jillete, commented in one of his YouTube videos, that he doesn’t respect people who don’t proselytize (share their faith). He explained to his audience “how much do you have to hate someone not to share your faith?” Furthermore, he mentioned that if we really do believe in heaven and hell, then out of love for others, we should be sharing our faith with them.
Additionally, for our own shaping of our mind around truth, we must study apologetics. Apologetics helps deepen our faith and confidence to talk with others. Also, it helps us see how all of reality must be shaped around the truth of the inspired words of God: The Old and New Testament Scriptures.
We (typically) study hard in subjects in school, but then are afraid to challenge ourselves with learning apologetics in defending the truth of Christianity. We can do better. We must, or else we will continue seeing the shrinking of teens who understand and embrace the reasonableness of the Christian worldview (only 4% of teens today according to recent Barna research). I am not saying that we all have to become professional apologists, but I am saying that all believers must do better at articulating the truthfulness of the Christian worldview.
This leads us to our final dangerous idea….
Dangerous Idea #5 “it is better for us to isolate ourselves from those that we disagree with”
The world is a scary place. There is a rise of shootings and terrorist attacks. We are seeing the gap widen between people that embrace different worldviews. Some views are leading people to attack or ignore others, or stand with the hurting....or leads some to isolation.
Some views have dangerous implications that we feel the need to protect our kids from. All good parents recognize the need to protect their children from things and limit their exposure to things that they are not ready to handle. It is easy to want to feel like the best method can be to just isolate our children and teens from the world. However, this could be setting them up to fail if we become to over-protective.
Typically, when we isolate ourselves from others, we end up just having a giant echo chamber of our own ideas circulating. It becomes easier to misrepresent other people’s views or demonize them and their reasons for holding those views. However, when your teen goes away to college, they will be exposed to many ideas. Some good and others not so much. They will receive a level of exposure that will make it harder for them to even react well against false ideas. In fact, they may even embrace those ideas and question much of the worldview of their upbringing. It can be compared to receiving exposure to a flu virus that you never got a shot for. Thus, your body is not able to overcome it and you become infected with the virus.
What if we thought of a better way to raise the next generation that produces young adults that Love truth, a reasonable faith, respectful dialogue and training in apologetics?
What If we thought about inoculating instead of isolating?
Inoculating is when we get a flu shot and we expose ourselves to small doses of the flu virus so that we are able to fight it off and be immune from the full fledged version when it tries to come at us. Likewise, what if we exposed the next generation to some of the greatest questions and objections to Christianity from various worldviews while they are with us at home still? Isn’t that option a little risky? To a degree yes. But is it as risky as sending them off to college with no exposure to these ideas. Also, if Christianity is true, we shouldn’t be afraid of thinking through some of the tough questions. Remember, we shouldn’t be afraid of questions, but engage with them!
All of these reasons above are exactly why Kendra I (Caleb) launched the city-wide ministry called Engage Apologetics on June 5th, 2018. We had a wonderful night of sharing desserts, sharing the engage vision and then a time of worship at the Mustard Seed Café here in El Paso, Tx. We have a passion to help parents, college students and teens in grow in a love for Truth, Training and in Conversations with others about Hope found in Christ alone.
Truth- We want to vigorously test popular worldviews and objections to Christianity and demonstrate the total truth of the Christian worldview as the best explanation of reality. We will do this through our 8 week intensive classes every semester on various apologetics topics here in El Paso on both the West and East side of town.
Training- We want to help expose our Engage students to other ideas by facilitating opportunities for them to role play from other people’s perspective and gain practice in being able to respectfully and clearly communicate the total truth of Christianity.
Conversation- We want to move beyond just role playing to going out and talking with people from other worldviews (Atheists, Muslims, Mormon’s, JW’s). We believe that we can build friendships, understand perspectives better and effectively encourage our friends to pursue truth at all costs when we are in conversation with them consistently.
In summary, I invite all my readers to pursue truth, embrace a reasonable faith, debate respectfully, train in apologetics, and engage in conversation with ideas and people that you may disagree with. In the end you will see the joy of true tolerance, love, celebration of truth and new friendships that are formed! Pursuing these ideas will have great consequences!