The Historic Christian Faith (RJS)

Following Tim Keller in The Reason for God we have now presented and discussed seven of the biggest objections raised against the Christian faith. None of these objections are fatal to the historic Christian faith when examined objectively. But this is not enough Keller says — it is time to go beyond doubts and questions and to begin to construct a reason for belief. But first…a brief intermission:

In constructing a reason for faith Keller proposes that we first consider the historic Christian faith – not our denominational distinctives, however dearly we may hold them. Keller in his book is making a case for the truth of Christianity in general expressed in the ancient rule of faith in early church fathers and the early ecumenical creeds. In this context Christianity is defined as:

…the body of believers who assent to these great ecumenical creeds. They believe that the triune God created the world, that humanity has fallen into sin and evil, that God has returned to rescue us in Jesus Christ, that in his death and resurrection Jesus accomplished that salvation for us so that we can be received by grace, that he established his church, his people, as the vehicle through which he continues his mission of rescue, reconciliation, and salvation, and that at the end of time Jesus will return to renew the heavens and the earth, removing all evil, injustice, sin, and death from the world.

All Christians believe all this—but no Christians believe just this. (p.117)

This is an important point – isn’t it true after all that all Christians, irrespective of denomination or “brand,” worship the same God and the same Lord Jesus Christ? One could argue that our denominational distinctives are predominantly interpretations in cultural context. Certainly our argument for the Christian faith should, first of all, be general and inclusive, not specific and exclusive.

Second, our argument should be not for proof but for reasonableness.

We are wrong to believe that we will ever construct an irrefutable argument or proof for the existence of or the nature of God. This is an impossible task. Rather we will look at preponderance of evidence and the viability of a Christian world view, taking into account all of the evidence we have available. Even in science we have no absolute proof – only empirically based theories that organize and explain the evidence better than anything else available. A theory is accepted if it explains and predicts in the simplest and clearest fashion— a theory is refined and improved, sometimes substantially, sometimes incrementally, in the light of new evidence, observation, and information.

Keller challenges his reader to look at the evidence for the Christian faith a little differently than the strong rationalism of Richard Dawkins or of some aggressive Christian apologists. He offers a different image of God and challenges the reader to look at the world through Christian spectacles to see if the explanation coheres.

If the God of the Bible exists, he is not a man in the attic, but the Playwright. That means we won’t be able to find him like we find a passive object with the powers of empirical investigation. Rather, we must find the clues to his reality that he has written into the universe, including us. That is why, if God exists, we would expect to find that he appeals to our rational faculties. … It also means that reason alone won’t be enough. The Playwright can only be known through personal revelation. (p.123)

The last emphasis on personal revelation could be reworded as personal relationship. The God revealed in scripture is a God who came to, walked with, and at times dwelt among his people created in his image. This was true in the garden of Genesis 3, with Abraham, with Moses, with Samuel and the prophets, in the Tabernacle, the Temple, and ultimately in the incarnation. God does not simply provide information about himself, he is a key actor throughout the story.

He wrote himself into the play as the main character in history, when Jesus was born in a manger and rose from the dead. He is the one with whom we have to do. (p. 123)

The picture to the right just above was taken on the edge of the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum, or more accurately Kfar Nahum, just down from the house identified from very early on as Peter’s house. This is a real place, where people lived, and where Jesus walked, ate, and taught. The Christian story is grounded in place, grounded in history, and most importantly, grounded in relationship.

Before we continue on to work through the reconstruction of the Reason for God, lets consider a question or two:

If you believe the Christian story — why? What convinced you to become a Christian? How big a role is played by faith?

If you don’t believe, what are your principal reservations?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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  • DMH

    I grew up in a Christian home, I was born a Christian (another discussion for some I know :) ), and have always felt and embraced the love of Jesus. Experience was key. Around middle school “reasons” for my belief became important. At the time the only things available to me were books by Gish and Morris on YEC- I ate it up. I’m now older. My “reasons” have gotten better but my “experience” at times seems to push me in the direction of unbelief- funny how that works. In terms of “faith” I’m not sure I would distiguish too much between faith, reason, and experience- it seems to be all mixed up together.

  • Paul W

    If you believe the Christian story — why?

    I fundamentally view my faith as a gift from God. No matter how I may have pushed against it from time-to-time I simply acknowledge it as a given: I believe. Most of the time I try to accept that gift with gratitude.

    From a less theological perspective I’d say that one of the main reasons for my belief comes from my upbringing. My mom (and other trusted adults) showed in a myriad of subtle ways their faith in God which has undoubtedly been a primary catalyst for my own faith and religious development.

    As an adult I have continued in the faith and have sought to have some theologically informed sensibilities. These have helped to form my interpretive grid of the world. And I can say that I’ve been largely satisfied with the ability of Christian theology to provide satisfactory tools for me to make sense of my way through the world.

    To over-simplify, I think I believe because of God, mom, and the quality of its interpretive power.

  • http://inchristus.wordpress.com Inchristus

    Thanks for this. I’ve not yet read Keller but need to.
    I wonder if revelation is underplayed just a wee bit? You say “The last emphasis on personal revelation could be reworded as personal relationship.” After all, what kind of relationship would there be if I knew little about the one who loves me? That God has chosen to reveal himself to us is the basis for a relationship. Revelation is a vehicle or means whereby the other party enters into and offers a relationship. Otherwise the relationship is based on mystery (albeit there is much to say about mystery; see especially Hall and Boyer’s book The Mystery of God). This is not to say that we must confuse revelation with relationship (see my comments here. Nevertheless, it is relationship with God and not the revelation of God that we are bound.

  • INQUIRER

    was raised in a good christian home, the values of which included church involvement, christian education, and family devotions. my early adult life included these values for my family, as well as campus ministry for myself and my wife.
    it took deep dissatisfaction with organized church experience to motivate evaluation. realized that i was more oriented toward religious practice than a life of faith.
    continue to be deeply dissatisfied with my experience of the shallowness of organized church relationships, but continue in belief and faith because 1) still can’t explain this world as i know it apart from the guiding hand of a creator god; 2) can’t explain away the life, teachings and influence of jesus as a mere human; and 3) find inspiration, insight, comfort, wisdom, etc in the writings of the bible, especially as they point to jesus’ coming, and the life-with-god picture that they present.
    i’m not doing a very good job of “hanging in there” with the organized church.

  • http://samoltz.com Samuel Oltz

    “One could argue that our denominational distinctives are predominantly interpretations in cultural context.”

    Cultural context has some impact on this, but historical context would seem to have more impact.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    I became a Christian because I was looking for a way to maintain transparency and love with my parents during a rough patch of my adolescence. I began growing in my faith when I realized that I actually felt the Spirit working in and through me, convicting me of sin, and developing things in me that hadn’t been there before. I remain a Christian despite the difficulties I have with concepts like gratuitous suffering because I am convinced that Jesus is risen from the dead.

  • T

    Very interesting. I fully anticipated, as you were listing the the ways that God has been with us, to climax as you did with the incarnation, but then bring it to today with the presence of God via the Spirit, especially in the church.

    That’s also the “why” for my belief. Even growing up at Christian schools where hypocrisy was rampant, the few real Christians made it impossible for me to be unaware of Christ’s presence and call. I believe in Christ ultimately because his Spirit is active in the world, even in those who don’t yet believe, and especially in those who do trust him.

  • Jon G

    “If you believe the Christian story — why? What convinced you to become a Christian? How big a role is played by faith?”

    To answer this, I must give my presuppositions:
    For a number of reasons I won’t get into here, I believe in theism. In truncated form, I’ve come to conclude that either the material I see was preceeded by the immaterial I don’t or that my opinion wouldn’t matter anyway. So I choose the former. With that as my starting point, it makes more sense to me that the immaterial originator of the material would have reason for creating the material, or my opinion wouldn’t matter anyway. Again, I choose the former and call that “God”. Finally, since I do experience “good” and find it much more plausible to have a “good” god create a universe with some “bad” than a “bad” god create a universe with some “good”, or if I’m wrong then it doesn’t really matter what I believe, I choose to believe that God is good. All these things, I must admit, require much more explanation and discussion, but I mention them here simply as my “givens”.

    Now, God, it seems logical to me, being good and having created everything would have also created everything to work a certain “good” way…I believe this is what the Israelites refer to when they say “shalom” – the good way God intends it to be. And I have to ask myself, given my belief in God, and my belief that God has a particular way in which His universe is to act (shalom), and that God is “good” – is there any source, religion, evidence that seems to coincide with shalom flourishing/restoration while warning of shalom degradation/abuse. And I find that that the prescriptions of the Bible, especially those of Jesus, when acted out in my own life, are consistent with promoting shalom.

    Therefore, the Christian story seems, to me, to be believable.

    But that’s not all…I think other explanations of the Universe hold believability too. For instance, I really think the Buddhist emphasis that desire upsets shalom is true. I would read it in light of Christian claims, however, and say that “ultimate” desire (idolatry) is the leading breaker of shalom, not that desire entirely is the problem…and then I think that becomes evident in the Bible, too. (Peter Rollins’ book, The Idolatry of God is REALLY amazing here!) I believe they are both making a claim about desire being a part of the problem, but I think the Christian take on it is more in line with my experience.

    Anyways, I think I can see other stories fitting in with the notion of a Good God building the Universe to run a certain way, but I think the Christian story does the best job and so I subscribe, mainly, to that story. And I’ll continue to do so until I find that following it’s teachings leads away from shalom instead of towards it.

    Just my 2 cents…

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com Howard Pepper

    I am one of a relatively small but fast-growing group: Former ministers or theologically educated lay people (often with one or more graduate theology degrees, generally from strong but conservative institutions, as in my own case) who retain an important “faith” but clearly NO LONGER the orthodoxy of “the historic Christian faith”.

    So when Keller, according to the end of your quoted section, says “All Christians believe all this—but no Christians believe just this. (p.117)” I’d have to respectfully disagree.

    Many friends and co-worshippers of mine and I consider ourselves Christians — follow Jesus and find value in the Bible, etc. but do not subscribe to the language of the historic creeds. Nor do we to the idea that the Bible is uniquely inspired, with a divinely “written” story line (as by a playwright) …. The “story” has certain themes and GENERAL conceptual continuity (but with important points of discontinuity and internal conflict glossed over by most believers, including scholars). So, after MUCH deeper study, during and mostly AFTER all formal education (11 total FTE years of college and post-grad, all but 2 of which were at Biola/Talbot), I no longer can find any substantial reasons to view the Bible as “The Word of God” as opposed to human theologizing. And again, some of that is great stuff… I see the Bible having real value, but also being highly prone still, as through the centuries, to having the wrong thing made of it, thus confusing and causing anxiety among way too many.

    Most of that comes via trying to create “systematic” theology out of it, harmonize all parts together, conceptualize one “plan of salvation”, etc. I consider my faith in a God of grace to be an important aspect of my being and outlook on life and eternity. I think of it more as basic TRUST than a “faith” in the sense of a set of dogmas, though I necessarily have certain beliefs or speculations about how I think things are and who God may be (in the basic Process Theology model). I base that on the best kinds of authority I can find, and much of that is outside the Bible (as it is basically for everyone…. just that they can’t or don’t want to entertain the thought).

  • RJS

    Howard,

    Well I am not going to argue about who gets to call themselves Christian.

    But the post is certainly referring to the historic orthodox faith with assent to the ecumenical orthodox creeds. So I suppose I could add “orthodox” everytime I use the term or Keller used the term, but that would be a bit unwieldy.

  • Jon G

    For what it’s worth, I totally agree with what Howard has said.

    For me, to be a Christian, one must follow Christ, not follow Christians and I say that realizing that just about everything I know about Christ I got from Christians. Regardless, conformity to orthodoxy is not my standard…conformity to Christ is.

  • Rick

    Jon G #11-

    Who is Christ?

  • Jon G

    Rick,

    Not sure where you are going with this (ie, the Church as the body of Christ, the Messiah, Jesus, The Son of God, etc.)

    Personally, I see Jesus (Jehovas saves), the Christ (the annointed one), as God the Father’s spirit in a human temple. It is God among us in a physical body. So, if you are(and I’m not saying that you are) going the route of suggesting that I, in order to be a Christian, should follow the “Orthodox” Church teachings because it is “the body of Christ” I would have to disagree on two levels. (1) the body follows the head, not other parts of the body…and that head is God not the Church – and (2) the body in the case of the Orthodox Church is all over the place and shows me very little ability to lead.

    But if that wasn’t where you were going, I apologize. Please elaborate more and I’ll try to answer you as best I can.

    Peace!
    Jon

  • Rick

    Jon-

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Just to clarify, are you using “Orthodox” in the official institution sense (Eastern Orthodox), or as “orthodox”?

    I am curious on what helps you determine your core beliefs.

  • Jon G

    Rick,

    Not Eastern Orthodox (although I am starting to see many similarities between many of my thoughts and theirs). I’m speaking if the lowercase orthodox (sorry I should have been more clear).

    As to where I get my core beliefs…I guess I’m not sure anymore. I was raised in a baptist church, come from a family of street preachers, evangelists and bible distributors. They taught me about making God central. But they also mixed up God with their right wing politics and about 8 years ago I started questioning everything I thought I knew for certain. Through much investigation, personal introspection, and countless restless nights, I think I have a much more coherent, yet much less dogmatic, faith.

    As to the Church and all it proclaims, I respect it, but don’t in any way think it is above making false claims about God…it is, just like Israel, God’s representative in and to the world, but also just like Israel, flawed and in need of humility. Of course the same goes for me, but I have no choice but to believe what I believe…that is, until I stop believing it!

  • Rick

    Jon G-

    Thanks for that background. That is really interesting, and certainly a lesson for the church (or certain elements of it).

    “Through much investigation, personal introspection, and countless restless nights, I think I have a much more coherent, yet much less dogmatic, faith.”

    I can relate to that, although it appears I landed at a slightly different place (my core/essentials are probably different and a little wider than your’s, but were reduced none-the-less).

    I saw this post by Roger Olson today and thought of your comment. I think you appreciate his thoughts.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/03/what-is-authority/comment-page-1/#comment-39564

  • Jon G

    Rick,

    Thanks for your kind words and for passing on the Roger Olson link (I subscribe to his blog, but hadn’t yet seen this one). It was great and very much walks through many of my questions of authority. For myself, here is a summation of my journey on the subject. RJS, I hope it is ok to move away from your original topic, but, as I think this post has just about run its course to everyone but Rick and I, so I’ll take my chances…

    My journey with Authority started out with my parents. They were/are kind people, but like everybody else, hated having their authority as parents challenged and I got in to countless arguments with them, usually ending with me getting punished. But, from an early age, I was able to see hypocrasy in their lives and figured that I knew better than them. Still, they loved me and introduced me to God and I am extremely gratefult for that. My father, especially, was a devout believer and consumed the Bible (sometimes upwards of 2 hours a day!). It was through him that I learned that God is the ultimate authority, and, since I never really “hear” from God directly, I recognized the Bible as the closest representative of His authority. I still do, although with much modification.

    But as I immersed myself in the world of the Christian Church, listening to various preachers and reading all kinds of books trying to satisfy my desire to learn more about God I began to see that it wasn’t the Bible that was authorative to me OR the Church, but our interpretations of the Bible. Well that was a big problem! I mean, we are all sinful and our thoughts are skewed…so how could a Bible that nobody agreed on really have authority? The answer for many is to trust orthodoxy…how the Church has agreed to interpret the Bible.

    But then, as I studied the Church, I realized that they agree on very little. In fact, we have so many divisions in the Church that it is plainly obvious that it could not be an effective authority. So then I had to ask what it DID agree upon, and there you boil things down to the Creeds. But again, I had to ask “how do we interpret the Creeds” and, in addition, “how were they formed?”. They seemed to be as much about politics as theology. Now I was really in a bind. It seemed about the only thing everybody could agree upon was God was the Creator, God was Triune, and God saves. Well, I had a lot of trouble with the middle one (for a variety of reasons I won’t mention here) and so that left me with no real authority left except God, but with a huge communication gap between us.

    What’s more, the very nature of my investigation revealed something to me…I was the one evaluating all these systems of authority that I could submit to. In other words, I was the authority. If it didn’t fit with my reasoning, I couldn’t fall in line with it. But to place myself under an authority that didn’t make sense also seemed wrong. So I was in a HUGE dilemma. Trust myself who I know is often wrong but earnestly seeking the truth, or trust a Church who rarely agrees on anything, or trust a Bible which needs incredible amounts of scholarship to properly interpret, or wait for something else to come along?

    In the end, I figured that I am always involved in the trusting part. Whether the Church, the Bible, God, or myself…I am always the one deciding what will be my authority and so, in essence, I don’t see anyway around placing myself in position of authority. But I also know that I have to keep seeking God and so I believe that authority is treated with some humility. I recognize that I am not perfect, that I am not all knowing, and that I am not capable of making every right decision. So I keep grasping for new knowledge, humbling myself before others (repenting and making ammends for my mistakes), and asking God to light my path. In the end, as Roger puts it, Truth is my authority and I keep trying to follow the evidence where it leads. I think everybody does this on some level, but most don’t recognize that they do it.

    And ultimately, I think my approach is consistent with what I see in God. Even though He is the ultimate authority, in some way, by giving me Free Will, He has relinquished some of His authority to me. So I think it is totally ok for me to take it up. Regardless, even in submitting to authority, we are excercising authority so I’d rather just be honest and say that I am my own authority humbly following where I think God is leading me.

    And to bring everything to a head, practically speaking, my core belief about God is that He is a loving and good father who looks at me the way I look at my kids. So anytime I have a question about how something plays out theologically I run it through this grid – “If God loves me/us unconditionally, and wants to lead me/us into complete and ultimate joy, then how should I/we act or think about _____?” I can run any topic through that sentence and feel pretty good that I’m on the right track.

    Thanks for letting me open up!

    Shalom!
    Jon

  • Rick

    Jon G-

    Thanks again for the background. It is very helpful.

    I think the issue of authority is very important, and brings up numerous questions and issues.

    I totally agree on the importance of using one’s “mind” (as is said in the Jesus Creed about loving God). I landed more in the direction of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which then utilizes reason, but also Scripture, tradition, and experience. However, in incorporating all those, one element is not cut off from the influence of the others.

  • Jon G

    I like the Quadrilateral too, but I see all 4 legs as never being quite settled (reason changes, interpretations of Scripture changes, tradition changes, and experience changes) – and all get processed through our own understanding at some level. So there’s a tension always at work and I’m coming to be more comfortable with that. At the end of the day, I simply believe what I think has the most coherence.

    Thanks again for the dialogue!

  • http://gracethroughtawbah.blogspot.com Elisabeth Strout

    This post starts out, “Following Tim Keller in The Reason for God we have now presented and discussed seven of the biggest objections raised against the Christian faith.”

    Where can I view the posts on these seven objections?

    Thanks

  • RJS
  • http://gracethroughtawbah.blogspot.com Elisabeth Strout

    @RJS – Thanks very much!


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