I listened to a podcast this morning that kind of fits into my theme on what you win them with is what you win them too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxY9ykq-fiE You may ask why I keep thrashing away at what might appear to be a dead horse but it is something that is important to me. As Dr James White variously points out, our beliefs and ideas don’t just pop into our heads like an epiphany. The great thinkers of history didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll start a revolution or I think I will believe in Jesus this way! Those thoughts and ideas developed over time, long periods of time!
When developing an idea, a philosophy or even a system of theology one has to investigate and even postulate where that belief comes from to see if it has any foundation in truth or fact. Not all truth is verifiable in the same way. For example most Christians believe God speaks to us through His inspired word the bible, that it is profitable for instruction, teaching and direction, 2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 2Ti 3:17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
However, we can’t limit how we come to know or accept something as true to the Christian realm it is something we all do whatever the belief or idea is. Christians determine their truth by faith. I am not talking about a faith that relies on feelings or simply being told something is true and we should never question it, just believes it; but sadly, that is exactly what we often do. The Christian faith is in a God who we believe interacted in this world personally that we can point to as a historical figure.
As James White points out we have more knowledge about truth and its history at our fingertips than at any other time and yet many of us remain so ignorant of how beliefs and ideas are developed. Those of us who have a background in academics should know the rules regarding how we research any given subject, we should know how to remove bias from our findings and more importantly that we need to challenge our own ideas and beliefs.
In other words, if I want to defend an idea or belief or conversely I want critically assess or debunk a belief or an idea then I need to study it. I need to know its history; what are its premises, where are those premises derived from, what did their contemporaries say about that idea who agreed and who disagreed and why? Were there any council’s that discussed the idea, what were their conclusions? Which historians recorded these events and did they have any biases of their own that affected how they recorded those events?
In asking all the above questions when I or another person give our opinion on those subjects we then move to what our conclusions are; why we agree or don’t agree or why the idea or belief is orthodox or heretical in our opinion. It would be nice if everyone functioned this way or at least had the integrity to follow the guidelines… sadly many of those we call experts that we turn to in an attempt to find the truth don’t follow the rules and aren’t interested in truth; they are only interested in disseminating ideas that agree with their world view or support the theory they are most comfortable with.
As creatures with limited powers of observation, limited knowledge and emotions it is hard to remain objective. Very often our knowledge and observations are affected by our emotions. As soon as we are faced with uncertainty or a challenge to our beliefs and ideas we instinctively withdraw and more often than not become suspicious of anything that might overturn or call into question our sacred cows. In other words, we often engage our emotions rather than look at the information and compare it with what we know. Here is where our problems begin!
Firstly, we immediately look at our expert sources. Many in the church often turn to their Ministers, Pastors or Priests for answers to questions. Students look to their teachers while employees may look to their Human resource person or another type of specialist to answer a question. I am not criticising that it is something we all should do. In saying this, however, the answer is not always as straightforward as it seems.
I may have told the story about my first introduction to the Mormon cult not long after I converted to Christianity. I was about 14 years old I had only been a Christian for a few months when I meet two Mormon Missionaries and we began discussing our beliefs. The first thing they told me as that they were also Christians although they believed in a modern day prophet called Joseph Smith Jr. After this discussion, I went back to my church leaders and asked if the Mormon belief system was different to ours and why. Instead of providing me with information on why Mormonism was a cult they told me to read Deuteronomy 18:18-22. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. ‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him… My leaders then told me to avoid the Mormons.
As much as I understand the significance of that now and how true it is, It made little sense to me at the time and wasn’t relevant to what I was asking. I felt like I was being fobbed off although I don’t blame my leaders for their response at the time. So what did I do? I read the verses quoted to me and had already guessed that Joseph Smith wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. I tracked down the Mormon Missionaries and began asking questions about who Smith was and what prophecies he proclaimed. One by one they trotted out Smith’s proclamations and one by one I shot them down.
Next, the Mormons started trying to undermine my beliefs and said that the Bible contained errors that the book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of the Bible corrected. I went away and researched that then came back and knocked those assertions on the head as well. Not being satisfied with the missionary’s answers I wrote directly to the local Mormon president and began asking difficult questions. The outcome was that all the local Mormons and the Missionaries were forbidden to talk with the demon-possessed man trying to undermine the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They didn’t say who I was but in a small mining town, it wasn’t hard to figure out.
My point is that I didn’t simply rely on what I was told by both sides I went and did research. In 1978 doing research meant tracking down the books and information. As a 14-year-old, I was completely out of my depths, to begin with, but I knew one thing, there were three libraries in a little town surely they had something on the subject. I won’t go into miniature detail but I over a period of a few years Learned a great deal about my own faith and that of others. My point here is that I didn’t simply rely on the word of others even though they were trusted friends and allies who were reliable… I simply wasn’t satisfied with the answers I received.
So what is wrong with the way we do research today? It’s not the method so much as how we arrive at any given truth with our inbuilt biases and presuppositions… Of course, we all think we don’t have those things but we do and they directly impact our worldview.
Bias seems to play a large role in how we come to believe and even more importantly how we maintain belief. Specifically, in terms of Christian doctrine, we all have our own bias. My bias is that I believe in the one true God who is the creator of all things who exits as one God in three person’s as a trinity; the Father who is author of our faith and salvation, creator of the Universe who generated all things through his Son and purchased our salvation by His free and willing sacrifice on the cross from which the Son atoned for our sin and justified us so that we can enter into a relationship with God. The third person of the trinity is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth and empowers us to live the Christian life among many other things.
Even as a child I accepted this as true but if you asked me how I knew it was true my answer as a child would have been, “because it’s true! I accepted it as true because I was told it was true so I believed it. When I meet those Mormon missionaries my reaction and rejection of their version of truth was natural, what they said didn’t line up with what I believed. The more I looked into their worldview the more I rejected it as unorthodox heresy. What happened is that I moved from being ignorant to informed.
I am not saying I have perfect knowledge or that I am always right. I am saying that God in His grace provided me with the information to make an informed choice about my beliefs. It goes without saying that everyone who does research puts some faith in the information they uncover but even that does not remove personal bias.
For example, Jesus says in Joh 14:6 Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. For me, that is true. There is no other way to find truth and life or enter into a relationship with the Father to receive salvation… Not everyone who calls themselves Christian believes this. Clearly, I was led to this conclusion through the sources I read. Although when I was introduced to the Jehovah’s Witnesses all I had was my RSV translation and their New World Translation… the errors in the New World Translation were blatantly obvious.
This is the dilemma we all face when assessing the information we have before us. Depending on whom you ask and depending on what a person’s personal biases and beliefs are will determine what kind of answer you get back to any questions… especially on the question of is God, does God exist, what we must do to be saved and how we should live in relationship with Him and with each other. Christians may differ to some degree on God’s character and how that relates to salvation while others differ in the nature of man and the degree to which they are involved in their own redemption. Often these two things go hand in hand with orthodoxy and heresy; very often it is the combination of both that guide our beliefs that knowingly or unknowingly guide our thoughts and ideas on life and death and truth.
Here is something you need to know. Atheists, Liberal scholars, Muslims, Mormons Jehovah’s Witnesses and a whole host of others cults and isms will rarely if ever quote conservative Christian scholars or sources that believe the bible is a true or fair account of the bible and especially the life of Christ, his death, and resurrection. Their sources are all from sceptics or Liberal scholars that only ever support their views. They all deny the reliability of the bible and especially deny the resurrection. Many will concede that Jesus was a historical figure, even an extraordinary person in terms of wisdom and morals but they will never acknowledge Christ’s deity.
These people all deny the centrality and the significance of the resurrection as the pivotal point in human history where Christ redeemed His elect for all time past present and future. They want Christ to be a good bloke who looks kindly on those who do good deeds or live sacrificial lives. Since Jesus lived an exemplary life he is an ideal role model for humanity to follow but he isn’t unique. Or they remove Christ from the equation altogether and portray God as a kindly noninterfering old man that simply lets the scales of good versus evil weigh a person’s fate in the balance.
The liberal humanist version of Jesus is simply an ideal among many other religious leaders that one might follow to find enlightenment or the path to salvation. There is no mention of the need for forgiveness or repentance from sin; man is essentially a good moral agent.
Any mention of the reliability of the scriptures is met with derision and deplorable bias. Quoting sources essentially becomes a game of Round Robin where the sceptic cherry picks their sources to support their arguments; it is called research bias. Of course, they accuse us of confirmation bias however when conservatives are willing to discuss the views of the sceptics and humanists from the present postmodern era or the past modernist and enlightenment periods it really is dishonest to make that kind of accusation.
So the three central beliefs paramount to the Christian faith are; Christ’s deity, his death and resurrection and the historical reliability of the scriptures. Historically there is little argument that Jesus Christ was a historical figure. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/14/what-is-the-historical-evidence-that-jesus-christ-lived-and-died Finally the biblical manuscripts are the most abundant and best attested of any ancient manuscripts having well over 3000 more than its nearest rival. Not only is this significant in terms of sheer numbers but also the earliest manuscripts date to within 100 years of the time of Christ. https://www.josh.org/wp-content/uploads/Bibliographical-Test-Update-08.13.14.pdf Note that these are the three central pillars of the faith that must be undermined by sceptics and liberals. Anything else is simply a red herring.
So why would I say that the truth is a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing? Many of us know a little about a lot of things. Most times we know enough to get ourselves out of trouble although sometimes we know something is wrong but can’t say why it is wrong. There are other times we have accepted something as true and later found out it wasn’t true or it is one of those things that if you hear it often enough it becomes true and we really don’t think about it too deeply. This is exactly where your opponents want you to be they want you to be mostly ignorant and vulnerable, they want to be able to manipulate all the information and data enough to cause you to doubt. More often than not our critics know more about the subject matter than you do they rely on your ignorance, your trust and your naivety… Think about that for a while.