On today’s Tuesday Tea-ology, the testimony of our moral sense to the reality of God. Also, an encomium on the virtues of Yorkshire Red. Well, a commendation, at least.
Continuing ruminations about musician Jon Steingard’s departure from the faith, I want to draw attention to the methodology used by one apologist, Robin Schumacher, in trying to appeal to Steingard. In a piece in the Christian Post, Schumacher invited Steingard to consider the evidence for God and Christ, specifically without reference to Scripture.
This is a tricky matter, and I want to be clear that I’m not wholly out of sympathy with what Schumacher is saying. It’s true that the world is sufficient evidence for men to conclude that God exists; it’s true that the life of Jesus is historically attested; it’s true that the non-biblical evidence for the reality of the resurrection, via the witness of the disciples and the rapid growth of the church, should be taken seriously. These are real apologetic claims in defense of the reasonableness of Christianity, and have their value.
What I find problematic is the wisdom of appealing to someone with such pronounced exclusion of the Bible from the discussion. Again, I understand, we want to reach people where they’re at, and Steingard doesn’t seem like someone who’s going to see the Bible as very authoritative. But there is a sense–and I think Schumacher misses this–that the authority of Scripture abides even when someone is deliberately resistant to it.
For Schumacher says of belief in God, “you don’t need to reference the Bible to have confidence in this fact”, “You heard me right–you don’t need your Bible for this one”, and “you don’t need to open your Bible to reach a conclusion” on the evidences for a Creator. Three times he hammers the point in the space of a short article. This runs the danger, I think, of pursuing a disarmed apologetic.
In the first place, we may question how much understanding man is capable of apart from the illuminating work of the Spirit. While the world IS adequate testimony to the existence of God, sin has so corrupted mankind that we suppress the truth (Rom. 1). That the cosmos justifies belief in God, and that fallen humans will see that justification apart from the gift of faith, are two different things.
But, even more, Scripture is the greatest weapon in the apologetic arsenal, the sword of the Spirit, God’s testimony to Himself. How can we possibly set it aside and try to persuade men without it?
For the Bible is the Word of God written. God has spoken, by the Holy Spirit, through the inspired writers. And God’s Word is authoritative, powerful, transforming. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Going into battle without your sword is an obvious tactical mistake. Disarmed apologetics is not the approach we should take towards a lost and dying world.
It is axiomatic that, for the Christian faith, faith is a virtue. Believing God is virtuous; doubting God is shameful.
Yet one sees a sort of reversal of this in contemporary Christianity. There is a certain attitude that regards faith as naïve and doubt as courageous or authentic. Perhaps authenticity is the root of it; in our highly individualized and even narcissistic society, we tend to prize being true to ourselves over being true to the truth. So someone who shares openly their doubts is regarded less as a person to be pitied and helped than as someone to be applauded for their authenticity.
This recently showed up in the responses to musician John Steingard’s departure from the Christian faith. After he declared that he was now agnostic, one Christian musician responded, “Man I love that you shared this. You know I’m always around to talk about our belief in God or lack thereof. Love you and always will”.
I think the goal of such a response was to communicate unconditional love, but it comes across as applauding the open rejection of God. Steingard didn’t have to air his doubts before the world; doing so made his personal struggle with faith into an apologetic for doubt. This is not worthy of approval.
That is to say, there is a proper sense of shame that should accompany doubting God. To doubt is all-too-human in this fallen world. Our minds and hearts have been darkened by sin; we cannot recognize the testimony to the Almighty that abounds around us. That doesn’t mean we should deny our doubts or struggle with them alone; doubts should be confessed to trusted and mature Christian friends, who can help us to overcome them. But they shouldn’t be proudly displayed as though doubt were justified, or a sign of maturity.
Faith may seem childish to the world; they mistake for childish the childlike. Simple and genuine faith is the authentic and authentically virtuous response to the God who has revealed Himself. He does not commend doubt. Over and over in the Scriptures, faith is lauded; I can think of no passage where doubt is treated as praiseworthy.
Indeed, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV).
Back in May there was a small stir in the Christian mediasphere surrounding the rejection of Christianity by a former Christian (?) musician named Jon Steingard, who apparently led a band called Hawk Nelson. While this was overshadowed by much more culture-shaking events, I do wish to come back to it, because Steingard’s departure from the faith and the responses to it raise a number of interesting issues. It would be quite a long essay to go through all of the issues, so I’m going to start with a couple, and hope to pursue it further in future posts.
To begin, it is always a tragedy when someone turns from the faith, and we should pity him. Apostasy does merit stern words, but such should come from a place of love towards the erring and desire to protect the flock–not from bitterness or anger. God’s compassion reaches out even to those who turn from Him; so should we. Faith is a gift from God, and we have no excuse for looking self-righteously upon others.
Nonetheless, the most significant thing that needs to be said in such situations is that turning away from God is a very grave matter, it is hazardous to a man’s soul and harmful to Christ’s church. It is not something we should gloss over. Some of the responses to Steingard seem, to me, to have failed him and the church in their unwillingness to treat his apostasy as the terrible thing that it is.
We see this in the book of Hebrews, which has some of the most terrifying passages in all of Scripture:
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:1-3, NIV)
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (Heb. 3:12)
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” (Heb. 6:4-8)
Turning away from God is dangerous. We should pray that God will continually strengthen our faith, and will give faith to those who doubt, so that they will not be hardened beyond repentance. These words are severe, but like all warnings in the Bible, they are there so that people will run to the cross and find God’s mercy. No one should ever think they are beyond the reach of God’s grace; but no one should ever play around with unbelief.
In all our unbelief, as in every other sin, we have that same hope, the offer of the gospel of love in Jesus Christ our Savior:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb. 4:14-16)
Don’t turn away. Turn to the cross.
Individually and collectively we need a basis for knowing what is real and right. Only with a knowledge of the truth can we make wise decisions that will lead to human flourishing.
But in a pluralistic society, competing truth claims vie for recognition. Sometimes this leads to a relativistic outlook, where truth is privatized. A person may defy absolute reality and claim legitimacy for “my truth”, which is personal and immune to challenge. This is untenable, because relativism is ultimately the rejection of truth—the rejection of reality. If there is no objective and absolute truth, there is no reality.
Truth exists, but how can we know it? If we cannot know it, we are blind in our pursuit of meaning and of a flourishing society. If truth is knowable, there may be several ways of discovering it, such as rational consideration and scientific examination. But truth discovered in these ways will always be limited by our own frailties and the finitude of our knowledge. Is there any absolute way to know the absolute and objective reality outside of us?
Jesus prayed to God the Father, “your word is truth” (John 17:17, NIV).
God is the absolute reality, Creator of the entire cosmos. He knows what is. He speaks the truth, and tells us what is good and beautiful. Divine revelation provides an absolute reference point for human knowledge of reality.
As individuals, our lives will only be built on truth if they are built on a proper relationship with God in Jesus Christ, who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). In submission to God’s Word, we will know the truth. As a society, we will only have the proper basis for human flourishing if the overall character of our culture is consonant with Christian truth. A Christian society will allow individual members freedom to believe untruth; but a pluralistic society, with no fundamental commitment to the truth or the source of truth, cannot be expected to promote human flourishing.
Flourishing, individually and collectively, requires receptivity towards the truth and rejection of all falsehood. We must love the truth if we wish to be free.