Not long ago I heard J.P. Moreland in a lecture discussing the importance of knowing that Christianity is true. Moreland is an apologist and the author of what I consider to be one of the most important books written by a Christian in recent years, Kingdom Triangle. I don’t have his exact words, but it went something like this:
“There seems to be among average churchgoers a nagging suspicion, a fear, that the scholars—those who are really in the know—have proved the faith is all wrong. In the universities, the laboratories, and even the seminaries they’ve found out the Bible is mostly false and the message of Christ is a big hoax; but the rest of the world just hasn’t quite caught on yet.”
Moreland was actually drawing from Dallas Willard, in another on that short list of most important books, The Divine Conspiracy. Willard is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, and stands in a good position to comment on this topic. On page 92 he wrote,
The powerful though vague and unsubstantiated presumption is that something has been found out that renders a spiritual understanding of reality in the manner of Jesus simply foolish to those who are “in the know.”
This presumption, though “vague and unsubstantiated,” is nevertheless “powerful,” he says. What kind of effect might it have? Does it really make a difference? It must. A believer, after all, is someone who believes; and if that belief is colored by concerned that the really smart people, the ones who understand, have found out it’s all foolish, that belief may be little more than a confused mind game: “I guess it’s all wrong, or at least I think it is, but I’m going to believe it anyway.” This is irrational. It makes us double minded, even unstable, to use James’s words (James 1:6-8).
I wrote in a pending post that quite often, it really is good to do what others say is good for us; but too many churchgoers “believe” not because they think it’s true, but because they think it’s good for them to believe. That kind of belief isn’t good for you, though; it’s just confused.
This presumption that it’s foolish to believe is wrong, at any rate. Willard goes on:
But when it comes to say exactly what it is that has been found out, nothing of substance is forthcoming.
Thus Rudolf Bultmann, long regarded as one of the great leaders of twentieth-century thought, had this to say: “It is impossible to use electric light and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.”
To anyone who has worked through the relevant arguments, this statement is simply laughable. It only shows that great people are capable of great silliness. Yet this kind of “thinking” dominates much of our intellectual and professional life at present, and in particular has governed by far the greater part of the field of biblical studies for more than a century.
But the baseless presumption in question must be seen for the empty prejudice it is if we are to enroll with serious intent in Jesus’ school of life. Though this is not the place to discuss it, you can be very sure that nothing fundamental has changed in our knowledge of ultimate reality and the human self since the time of Jesus.
Here on this blog entry is not the place to discuss it either, for it would go far too long. I will leave you with questions and some advice instead, directed especially toward followers of Christ. Do you really believe what you “believe?” Does believe, for you, mean to consider the Gospel to be true and reliable information, or does it mean something less than that? Do you sense that nagging suspicion that it might be all wrong after all? Are you believing because you’re confident it’s true, or because you think it’s probably good for you?
If you identify any of those haunting doubts in you, here’s what not to do: Don’t try to squash or squelch it, don’t feel condemned about it, and don’t feel shame over it. It’s a signal, a good and helpful one for you to pay attention to. It may be a sign that what you “believe,” you don’t really believe, and that you’re trying to manage some kind of impossible schizophrenic doublethink. Bring that vague unsettledness out into the open. Turn it into genuine questions. Then you can look for genuine answers, in Scripture, at your church, and among good books and blogs (of which I hope this is one).