Friday, January 12, 2007

Natural Theology: Is it Christian?

Mike Cope set off quite a discussion yesterday when he quoted from a new book by Samuel Harris.

Harris recently gained a good bit of attention when he published “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.” His more-recent book—the one that Mike was quoting—is called “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

Except for the few snippets I’ve come across, I haven’t read either of Harris’ books. But I gather that both of them advance ideas like:
  • Biblical religion is deeply flawed. In fact, it’s just plain bad. If someone had to pick a religion to practice, there are better choices than Christianity.
  • In practice, Christians renounce what they say they believe and are committed to. They don’t practice what they preach.
  • The commonly-known Christian variety of supernatural theism—where, for example, people can pray expecting that God will act in response, even transcending the laws of nature—is irrational.
All of this led me back to questions I’ve had for what seems like a long time to me. Questions like:

How should the church respond to the Samuel Harrises of the world (assuming that it should)? That is, given our situation, where unbelievers make public assertions designed to refute the claims of Christianity and embarrass the commitment of religious faith, how should Christians respond?

What does the way of Christ teach us about how to handle our ever-popular, in-the-news debates between faith and unbelief, reason and religion, science and Scripture?

Most of all, I come back to this question: To what extent is it Christian for believers, as part of the church’s evangelistic thrust, to advance and defend arguments for the existence of God?

Now, if you come from the same place I do, then you’re likely to say that it is only right for Christians to rationally advance theism. In fact, if someone says that he loves his neighbor as himself, and that he completely loves the God who saves us through His Son, how could that person do anything less than to try to convince the atheist or the agnostic of the existence of God? After all, once the unbeliever is convinced of the reality of God, that person can then be led to Christ, the Son of God.

It’s interesting. Karl Barth, the man regarded by many as the greatest Christian theologian of the 20th century, said that what I just described is not, in fact, Christian. Why did he say that? I’ll explain next time.


Anonymous said...

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

It seems that the beloved Apostle employed the same method where ever and to whom ever he preached.

A learned unbeliever like Mr. Harris, or a skid row bum, is not likely to be made fit for heaven by logical arguement, evidences, or the most skilled oratory. The "Gospel", the good news about Jesus, is the only message that transforms sinners into saints.

Jesus said "If I be lifted up..", not theology or reason, men will be drawn to him.

Grace and Peace,
Royce Ogle

Mike Hildreth said...

Hello Brother Frank,

Just dropping by your blog and enjoying the good material. I appreciate your willingness to discuss these important topics. May the Lord bless you and preserve you.

In the blessed name of Christ,

Mike Hildreth