A Scientific/Pragmatic Challenge to the Gospel

I got an opportunity, last Saturday, to attend a monthly meeting (forum) for an infamous (among the religious circles) group  known as “The Kenyan Free Thinkers”. According to the information posted on their website, the main objective of the Free Thinkers group is to “promote and defend reason, science and freedom of inquiry in education and to encourage free thought, skepticism, secularism, humanism, philosophical naturalism and rationalism in Kenya.”

A casual glance at the group’s Facebook page and blog will however reveal that they are more of “anti-religion” rather than free thinkers. It would appear their claim to free thought is simply a disguised commitment to “anti-religion” and more specifically, “anti-Christ” thinking. Most of the discussions oddly seem revolve around the person of Christ, his claims and Christianity in general. Furthermore, I am personally persuaded that the person who is allowed to believe in the existence of miracles and consider the possibility of the supernatural is more free thinking than the one who isn’t allowed to.

My attendance was more of a reconnaissance appearance and I do not intend to focus much into what goes on in there in this particular blog post. But be sure to read about my reflections on this particular meeting and others that, if the Lord wills, I will attend in the future. Today, I’d like to particularly note the approach with which most of the free thinkers (who happen to also be atheists and agnostics) engage the issue of faith. My concern in raising this particular issue is not to respond to the questions raised, but to note the implications of an approach often employed by believers in engaging atheists and other opponents of Christianity in the name of “defending the faith.” This post is therefore more of a commentary on how people believe rather than what people believe. For a helpful commentary on the importance of right doctrine and why we ought to handle doctrine correctly, please check out this very insighful post by Kaj Vincent.

One of the most notable aspects in the way many atheists ask questions about religion is the fact that they tend to be very scientific or pragmatic about it. What I mean is that their focus is usually on empirical and verifiable evidence for the faith. It often seems as if they are saying, “if you can prove to me that miracles are possible, then I will believe in God.” Another common approach is, “if you can sufficiently convince me, using verifiable evidence, that God exists, then I will believe in God.” These sound like honest requests, and they are to some extent. And many Christians, in the name of apologetics, have gone to great lengths to present an evidential case for the existence of God. However, my main concern is that the sincerity and honesty of the asker does not necessarily make their question valid or even relevant.

Apologetics is good, and the Bible does call us to always be ready to give a reason for our hope. As a matter of fact, I love apologetics. But I am always reminded that apologetics is not evangelism. It may open the way, prepare the hearts and lay the groundwork for the Gospel, but it is not the Gospel. We must always be careful not to substitute evidence or proof of God for a conviction of Faith. We are called to give a reason for OUR hope, not a reason for THEIR conceptualization of OUR hope.

This is where the focus of this post lies. Proving that God exists will not necessarily lead to Faith in God. Belief in the existence of God is not belief in God. Belief in God (or Faith) is what the Bible defines it to be, not what anyone chooses to understand it to be. Faith in God is the belief, as Truth, the claims about God, sin, Jesus, and the Cross and what implications these claims have upon the life of a person. It is not enough to give scientific evidence and proof that Jesus did exist, that Jesus was divine and that Jesus did rise from the dead. It is possible for someone to believe that all these things are true and still have these things make no difference in his or her life. The devil himself believes in the facts of the Gospel message. He believes that these things happened. But believing that something happened is not equal to acknowledging as true, the implications of those happenings. I can believe that the sky is blue because I have confirmed it using science (sense), but that does not necessarily mean that I also believe that the blueness of the sky has a direct (active) impact upon the meaning of my life and the whole essence of my being.

This is the problem that I saw in the Free Thinkers meeting that I attended. The atheists want verifiable evidence. They want evidence that miracles exist. They want proof that God exists. They want evidence that Jesus was resurrected. The Christians then go into great lengths to provide this evidence. And yes, sometimes we will successfully refute every argument and philosophy that raises itself up against the knowledge of God. But the sad reality is that, even after this has been done, the person we are engaging will still refuse to put his Faith in the person of Jesus Christ. This just goes to show that sin (or unbelief) is, at its core, irrational.

This is where I am reminded of how the people living in the few decades following the death of Jesus dealt with the Gospel message. To them, the facts about the life and supernatural abilities of Jesus were not so much in question because a cloud of witnesses were there to verify them. In the 1st century, the FACTS of the Gospel (life, death and resurrection of Jesus) were not in question; it is the IMPLICATIONS of the Gospel (faith, salvation) that were in question. The apostles did not go around giving scientific evidence that Jesus existed, his existence was presupposed. They went around announcing why he existed and what the implication of that existence was to the lives of their hearers. And when they did that, something strange happened. Some people believed and others did not. A single message was presented for the very first time to two people who had been raised up in the same pagan culture and context; but one ended up believing while the other ended up rejecting it. The Gospel wasn’t a concept, but an announcement (news).

However, in the 21st century, it is the FACTS of the Gospel that are largely in question, making the IMPLICATIONS go unmentioned and thus irrelevant. The Gospel has become a philosophy of life to be expressed by the most eloquent debater, it is no longer an announcement of facts that took place in history. The messenger has been converted into a commentator and a contextualizer. God is the Author and Perfecter of our Faith, but now He seems to be in need of editors. Of course we must admit that there is a historical gap that casts a shadow to the facts that the 1st century people were directly privy to. But this apparent blindness is no justification for changing the message. If faith is the substance of things not seen, then it ought to be the substance of some of these facts that we are no longer be able to see today.

The truth of the matter is that proving the FACTS of the Gospel doesn’t save anyone; it is believing in the IMPLICATIONS of those facts that saves. It is possible to BELIEVE that Jesus lived, died and resurrected, and still remain unmoved, unchanged and unconverted. Salvation is contingent upon what we believe the identity, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to our lives. Proving that God exists does not lead to a right relationship with God. And with this realization, it is my hope that we will not count our victories in the scientific distractions of verifying the facts, but we will learn to rest upon the efficacy of the NEWS of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to save those who are being saved and condemn those who already stand condemned.

In His Service,

Cornell

8 thoughts on “A Scientific/Pragmatic Challenge to the Gospel

  1. onyango

    Cornell i want to begin my response first by appreciating that you seem to be quite eloquent.
    i will try to respond to some points you have raised.

    It often seems as if they are saying, “if you can prove to me that miracles are possible, then I will believe in God…….., “if you can sufficiently convince me, using verifiable evidence, that God exists, then I will believe in God.” These sound like honest requests, and they are to some extent. And many Christians, in the name of apologetics, have gone to great lengths to present an evidential case for the existence of God. Don’t you agree that if there was sufficient evidence to prove existence of god, this question will not arise? Has any of the apologetics given sufficient evidence for the existence of god?

    This is where the focus of this post lies. Proving that God exists will not necessarily lead to Faith in God. Belief in the existence of God is not belief in God. Is it possible to prove he/she/it exists?

    It is not enough to give scientific evidence and proof that Jesus did exist, that Jesus was divine and that Jesus did rise from the dead. It is possible for someone to believe that all these things are true and still have these things make no difference in his or her life. The devil himself believes in the facts of the Gospel message. He believes that these things happened. But believing that something happened is not equal to acknowledging as true, the implications of those happenings. I can believe that the sky is blue because I have confirmed it using science (sense), but that does not necessarily mean that I also believe that the blueness of the sky has a direct (active) impact upon the meaning of my life and the whole essence of my being. Here you are making false premises; the sky is not blue but appears to be. The next false premise you are making is to take the bible to be authentic. The devil only exists for those who believe in the existence of god[s]. The premise that Jesus existed as portrayed in the bible is also a false claim. There is evidence to the contrary.

    This is the problem that I saw in the Free Thinkers meeting that I attended. The atheists want verifiable evidence. They want evidence that miracles exist. They want proof that God exists. They want evidence that Jesus was resurrected. The Christians then go into great lengths to provide this evidence. Please show me the evidence?

    This is where I am reminded of how the people living in the few decades following the death of Jesus dealt with the Gospel message. To them, the facts about the life and supernatural abilities of Jesus were not so much in question because a cloud of witnesses were there to verify them. As i said earlier there is evidence contrary to the above claim about how people viewed this story of jesus in the earlier centuries.

    However, in the 21st century, it is the FACTS of the Gospel that are largely in question, making the IMPLICATIONS go unmentioned and thus irrelevant. This has been true in all the centuries. Unless you are disputing the writings of people like Voltaire, Kierkegaard, Pascal and others who deal with the question of the existence of god.

    The truth of the matter is that proving the FACTS of the Gospel doesn’t save anyone; it is believing in the IMPLICATIONS of those facts that saves. It is possible to BELIEVE that Jesus lived, died and resurrected, and still remain unmoved, unchanged and unconverted. There has been no proof that the gospels are authentic, so you can’t say this for a fact. Unless this were tested and proved to be true, the above remains a false premise.

    Salvation is contingent upon what we believe the identity, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to our lives. Rightly so, religion doesn’t require the believer to question. As St. Augustine said I believe then I know. So all the believer has to do is just to believe and then he will know through faith not reason.

    Proving that God exists does not lead to a right relationship with God. Is it possible to prove god exists? Is there such proof?

    And with this realization, it is my hope that we will not count our victories in the scientific distractions of verifying the facts, but we will learn to rest upon the efficacy of the NEWS of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to save those who are being saved and condemn those who already stand condemned. Why this tone? Why condemn those who do not believe?

    1. Hi Onyango.

      Thanks for your comment. You have raised several valid questions and observations. But before I give you my response, I must first narrow down my focus by pointing out that most of the questions you ask are bound to take the discussion off on various tangents that are basically beside the general point of my post. But I do appreciate your questions and would love to respond to them in greater depth in a more dynamic forum such as the Kenyan Free Thinkers Meeting. So, with that in mind, here are brief responses:

      1. “Don’t you agree that if there was sufficient evidence to prove existence of god, this question will not arise? Has any of the apologetics given sufficient evidence for the existence of god?” –> You are asking this question at a point where I am laying the groundwork for the case that evidence is unnecessary for salvation. It is as if I am saying, “you do not need to understand how nerves conduct pain in order to feel pain” and then you come in and ask, “has anyone ever proven how nerves conduct pain?” You have to admit, that’s a bit beside the point. But I am willing to answer your question in its relevant context at a different forum.

      2. “Here you are making false premises; the sky is not blue but appears to be.” —> if you honestly considered the context of my premise, the scientific reality of the premise was not necessary. I do not have to say “the earth rotated a bit” every time I want to use the sunrise as a premise for a non-scientific argument. I do not think that was a reasonable objection.

      3. “The next false premise you are making is to take the bible to be authentic. The devil only exists for those who believe in the existence of god[s].” —> again, the context of this premise is not a case for the validity of the Bible, but a case for the logic in a statement within the Bible. I was trying to show that the biblical “myth” (if you want to call it that) says that someone (in this case satan) knows that something is factually or evidentially true but still this does not make any difference in his life. The point here is to show that there seems to be no logical relationship between having the facts and having Faith. But I understand where your question is coming from, you’re implying that if the Bible was valid and was indeed God, then Satan would have believed in him because it is the logical thing to do given the evidence. Again, that’s a whole other long discussion…

      4. “The premise that Jesus existed as portrayed in the bible is also a false claim. There is evidence to the contrary.” —> long debate

      5. The other questions are about proof of Jesus, God, validity of the Bible and why they are necessary for me to have any valid premise in using or presupposing them. That’s a big debate and you have to admit that it cannot be handled here.

      Finally,

      6. “Why this tone? Why condemn those who do not believe?” —> I was simply reiterating what the Bible says. Therefore, it is not I (the messenger) who has the condemning tone, it is the Bible I am reading from. So, my friend, I am not condemning you. I have no right to. Even the Bible itself says that I have no right or power to condemn. So, that is not my tone. I know that sometimes we may feel like smashing our TV screens when it bears bad news, but we don’t do it, because we know that it is only a medium.

      Anyway, would love to have a longer and more substantial conversations regarding these issues if we have the time. We must be honest that, though it has been tried, no one has ever resolved the God debate in a blog post – even when it generated hundreds of comments. So, I won’t try it, the empirical evidence is against it 🙂

      Have a good day, sir.

      1. onyango

        I am impressed by your summation and as i said in the beginning of my response, you’re eloquent and a master of semantics. I was never a good student of languages in my school days.
        Give me a date and we can discuss those you have classified as long debates. am not saying we will resolve them in one sitting, if that were possible it would have been resolved eons ago.
        As a general response , though, to the subject matter where you are trying to show that proof of existence of god[s] will not necessarily lead to belief (if i get you correctly) is not far from saying since gravity is a fact we must worship it? Or we hold our hands in supplication for the same. Am i far off?
        I think on the contrary if we are able to get proof of the existence of god, we may also find that he/she/it does not care to be worshipped or exalted.
        so until then we live our lives fully without fear that an all knowing spy is listening on to our every deed or thought.

    2. Also forgot to mention that this post is targeted at a primarily Christian audience. So, some of the assumptions are pre-supposed. Sigh, the knacks of the internet and a global audience.

      1. onyango

        Thats a good clarification but you realise that the internet is for everyone and as such am likely to come across it.
        you also appreciate that you have talked about a group to which i belong to and as such we have a right of reply. i think thats not too much to ask.

      2. I am aware that you guys exist, I guess that’s why I approved your comment and even took some time to offer some form of response 🙂 Talk to you soon. Good day.

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