Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rating Jesus

I'm going to briefly comment on this post:

Belief does not come easy for me. I have a little “unbeliever” who has set up camp in the back of my mind, and he has no idea when, or how, to shut up. He is always questioning everything, from the stories I hear to the beliefs which tie me down emotionally. (I borrowed this idea from Daniel Taylor’s The Skeptical Christian. Taylor is possibly the most profound and honest writer I have ever read.) This unbeliever’s goal is to make me less certain about my beliefs and, in doing so, render me spiritually impotent and sterile. I have found many ways to tame this unbelieving beast, but I have also come to the conclusion that he will never totally shut up.

Christians like Patton need to replace that chatty little unbeliever with a different unbeliever. Somebody like Daniel Dennett or Alex Rosenberg. If you think belief doesn't come easy, try unbelief. And I don't mean glib, superficial unbelief. I mean the kind of probing atheism that begins to consume itself from the inside out until nothing is left. 

Christians naturally focus on Christian issues. That can lead to a distorted emphasis on the perceived problems of the Christian faith. Try shifting your focus to the problems of the alternatives–like atheism. 

This way of thinking becomes even more beneficial when we place all of our beliefs along the scale. For example, I believe in the resurrection of Christ with less certitude than I do the existence of God.

How in the world is it supposed to be beneficial to rate belief in God higher than belief in Christ? Something has gone disastrously wrong with Patton's rating system.

Belief in God ought inseparable from belief in Christ. Speaking for myself, I barely thought about God until I became a Christian. 

If I were to lose my faith in Christianity, non-Christian theism wouldn't be my fallback position. Rather, at that point I'd be indifferent to the theist/atheist debate. I wouldn't care whether or not a non-Christian God existed. I wouldn't care about anything. 

Now, in fairness, Patton said "belief in the resurrection of Christ" rather than belief in Christ. And there are Jesus Questers who believe in a secularized "Jesus." But what's the point of that? 


  1. Ideally all Christians should not only have positive reasons for believing that Christianity is true, but also be rationally convinced that "it's the best game in town."

    It's ideal (i.e. whenever possible), that Christians should also be convinced inductively that no other popular alternative worldview comes close to providing, as good as or better than Christianity, the preconditions of intelligibility and human experience. But such inductive rational conviction takes study and time (and is admittedly fallible and non-comprehensive; being inductive). Few Christians have leisure time to do this. That's why apologetics and theology is so important in church.

    That's what so great about presuppositional apologetics and TAG. To reject Christianity while understanding TAG would result in having to find or formulate a whole new worldview that's coherent in its epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics (both individually, and in conjunction with each other).

    Leaving Christ and Christianity while knowing about TAG would be like deciding to exit a spaceship without a space suit or having another spaceship to enter. There's nothing to protect you from radiation, depressurization, extreme heat/cold, gravity, meteorite, and there'd be no source of air, food, etc.

    Ultimately, Christians ought to believe by faith that no other worldview could possibly be true or be better. Such a faith cannot be arrived at through inductive study and can only be given by the Holy Spirit's inner testimony. Though, I don't think that the Holy Spirit intends that it always be indubitable since I think God sometimes intentionally leads us into testings and doubts to strengthen faith and to prove His faithfulness.

    For example, I believe in the resurrection of Christ with less certitude than I do the existence of God.

    I think Van Til was right in locating Christ as the central locus and foundation of theology apologetics, history, philosophy etc. Patton's statement unfortunately seems to grant Reason the Magisterial role instead of the proper and limited Ministerial role that Luther talked about.

    [continued in next post]

    1. As I said above (and Christian theologians have previously said) regeneration and true faith has to be the gift of God and that certainty must come through the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit coupled with the external testimony of Scripture (or the teaching of Scripture if one doesn't have access to the Scriptures).

      Otherwise, faith would ultimately be self-generated and so ultimately be at the mercy of the shifting sands of the evidence and one's personal circumstances (of geographic or historical/temporal location; access to information, mental aptitude, financial resources etc.).

      Finally, I think it's essential that professing Christians have existential experiences of God. Ideally (but not necessarily) something that's overtly supernatural in nature. Otherwise, their Christianity could be mostly mental. Such a "faith" is susceptible to the temptations of the world and the objections non-Christians offer against Christianity. Extreme examples of existential experiences include Plantinga's experience that inoculated him from objections to Christianity. Or Pascal's experience November 23, 1654. Or D.L. Moody's experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Examples could be multiplied from church history, but the average Christian doesn't need to have such overtly supernatural experiences. They just need to be real and not merely psychological.

    2. Pascal's Memorial online. It's the scrap of paper that was found in the lining of his coat. He kept it with him at all times.

    3. I think another stumbling block that Christians trip over is the felt pressure 1. to explore all rational options and possibilities and 2. to be able to answer all objections to Christianity. Otherwise they feel they are being intellectually dishonest (that's often the accusation of non-Christians). But when you examine and press non-Christians about what and why they believe and act as they do, you find that they really aren't certain about anything. That, ultimately, they hold to what they do for 1. pragmatic and 2. preferential reasons. If it's okay for THEM to hold to what they do for pragmatic and preferential reasons, then they have no right (and would be hypocritical) to criticize Christians for also holding to Christianity for the same two reasons. But in addition to those reasons, 3. Christians have the comfortable position of having a worldview that's superior to all it's competitors abductively. That is to say, by the method of multiple competing hypotheses one can infer that Christianity is better than many alternative worldviews (BTW, this isn't TAG, which is distinct from this abductive approach). By this method, one can NOT prove that Christianity is true (it being a form of induction), but it points to the greater likelihood of its truth. Also, 4thly, if one is a true Christians, then one has the self-authenticating inner testimony of the Holy Spirit who provides 1. an objective external rationally justified knowledge of and 2. subjective assurance of the truth of Christianity. He (the Holy Spirit) is the defeater to all defeaters of Christianity. Non-Christians may scoff at this, but unless they can disprove Christianity, they have no right to dismiss the possibility of the reality of the Spirit's testimony. To dismiss it would be for them to beg the question. In fact, in one sense (as W.L. Craig says), because Christians only have assurance of the truth of Christianity due to the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit and can (additionally) believe THAT based on that doctrine, Christians are in a better position to be objective about the merits, strengths and weaknesses of the arguments for Christianity than non-Christians. Whereas non-Christians are in a worse position to be objective if Christianity is actually true, since they would be depraved and have an unnaturally natural aversion to the Holy God.

    4. The fact is that the best of this world's philosophy and science cannot lead to certainty. That's the conclusion that one will necessarily come to if one actually did study all rational and philosophic options and issues (approaching it like a non-Christian). But non-Christians either don't know this, or if they know it, will subconsciously suppress or consciously hide this fact in order to justify their unbelief and to attack Christian belief. They may attack Christians for being intellectually lazy for not examining all the rational possibilities as much as they allegedly have. But if they have done enough study, then will have come to the conclusion that they couldn't know anything for certain. So, either they themselves haven't done enough study to discover the fact that "discovery is impossible" (given their worldview). Or, they have come to this "discovery" and are dishonestly exploiting the fact that some Christians aren't aware of it; and actually accusing Christians of intellectual sloth! When they believe as a matter of fact that certainty is impossible (i.e. by their methods). That would be like someone who complains that another person hasn't successfully climbed up Willis (formerly "Sears") Tower when he himself became a cripple falling off the 3rd story while attempting to climb it himself. Christianity can escape the "all or nothing" problem. Either one knows everything, or one knows nothing. Since, truly knowing something means also knowing it in relation to everything else. To know A, one must know it in relation to B, C, D, E all the way to Z. But in order to know B, one must know it in relation to A and C, D, E all the way to Z. And so inductive research can never lead to certainty since by the time you discover X, any future "discovery" could controvert all past discoveries and conclusions. Also, one could never even know if there is a (or what is the) last piece of fact. Analogously, whether Z is the last letter in the alphabet or if there are and infinite number of letters. Induction leads to an infinite quest. Deduction leads to an infinite regress of proving premises with arguments whose premises themselves need to be proved ad infinitum. Christianity can escape the problem of all or nothing despite the fact that humans actually don't knowing everying, because according to Christianity humans are surrounded by revelation within and without. By general revelation internally and externally. Being made in God's image humans have innate knowledge, the sensus divinitatis/detatis, a God given (admittedly fallible) conscience, immediate and mediate external general/natural revelation. Accordingly, non-Christians also have genuine knowledge, but that's despite their worldviews and methods. Methods which would render them absolutely ignorant if consistently applied. Christians have the advantage of being able to justify their knowledge because it's metaphysically grounded in God and epistemically rooted in Scripture and attested to by the Holy Spirit.

  2. "Try shifting your focus to the problems of the alternatives–like atheism."
    Though not simple to fully carry out, that's a good piece of advice. However, intellectually sorting out one's own belief system might nonetheless be a good thing. If you hold to, say, pre-tribulation rapture theory as strongly as belief in Christ's resurrection, then that might be slightly misguided.

    "How in the world is it supposed to be beneficial to rate belief in God higher than belief in Christ?"
    Well, belief in Christ as the Son of God (not merely an historical eccentric) logically depends on theism. Additionally, there are theistic arguments that don't single out Christianity, therefore giving us more certainty in theism. (This does not mean Christianity is uncertain.)

    1. If you hold to, say, pre-tribulation rapture theory as strongly as belief in Christ's resurrection, then that might be slightly misguided.

      And some people so tie the two together that if they start doubting Pre-Trib theory, they may actually start doubting the existence of God. That's the danger of not having ANY rating system. Or in not having some beliefs more central (or peripheral) in their web of beliefs.

    2. Kaffikjelen

"Well, belief in Christ as the Son of God (not merely an historical eccentric) logically depends on theism."

      That's implicitly circular. If Christian theism is true, then your claim amounts to saying that Christian theism logically depends on Christian theism.

      Put another way, if Christian theism is true, then the truth of theism logically depends on the truths of Christology.

      "Additionally, there are theistic arguments that don't single out Christianity, therefore giving us more certainty in theism. (This does not mean Christianity is uncertain.)"

      There are arguments that single out the historical Christ that don't single out theism, thereby giving us more certainty about Christology.

    3. I think Kaffikjelen meant to say that it presupposes theism.

      "Well, belief in Christ as the Son of God (not merely an historical eccentric) logically [presupposes] on theism."

      I think that's true.

      By "theism" I think Kaffikjelen means "mere" or "bare" theism. Not Christian theism in particular.

      Steve said...
      Put another way, if Christian theism is true, then the truth of theism logically depends on the truths of Christology.


      BTW, this is why I agree with Van Til that the "Blockhouse Methodology" of apologetics is problematic. Since all parts of theology and apologetics are inter-related.

  3. Having read Patton's blog, here are some comments. I think Patton focuses too much on conscious assent and the degrees of certitude. Though, there's a place for that. Philosophers talk about occurrent and non-occurrent knowledge. I think there is also occurrent and non-occurrent faith because I don't think Biblical saving faith is identical to current conscious assent (which is tied to brain states). Otherwise, one ceases to have saving faith when one is unconscious due to sleep, or in a coma (whether induced chemically or brought on by physical trauma). People with mere brain based assent can and do fall away (e.g. Luke 8:13). But saving faith is something that, while including brain states, goes beyond it. Genuine faith is also a spiritual thing induced by the Holy Spirit that can (or does) remain even when one doesn't have conscious assent. That's why there's a danger in being too focused on conscious assent and one's intensity of conviction. One can mistake that for saving faith and so start doubting the genuineness of their faith when they notice their assent or subjective psychological assurance and certitude is wavering. There can be genuine faith in the "heart", even when there's doubt in the "head". My attempted solution to the "mind-brain dependence problem" may have some latent applications.

    Also, I think growth in spiritual faith can be partially gauged when one notices a conscious increase in one's natural (almost instinctive) ability to rest in God's truth regardless of existing questions and/or doubts. Being troubled with doubts, and being troubled with being troubled with doubts can be a vicious circle. One can spiral downward and inward, inward and downward. But faith is an outward thing. It's focus is on Christ. If one is constantly fighting to maintain his faith, then he's too focused on himself and on his faith rather than in the One in whom he is supposed to be believing. Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:29). I take the meaning of the verse to be, "If you want to do the works of God, believe in Jesus. However, if you want to truly believe on Jesus, then look to God who alone can work in you that belief in Jesus."
    [Continued in next post]

    1. The purer the faith, the more its focus will be on Christ rather than on one's believing on Christ. Instead of simultaneously looking in the mirror while one is attempting to look to/at Christ, one merely looks to Christ and strives to himself be a mirror of Christ's truth. There's a resting and recumbent trusting to faith that no amount of effort or apologetical/theological study can mimic or replace. This is also another reason why the teaching and belief in the doctrine of Decisional Regeneration is so dangerous. Instead of looking to Christ, and looking to Him to grant one saving faith, one must instead attempt to self-generate it. Eventually one will give up knowing one has done his best to believe and failed. That's why so many apostates say, "I tried Christianity and it didn't work" or "I tried, but I couldn't believe it". They failed at doxastic voluntarism. And so, out of a desire not to be a hypocrite and of wanting to be consistent, they opt to be an unbeliever. Since "being a Christian" was too much of a wrestling match with oneself and with the "facts." You eventually get tired of fighting and choose the (false) peace of unbelief.

      IOW, there's the danger of being a Pelagian or Semipelagian (at least in practice) when it comes to trying to maintain or grow in faith. That kind of approach will actually weaken faith because after a while you'll realize how weak you are to hold on and can eventually lose hope, despair and actually choose to walk away from Christ. It's an impossible task. It's like trying to breath under water. You will have to give up or drown. Or trying to start a fire by rubbing two ice cubes together. None of this means one can't contribute to one's growth in faith. Since God commands it and has provided means to increase it. But its start is totally in God's power, and it's maintenance and growth can only be cooperated with, not self-sustained or self-intensified. I recommend Charles S. Price's book "The Real Faith" if one is seeking physical healing, but I suspect it would also benefit *some* people if they are struggling with faith in the existence of God.