June 2011: Featured Post
On a monthly basis, lifeseek.org will be featuring a thought-provoking essay that is designed to stimulate healthy dialogue and a collective resolve to seek the face of God for answers of some of the most pressing issues of our age. Your participation and feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to leave your comments, facebook or tweet this post after reading.
My current job has me on the road a lot, typically riding with six other individuals for lengths of up to twelve hours round trip. In an effort to “make the most of my time” in the spirit of Col 4:5, I try as shrewdly as I can to steer conversations in a spiritual direction, or hop into ones that appear to be going on.
It is always my aim to commend the Christian worldview and the gospel to those who aren’t yet followers of Christ, or to sharpen those who are. Given the eclectic mix of personalities at my job, the assumption that there even is a god, or that Christianity is true, or that the Bible is reliable can’t be taken for granted.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or just a tightly fortified, sterile Christian garrison) you could not have missed the rising tide of skepticism in our country.
More and more people are less likely to believe what was commonly held to be true without much question a few decades ago. This is no less apparent in the conversations that go on in my van rides. What is more glaringly apparent though, is the total inability of my fellow Christians to engage those who have a different worldview, and articulate to them why they ought to believe the Christian message.
This may not leap off the page and knock you to the floor just yet, but I will tease out my point by way of example through recounting two recent scenarios.
“Tyler” is new to the job. Being the newbie, we made him drive first. As is my luck, out of nowhere Tyler starts to tell the story about how his brother de-converted from Christianity to atheism.
According to Tyler, his brother “Rob” was a devout follower of Christ, a youth leader, sang in the choir and married the church pianist. He was even known to be a staunch defender of the faith when questioned and urged Tyler to be a more faithful servant. All that changed when Rob moved out and became a member of a rock band consisting of all atheists.
Not being able to withstand their assaults on his beliefs, his faith soon shriveled and he became a hardened atheist. Tyler’s family was outraged, Tyler being hurt perhaps the most. In an effort to reach out to his brother, he called him and asked him in somewhat disbelief whether or not it was true that he had fallen away from the faith.
His brother brashly admitted to denouncing Christianity, citing there being zero evidence that God exists.
“Prove that there is a god!” Tyler responded ” Dude, that’s why it’s called faith!” What do you think about his response? Perhaps you found yourself saying this very thing as you read his brothers words. Whether or not you had a similar response, it’s this very way of thinking that I aim to probe, but before I do that, one more example.
In another long van ride, I decide to listen to a favorite radio show of mine in the form of a podcast called “Stand To Reason”. On this show, the host, Greg Koukl, discusses issues in the areas of ethics, values and religion and advocates what he calls “clear-thinking Christianity”.
“Jake” is riding shotgun as my navigator while I’m driving, and he is a new believer. Jake is somewha evangelistically oriented, at least as it pertains to getting people to consider Christianity as true, and so he displays keen interest in the show.
Somewhere down the road, Jake starts to talk about faith and proof, and in sum concludes that “at the end of the day it all really just comes down to faith”.
A bit annoyed by what I perceive he means by this, I ask him to clarify, “By that do you mean, when it comes down to it, we don’t really know these things and that believing is an arbitrary act of the will, like a person believes because they want to, not because they have knowledge that it’s true?”. “No, that’s not really what I mean…”, Jake starts up again trying to elucidate only to really repeat himself.
“So at the end of the day, you think whether Christianity, atheism, etc, it’s all really just a kind of blind leap? I mean, that really seems to be what your view is boiling down to” I respond.
“I guess you’re right, I guess I mean that no one really knows and you just have to believe it” he replies. What about this take on faith? Do you share a similar view, or take issue with it?
Diagnosing the Problem
What’s going on here? What is the common thread shared by “Jake” and “Tyler” in their conceptions of what faith is? Perhaps you see the problem, but if you are the statistical average, chances are the problem isn’t that apparent to you. What Jake and Tyler expressed was a view of faith that is inversely proportional to knowledge. Ignorance is what is needed to make room for faith.
It isn’t just that they don’t have a tidy and rigorous definition ready at hand, it’s that their view of the nature of Christianity and it’s relation to reality and knowledge is grossly misinformed. What’s going on here is symptomatic of a Church-wide epidemic, one that has been crippling the advancement of Kingdom (especially in the West) for over a century.
This isn’t a dispute over a mere definition, it’s much more fundamental than that. The fundamental problem is the misunderstanding of the role of reason in the Christian life, which has led to the abandonment of the life of the mind in modern Christendom.
This abandonment of the life of the mind has literally made Christianity come off as a no-brainer to believers (who don’t even realize it) and nonbelievers. Eddie Glaude, professor of religion at Princeton wrote last year that the black church was dead, a tome which was heavily criticized.
I think he was dead wrong, but only because he misdiagnosed.
Is The Black Church Brain Dead?
The black church still has a pulse , but following the trend of the rest of evangelicalism, it is brain dead. But like Paul said “this is not how you learned Christ”, this is not “the faith once and for all delivered unto the saints”. We’ve lost our understanding of what the intellectual life of the Christian is supposed to look like, and in doing so we’ve lost a fundamental part of our inner lives and have suffered greatly both on an individual level and corporately as a body.
As philosopher J.P. Moreland writes in his paradigm-shifting work “Love Your God With All Your Mind”, we must reclaim the proper role of the life of the mind in the Christian.
As the Scriptures put it, we must progress from the centuries-long stage of mental infantilism, and become mature in our thinking.
Have you experienced something similar? We would love to hear your experience with engaging people’s worldview?
Chris Billups is a student of religion and currently studying at Liberty University. He has a passion for all things philosophy and theology and how these two disciplines affect the life of the Christian. He currently resides in Ohio with his wife.