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,