Finding Faith?

August 17, 2008 at 11:17 pm 35 comments

I have previously written about whether or  not a reasonable faith exists.  Today, I’d like to share a few thoughts inspired by the book Finding Faith by Brian McLaren. 

In Chapter 1, titled Does It Really Matter What I Believe, McLaren distinguishes between good and bad faith.  What I found interesting is that his descriptors for bad faith perfectly label my experience of faith in the churches I’ve attended, while his descriptors for good faith are the things I’ve desired but rarely found.  The descriptors for bad faith are as follows:

  1. Bad faith is based solely on unquestioned authority.
    A rather wicked use of scripture for this assertion is “touch not God’s anointed”.
  2. Bad faith is based on pressure or coercion.
    If you’ve ever been to see the production of Heaven’s Gate Hell’s Flames, you’ll know about this one.  That is a terrible dramatic presentation utilizing fear and guilt to coerce people to believe.
  3. Bad faith is often the result of a psychological need for belonging.
    This is likely the primary reason why my family came to faith.  Churches can be a wonderful place of friendship and potential courtship for singles, particularly given the individualism of our time.
  4. Bad faith appeals to self-interest and base motives.
    The prosperity gospel and appeals to miracles demonstrate this perfectly.
  5. Bad faith is arrogant and unteachable.
    Try questioning most prominent evangelical preachers and this is what you will likely find.  ‘I am right because God says so.’  How pitifully ignorant.
  6. Bad faith is dishonest.
    I’ve mainly witnessed this with the many ways the character of God is justified in his many inhumane acts in the Bible, or in describing suffering.
  7. Bad faith is apathetic.
    This is probably my pet peeve.  Ever since my early days as a Christian, I wanted a relevant faith, one which inspires me to action.  Yet the church was nothing more than an activity of learning and focus on the afterlife.
  8. Bad faith is a step backward.
    It certainly was for me.  Rather than developing my character, I spent too many years in ignorance, fear, and guilt.  Instead of becoming a better person, I just found another channel to be selfish.

Naturally, good faith is the inverse of the above:

  1. Good faith is humble, teachable, and inquisitive.
  2. Good faith is grateful (or, worth celebrating).
  3. Good faith is honest.
  4. Good faith is communal.
  5. Good faith is active.
  6. Good faith is tough (able to cope with rigorous challenge).
  7. Good faith is relational (involves a human-divine relationship).

I have seen hints of the above, but nothing substantial, hence my lack of comments.  Given the fact that I don’t really have faith at present, I am not sure whether I can assert if good faith does exist.  I am open to it, which is the reason for reading this book.

In chapter 3, Brian McLaren answers the question, How Does Faith Grow?.  He gives us a rich description of four stages of faith, with each subsequent stage being a transition from the previous.  I will summarise these stages below.

Stage 1: Simplicity
This appears to be the majority position in Christianity – fundamentalism, being right, authoritarianism, dualistic.

Stage 2: Complexity
This stage is concerned with pragmatism; efficiency; achievement.  It’s more focused on ways of living than on right doctrine.  It can be moved to through disillusion with the previous stage.

Stage 3: Perplexity
I’d say I sit here.  This is where questions are asked, where uncertainty takes the stage.  This tends to be relativistic, as it finds no universal or absolute truth.  It occurs through finding the previous stages to be superficial and lacking of substance and depth.

Stage 4: Humility
This stage is a synthesis of the previous stages, concerned with wisdom and some basic truth.  However, it is a different relationship to authority, living, and certainty.  There seems to be with this stage an openness to life within a depth of trust in God.

As I consider these stages, I am wondering whether I have known anyone personally who has moved through all stages.  The groups I have been amongst would have sat primarily in the first two stages.  I have been dabbling in that second stage lately, though I am coming to a realization that it is just too superficial for a rich life.  One group, leaning more on the liberal side, was pretty much stuck in stage 3.  McLaren, Pete Rollins, and others within the emergent crew seem to display stage 4 characteristics.  To me, this stage embodies what I have always dreamed faith could be.

I almost reached the end of Finding Faith.  However, I decided to stop reading and gave the book to a secondhand bookshop.  While I was enthusiastic with the opening chapters, I felt the flow slowly go down into the same territory that I have already found dissatisfying.  God, as a personal deity, is expected to be trusted no matter what.  Doubt and disbelief in such a God is seen as an anomaly, as a kind of sickness that requires healing.

- Gary

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From Theistic Evolution to Apostasy The ties that bind: Factors that make de-conversion difficult

35 Comments Add your own

  • 1. oldfashionedgirl07  |  August 18, 2008 at 12:09 am

    I find your comments intriguing. To me, the steps make absolute sense. And I would say that in my life I have gone through each of them. There is a time of perplexity and uncertainty when you will doubt many things. I know because I’ve been through that. But you can make it through…if that is what you truly want.

    Your fourth step or stage is an amazing one. Humility is to recognize gratefully our depedence on the Lord. Part of that is understanding that we have a constant need for His support-and example of this is every breath we take…It is an acknowledgement that our talents are gifts from God. Being humble does not mean that we are weak, timid or fearful. Rather, it is an indication that we know where our true strength lies-in a loving Father who wants us to seek Him, wants us to come to Him. He will not force us and wants us to come on our own. Doubtless, He will help us find the path, but each step is up to us.

    Thank you for your thoughts. Doubt is not a stranger. In fact, doubting causes us to search, which can lead us to finding the truth if we are persistent enough! Good luck in all your endeavors.

  • 2. Quester  |  August 18, 2008 at 1:13 am

    I actually did go through all four stages as you described above.

    Simplicity: I saw no reason to doubt. God was active in the world and in my life. God’s word and will were expressed through scripture and personal revelation, and I opened myself up to God and performed His will in order to draw closer to Him. I sinned, almost constantly, but always turned back in prayer and praise.

    Complexity: I realized that different Christians understood God and God’s will differently, and each had scriptural and experiential support for their claims. I learned different ways to view God, salvation, scripture and the church. I grew excited in my new learning and grateful to God for His awesome wonder.

    Humility: Only though God’s help could I learn God’s will and help serve God’s people. I had to trust completely in God, stepping out into the ministry He chose for me, submitting myself to Him that He might work through me. There was no way I could proceed on my own.

    Perplexity: Submitting myself wholly to God, I dove into deeper study of His Word and found it pointing in several contradictory directions. Serving God’s people, I saw how they suffered, and how they chose to suffer for God. Looking for God in the world to bring hope and Good News to the faithful, I saw no clear sign of God there. Praying fervently, I no longer experienced any closeness to God.

    Slowly, I realized that without that emotional sense of closeness, I had no other guide to who God is, what God wants, or even as to whether there is a God at all.

    Maybe some day, after I’ve reached it and can see it, I’ll be able to share a stage five.

  • 3. Lorena  |  August 18, 2008 at 3:33 am

    Has this website gone Christian all of a sudden?

  • 4. Gary  |  August 18, 2008 at 4:32 am

    Thank you de-Convert for joining my blog articles very elegantly. Just to explain, when I started writing the first of a series of blog articles on Finding Faith, I felt it may be a way in which I could resurrect (pardon the pun) my shipwrecked faith. Especially given the fact that Brian McLaren was instrumental in my deconversion. I recommend reading the final blog post that expands on the above a bit more, Excusing God.

    Lorena, I guess it’s just a reflection of what the website is about, deconverting Christians, and this post reflects some of my struggles.

    oldfashionedgirl07, I have abandoned theism, and don’t see any possibility of returning to belief in the same way – my spirituality is taking a different route presently (though I have yet to adopt Richard Dawkin’s moniker of spiritual atheist)

    Quester, thanks for sharing, I guess we all have different ways we can distinguish stages of faith.

  • 5. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  August 18, 2008 at 5:21 am

    wow, interesting and personal and perceptive comment, Quester. And interesting post, Gary.

    @Lorena’s comment:
    When I think back and forth about my own journey and try to make sense of it (I don’t know yet whether it’s just “a stage” in getting closer to God or whether it’s the de-con highway), I don’t only grapple with things that push me away from faith but also with things that pull me towards faith. And concerning the latter, I’m never sure whether they are legitimate (say, for example, whether they constitute my deep awareness of his presence) or whether they are just a reflection of my emotional inability of letting go.

    You know what I think would be great? Just as there is the famous post on de-conversion.com about the reasons some of us left faith, there should be a post about the reasons that made/make it difficult for us to leave faith. A post about what hinders/hindered us in walking away. Surely for all of us there are not only things because of which we think about leaving faith but also things despite of which we leave faith.
    There are not only things that really gave my faith that final blow but there are also things that really made me hesitate.

  • 6. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  August 18, 2008 at 5:28 am

    I’d even have a nice taxonomy for reasons despite of which I think about leaving faith:

    Type 1a:
    Reasons which make me think that the christian story is true and atheism is false. But reasons which, when I think more closely about them, aren’t really good.

    Type 1b:
    Reasons which make me think that the christian story is true and atheism is false. And reasons which, when I think more closely about them, really are good.

    Type 2a:
    Reasons which make me think that the christian story is good for my life and atheism makes for a empty, sad living. But reasons which I think it is illegitimate to take into account in my decision.

    Type 2b:
    Reasons which make me think that the christian story is good for my life and atheism makes for a empty, sad living. But reasons which I think it is completely legitimate and good to take into account in my decision.

  • 7. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  August 18, 2008 at 5:36 am

    Here’s some examples of what I have in mind (but then I’ll stop writing my own stuff instead of commenting on Gary (i really should start my own blog…)).
    1a. maybe: theistic evolution
    1b. maybe: miracles (like the real kind) i’ve experienced
    2a. maybe: changing from faith to non-faith would take a lot of courage
    2b. maybe: finding truth is a community process and not an individual thing and its unnatural and too-much-to-be-asked for a little human like me to break away from my community

  • 8. blueollie  |  August 18, 2008 at 7:10 am

    “Reasonable Faith” is an oxymoron for the simple reason that “faith” means “suspension of reason”.

  • 9. The Apostate  |  August 18, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Gary, does Brian Mclaren ever define faith in this book? When I read something entitled “Finding X,” I generally assume there will be a definition of “x.”

  • 10. ubi dubium  |  August 18, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Stage 4: Humility
    This stage is a synthesis of the previous stages, concerned with wisdom and some basic truth. However, it is a different relationship to authority, living, and certainty. There seems to be with this stage an openness to life within a depth of trust in God.

    Or, humility can mean coming to terms with no longer being the center of the universe. Accepting that humans are small and unimportant on the scale of the entire cosmos. Understanding that it’s arrogant to think blind faith in the god-totem of a tribe of bronze-age goat-herders will give you all the answers about the universe you will ever need. My idea of wisdom is “openness to life” without any “depth of trust in god”.

  • 11. The de-Convert  |  August 18, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Apostate,

    Gary, does Brian Mclaren ever define faith in this book? When I read something entitled “Finding X,” I generally assume there will be a definition of “x.”

    Maybe his “bad faith/good faith” chapters was his definition of faith. I’ve seen this over and over as the issues surrounding faith is defined but not faith itself.

    Faith is active, humble, teachable, inquistive, relational, not dishonest, not apathetic, etc. However, that doesn’t actually define what faith is.

    Paul

  • 12. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  August 18, 2008 at 11:54 am

    I don’t know whether/how McLaren defines faith but I personally find that sometimes a bit too much weight is put on definitions of “faith”. It’s like we’re trying to pull a substantive rabbit out of a definitional hat.

    I think in 95% of the cases in everyday language, what is meant by (christian) “faith” is the following:
    – considering it true that God exists
    – doing stuff religious people do like praying and singing
    – having an emotional attachment to God
    – considering oneself to be a christian

    I think something like that covers most always what we mean when we talk about faith.

    And: It leaves the question open what the relation between faith and reason is. I think that’s a question that is to be determined by argument and not by definition.

  • 13. SocietyVs  |  August 18, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    ““Reasonable Faith” is an oxymoron for the simple reason that “faith” means “suspension of reason”.” (Blue Ollie)

    Depends on what we mean by ‘faith’ – also I tend to think this is a baseless assumption you are making. Faith without any form of reason is likely impossible (since one has to have a reason to do what they do).

    I consider myself a follower of the Christian faith – but I do this on the basis of reasons to follow it…just like how an atheist has reasons to reject that same faith. I wouldn’t turn around and think the atheist ‘has lost his mind – lack of good reasoning skills’. I just think the reason he/she used helped to make that decision.

    I personally see people that hold faith in God as reasonable people that can be talked to…and id aksed – have reasons for their decisions. We may disagree with their decisions but nonetheless – they exist.

  • 14. LeoPardus  |  August 18, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    mindbogglingly dazzled

    there should be a post about the reasons that made/make it difficult for us to leave faith. A post about what hinders/hindered us in walking away. “

    Great idea. I am starting one now. I’ll put it up soon and then folks can post their addtions and I’ll modify later.

  • 15. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  August 18, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    oh, thanks LeoPardus!

  • 16. Obi  |  August 18, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    SocietyVs —

    He most likely meant “reasonable faith” as in reasoned, or logical/logically consistent faith. That’s the oxymoron.

  • 17. Gary  |  August 18, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    I can’t honestly recall whether McLaren offered a decent definition of faith. What led me to lose interest in the book was my concurrent learning, that led me to question the very assumptions he made.

    I think I have a different understanding of ‘reasonable faith’ than I did when I wrote those blogs. I just started reading Christianity Without God, which has an excellent discussion of how the definition of faith that we now know is a very recent phenomenon. Faith tends to be understood as believing in a supernatural deity. Lloyd Geering in the aforementioned book defines it as thus:

    Faith is a total response of trust towards the world in general, towards people, and towards the future…….Faith is also closely allied with integrity. Integrity means wholeness. It abhors intellectual contradictions and moral inconsistency.

    This leads him to quite a startling conclusion:

    The very act of discarding outworn beliefs, far from demonstrating a lack of faith, may in fact be just the opposite. It may open the door for genuine faith to operate again. Indeed, the modern atheist who rejects the notion of God in the interest of truth may be manifesting more faith than the traditional theist.

    I tend to think that faith, like spirituality, is a term that carries far too much baggage to be useful. I trust that in the conversations here and elsewhere, we can come up with better language to describe our experiences (I guess that’s a kind of faith!)

  • 18. john t.  |  August 18, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    trust that in the conversations here and elsewhere, we can come up with better language to describe our experiences (I guess that’s a kind of faith!) (Gary)

    Takes me back to my intuitive sense when I was a child, a connectedness that defied description, but was nevertheless very “Real” to me.

  • 19. James Fox  |  August 18, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    As someone who de-converted after thirty years of orthodox conservative Christianity I’d now say any form of spirituality is nothing more than comfort food. It’s created by the individual of the cooking of someone else and it’s whatever makes you feel good at that time and has no reality outside your own mind or senses. In and of itself the notion of spirituality or of being or feeling spiritual is nothing real at all other than as an emotion or part of the human condition trying to make sense of a really big universe. I frankly find the whole “s/he’s so spiritual” a load of bunk as it somehow implies extra wisdom when usually I find those who claim to be spiritual escaping from reality and real responsibilities.

    For myself ideas of faith in something supernatural are no longer reasonable and frankly seem quite unthinking and unreasonable given the complete lack of any evidence for one supernatural event of one supernatural being. Ideas of faith may be comforting but they do not seem rational.

  • 20. Pete  |  August 19, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    In response to comment #12, I don’t think that is how most Christians would define faith. I think “Faith in Jesus” would be

    1) belief that a God exists
    2) belief that Jesus is God
    3) belief he died and came back to life
    4) knowing that you have sinned
    5) wanting to be forgiven of this sin
    6) believing God can and will forgive you because of
    Jesus dying and coming back to life
    7) accepting (or trusting, or putting you faith in Jesus) that God has forgiven you.

    I really like to focus on the last few parts, highlighting the “trust” part of faith over the “belief” part as it seems increasingly asinine to me that a future of eternal bliss or suffering is dependent on my personal acknowledgment for a list of propositional statements, most of which I have almost zero evidence for and most of the world has not even heard about (especially back in history). Strangely, even while I am trying to hold onto my faith centered on this last few points (I know I have done wrong and accept any mercy offered to me!), I find my pastor has increasingly focused faith on the propositions. I’m bothered by such statements as “what you believe matters for the afterlife” because if it is so vital what fact statements we acknowledge and God wants to save us all, why does he not make it more obvious. I have offered this up to my pastor, who admits he has no good answer, but often follows that even people who saw Jesus didn’t believe in him (which validates my earlier point, that belief in this context was to trust him as they surely believed he was standing there). But this doesn’t answer the question at all. Just because most didn’t believe in Jesus then doesn’t suggest it is the right thing to hide from us now and then ask us to believe (with very dire results).

    Just recently in my weekly small group we had a discussion about why people don’t come to faith and the standard apologetic were proposed, namely that people don’t want a master or be told they must change their life or they are to prideful to accept they need a savior. Perhaps these things are true, though I tried to poke this a little by asking why they would need to change their lives (shouldn’t that come later by the leading of the Holy Spirit in your regenerated heart), all they really need is to want to accept mercy given before judgment. (The answer I got was that we know this and they don’t, but to be honest we do contact the world often on topics of behavior, ie homosexuality, etc). Either way, that is not my point. My point is this. I don’t mind having a master. I can’t say that with 100% conviction (as no one really can) but I have accepted the authority of God and the Bible for most of my life and is not foreign to me. Indeed, I accept quite a bit of human authority in my life. And I am not to prideful to a say I need a savior. I need lots of help, I need doctors, teachers, tech support, you name it. And for sure, for the price of non perfection in this life, I need Jesus as Savior and accept that fully and outright. Its just that none of it seems real anymore, and some of it veryfiable false!

    I just went outside and sat in an excluded spot, and prayed fervently to God to return to my life, for my sake and the sake of my two precious children. He didn’t answer it that moment, I continue to hope he will answer it soon.

  • 21. Yurka  |  August 19, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    It’s good you got rid of the book. McLaren is one of those who tries to find someplace between atheism and religion (Francis Schaeffer describes this at length in the God Who Is There, and shows why it is irrational at the core).

    You must realize that you *cannot* escape from absolute truth claims. McLaren must believe that his 4 stages and 2 sets of characteristics are true, or else he would not have written the book.

    So be an honest Christian or an honest atheist, but McLaren tends to obfuscate the issues because of his commitment to postmodernism.

    #20, your list is a precise and complete list of the components of faith – McLaren could never approach the content of this. I’m sorry to hear about your difficulties – what exactly is verifiably false?

    The difficulty you propose:
    “Just recently in my weekly small group we had a discussion about why people don’t come to faith and the standard apologetic were proposed, namely that people don’t want a master or be told they must change their life or they are to prideful to accept they need a savior. Perhaps these things are true, though I tried to poke this a little by asking why they would need to change their lives (shouldn’t that come later by the leading of the Holy Spirit in your regenerated heart), all they really need is to want to accept mercy given before judgment.”

    comes from your (I assume) Arminian view of scripture, which has serious scriptural difficulties. The standard reformed perspective would be that the Holy Spirit regenerates you since you are dead in your sins, and that gives them the desire to follow Jesus and his teachings. Of course *everyone* wants to accept mercy instead of judgment, including the unrepentant criminal on death row. The Christian is born again – a new creature with new desires.

    And to address your prior point the reason “what you believe matters for the afterlife” is that these are the words of God. How can you be said to have faith in Him if you don’t believe Him when he reveals himself to you in His Word?

    Most of the difficulties with regards to science or Bible contradictions consist of skeptics vastly overstating their case. Don’t let the attitude in their voices deprive you of your faith.

  • 22. Gary  |  August 19, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Comments like the above from Yurka now make me smile. Not in a condescending, arrogant ‘I now know better’, but in consideration of the sheer leaps and bounds of imagination that it takes to arrive at such conclusions.

  • 23. A cultural guide for the non believer  |  August 19, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    The bible was about Jesus, who was damned by God. He was tortured, killed and raised from the dead. This was lucifer, not God. So, if Jesus was damned and we are basically God’s sons also, does the bible show us a way out. The only way out appears to be this life God gave us and that is all; we live in heaven or hell, depending on what we choose. We seem to exist in hell as we dream and see as lucifer wanted us to and perverted us into his reflection. God’s answer is to stop this perversion, but apparently this is not possible. Satan’s answer would be to cease us all as we are perversion like lucifer. Satan has minions like lucifer from creation and manages those just as he is managing humans who have been perverted into his minions, but not through creation, but God’s creations.

    Faith? God wants faith right here and it’s allot to ask for considering we have been damned and perverted into lucifer’s reflection in hell.

  • 24. Dianna  |  August 19, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Okey dokey, then. # 23 was really weird! Faith is the substance of things hoped for…the evidence of things not seen. Praise the Lord that eye hath not seen or ear heard what God has in store for those who LOVE Him and are called according to His purpose.
    Thank God for forgiveness of sins. He’s NOT asking too much! He PAID it ALL! amen Love and blessings.

  • 25. pete  |  August 19, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    I don’t know how to use the html codes so I will post your comments with quotes.

    “- what exactly is verifiably false?”

    I was referring to biological evolution and common descent in this particular case, and while I at first accepted that while at the same time accepting Adam and Eve, over time I realized our knowledge of human development and population distribution was mutually exclusive with the idea that we bottlenecked down to two people to whom everyone and from only whom everyone is descended a short 6k years ago. Similar reasoning rules at Noah as a historical figure as well.

    Now you might not accept evolution in which we probably need go no futher. I am not really interested in debating this concept here and you can find a million other forums on the net to do so if you like: I have done that a zillion times already. For the purpose of this discussion please just humor me and accept that I believe it is true, very much like I accept that the earth rotates around the sun; despite the strong claims that the Bible can not be true if so by non other than Martin Luther and John Calvin. Now, accepting evolution certainly does not rule out faith (see CS Lewis and Benjamin Warfield) nor does considering some opening chapters of Genesis to be serving as literary devices as opposed to historical retelling, as many Christians have done in the past (though few evangelical and even fewer ((if any)) reformed believers have done). My doubt is more prominent in other issues, but this would be the area I consider false (as presented by AIG or other vocal YEC groups).

    “comes from your (I assume) Arminian view of scripture, which has serious scriptural difficulties. ”

    This is going to take a bit of explaining. First, that was a bit of a tangent I should have left out and wasn’t a reason of doubt. Second, the poke was actually a stir because I am not arminian but have been a Calvinist for the past twelve years or so (I won’t call myself reformed because I am also a Baptist and I know you truly reformed don’t accept that :) Most of the room though are probably Arminian, we are a mixed church where most members don’t think about that kind of issue. Since the group probably gravitates more towards Hodges then MacArthur I just thought it was interesting they would bring up, “not wanting to change” as a reason. The real reason for the paragraph is that I am struggling with doubt but it is not because I don’t want to believe (for all the reasons they suggested) , I truly do want to believe.

    “And to address your prior point the reason “what you believe matters for the afterlife” is that these are the words of God. How can you be said to have faith in Him if you don’t believe Him when he reveals himself to you in His Word?”

    I didn’t say I disagreed with these propositional statements, only that I like to focus on the actual repentance and trust as opposed to just knowing the facts. I don’t know any Christian who would vocally put more weight on the simple fact that you learned such and such a statement, but pragmatically, this does seem sometimes become the defining issue. If I were living in South America in 200 BC, I’m guessing I would be born, live, and die without ever knowing of Yahweh or any future plan or pretty much anything of the Christian message, as would everyone in every generation for a millennium and a half moving forward and for who knows how long counting backward. Now for sure, simply hearing the gospel message is not sufficient for salvation, and possibly not even necessary. In your language, God can elect whomever He desires. It just seems like He didn’t, not anyone leaving away from the ancient near east for almost all of history.

    I’m not saying that I think that means we should be judged on our works. I’ll accept for the moment that this leads to failure for everyone. But it doesn’t make a lot more sense that since works don’t work, having beliefs in certain propositional statements is a better answer, especially since God doesn’t seem to go out of his way to make them known. At this point I have to agree with Sagan, if God was so interested in having everyone believe, why not put a supernatural flaming cross in the sky, at least to remind us. You can continue with your belief that only those who were regenerated would ever submit and seek repentance and forgiveness, but at least it would be obvious that God exists and what Jesus did. What a silly thing to have to argue over, whether God even exists. I know George Bush exists and he isn’t even omnipresent and omnipotent. But God, who once spoke vocally to three million people, split seas apart, burned alters to nothing, and many miraculous acts, in part to prove He was the true God, seems to have vanished and left sunsets and hidden gravitational constants (discovered in the last one hundred years) as proof of His existence.

    Given that I struggle with the concept that he does anything today, you can see why the simple statement “you have the Word” isn’t a whole lot of comfort. Muslims have the Quaran, Hindus have their Ramayana. I would assume you would assert these were written by mere men. I don’t believe them because I find their claims preposterous and see no evidence whatsoever for thousands of gods who look like elephants. But since I am struggling to see any evidence that prayer has any effect to heal sick people, or that the only people who still hear God are charismatics who are usually either vague, often wrong, or out right crooks; well, it might lead me to question if the Bible is another book simply written by men.

    As for whether God is active in the world today, that seems to be the general theme of almost all the back and forth discussions in these comments between de-cons and believers. I’m not yet convinced either way, and I would just as well let everyone else debate the fact at this moment.

  • 26. The de-Convert  |  August 20, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Dianna,

    Okey dokey, then. # 23 was really weird!

    “Weird” is in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure ACGFNB’s post (#23) made total sense to them just as your post (#24) made total sense to you. There are many who would view your post as weird in the same way you viewed the other as weird. Weird how that works, isn’t it? :)

    Paul

    p.s. I had to intervene and post something diplomatic as quickly as possible before LeoPardus posted something like “pot, meet kettle”…..

  • 27. Yurka  |  August 20, 2008 at 8:43 am

    I am also a Baptist and I know you truly reformed don’t accept that

    Heh. I wouldn’t sell them short – there are a lot up-and-coming reformed Baptists as well – James White, Al Mohler, and John Piper.

    When it comes to the hiddenness problem, I’ll admit Calvinists, though the position is valid, don’t deal with this in depth apologetically, only by invoking human depravity and God’s sovereignty in election.

    But there are others (such as William Lane Craig) who have done a lot of apologetics on this, such as
    this
    podcast on pluralism and this debate with Austin Dacey, whose main arguments were based on the hiddenness problem.
    Basically the problem with the hiddenness argument is that the conclusions do not follow necessarily from the premises. Since we are free creatures, it would not follow that if there were a flaming cross in the sky (or if every atom had the words ‘made by YHVH’ engraved on it) that people who knew about him would love him (as you yourself said, ‘simply hearing the gospel message is not sufficient for salvation’). It would not even logically follow that *more* people would have faith. Craig argues that if there were more evidence, more people might come to resent God’s intrusive presence and actually cause *less* people to be saved. But his point is that we cannot speculate.

    So even on the weaker Arminian view of depravity, it cannot be concluded that there would necessarily be more saved people than there are now if there were constant empirical evidence of God’s existence. A world in which everyone freely accepted Christ may not even be possible, or all such possible worlds may only contain extremely small numbers of people.

    C.S. Lewis said in ‘Miracles’ that miracles were reserved for only a few crucial times in history – so we really shouldn’t expect to see any in our lifetimes, and the sunsets, gravitational constants, and the amazing complexity of nature (listed in the final few chapters of Job) should be enough (Rom 1:19-20).

  • 28. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 20, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Pete-

    I don’t know how to use the html codes so I will post your comments with quotes.

    For blockquotes, you can use the following tag: <blockquote>quoted text<blockquote>

  • 29. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 20, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    err, the closing blockquote tag should obviously be </blockquote>

  • 30. Pete  |  August 20, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Heh. I wouldn’t sell them short – there are a lot up-and-coming reformed Baptists as well – James White, Al Mohler, and John Piper.

    Ah yes, my old heroes. And lets not forgot Spurgeon.

    Thanking for providing links to the podcasts.

    Since we are free creatures, it would not follow that if there were a flaming cross in the sky (or if every atom had the words ‘made by YHVH’ engraved on it) that people who knew about him would love him (as you yourself said, ’simply hearing the gospel message is not sufficient for salvation’).

    Perhaps you are correct, perhaps there would not be a single additional convert if we did see a supernatural flaming cross. But at least it would distinguish our claims of the supernatural from this statement:

    There is an invisible, undetectable, hovering dragon in your garage. He is usually nice, but is angry with you because he abhors heterosexual sex. Send your wife and the fruit of the licentious relationship away or he will consume you.

    Pretend with me for a moment I was convinced he was there, I might still spurn him and take my wife and children away and flee, indeed that is exactly what I would do. As it is though, I’ll go to bed resting just fine since there is absolutely no evidence that such a being even exists in my garage. At this point someone could approach me with “The case for the creator” and show me some gravitational constants and I might even assent that given my limited knowledge of particle physics that it makes a strong case for a supernatural force. But I STILL sleep easy because I would have no reason to believe said force was the deity as just described to me, hanging out in my garage and defining my marital relationship as immoral.

    Here is a benefit to having a supernatural flaming cross in the sky. It would not be as we seem to have it now, namely a world which is indistinguishable from one where God is NOT active in the world, just as I live in a world that is indistinguishable from one where there is not an invisible dragon in my garage, though I have no true philosophical standing to rule out that possibility (or the consequences).

    C.S. Lewis said in ‘Miracles’ that miracles were reserved for only a few crucial times in history – so we really shouldn’t expect to see any in our lifetimes, and the sunsets, gravitational constants, and the amazing complexity of nature (listed in the final few chapters of Job) should be enough (Rom 1:19-20).

    I have heard this statement about miracles before and it has some merit I suppose. If your saying, “miracles are scarce in the Bible, so they should be scarce today as God’s MO” that is reasonable. What that doesn’t answer was presupposing an all powerful all present God, why is that God’s MO in the first place, namely why are they scarce in the Bible (and also today). Let me flesh out some of my current struggles with miracles.

    1) Miracles WERE used in the Bible to demonstrate God’s presence. Elijah and the prophets of Baal is a specific instance. It is declared outright that Jesus did such and such so people would believe in Him. That doesn’t signify that they shouldn’t be scarce, but it does validate the desire to see supernatural acts to evidence a supernatural God, the Bible asserts that directly. And yet we are left with just written accounts, and as an apologetic to present to non-believers these written accounts are indistinguishable from a world where these accounts were just made up by men and written down, indeed…

    2) There is some evidence to suggest that a good many of the miraculous as outlined in the OT didn’t happen. Creation, at least as described (I still take evolution as God’s means of “creation”). Noah’s flood. Tower of Babel. A heavy does of source criticisms, alongside pretty overwhelming archaeological evidence, suggests the exodus did not take place as described (or at all?). I let you explore those areas if you wish, I’m sure we have plenty of apologetics to show why all this modern scholarship is bunk. I’m just warning that if you approach the actual sources and go in with an open mind, there is a lot of merit to these fields of study and if they are so grossly off then we have A LOT of explaining to do, much more then I have ever seen on apologetic websites or podcasts.

    And you know what, it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to begin questioning whether these events took place, given that we witness exactly zero of them and have not for thousands of years. It seems a bit more natural to assume they are just made up, presumably indistinguishable from the myriad of other stories written in the past by superstitious people that didn’t understand the world. Don’t believe me, well then sit down a bit with the Ramayana and decide if those stories are the works of men or elephant gods. You’ll probably conclude something similar to me, and probably approach the null hypothesis being that the whole thing is preposterous, yet we don’t approach our own religious text with the same skepticism, indeed many apologetic sites are grounded on the simple oft repeated assertion that you should always be given the Bible the benefit of the doubt.

  • 31. Oleander  |  August 20, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    From #23 above:

    Faith? God wants faith right here and it’s allot to ask for considering we have been damned and perverted into lucifer’s reflection in hell.

    Just a reminder. When your doctor prescribes regimented doses of medication, one should follow the doctor’s instructions. Especially when one has been prescribed psychotropic drugs to counter hallucinations and schizophrenia. Thank you.

  • 32. Quester  |  August 20, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Sorry, Oleander. We’ve already done the “pot and kettle” joke. The opportunity for one theist to mock another’s “crazy” beliefs in this thread, hoping that we could distinguish between the proclaimed faith of the two of you, has passed.

  • 33. Yurka  |  August 21, 2008 at 7:42 am

    #30, Perhaps you are correct, perhaps there would not be a single additional convert if we did see a supernatural flaming cross. But at least it would distinguish our claims of the supernatural from this statement:

    yes, that argument is perhaps best reserved for defense against the hidenness argument, not to establish a positive case. As regards to positive cases for specifically Christianity, what do you make of the historical arguments, such as presented by Craig, Habermas, Licona, etc.? That the NT is written in the style of an historical biography, not as mythology. That all naturalistic explanations to account for the various phenomena (empty tomb, postmortem appearances to the disciples, disciples’ willingness to face death) all face insuperable problems (ex. if the disciples hallucinated Jesus, then as Jews they would have saw him ascend to God’s right hand, they would not have seen him as a physical presence that ate broiled fish, etc.)?
    That other religions such as Islam contain errors (such as Mohammed thinking **Mary** was part of the trinity). So that once you accept the existence of a god by cosmological, teleological and moral arguments, the Christian God is the only viable option.

  • 34. Pete  |  August 21, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    As regards to positive cases for specifically Christianity, what do you make of the historical arguments, such as presented by Craig, Habermas, Licona, etc.? That the NT is written in the style of an historical biography, not as mythology. That all naturalistic explanations to account for the various phenomena (empty tomb, postmortem appearances to the disciples, disciples’ willingness to face death) all face insuperable problems (ex. if the disciples hallucinated Jesus, then as Jews they would have saw him ascend to God’s right hand, they would not have seen him as a physical presence that ate broiled fish, etc.)?

    Well, I still find them pretty good. It certainly seems the gospel accounts are supposed to be historical. I haven’t really researched myself in depth these claims, my only contact coming from “The Case for Christ” Video. Now, I do worry a bit that the more I examine these things, the less sure they might become. For instance, you mention the disciples willingness to face death. How do we know they were marytred? It doesn’t say this in the Bible. Well, it comes from outside sources, but many have suggested these sources come quite late and are sometimes highly suspicious. And even on the same comment thread I am reading about this, Craig Bloomberg joins, the very guy who makes the marytedom assertion in “The Case for Christ”, and he himself admits that he no longer uses this argument because those sources are so suspicious!

    This would probably be the general flavor of concern I would have for these arguments. Not that I couldn’t find a naturalistic explanation, but that these events probably didn’t take place at all. Indeed, we have to admit that even the gospel accounts often take a bit of creativity to make them align.

    It didn’t help that I had the misfortune of picking up and flipping through “The Case for the Creator”, and watch it repeat the same old anti-evolutionist nonsense without any real sign the authors understand what the evidence for common descent is. This is something I do know a lot about. So it is not a good first step to give me credibility for Strobel as a researcher. (In his defense, I doubt he did any research. He seemed to actually research the Case for Christ as an atheist; though I’m sure it wasn’t actually in the manner as it is outlined today. But since that has been successful, his piers set out other titles which he obviously collaborates on but I doubt he drives with the real research intensity of the past……or so I hope, for if he is really trying he needs to start with a biology 101 textbook.)

    That other religions such as Islam contain errors (such as Mohammed thinking **Mary** was part of the trinity). So that once you accept the existence of a god by cosmological, teleological and moral arguments, the Christian God is the only viable option.

    I’m afraid you lost me on this one. Why wouldn’t those arguments be valid for a deist God? And sure, you and I agree Mary is not part of the Trinity, but that is not an outcome of cosmological arguments. It would be just as valid for the Jew to claim “Christians think Jesus is part of the Trinity”, ie, that any person is God, or that there is a trinity in the first place, claim that as an error, and therefor only the Jewish God is viable.

    I think my problem with both of these types of reasoning, historical questions about the resurrection and cosmological arguments is that they are oh so subtle. I am claiming there is an active, all powerful, benevolent God working in the world this very day, but to prove it I have to put together a circumstantial case of 2000 year old evidence or gravitational constants we didn’t even measure for most of earth’s history. If God is obviously working int he world today then I should put together a case of God working in the world today. If God makes claim about the effectiveness of prayer then in 2008 prayer should be effective.

  • 35. kjelllee  |  August 23, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Matt. 9:20, TELLS US WHAT FAITH REALLY IS:

    Here is a young woman who had faith: “She came behind Him (Jesus), and touched the hem of His garment.”

    She came behind Him – so fearful was she. What if she had been rebuffed? Perhaps she was afraid to look Jesus in the eye. He could see right through her; and was there any hope of obtaining help?

    “The hem of His garment.” She hardly dared to touch Him. In fact, she did not touch Him, but only His garment – and only the hem of it.

    This, however, was sufficient. The woman received help. Jesus said to her: “Daughter, be of good comfort; your FAITH has made you whole.”

    That is what Jesus is like. He honors even the timid, faltering faith. Even for an imperfect faith there is a perfect salvation.

    And now He turns to you. He does not want you to live your life in a timid FAITH. Cast yourself into His loving arms with joyful gratitude.

    Faith is not a mystical subjective thing inside of you, it is trusting in what God promises you.

    Sincerely, Kjell Lee, New Jersey

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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