Saturday, October 25, 2008

"The Case For Faith"

I chance upon Lee Strobel's book "The Case For Faith" a couple of days ago. It is a book that investigates the '8 major conundrums' or 8 toughest obstacles to believing in Christianity. In a series of interviews with different people, Strobel lays down his questions and the possible responses to them, concluding with reasons why the harshest skeptic ought to positively consider the claims for Christianity. The following are the eight objections:
  1. If there's a loving God, why does this pain-wracked world groan under so much suffering and evil?
  2. If the miracles of God contradict science, then how can any rational person believe that they're true?
  3. If God is morally pure, how can he sanction the slaughter of innocent children as the Old Testament says he did?
  4. If God cares about the people he created, how could he consign so many of them to an eternity of torture in hell just because they didn't believe the right things about him?
  5. If Jesus is the only way to heaven, then what about the millions of people who have never heard of him?
  6. If God really created the universe, why does the evidence of science compel so many to conclude that the unguided process of evolution accounts for life?
  7. If God is the ultimate overseer of the church, why has it been rife with hypocrisy and brutality throughout the ages?
  8. If I'm still plagued by doubts, then is it still possible to be a Christian?
There are some rather good quotes from each of the 8 responses to the objections.
1) John Stott's take on Suffering:
"I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world, but each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hand and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. The cross of Christ… is God’s only self justification in such a world as ours." (54)
2) Gary Habermas's on Miracles and Science
It is not just a provocative rumor that God has acted in history, but a fact worthy of our intellectual conviction. The miracles of Christianity are not an embarassment to the Christian worldview. Rather, they are testimony to the compassion of God for human beings benighted by sin and circumstance. (57)
3) That Evolution explains life
"If Darwinists are to keep the Creator out of the picture, they have to provide a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life. .. they haven't been able to do that. Despite all their efforts, they haven't even come up with a single possibility that even remotely makes sense. And there's no prospect they will. In fact, everything is pointing the other way - in the unmistakable direction of God. Today it takes a great deal of faith to be an honest scientist who is an atheist. (110-1) (Phillip Johnson)"
4) That God kills innocent children
"“Let’s keep in mind,” he said, “that technically nobody is truly innocent. The Bible says in Psalm 51 that we’re all born in sin’ that is, with the propensity to rebel and commit wrongdoing. Also, we need to keep in mind God's sovereignty over life. An atheist once brought up this issue in a debate, and I responded by saying, 'God created life and he has the right to take it. If you can create life, then you can have the right to take it. But if you can't create it, you don't have that right.' And the audience applauded. ” "People assume that what's wrong for us is wrong for God. However, it's wrong for me to take your life, because I didn't make it and I don't own it. For example, it's wrong me to go into your yard and pull up your bushes, cut them down, kill them, transplant them, move them around. I can do that in my yard, because I own the bushes in my yard. Well, God is sovereign over all of life and he has the right to take it if he wishes. In fact, we tend to forget that God takes the life of every human being. It's called death. The only question is when and how, which we have to leave up to him." (119) (Norman Geisler)
5) Is Jesus the only way to God? Preposterous isn't it?
"Moses could meditate on the law; Muhammad could brandish a sword; Buddha could give personal counsel; Confucius could offer wise sayings; but none of these men was qualified to offer an atonement for the sins of the world. . . Christ alone is worthy of unlimited devotion and service." (R C Sproul) (145)
6) Hell
"Hell is God's great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice." (GK Chesterton) (169)

"Hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes, but they just didn't believe the right stuff. They're consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their Maker and want to be at the center of the universe. Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isn't gentle enough or good enough to let them out. It's filled with people who for all eternity still want to be the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion. What is God to do> If he says it doesn't matter to him, then God is no longer a God to be admired. He's either amoral or positively creepy. For him to act in any other way in the face of such blatant defiance would be to reduce God himself." (D A Carson) (193)
7) Of Church History Filled with Violence
"Over the long course of Christian history, the most depressing thing—because repeated so often—has been how tragically far short of Christian ideals we ordinary Christians so regularly fall. Over the long course of Christian history, the most remarkable thing—because it is such a miracle of grace—is how often believers have acted against the pride of life to honor Christ. Of all such "signs of contradiction," the most completely Christlike have been those occasions when believers who are strong—because of wealth, education, political power, superior culture, or favored location—have reached out to the despised, the forsaken, the abandoned, the lost, the insignificant, or the powerless. Christianity has sometimes made a difference by surrounding the use of power with humility." (Mark Noll) (220)
8) On Remaining Doubts
"If doubt and faith can co-exist, then this means people don't have to fully resolve each and every obstacle between them and God in order to have an authentic faith. In other words, when the preponderance of all the evidence tilts decisively in God's favor, and a person then makes the rational choice to put their trust in him, they can hold some of their more peripheral objections in tension until the day comes when they're resolved. In the meantime, they can still make a choice to believe - and ask God to help them with their unbelief. (Strobel, 244)"
Out of these eight objections to Christianity, he lists suffering and hell as two of the most difficult for him.
The more I delve into them, the more I find myself in jeopardy of losing my perspective. [Lee Strobel, The Case For Faith, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000, p248]
Strobel, in tackling doubts and objections points out that there are three overarching themes that should guide one's intellectual search.

THEME #1: Finding Perspective Firstly, there is a need to find the proper perspective. This I call it the honesty of the mind. One must be willing to consider the full availability of the evidence stacked both for and against the case in point. We should not be foolishly swayed by one piece of evidence that we throw out the baby with the bathwater altogether. Allowing any one obstacle to dominate and crowd out our minds, we can easily lose focus of the main thing. The weight of the following evidence should be held closely even as we tackle these objections. The 'litany of evidence' listed include:
  • 'Big Bang' theory is more ridiculous than the creation theory
  • The existence of a well-ordered Universe points us to a Creator
  • Existence of a moral law indicates a person behind the scenes rather than concepts, systems or ideas.
  • Origin of Life is not simply described away by Darwinism. Facts point strongly to a DNA of life. Such a DNA cannot simply evolve. There needs to be a beginning.
  • The Bible is credible, and has a divine origin. Both the miraculous fulfilment of prophecies as well as the physical incarnation of Christ points to its authenticity.
  • Resurrection of Christ is the ultimate proof of the claims of Christ.
I think the last point is the strongest yet. Otherwise, even Paul the Apostle says that without the resurrection, our faith would have been in vain (1 Cor 15:2). Paul has given away the Archille's heel of the Christian faith: The Resurrection. Prove that the resurrection is false and the whole Christendom will fall. Anyone wanting to prove that Christianity is wrong simply needs to prove that this resurrection never happened. Josh McDowell wrote a rather convincing book on the resurrection claims and asserts that the resurrection actually takes place in "More than A Carpenter."

THEME #2: Making A Choice Secondly, there is a matter of the will. Some people will, in spite of evidence choose to hold on to their original stance, thinking that 'only time will tell' or prove otherwise. Like the saying that if the horse does not want to drink, no matter how cooling and refreshing the water is, it simply WILL NOT DRINK! Moreover, the most stubborn people will simply take the time to explain anything away. Like the example from Dallas Willard, that even in the sight of the most overwhelming facts, one can take the path of explaining anything away according to his/her own preferences. Like Pharoah of Egypt, who upon seeing the many plagues befalling his kingdom, and that the God of Israel is not to be meddled with, he chooses knowingly to rebel.

THEME #3: Changing A Life If the first theme deals with the mind, the second with the will, the final theme has to do with the heart. Strobel describes the life of William Neal Moore, once a convicted killer, who found faith in Christ, and pledge to share his new beliefs with inmates in prison. Moore said: ""
Nobody had ever told me that Jesus loves me and died for me. It was a love I could feel. It was a love I wanted. It was a love I needed.
During his time in prison, he won forgiveness from his victim's family. He became a peacemaker everywhere he goes. He shared that his journey to becoming a forgiven person is not the prison rehabilitation system, not any self-help programs, not medication, not transcendental meditation or psychological counseling. It is plain and simple. Jesus Christ.

Strobel boils down his spiritual journey in terms of "investigation - decision - transformation" (259)

Despite it being a very fine investigative book, there are people who objects to his findings. Some like Seth McBee argues that his reasoning has more to do with a Aristotelian leaning (understanding God via logic) which is more intellectual exercise rather than actual believing. Seth has a point. However, in all fairness, Strobel's title for the book, 'the case' should have prepared us for a reasoning journey. Moreover, Strobel has a legal mind, so such an approach should not be too surprising. Others are more aggressive that the book should instead be called "The Case Against Faith." Why did Strobel choose people to interview FOR the faith, and not include rebuttals in his 'investigative' purposes? Why did Strobel take an evangelical bias in the first place? I think the critique is fair to say that Strobel's arguments are weak at best, but the statement of saying that it is 'against faith' is unwarranted.

Strobel's book is useful as an introductory book for dealing with the 8 major objections to Christianity. It does well to include a broad number of interviews and perspectives on the questions. The most important contribution of Strobel is the need for one to be convinced, mind-will-heart in order to experience and to exercise authentic case for faith. Strobel helpfully brings out the 8 conundrums to openly share his personal struggles with all of them. I think he does Christians a service to start the ball rolling. Some Christians never bothered to talk about any of the eight for fear that they will stumble. Others will say they do not have the time to talk about such things, as faith is not simply an intellectual endeavour. Yet, others will claim that faith is something either we have it or not. I must say that Christians do themselves a disservice if they do not at some point deal with these 8 questions. It is important. It is necessary, not that we do not trust God, but we need to be honest that such questions are legitimate ones. More importantly, we must recognize that because of sin, our thinking on these objections and responses are easily flawed. A community of believers need to be in place to tackle these questions at some point. Every individual is on a journey of discovery. Every Christian is at different phase of learning at different times. It is important to keep the learning alive and active. In a nutshell, a person who only comes to God with his mind is at best a philosopher who thinks Christianly. One who approaches God by sheer will and grit alone is at most an adventurer wearing a cap with a Christian label. One who hangs on to God only with an emotional life-jacket will be easily blown away by the winds of philosophies and terrible realities of life. Authentic Christians need all three. The intellectual curiosity of a theologian (MIND), the zeal and intentionality of a pious fervent servant (WILL), and an emotional longing for God like a lover (HEART) forms the three-some qualities of true faith.

Finally, one of the most helpful quotes from the book comes from Madeline L'Engle:
Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself. (223)
Well said. Actually, this quote from Madeline L'Engle is remarkably similar to Miguel de Unamuno, et al's book entitled: "The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations," which says:
Those who say they believe in God and neither love nor fear Him, do not believe in him, but believe rather in those who have taught them that God exists, and those in their turn often enough do not believe in Him either. Whoever believes he believes in God, but believes without passion, without anguish, without uncertainty, without doubt, without despair-in-consolation, believes only in the God-Idea, nor in God Himself. And just as belief is born of love, so it be born of fear, and even of hate, as it was in …

…the thief Vanni Fucci, whom Dante depicts in Hell insulting God with obscene gestures. For even demons believe in God, as do many atheists.”
[Miguel de Unamuno, Anthony Kerrigan, Martin Nozick, The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977, p211-2]
The last part, about even the devils believe there is a God should ring alarm bells in those who call themselves atheists. For anyone claiming to be an atheist, he/she sets himself against Scripture straightaway:
  • "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
    They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. (Ps 14:1)
  • The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. (Ps 53:1)
  • You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)
God has promised that when one seek and find God with his whole heart, God will be found. Dare we believe it?



Steven Carr said...

''God created life and he has the right to take it. If you can create life, then you can have the right to take it.'

God created truth, and has the right to take it.

YAPdates said...

I think the verse you extracted are the words of Norman Geisler, quoted in the book, "The Case For Faith."

Your analogy of equating 'life' with 'truth' is cleverly done, but deceptive. I will have to say that while Norman Geisler's statement is not a strong one, your statement is even weaker as it shows a lack of understanding of the Person of God.

It paints God as a concept/thing/whatever, that has a wanton license to do anything God pleases. I advise against doing that. In the Bible, it is recorded:

"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)

God don't take away truth, the way that you put it. He can't. It is against his very nature to contradict himself. Let me give one example where truth is removed. Scriptures record that it is the devil that takes away truth, not God.

"When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path." (Matthew 13:19)

To know more, you will need to read the context of these verses.

Tan S Y said...

Dr Yap

For a long time now, I have struggled with some of the questions or objections as this book call it. I attempted to talk about these issues with fellow believers but many tend to brush them away for fear of being labelled as doubters or because we don’t have the resources to conduct the research or we simply don’t have the intellect to come to satisfactory explanation on such weighty stuff.

So I was glad when going through your blog some weeks ago to learn that there is a book on these. I went to buy a copy on the same day!

To me, Lee Strobel’s investigative narration adequately deals with some issues. I think most Christians have no problem accepting God’s creation, Jesus being the only way, authenticity of miracles and the separation of violence in the Crusades from true Christian teachings so I can quite easily accept his views on these. However, I am still not comfortable with the issues on pain and suffering, the killing of innocents and hell, I feel Strobel’s attempt in arguing that these do not negate God’s love is commendable.

After reading this book, I took it upon myself to summarise Strobel’s views on all the eight objections and shared them electronically with many fellow believers. I feel that it is important that we do not resist discussing difficult questions we have about our faith in God – I don’t believe that God is not big enough to accept our questions and would in fact want us to be contemplative over such matters so that our faith in him can be the stronger and not the weaker as we seek for his guidance.

I thank you for your introduction of this book.

Conrade Yap, (Dr) said...

@Tan S Y,

Yes, I remember you. I am glad you find the book useful. You are right to say that we need to engage even the most difficult questions of faith. That is how we can grow. Sometimes, it does not mean simply getting an answer. It means growing in humility to recognize that even though we may not have all the answers, we have a God who do!

Thank you for reading, and commenting.


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