Jeff Cook, Wanting God to Exist is More Important than …

Wanting God to Exist is More Important Than Believing in God

Jeff Cook, details at the bottom of the post, always offers here a set of ideas worth considering. Many of you know that I find Jeff’s voice not only important but insightful — stubbornly thoughtful as I see him — and a voice that I believe will prevail with many in the decades ahead. I love this post.

Have you ever tried to convince a friend to quit smoking, or start that business they always talk about, or come clean about their affair? Have you ever said, “You need to be reasonable” after giving a set of arguments? And have you ever been disappointed when that friend didn’t act because apparently your reasons—though sound and conclusive—weren’t enough? Why is this? Why is it that someone can hear a strong rational argument for action, yet not act at all?

In a recent post, I argued that many of my friends and colleagues don’t believe in God because God has not been presented as a being they would “want” to believe in.

I think much of Christian apologetics and evangelism in general are often misguided because right thinking is held up as a more valuable target than one’s hopes or desires. As such, some Christians routinely make God look cruel or arbitrary when making their seemingly-valid theological points—but there defacing of God’s reputation is overlooked because as a community we hold that the beliefs of our interlocutors are more important than their yearning for God.

Such displays of God are massive failures, for the way truth is presented matters.

Truths without deep care for our audience are clanging symbols that produce nothing, said Paul. I am again moved by Pascal who wrote, “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Pensees 12). Contemporary apologists seldom heed this wisdom.

All too often, Christians do not understand that those they speak with first need to want God to exist before they will ever actually listen to the wiz-bang arguments we have for God’s existence. As such, I would like to defend the following claim: “Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God.” By “more important”, I mean desire is more crucial to the transformation of a person’s heart, more helpful in moving them toward faith in Christ, and more instrumental in one’s “salvation” than right thinking.

Notice how the Bible establishes this value judgment.

First, belief is not sufficient for goodness. James notes that the devils believe in God and shudder (Js 2). Apparently, a universal attribute of the demonic is belief in God paired with a repulsion to God. As such, if a demon were able to shift its repulsion to love, the demon could no longer be demonic. Wanting God to exist then is more essential to avoiding demonization than mere belief.

Second, belief alone is not a sufficient condition for being in Christ. Because we so often associate salvation with right thinking (and not surrendering our hearts to the Lord Jesus), we often miss a truth that Jesus painted in a variety of ways. He said there are many who enter back into the garden to work, but some are asked to leave—because they do not like the master or his graciousness to others (Mt 20). There are many invited to the banquet, but some are asked to leave—because they do not care about the master or his wishes (Mt 22). There are many forms of soil that receive the word of God, but few tap into its life because of fear or temptation or the lack of passion necessary for roots (Mt 13). Each of these parables confirm that there are many who intellectually encounter God yet do not rise to care about God—and fail to really live.

We see this, finally, in Paul who argues that “love surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19) and only therein is our full humanity found. This makes sense for reason is not transformative. Just because you “know” cigarette smoking will kill you in a brutal fashion, does not mean you will stop smoking. You must care. You must love yourself. Knowledge is not enough. Only the will can decide what you do. Reason just tells you the options and likely outcomes.

It seems then that enticing the passions and wills of those who do not follow Christ is far more important than targeting their intellect with arguments for God’s existence. Showing that God is desirable will be the primary target of the successful 21st century apologist, for wanting God to exist opens highways for subpar apologetics; yet a closed heart will not here the voice of wisdom.

If we remain chained to the modern idolization of reason, and fail to see human beings as composed of body, mind and soul, we will lose both the rational arguments in our culture and our opportunity to promote sanctified bodies, minds and souls. Such mistakes must stop.

In my next post I’ll outline Jesus’ consistent appeal to desire and then this fall I would like to pitch 5 new arguments for God’s existence that target human emotion and—atleast in my case—move some towards faith in Christ. A foretaste of these arguments are presented in a recent film and in the book I just released.

Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of  Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can see his work at www.everythingnew.org

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Excellent post Jeff.

    I think of it in a similar way. It seems to me that the benefit of god and Jesus is available to all regardless of mental aptitude or background. As such, I think of the god that someone of very limited intelligence would believe in and realize that that god is not inconsistent with the god I believe in. It strips my beliefs to the core of someone who is always good and cares for the world. That is a god I want to believe in.

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    I agree. That is a truly great post, Jeff.

    We need look no further than the deniers in this world (evolution, climate warming, the moon landings, historicity of the Bible, the holocaust – to pick just a few). In every case we find people who want to believe something so much that they cannot accept any kind of evidence to the contrary. Everything must be explained away so that the thesis may be retained.

    That’s why paradigm changes are rare and precious.

    Clearly, the desire to believe is a far, far more powerful force than any kind of persuasion.

  • Gary Lyn

    Chris (#2),
    I am not trying to nitpick, but I believe a better reflection of what Jeff is saying is “the desire for God to exist is far, far more powerful force that any kind of persuasion.” Which, to me, is a very different statement than the “desire to believe.”
    Hope that make sense.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Jeff,

    I recently attended the graduation of several men and women who overcame long-standing drug addictions. One of the major things several said was seminal in their recovery: After reading the gospels in groups for months they wanted Jesus to be true because the ways He treated people was so compelling.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    This is really good. For me, though, this begs the question of whether belief that God exists is ultimately necessary in the way the church has traditionally held it to be. If desire is more central than belief, is it possible for one who has not been convinced (or has not heard) that God exists to be saved within his/her very desire for such a God?

    Or does this line of thinking actually presuppose that rudimentary (but largely “accurate”)knowledge about God is necessary before desire for Him can be born?

    Further, it seems to me that it would be awfully easy to entice somebody who has no hard set anti-theism WANT to believe in a God that makes the world make sense an promises a surety of eternal blissful existence. But how do we impart a longing to believe in a God who calls those who follow Him to take up their cross and die daily, hourly even, in self-emptying Love for others?

  • http://love2justice.wordpress.com joe davis

    This is great stuff. I remember reading Jeff’s previous post on the “Apologetics of Desire” a few weeks back and shared it a friend who was definitely not on board.

    His main argument, which is pretty predictable, is that “human desire” is fallen, so any attempt to appeal to desire is going to “form God in our own image.” Basically, the argument was that if we, in our fallen state with all of our culturally situated desires, were to “like” God, then something is wrong. Since we have no desire for God “in our natural state,” it would be “beyond heretical to attempt to win converts by concocting a more palatable (though unbiblical) god.” The counter argument was to simply “preach the Gospel.”

    How would you respond? I thought I had some pretty good arguments against my friend’s line of thinking, but apparently I wasn’t appealing to his desire.

    Something that jumps out to me now that I didn’t think of a few weeks back is the exaltation of the mind over desire. If humans are indeed fallen, what difference does it make if we appeal to the mind or to the heart? Are they not equally fallen? It seems my friend was privileging the intellectual “message of the Gospel” without any concern for the “fallenness” of this intellectual message. Since both the mind and heart are fallen, the whole “fallen” argument seems like a moot point.

    Anyways, any thoughts?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Nate W.

    But how do we impart a longing to believe in a God who calls those who follow Him to take up their cross and die daily, hourly even, in self-emptying Love for others?

    I believe that many believe in a god that they respect rather than one they love. They end up with a sadistic god and emphasize that god in their teachings. The more they are told they are sinners and worthless the more they feel good about themselves. The want to be told they are worthless and this all powerful god must be worshiped to make them worthy.

    The simple answer is that taking up our cross daily can be represented in several ways. What it really means, to me at least, is that we need to integrate the love and caring of Jesus into our life and try to follow him even when it is not what our animal nature wants to do. But once we do we realize the wisdom in Jesus teachings and actually find fulfillment and life in his ways. It is not always easy, but we see that it is a better way to be.

    Now isn’t that better than telling people they need to carry their cross and die daily?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Hey all – The son of a close friend of mine died yesterday. I will try and respond to posts through the day, but I may not be able to interact the way I want. Much love to you all!

  • EricG

    Jeff, I really like your book, and some of the points you make about desire — particularly that we need to want God, that our desires affect how we look at the arguments, and that some Christians present a God that is morally abhorrent, which is very problematic, and other related points.

    I think desire can — and has often — been emphasized too much, though. That is, in fact, what a lot of atheists are reacting against — they see Christians as making a God who satisfies our desire to provide a “heaven” when they die, so that the ultimate horror to many — death — no longer holds its sting. We can tell our kids and ourselves that our beloved relative is in a better place, and that is the purpose of Christianity to many, as they see it. So pushing your argument about desire too far can play right into the hands of people that believe Christianity’s god is simply one that we really, really *wish* to be real — divine wish fulfillment. (See Peter Rollins’ Insurrection, for example).

    And, to be honest, there is a lot of truth to the point that many Christians have a god who seems to serve this function. I am part of a community of people with cancer (many of us, including me, terminal), and I’ve noticed that people in our situation tend to gravitate toward stronger belief because we have a strong desire to believe death is not the end. This is an *extremely* powerful motivator for all of us, even those not close to death.

    So when I read your book, when you said that a turning moment in your journey was to realize you really wanted God to be real, because the alternative was nihilism, you almost seemed to say that this desire was sufficient for you to start looking through the “lens” of faith (I’m paraphrasing, hopefully accurately). What do you say to someone who says they have the same desires you do, but the fact that they’ve got these really strong desires doesn’t make them *true*? I can’t make the switch you made just because I’m very afraid of the implications.

    I’ve personally experienced a lot of doubts (related in large part to another issue you identify in the book — existential doubts related to the goodness of God, related in part to experiencing so much cancer and death of young people). And this question is a big hang up for me — I really want God to be real, but can’t believe in something simply because I really want it. (FWIW, where I’m at right now is that I’ve read quite a lot about the arguments on either side for a good God’s existence, and agree with you that academic arguments aren’t what resolves the issue for people, myself included. I do not experience God’s presence, but am very open to him, pray to him, desire, etc., but can’t say I have anything like what most Christians characterize as belief).

  • EricG

    Oops, I was typing my comment before I saw Jeff’s. I’m very sorry, Jeff, about the death of your friend’s son.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Thanks eric
    To all, it would be meaningful to me If you still dialogue openly and w fire.
    Grace and peace

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Jeff,
    This is an outstanding post! In fact this is a keeper.

    I especially like your point regarding the importance of showing that God is desirable. This is insightful and makes perfect sense. Again and again, I have seen in pastoral ministry people who could articulate various reasons for the existence of God. Yet, they did not seem to find him desirable and so chased after other desires.

    So sorry to hear about the death of your friend’s son.

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    Gary (3) – nitpicking? Maybe, maybe not. I agree with you, perhaps I didn’t really write what I meant.

    But I’m surprised you see such a big difference between the two statements. For many (most?) people wanting The Almighty to exist and wanting to believe [he exists] are fundamentally the same. I should not have left the ‘he exists’ out, but I suppose I saw those words as implied or understood.

  • Trin

    Jeff – thank you for prodding the thinking and condolences to you and the family involved.

    Eric @#9 – First, I am overwhelmed by your situation and your candour. Thank you for thinking out loud and asking the hard questions. A few thoughts, if I may.

  • http://www.trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    oopie . . . pushed the wrong key . . .

    Eric@#9

    I think desiring something makes us open to it, open to the possibility of it. Noticing a girl when one is young makes one consider the possibility of a relationship with her. It doesn’t make it true, but it does open us to the possibility it could be true. From there, one can investigate, consider, decide and choose – can will in regards to what was previously a mere possibility. To not notice a girl means there’s not even a possibility. Perhaps that is how desiring God could be considered? Noticing how good, loving and kind Jesus is in the gospels opens us to the possibility, the hope, that it is true, that he is true, that Christianity is true. It’s not the all, but it is the start, and perhaps a case is being made that it is even required for there to be a start.

    Now, pushing this too far does become mere wish fulfillment, something faith (of various types) is often accused of. However, wishing God to be there, wishing he loved and is good, wouldn’t make it true anymore than wishing the girl either existed or noticed someone would make it true. There is a limit to the wish – which, to me, is the point where questions of evidence lay. Either that Jesus was really here, or he wasn’t. How can I know? What might I do if I find the evidences for this belief substantial?

    Existential doubts – yes. I have had a long history of existential angst which is a part of the major depression that is my genetic fate. How can God be good when there is so much suffering? Where is he? Why doesn’t he do something about it? Why doesn’t he heal this as he could so easily do? Why doesn’t he care enough to do something about it? The logical conclusion is that he doesn’t care, is that he isn’t good (and as a short aside, the story of creation presents this doubt of the goodness of God as our point of separation from him – for I cannot be in relationship with one I don’t trust. Love relationships aren’t possible without trust.).

    After decades of walking with him, full of ups and downs, seasons full of sensing his closeness followed by seasons of pain, struggle, challenge and doubt, much of it centered on exactly this issue of theodicy, of suffering in light of God’s power and love, I have started to come to what is, for me, a better understanding. Key for me: God in scripture is consistently portrayed as the one who loves to redeem, to take that which is broken and hurting and make it well. He demonstrates this in history repeatedly, and leaves it to us to decide whether we want anything to do with him or not.

    He is not the God who always prevents. He sometimes prevents, but with prevention, how do we know a possible occurrence has been prevented? He is also not the God who always physically heals. He sometimes physically heals, but not every time no matter how hard we all pray he would. These physical bodies will fail us all at some point.

    While we know some of what he doesn’t do, and some of what he sometimes does, we can know two things that he will always do. Scripture tells us first he will always redeem – he will always act redemptively in the lives of those who love him (who loves him? If you’ve been following Scot’s blog at all you already know). Second, that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Regardless of what life may bring, he will never leave us. We will not go through it alone – we will not have to endure anything, even death, alone. And here you can listen to the voice of experience – I have found this to be absolutely true.

    I believe God acts in these 2 ways towards us because he cannot do otherwise, for it is who he is. It is his nature and God cannot act contrary to his nature. God IS love, and God IS relationship (the Trinity). He FIRST demonstrates this (Jn.3.16) – he reveals who he is – he shows that we may be wooed. And then we get to say either yes or no to the One who will never leave us nor forsake us, the one who will always bring something good out of even the worst life can throw at us that we may know the power of redemptive love. He stands at the door of our lives, of ‘us’, knocking and waiting for us to say yes, for us to simply open that door and let him in.

    It is good that you want God to be real. He is.
    Let me reassure you this is not mere wish fulfillment because I know him. I know him! I met him 42 years ago and he has absolutely been all he has revealed himself to be through Christ, the full representation of the Father. It is all real, absolutely real, the ultimate reality in fact . . . and I pray that this day, he may continue to woo you with his love and grace, his goodness and presence, his peace that passes understanding.
    Blessings on you.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Trin (and EricG)

    I still have goose bumps after reading Trin’s response. That is exactly the way I am.

    Jeff, sorry to hear of the misfortune.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Trin, I want to quote that on my site, should I just link to your site for the attribution? Or a name?

  • http://www.trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    DRT: I’ve been wondering if I should post it over on my ‘lately neglected’ blog, and I think you’ve just encouraged me to do that. If you don’t mind waiting until it arrives there you could link there directly. Does that work for you?

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Great discussion everyone. : )

    DRT – Yeah, that definitely does sound better. I completely agree that living in step with the way of Christ IS a better way to be, the ONLY way to really “be”. It is a joyful thing to walk the same road that Christ walked, by the same Spirit He did. The key point though is that is not a joy based on what we receive so much as a joy found in the very act of mourning, life in giving it for others.

    If we desire to believe in God because of the promised benefits of our belief what we really find ourselves in is a desire to be loved, not a desire to love. The mystery is that in desiring to give ourselves in love we find our desire to be loved filled (until th moment we notice it is filled).

    Lots of people are talking about Rene Girard lately and I think his thesis regarding “mimetic desire” fits particularly well here. Essentially he reasons that we never actually desire what we believe is the object of our desire. Rather, we desire what we perceive another person desires. Desire is fundamentally a mimicking of the desires of others.

    So, in this case we say that desiring tht gid exists is of key importance, but this quickly becomes a nebulous thing. What we really should say is that for belief in God to truly happen, someone needs to see an other person who they believe has seen God.

    The gospel is then radically based in community. To see Christ is to desire God. To see one who has seen Christ and shared his desire for God is then to also see God. Perhaps we could trace this chain of relational experiences of God all the way back to Christ, who started it all the only man who purely desired God himself.

    To want to believe in God then is something that is birthed only by seeing another who is perceived to see God and in then desiring what he desires (whether consciously or not). Intellectual facts cannot help us attain the object of our desire because what we desire is personified only in another who has the same desire.

    I know that’s probably indisipherabke gibberish, but it’s all I got. : )

  • donsands

    The Apostle Paul gave us much to read and study in God’s Word, which is the truth. Paul even tells us that there are those who “preach another Jesus”.

    It’s so important to share Christ of the Scriptures, with so many “mean Jesus’”, and so many mamby pamby Jesus’ as well.

    They have a Jesus for everybody out there.

    The true Lord will be hated when we share Him, don’t forget that. Others will embrace His truth, and they will repent and ask for His mercy as well.

    When Jesus brings a soul to His Father there’s nothing in all the universe that can compare to being brought into His kingdom of righteousness and love.

  • gingoro

    I think this piece is a great and important corrective to much preaching that occurs today within the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist church. However, as I recall C S Lewis writings, he was brought to Christ kicking and screaming but finally had to agree that the case for God was better than the case for no God. As usual I thank this is a both and situation and no one approach applies in all cases and that for many people both desire and knowledge are vital.
    DaveW

  • Perry

    Jeff,
    I think you have some really good points here! I believe that Christians really do make Christ attractive or unattractive to the world through their words, behavior, etc. The case could be made that if anyone ever saw God in his true, undistorted light and essence, he would be universally irresistible. Part of me wants to believe that. However, based on numerous verses, I am constrained to believe that because of our fallen nature which is at enmity with all that God stands for, no one can or will ever “desire” him unless he first overcomes that innate hostility in us through regeneration (giving us a new nature).

    I will always choose in accordance with my strongest desire, or preference. Because of my fallen nature, I will never prefer Christ’s righteousness to my own. God must change my preference. And in order to change my preference, He must change my will. And in order to change my will, He must change my nature. And in order to change my nature, He must regenerate me.

    Wanting God to exist is similar to loving God and loving the truth, both of which are elements of saving faith. Mental assent to sterile, propositional truth cannot save. Only the gospel message contains the antidote to our fear and shame, and thus can woo us out of our hiding in the Garden to approach a holy God.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Thanks all for your prayers and complements. To begin:

    (5) Nate W. wrote, “This begs the question of whether belief that God exists is ultimately necessary in the way the church has traditionally held it to be. If desire is more central than belief, is it possible for one who has not been convinced (or has not heard) that God exists to be saved within his/her very desire for such a God?” Or does this line of thinking actually presuppose that rudimentary (but largely “accurate”) knowledge about God is necessary before desire for Him can be born?”

    I could argue that both knowledge and desire are necessary “to be saved” while still maintaining that desire is more important. Just as having the money to buy a house is more important than filling out all the paperwork, though paperwork is still necessary.

    You also wrote, “how do we impart a longing to believe in a God who calls those who follow Him to take up their cross and die daily, hourly even, in self-emptying Love for others?” Strategies here are many. Showing that a world viewed with God is superior to a world without God. Showing that the most praiseworthy lives are those of commitment to Christ. Showing Jesus as a God who we would love to have exist—these may be some starting points.

    (6) Joe Davis. You wrote of a friend, “His main argument … is that “human desire” is fallen, so any attempt to appeal to desire is going to “form God in our own image.” Basically, the argument was that if we, in our fallen state with all of our culturally situated desires, were to “like” God, then something is wrong.”

    Assuming this anthropology, there are many things we desire in “our fallen state” that are very good: we desire the good of our children, we desire peace, we desire that our brains work, we desire happiness, we desire reason to lead us to the truth and we desire truth to lead us to the best kind of life. We could make a long list here of things “we like”, that would be unhealthy if we did not like them. As such, I see no reason to think “liking God” is bad thing—conversely I know of no one who has given their life to Christ who hated God.

    You further built this argument and said, “Since we have no desire for God “in our natural state,” it would be “beyond heretical to attempt to win converts by concocting a more palatable (though unbiblical) god.” The counter argument was to simply “preach the Gospel.”
    There’s a profound difference between “concocting a more palatable god” and showcasing the God who ought to be palatable—or when seen with a good heart, thoroughly praiseworthy. I am not arguing for the former. I am suggesting Christians often do a masterfully poor job at the latter.
    You make a great point in saying, “If humans are indeed fallen, what difference does it make if we appeal to the mind or to the heart? Are they not equally fallen?” Exactly. There are a handful of Calvinist philosophers who speak of cognitive sin. I don’t embrace this argument fully but as an example see Alvin Plantinga Here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/plantinga/warrant3.vi.iii.vii.html

    Peace!

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    EricG (9) You wrote, “I think desire can — and has often — been emphasized too much, though. That is, in fact, what a lot of atheists are reacting against … So pushing your argument about desire too far can play right into the hands of people that believe Christianity’s god is simply one that we really, really *wish* to be real — divine wish fulfillment. (See Peter Rollins’ Insurrection, for example).”

    I feel the pull of your argument. On this front, I would counter with Hume who I think rightly argued that “Reason is and ought always to be the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office but to serve and obey them.” Just to restate my example, just because you know cigarette smoking will kill you in a brutal fashion does not mean you will stop smoking. Reason tells you likely outcomes, desire selects which outcome you will aim at.

    You wrote, “When I read your book, you said that a turning moment in your journey was to realize you really wanted God to be real, because the alternative was nihilism, you almost seemed to say that this desire was sufficient for you to start looking through the “lenses” of faith (I’m paraphrasing, hopefully accurately). What do you say to someone who says they have the same desires you do, but the fact that they’ve got these really strong desires doesn’t make them *true*?” I can’t make the switch you made just because I’m very afraid of the implications.

    I would say “lenses” cannot be true or false because they establish what “truth” and “falsehood” are. Instead, what the person is saying is “when I view reality through these God-belief lenses I see too many anomalies: such as the problem of pain or divine hiddenness or the repugnance of God” Or perhaps they think God belief will take all the fun out of life, or they say after I believed in God I could find no independent verification for God’s existence (which they might find important).

    But I would argue if you do not assume God’s existence—do not presuppose the supernatural—you will not be able to see God, and desire is essential to embracing such a presupposition of supernaturalism. One need not stay with such a presupposition, but I think the presupposition is itself necessary for God-belief. After the jump, then the “truth” of God’s existence may emerge in wonderful and surprising forms.

    You wrote, “I’ve personally experienced a lot of doubts (related in large part to another issue you identify in the book — existential doubts related to the goodness of God, related in part to experiencing so much cancer and death of young people). And this question is a big hang up for me — I really want God to be real, but can’t believe in something simply because I really want it.”

    I feel ya. It seems to me God belief is more liking jumping into a reality and allowing it to catch you than testing out ropes to swing on. Pain is both a great reason not to jump (is this the kind of God who is real?) and a great reason to jump (if the pain of those around me does not lead to some future meaning, life is amazingly awful. But only a God who cares about us can create such a future). The latter reason is more compelling to me than the former. I lose nothing if I assume God is there and seek to hear his voice from the whirlwind, but I lose everything I care for if beyond this world there is only silence.

    Belief at this level—let’s call it faith—is an act of the will. And I think God has fashioned reality to drive us to the point were our hearts and challenged to long for him.

    Good Post! May you experience in fresh ways the Lord Jesus present with you and with those who are sick around you.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Trin, I absolutely will wait, thanks. It will be a good post.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (21) Dave W. What’s interesting about Lewis is that there is the kicking and screaming side to his autobiography, but of course his move toward God was almost entirely shaped by desire—he was suprised by joy (and wanted it!). His arguments from desire, from morality and from reason for God’s existence are, at root, laced with value judgments and preferences.

    (22) Perry. You wrote, “I will always choose in accordance with my strongest desire, or preference. Because of my fallen nature, I will never prefer Christ’s righteousness to my own. God must change my preference. And in order to change my preference, He must change my will. And in order to change my will, He must change my nature. And in order to change my nature, He must regenerate me.”

    Do you think human beings are at all free then? If not then no arguments—mine or yours—can move anyone, and we may as well not waste our time. If we are free, then where do we experience such freedom?

    I do agree God is necessary for Freedom and does work to help us along, but I don’t think he takes us all the way. It seems to me that we do in fact experience choosing and not choosing Christ from fairly neutral points. Peace!

  • http://love2justice.wordpress.com joe davis

    Jeff, thanks so much for your personal response! I look forward to all your future posts in this series.

  • donsands

    “I do agree God is necessary for Freedom and does work to help us along, but I don’t think he takes us all the way.”-Jeff

    I would disagree, according to Scripture. Jesus said to the Jews: “You do not believe, because you are not my sheep.” John chapter 10 is quite powerful in how our Great Shepherd lays out the truth of those who are His, and those who are not. Bottom line is that we are all children of wrath (Eph. 2). And God surely calls us to repent and trust in His Son, who He gave to be a holy propitiation for the transgressions of all those whom He loved and shed His blood for.
    Jesus loved you personally Jeff. That is a love more powerful than any other power in all the universe of all time. Nothing can change our Abba Father’s love for us, nor the love of Jesus, our High priest and Friend.

    God does bring us so that we freely ask Him for help and mercy, and he is the One who “quickens” a dead soul.
    Wow! What a Savior we do have! And what a Father God we do have to worship in Spirit and truth!

    Lord bless you brother!

  • http://kingdomcivics.com/2012/07/06/o-canada/ Tim

    So it’s more important to desire that there truly be a God than to have a relationship with the one true God?

    Maybe I’m just not understanding the whole thing, but I think donsands (28) got at what I’m asking: Christians are Christ’s sheep because he is the Shepherd. Our faith is not real because we want to have a shepherd but because Jesus is our Shepherd.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  • Luke Allison

    donsands,

    You’re presenting a classic monergistic interpretation of Eph 2:3, and also cherrypicking the second half of a verse in order to make systematic theological point.

    This is a prime example of what Jeff Cook is talking about: God must be a desirable proposition to a human being before they make any movements in his direction. Throwing out theological points that we’ve all been TOLD are true a million times doesn’t do anything for 50 percent of the people out there. And I seriously doubt it does anything for a big chunk of the people who it seems to be working for.

    I’m interested in those who interpret that verse to mean that human beings are “children of God’s wrath” as opposed to simply children of the destructive human tendency towards wrath and murder (as seen in Cain, Lamech, and the entire human race since day one). There’s really nothing in that passage to suggest that it’s talking about God’s disposition towards the human race. On the contrary, it implies that “wrath” is part of the “desires of the body and the mind.” So not really a backup verse for a monergistic view of renewal.

    Tim,

    Why would you have a relationship with someone that you didn’t desire to be real? I’ve worked in youth ministry for quite a long time. Youth pastors the world over consistently challenge students to “give up everything!” and “follow Jesus with everything you have!” etc. But they never actually present the story of Israel and Jesus in a way that ties it into real life. The mission of God as completed in Israel’s Messiah is a desirable and compelling story. Remember, much of the “opposition” to the gospel of Jesus Christ that the apostles received was due to socio-economic upset: you don’t get fed to lions for saying that you have a personal relationship with an invisible deity. You get fed to lions for inspiring people to destroy idols which in turn upsets the moneymaking prospects of a city. You get fed to lions for saying that a self-proclaimed deity is not really quite as sovereign as he thinks he is. You have to desire Jesus’ mission and movement to be worth pursuing before you’ll enter into it.
    This flies in the face of the traditional Evangelical view of the “offense” of the Gospel, which seems to be that people will get offended because they’ve been told that rape and murder are on a level with stealing a piece of candy.
    Standing up to power and proclaiming a new way is slightly different than pissing someone off with faulty logic.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (28) Don. In response to my claim that we have freedom to choose Christ back, you wrote, “According to Scripture. Jesus said to the Jews [Pharisees?]: “You do not believe, because you are not my sheep.” John chapter 10 is quite powerful in how our Great Shepherd lays out the truth of those who are His, and those who are not. Bottom line is that we are all children of wrath (Eph. 2). And God surely calls us to repent and trust in His Son, who He gave to be a holy propitiation for the transgressions of all those whom He loved and shed His blood for.”

    I don’t understand how this address the point at hand. I could grant of all of this and my argument would go through. Help me out here.

    You wrote, “God does bring us so that we freely ask Him for help and mercy, and he is the One who “quickens” a dead soul.”

    Again, I’m not sure what your argument is here, or why I should hold it. Blessing on you.

    Tim (29). You asked, “So it’s more important to desire that there truly be a God than to have a relationship with the one true God?”

    Nope. My claim is in the title and middle of the post: Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God.

    You said, “Maybe I’m just not understanding the whole thing, but I think donsands (28) got at what I’m asking: Christians are Christ’s sheep because he is the Shepherd. Our faith is not real because we want to have a shepherd but because Jesus is our Shepherd.”

    Again, how is this dispelling my contention? I don’t see the connection here.

  • donsands

    Jeff, I’m simply saying all sinners are dead in their sin, spiritually, and need to be regenerated by God, and that no human will freely want God, nor ever believe in Christ. We are rebels through in through.

    Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice, and they follow Me.”
    Our Great Shepherd loves His sheep and died for us, and He saves us and grants us the gift of faith, and he writes our names in heaven.
    It’s a mystery really, for us that is. It’s not a mystery in heaven. And when our Lord returns and remakes the Earth in His righteousness and purity, then we will all understand better why God has mercy on whom He wills to. And He hardens whom He wills as well.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

    have a good evening!

  • Luke Allison

    donsands,

    You do realize that not everyone is a Calvinist, right?
    Stating Calvinist systematic theology is not a dialogue. It’s fairly one-sided.

  • donsands

    Just sharing Scripture, not Calvinism Luke. I am very Reformed though, and you realize not everyone is Non-Calvinist I see.

  • Amanda B.

    I find this article really, really resonating with me. What strikes me about this approach is how much patience it requires. If our primary approach to witnessing/apologetics is a matter of setting out the right arguments, it becomes that much easier to dismiss people who fail to agree with us. Once our arguments are exhausted, if they haven’t budged, we write them off as hard-hearted folks who are utterly unwilling to see the truth.

    To a degree, that can be true. After all, humanity loved darkness rather than the light (John 3:19), and Jesus outright promised us that this world would hate us because it hates Him (John 15:18-19, 16:33).

    HOWEVER, we dare not use that as an excuse to opt out of compassionate, generous evangelism / apologetics. Jesus died for the people who hated Him. Some two thousand years later, he is still being patient (2 Pet 3:4-9), rather than raining down judgment, because He doesn’t want any to perish.

    Logical arguments–if they can be comprehended–are quick solutions. The points are laid out, the discussion is over, and the victor walks away vindicated. But if we are to persuade people that they *want* God to be real, there is no quick answer. Logic can be asserted, but human hearts must be won over. That takes time. No amount of debating skill can speed up the process. To crack through an emotional shell *might* only take one conversation, but it might also take years of consistent, committed friendship. And if we really care about that person’s righteousness before God, we have to be willing to wait it out.

    That’s not easy–especially when I can hear the voices of old preachers ringing in the back of my mind proclaiming blood on my hands if they were to die tonight. But the longer I stick with my non-Christian friends, the more I genuinely like them, the more (I think!) they genuinely like me, the more freedom I find I have to be frank about what I believe, and the more I find my message coming from a tender heart, rather than a haughty spirit.

  • T

    donsands,

    The reason, I think, that Jeff doesn’t see the relevance of your argument is that proves too much. What I mean is that it seems that you are saying that it’s God’s divine act that draws us to God. Okay; we agree. Does that mean we should not seek to persuade others to follow Christ in any way? If so, this seems out of line with Paul’s own example and teaching. If not, then the question that Jeff poses is relevant.

    To the general conversation I would add this: I think Jeff’s choice of language here, as much or more than the content of his ideas, is likely be difficult for some conservatives to swallow, even though much of the evangelism of the last generation or two has agreed with him in what they do. I would point to the many who say that people must first hear “the bad news” before they get “the good news.” Usually what is meant by this is that people must first come to know that they are sinners who are, according to God’s law, worthy of eternal death. Once they accept this, they can then appreciate and accept God’s gift of salvation/forgiveness in Christ. Regardless of one’s particular qualms with this form of evangelism and/or the theology behind it, the justification for it that is routinely given is not only its supposed theological correctness (which I think is overblown), but also the idea that people have to see their need for Christ (i.e., want him) before they can come to him.

    Now the irony here is that Jeff agrees with the underlying justification at work in this mode of evangelism (that people have to want the God they come to trust), but disagrees with the method chosen (a divine “bad cop/good cop” tactic) because it portrays a God that many find abhorrent. It seems that the point of difference will be, rather than the necessity or importance of desire or “felt need,” but with how we seek portray God and why he should be desired.

  • http://kingdomcivics.com/2012/07/06/o-canada/ Tim

    Thanks Jeff (31). You say it is all summed up like this: “Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God.” I think I get it, if what you mean is that God truly is a desirable person and we should let people know that. But to set desire in higher priority to belief seems to me to be mixing apples and oranges (both of which are yummy fruit, by the way).

    Desiring God is good, but belief in the sense of having faith only happens in a relationship with God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6.) Desiring God is only good if it is part of someone’s journey in faith in their relationship with God. Otherwise, desire is what Paul would call dung. (Philippians 3:8, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.) Think everyone who desires God is going to end up in a faith relationship with him? Jesus says no. (Matthew 7:21, 13:1-23.)

    Desiring God is good, of course, but it is not more important than belief. In fact, the Bible is clear that belief is what leads to that relationship with God, not the mere desire. (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9.) Desire may lead to belief, but I just haven’t seen anything in Scripture that says it is of higher value in God’s kingdom.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  • donsands

    “a divine “bad cop/good cop” tactic)”-T

    I don’t see God, nor the Gospel, in this way at all.

    Sinners do need to fear God though, that is the truth. The Gospel is surely watered down in many ways, isn’t it.

    The Good News is proclaimed that you have to live a holy life, and do such and such, and such and such to be accepted by God.
    The Good News is also proclaimed that God loves every sinner so much, he is very sad if you won’t just accept Him, and make Him happy, and you really don’t need to worry about anything, because he loves you just the way you are.

    The Gospel is Christ crucified for a sinner like me, who deserves hell and God’s holy judgment. The Gospel is God loved me before the foundation of the world, and gave His beloved Son for a wretch like me. And the Good News is such good news that it causes me to follow Jesus my Lord and Friend, and also I long to worship my Abba Father in Spirit and truth.

    I pray that sinners will come to fear God, and then they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free. Jesus is this Truth, and whom the Son sets free is free indeed!

    The Bible is God’s Word, and we need to knwo every Epistle God has givene us. All the Pastors out here will give an account for how they told the Great Shepherd’s sheep what the Gospel is.
    That should make us look to Him; to His Spirit and grace.

    He is such a good and loving Lord, and yet …… take heed as well my good friends.

  • T

    donsands,

    The gospel has many articulations in the NT, few of them match all that well with the kind of presentation I mentioned. But that aside, Jeff’s point that our desires or even perceived needs matter in coming to Christ is has been embraced by many of the folks that do the “bad news/good news” version of evangelism. Indeed, the fire and brimstone preachers I’ve known think a primary purpose of theirs is to help people see/feel their need for God. My point is that many, many preachers accept Jeff’s core premise and act upon it routinely. The difference will be in *how* we seek to help people want God/Jesus, and *why* we want him and want him for others.

  • T

    donsands (& others),

    Also, just as a curiosity, you don’t see any similarity with how many people do evangelism (with a bad news, then good news theology) and the classic ‘good cop/bad cop’ cooperation strategy? The similarities seem obvious to me, but maybe it’s not.

  • Luke Allison

    donsands,

    “The Gospel is Christ crucified for a sinner like me, who deserves hell and God’s holy judgment. The Gospel is God loved me before the foundation of the world, and gave His beloved Son for a wretch like me. And the Good News is such good news that it causes me to follow Jesus my Lord and Friend, and also I long to worship my Abba Father in Spirit and truth.”

    Don, Scot wrote an interesting book about this topic called The King Jesus Gospel. Might be worth a read.

  • donsands

    “The gospel has many articulations in the NT, …”-T

    I disagree. The Gospel is truth for us all to grasp, and it’s basic truth of saving sinners from God’s wrath is clear enough. My comment is simple and clear, from the truth of God’s Word. There are deep things in the Word as well, but the Gospel truth is plain and simple and clear; and also it is wonderful and full of beauty beyond all comparisions.

    The Gospel is for a child, and it is for a scholar. It is for a Hollywood Film Star, and the low-down criminal in the State Penn.

    Thanks for the dialouge T.

    “The King Jesus Gospel”? I may check it out. Thanks Luke.

  • T

    donsands,

    There are 4 “gospel” books, each of which are faithful gospel articulations, but they are not the same articulations. Further, in those gospel books and in Acts we see Jesus and the apostles and others articulating “the gospel” in various ways, and many of them don’t mention sin, sinners or wrath at all. But at a more basic level, it’s tough to know how to understand your comment when even a casual reading of the NT (or even the titles of the first 4 books–the gospel according to Matthew; the gospel according to Mark; etc.) confirms exactly what I said–there are several gospel articulations in the NT. Your response leaves me wondering if you were honestly ignorant of this, or if you are just choosing to be disagreeable. If you wanted to make the point that the gospel is in essense simple and/or uniform and for all (and about rescue from wrath), you could have done that without denying there are various articulations in the NT, which is simple fact.

    I appreciate you thanking me for the dialogue, but I’d rather you just discuss things with me in a way that isn’t disagreeable without needing to be.

  • Adam

    Jumping all the way back up to EricG at #9.

    I actually think that most christians don’t believe in death and therefore don’t fear it. No one actually dies, in popular christianity, they just transition to another state. The real fear is pain and suffering (e.g. hell).

    I would say this avoidance religion creates an environment of stagnation where a religion of desire would be a catalyst for movement. We could even include the hot/cold/lukewarm verse here as support for even wrong desire being better than stagnation.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Don (32). You wrote, “I’m simply saying all sinners are dead in their sin, spiritually, and need to be regenerated by God, and that no human will freely want God, nor ever believe in Christ. We are rebels through in through.”

    How does this contradict my claim? Apparently neither belief or desires are chosen (which I could assume for argument sake). But my claim is that desires are more important. Your claim does not put that in jeopardy.

    Amanda (35). I want to speak more about John 3:19. There is something to the language of Jesus in John’s gospel that consistently hits on this theme of rejection—not through intellectual exploration—but through love and repulsion. Good stuff.

    T (36) You wrote, “I think Jeff’s choice of language here, as much or more than the content of his ideas, is likely be difficult for some conservatives to swallow, even though much of the evangelism of the last generation or two has agreed with him in what they do … It seems that the point of difference will be, rather than the necessity or importance of desire or “felt need,” but with how we seek portray God and why he should be desired.”

    Quite right. Thank you for showcasing that.

    Tim (37). Good thoughts here let me hit them in turn briefly.

    You wrote, “Desiring God is good, but belief in the sense of having faith only happens in a relationship with God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6.) Desiring God is only good if it is part of someone’s journey in faith in their relationship with God.”

    How could it be otherwise. Would you move toward having faith in any deities you hate? Practically speaking, Desire is a precondition for faith. Not the other way around.

    You write, “Otherwise, desire is what Paul would call dung. (Philippians 3:8, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)”

    This is a poor reading of Philippians 3:8, otherwise EVERYTHING would be a loss compared to “knowledge of” Jesus, including Jesus himself. But that doesn’t work. He must mean something else—everything I possess, the “all things” of the second half of the passage, perhaps. The First Corinthians passage proves my point. Apparently knowledge is overrated at times.

    You wrote, “Think everyone who desires God is going to end up in a faith relationship with him? Jesus says no. (Matthew 7:21; 13:1-23.)”

    I contend that desire is more important than belief. I unpack that in the article by saying: “By “more important”, I mean desire is more crucial to the transformation of a person’s heart, more helpful in moving them toward faith in Christ, and more instrumental in one’s “salvation” than right thinking.” What say you? How do the Matthew passages disprove this.

    You wrote, Desiring God is good, of course, but it is not more important than belief. In fact, the Bible is clear that belief is what leads to that relationship with God, not the mere desire. (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9.)

    Note in Acts 16, the desires are changed prior to Paul’s words (in a fairly severe fashion) and this allows Paul’s words to have power. And Romans 10 assumes you WANT to be saved—otherwise the truth has no transformative power.

    You wrote, “Desire may lead to belief, but I just haven’t seen anything in Scripture that says it is of higher value in God’s kingdom.”

    I have gone through each of your passages, but you have no touched the many passages I cite in the original article. Perhaps you could start there and show me why they fail.

    Blessings back at ya, Tim!

  • http://kingdomcivics.com/2012/07/06/o-canada/ Tim

    T (43) – I appreciate that you are saying the Bible covers subjects in a number of ways in a number of places. To say that what we call the four gospels are the heart of the gospel, though, is to allow our humanly imposed titles and editorial decisions to override God’s own word. C.S. Lewis put it well:

    The Resurrection, and its consequences were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narrative of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.”

    Peter, Paul and Luke all support this. Luke 1:1-4 says Luke is writing in order to confirm the things Theophilus (either an individual person or a representation of all believers) already knew. In 1 Thessalonians 4:14 Paul emphasizes that it is Jesus’ death and resurrection that give us life in Christ. Peter and Paul’s sermons in Acts, which (as Lewis pointed out) were given before any of the New Testament was written, all emphasize Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection – they do not center on his teachings or his claims, but his work on the cross and his resurrection. After all, Christ came to save sinners as Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15.

    That’s the gospel, the good news: Christ came to save sinners.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Luke (41) and Donsands (42)
    I concur. The King Jesus Gospel is gold.

    T (43)
    See book above. Great arguments there on “The Gospel” as it works through all the early “Gospel Proclamations”.

  • http://kingdomcivics.com/2012/07/06/o-canada/ Tim

    Jeff (45) – I think I may have inadvertantly jumped on a track parallel to yours, rather than tracking within your thesis. Sorry about that. If the type of desire you speak of is the same as found in Psalm 34:8 (Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him), then I am right there with you.

    Why would a believer not want to show others that God is not only desirable but is also truly worth desiring? I might have – unfortunately! – gotten distracted by focusing on the the issue of whether “desiring” is better than “belief” in a broad application of the words within our exercise of faith, but in the context of evangelism (in the sense of spreading the evangelion, the good word) I completely agree that telling someone that God is worth desiring is a great way to go.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (48) Tim. Excellent. Peace.

  • T

    Tim (46),

    I realize that the death and resurrection are emphasized and rightly so, but you overstate the case. The gospels (all of them) are the gospel, and I’m not allowing “humanly imposed titles and editorial decisions to override God’s own word.” On the contrary, Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God . . .” Mark clearly believes that his (full) account is “the good news about Jesus” regardless of what Lewis (a human editorial opinion?) thinks. The gospels–all of them–absolutely are “the gospel” and they are for the benefit of believer and unbeliever alike. As John says at the end of his gospel, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these [his whole gospel] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So John, an apostle, like Mark and Luke, the companions of Paul, seek to convince their readers “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.”

    Further, both Jesus and the apostles (including Paul, even at the end of Acts) proclaim “the gospel of the reign of God” in many, many instances. And, yes, the good news is for sinners (all of us), but if we’re going to let scripture tell us what the gospel is, then we need to let its many articulations sink in and not just a few. Specifically, “the gospel of the kingdom/reign of God” is all over not just the gospels, but also Acts. Further, the thesis of Mark (and other gospels) and of much gospel preaching is that “Jesus is the Messiah/Son of God.” As is said in Acts 5:42: Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.” Again, I agree that Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to the good news about Jesus. But I am only stating the obvious (from the scriptures), first, that the NT uses multiple articulations (Jesus is Messiah/Lord, the reign of God has come near, etc.) for the good news, and second, that our typical articulations or emphases aren’t especially similar to those in the gospels or Acts.

    Specific to the point of the post, it seems that the gospel writers felt that there was more to Jesus’ resume, more to his story that would make us *want* to trust him, more to the good news about him, than his death and resurrection alone, as wonderful and central as that is.

    Jeff and others, I’ve read Scot’s book and am a big fan of it.

  • JamesB

    As a former believer who very much wanted God to exist, especially during a long season of doubt that ultimately ended in my deconversion, I can tell you that simply wanting it to be true was not enough to sustain me and would not be enough to bring me back.

    I believed in a very desirable, loving God, but through my doubt and questioning I eventually got to a point where I realized that there simply weren’t enough good reasons to continue in that belief. That’s an oversimplification of a long and difficult journey in my life, but I just wanted to offer a different perspective.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    JamesB (51). Would you say there were not enough good reasons to stay, or that there were good “reasons” to not believe? What were those reasons?

    I presently believe in God, but I think the arguments for God’s existence fail as fully convincing. I am big fan of Pascal on this front, and would recommend Peter Kreeft’s arrangement of Pascal’s work (“Christianity for Modern Pagans”) for those interested in engaging pascalian ways of thinking about God. Or the book I wrote linked above–I would love your thoughts if you are willing to go one a new kind of exploration.

  • JamesB

    Jeff (52),

    It wasn’t that I was looking for good reasons and found none. My deconversion was the culmination of a long, concerted effort to be honest with myself about my motivations for belief in the first place, during which I often asked myself, “What things do I believe for no other reason than I’m afraid they may (or may not) be true?” At some point in this process I experienced a Gestalt shift and realized that all my reasons for believing – up to and including my belief in God – were based on *wanting* to believe.

    My main point is this: I don’t think we can honestly explore the truth of our beliefs until we can separate ourselves from the desire for them to be true.

    You’re right that the arguments for God’s existence fail as fully convincing. The question is what to do about it. Do we bridge that gap with faith of some sort or do we explore why that gap exists in the first place?

    I would be willing to continue the discussion further, either here or via email and I may well check out your book. Thanks for the reply.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    James

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on argenta I make in Everything New.

    There are all kinds of beliefs we have that cannot be based on “reason.”

    There’s no reason (that’s not circular) to think your brain works. There’s no reason to think genocide worse than not paying taxes. There’s no reason to value reason. Ultimately all these come down to desire.

    Find the book. I’d love your thoughts.

  • JamesB

    Jeff (54),

    Can you give me an example of a healthy belief not based on reason? I can give you countless unhealthy ones. If there’s no reason to value reason, why should I accept your reasoned arguments? It seems like you’re saying that so long as a belief “works” for someone, it doesn’t matter whether it has any basis in reason. Please correct me if I misunderstand.

    If what you’re instead saying is that we can’t have all the information about any given topic and that we use emotion or some other as-yet-unknown force to make a decision, I would agree. But that doesn’t mean we can’t choose a more well-informed decision over one with little or no evidence to back it up, either ahead of time or as we learn more about it. We are often irrational, either by choice or without realizing it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to be more rational.

    And let’s be honest here: we’re not talking about choosing Coke or Pepsi. We’re talking about whether or not God exists and, depending on your soteriology, whether or not a person spends an eternity away from said God based on what they believe. Are you saying he made us to just trust that he exists with no evidence other than our desire?

    I read the first few pages of your book on Google and the argument you make for choosing to abandon your agnosticism for a belief in God seemed to me to be based on the idea that you’re uncomfortable imagining a world without him. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but if your (reasoned) argument throughout is a similar appeal to emotion, I’m not really interested, thanks.

  • JamesB

    One more quick note: in hindsight I realized that final comment may have sounded snarky. I apologize. If a person believes in God because he or she wants to believe, I’m perfectly OK with that. My point there was – as it has been from the beginning – that wanting to believe was ultimately not enough to sustain my belief and that, over time, I have discovered that I am no worse off believing God doesn’t exist than believing he does, so an argument for belief based on wanting to just doesn’t interest me. I’ve been there.

  • http://www.trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    I agree, JamesB, that wanting to believe something, in this case God’s existence, won’t be sufficient to sustain belief over time. Merely wanting, merely desiring, will not be able to carry the weight placed upon it. I also don’t think it comes down to reason (#55) as much as it comes down to truth. What can I/can’t I know to be true, which is different than desire and reason.

    Christianity lives or dies on the resurrection. If the resurrection happened, Christ is vindicated and it’s all true. If the resurrection didn’t happen, “we above all men are to be pitied,” or something to that effect (Paul).

    In my seasons of doubt, in my “if I can’t figure this out I am out of here for I can no longer believe with any integrity,” I have ultimately landed at truth – is this real or not? Was he here or not? Was he resurrected or not? If not, I’ll move along.

    I believe it comes down to truth – what can we know, and what will we do with it. We consider all the data at our disposal, and at the end of the day either find the cumulative case for God’s existence convincing, or we don’t. Some ‘inference to the best explanation’ is involved as so little in life can be ‘proven.’ At the end of the day, given this data, this evidence, this cumulative case, does God exist or not?

    As NTWright has extensively explored from a historian’s pov, something happen in first century Judaism to cause a huge shift, a seismic shift. That shift needs to be accounted for, and if one takes the position that there was no resurrection they still need to account for those historical events.

    I applaud your integrity. I too have walked that difficult path but in the end found the cumulative case convincing. Blessings on you.

  • JamesB

    Trin (57),

    While I agree with you that Christianity depends on the truth of the resurrection, I don’t really want to turn this into a theological debate as that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

    I may not have been clear enough up to this point, but I’m talking about how wanting something to be true can cloud one’s ability to determine whether or not it is. Using the resurrection as an example, as a Christian I wanted it to be true. I needed it to be true. My whole world depended on it. But doubt isn’t really doubt unless one is willing to accept the consequences of possibly being wrong. Could I live in a world where the resurrection wasn’t true? What about one where God isn’t real?

    Think about that for a second. I mean really stop and think. How does the possibility of either of those make you feel? It scared me more than just about anything I can think of. But I was determined to embrace that fear, regardless of the consequences, rather than do what I had done my whole life, which was to look for things that would confirm what I already believed rather than honestly engaging opposing views.

    As hard as it was, I began to analyze all my religious beliefs, focusing primarily on the ones that I was most afraid of losing, as I said up in #53. It’s very hard to summarize that process, as it took several years, but I eventually got to a point about a year ago where I realized I no longer had a need to believe in God. Again, scary. I had no idea what would happen when I admitted that. But once I realized it, I knew I had a choice: keep believing anyway or not.

    I chose not.

    And you know what? My life is no worse off for having made that choice, and I would argue that in many ways it is much better.


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