Know Why You Believe: Chapter 1 Is Christianity Rational?

Source: Know Why You Believe Book by Paul Little

First edition published in 1968 by Scripture Press Publications, Inc.

“What is faith?” asked the Sunday School teacher.

A young boy answered in a flash, “Believing something you know isn’t true.” Equating faith with naiveté hinders an objective consideration of Christianity.

Frequently I have the opportunity to present the Christian message in a bull session format. After a presentation, we have questions from the floor. It is startling how many, following these discussions, say the session has been helpful because it’s the first time they’ve heard something that makes sense. The realization dawns that to become a Christian does not mean kissing one’s brains goodbye.

We live in an increasingly sophisticated and educated world. It is no longer enough to know what we believe. It is essential to know why we believe it. Believing something doesn’t make it true. A thing is true or not regardless of whether anyone believes it. This is as true of Christianity as of everything else.

There are two equally erroneous viewpoints abroad today on the important question of whether Christianity is rational. The first is, in essence, an anti-intellectual approach to Christianity. Many misunderstand verses like Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” Some use this verse in a way that gives the impression that Christianity is at least non-rational if not irrational. They fail to realize that a clearly reasoned presentation of the Gospel “is important – not as a rational substitute for faith, but as a ground for faith; not as a replacement for the Spirit’s working but as a means by which the objective truth of God’s Word can be made clear so that men will heed it as the vehicle of the Spirit, who convicts the world through its message.”1

There are challengers to Christian faith on every hand. Modern communications have made the world a neighborhood. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists all claim valid religious experience. From within Christendom we are told that God is dead. Increasingly, in our scientific age, ethical humanism is having stronger appeal. Julian Huxley’s Religion Without Revelation is a good example of this approach.

Montgomery further observes, “The analytical philosopher, Anthony Flew, in developing a parable from a tale told by John Wisdom, illustrates how meaningless are religious assertions incapable of being tested objectively:

” ‘Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” The other disagrees, “There is no gardener.” So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The blood hounds never give cry. Yet still the believer is not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.” At last the skeptic despairs, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?” ‘2

“This parable is a damning judgment on all religious truth-claims save that of the Christian faith.3 For in Christianity we do not have merely an allegation that the garden of this world is tended by a loving Gardener; we have the actual, empirical entrance of the Gardener into the human scene in the person of Christ (cf. John 20: 14,15), and this entrance is verifiable by way of His resurrection.”

On the other hand there are those who think that becoming a Christian is an exclusively rational process. There is an intellectual factor in the Christian message, but there are also moral considerations. “If any man’s will is to do his (God’s) will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I (Jesus) am speaking of my own authority” (John 7:17). “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, no man will believe. But one of the instruments the Holy Spirit uses to bring enlightenment is a reasonable explanation of the gospel and of God’s dealings with men.

It is quite true that an unenlightened mind cannot come to the truth of God unaided, but enlightenment brings comprehension of a rational body of truth.

The gospel is always equated with truth. Truth is always the opposite of error. “Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12). Those who do not believe are defined by Paul as those who “do not obey the truth” (Romans 2:8). These statements would be meaningless unless there were a way to establish objectively what the truth is. If there were no such possibility, truth and error would, for all practical purposes, be the same because we would have no way to tell one from the other.

In writing to the Romans, Paul makes it clear that men have enough knowledge from creation itself to know there is a God (Romans 1:20). He goes on to show that the basic reason men do not know God is not because he cannot be known or understood but because men have rebelled against him, their creator. “For although they knew God they did not honor him as God” (1:21), “and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles” (1:23) , “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (1:25), and, finally, “they did not see fit to acknowledge God” (1:28).

The moral issue always overshadows the intellectual issue in Christianity. It is not that man cannot believe – it is that he “will not believe.” Jesus pointed the Pharisees to this as the root of the problem. “You refuse to come to me,” he told them, “that you may have life” (John 5:40). He makes it abundantly clear that moral commitment leads to a solution of the intellectual problem. “If any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17). Alleged intellectual problems are often a smoke screen covering moral rebellion.

A student once told me I had satisfactorily answered all his questions, “Are you going to become a Christian?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

Puzzled, I asked, “Why not?”

He admitted, “Frankly, because it would mess up the way I’m living.” He realized that the real issue for him was not intellectual but moral.

The question is often asked, “If Christianity is rational and true, why is it that most educated people don’t believe it?” The answer is simple. They don’t believe it for the very same reason that most uneducated people don’t believe it. They don’t want to believe it. It’s not a matter of brain power, for there are outstanding Christians in every field of the arts and sciences. It is primarily a matter of the will.

John Stott struck a balance when he said, “We cannot pander to a man’s intellectual arrogance, but we must cater to his intellectual integrity.”

Doubt is a word that strikes terror to the soul and often it is suppressed in a way that is very unhealthy. This is a particularly acute problem for those who have been reared in Christian homes and in the Christian Church. From their earliest years they have accepted the facts of Christianity solely on the basis of confidence and trust in parents, friends, and minister. As the educational process develops, a re-examination of their position takes place. This is a healthy and necessary experience to bring virile faith into being. It’s nothing to fear or to be shocked about. Occasionally I ask myself, as I walk down the street, “Little, how do you know you haven’t been taken in by a colossal propaganda program? After all, you can’t see God, touch him, taste him, or feel him.” And then I go on to ask myself how I know the gospel is true. I always come back to two basic factors: the objective, external, historical facts of the resurrection, and the subjective, internal, personal experience of Christ that I have known.

Doubt and questioning are normal to any thinking person. It is important, however, that we never equate our lack of an answer to a particular question with the nonexistence of an answer. Basic questions have been faced and thoughtful answers given by Christian thinkers. Because Christianity is about the one who is Truth, close examination can do it no harm.

We don’t have full answers to every question because God hasn’t fully revealed his mind to us on everything. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever…(Deuteronomy 29:29). We possess enough information, however, to have a solid foundation under our faith. Faith in Christianity is based on evidence. It is reasonable faith. Faith in the Christian sense goes beyond reason but not against it. A doubter needs to see that he must come to a decision after having been given an answer. To make no decision is to decide against the Christian position. Continued doubt in the face of adequate information may be a cloak for unwillingness to believe; the questioner’s wilt has been set against God.

This book is: intended to spotlight commonly asked questions and to suggest at least preliminary answers because Christianity is rational.

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