2018-05-21

Count it all joy!

In today's confusing culture Christians are going to be attacked for their faith -- it's just a reality of life. We need to know what to do when this happens, and be armed with strategic basics. As a Christian it’s essential to respond to assertions such as “Science has shown that God doesn’t exist,” and “Evil and suffering show that God doesn’t exist.”

 

How we do this can make all the difference, writes Mitch Stokes, author of A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists. How should you respond when your faith is questioned by atheists? Silence? Stand on a chair and yell hell and damnation until they come to Jesus? Humbly hang your head and apologize for the Spanish Inquisition?

Count it all joy!

How should you respond? Should you take debating classes at the local junior college so that you can match their arguments point-by-point, quoting from Schweitzer, Gandhi and Mother Teresa?

 

One of the atheists’ most frequent complaints against belief in God is that faith in the Almighty is irrational.  More specifically, unbelievers claim that there’s no evidence for God’s existence. Thus, believers are intellectually irresponsible and even downright deluded.  This, in fact, has been the most popular charge leveled at believers ever since the Enlightenment of the 1700s.  Are we guilty?

Count it all joy!

Are atheists right?  Are we believers deluded?  Irrational?  Is there no proof of God's love, of His mercy, of His daily provision?

 

Most believers' faith is not based on systematic theological exegesis or archeological-based apologetics. They cannot site scientific proof for God’s daily guidance, provision and protection. Most were raised by believing parents or have had personal experiences that strengthened their faith and drove them to their knees before the Lord. 

 

Many Christians cannot point to any definite event that caused them to believe. Think of your own experience. Did you become a Christian because you heard a convincing debate between an atheist and a believer -- and the arguments of the Christian were more intellectually satisfying? Probably not.

 

In fact, how many people do you know who came to a deep relationship with Jesus because of a screaming match between an atheist and a Christian -- and the Christian won?

Count it all joy!

But how can believing in God without a persuasive argument be rational? We can arrive at the answer by looking at how we ordinarily believe things in our everyday lives. 

 

"Take, for example, the computer in front of you right now," writes Mitch Stokes in A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists.  "You no doubt believe that there is a computer in front of you. And you would be irrational if you didn’t. Similarly for most of your fundamental beliefs, like your belief that you had breakfast this morning." 

 

But -- and this is a crucial point -- "you didn’t believe these things by way of an argument," he writes. Rather, you just found yourself believing.

Count it all joy!

"The majority of our most fundamental beliefs are automatic, formed without first running through an argument of any kind," writes Stokes. "We’ve been hardwired to just believe many things, without effort and without argument. 

 

"Humans have innate belief-forming faculties that instantly and spontaneously produce beliefs. If we didn’t automatically believe, for example, that there’s a car right there, we wouldn’t have gotten very far. Life comes hard and fast."
 

Count it all joy!

Among our cognitive faculties — among our belief-forming mechanisms — is one that automatically forms belief in God under a wide-variety of circumstances.  It is what we might call a “God faculty,” or what theologians have called the sensus divinitatis, the “sense of the divine.” 

 

By seeing a majestic mountain range or the birth of their first child (just two of innumerable examples), many people just find themselves believing in God — or at least in something supernatural. 

Count it all joy!

Snider continues:

Of course, unbelievers could agree that humans have a God faculty, that there’s something about the intellectual and biological make-up of humans that causes us to believe in the supernatural.  But they’ll likely say that it is nothing more than the result of random, blind, and unguided evolution—not something that God intended or designed us to have.  Moreover, they say that this “God faculty” produces wildly false beliefs. And, they’ll point out, not everyone believes. 

Count it all joy!

It’s a good question: If humans have a built-in propensity to believe in God, then why are there atheists?  And even among believers, why are there so many different kinds of beliefs about the supernatural?  If God has made us with this propensity to believe in him, then why doesn’t everyone believe in him (and in him only).  Surely this is evidence that there really isn’t a “God faculty” or a sensus divinitatis, doesn’t it?

Count it all joy!

The reason our sensus divinitatis — our God faculty — doesn’t always automatically form belief in the Christian God is the same reason for all our woes: the ravages of sin. 

 

Sin — that innate disease — has damaged not only our wills (that is, what we want) but also our minds (what we think). Of course, in most people the sensus divinitatis isn’t completely destroyed; it usually functions to some extent, which is why most people believe in something supernatural. 

 

But according to traditional Christian theology, to the extent that a human doesn’t believe in the Christian God, the sensus divinitatis is badly damaged.

Count it all joy!

The now-damaged cognitive faculty designed by God to automatically form belief in him can only be repaired by God himself.  This is where the Gospel comes in. 

 

The sensus divinitatis begins to be repaired by the Holy Spirit in those who accept the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Count it all joy!

To be sure, our God faculty may not ever be fully repaired — no one has perfect faith — but it is repaired enough to cause us to believe in the God of the Bible. 

Count it all joy!

And, finally, here’s our main question: If genuine belief isn’t brought about by argument, should we bother debating the merits of our faith with atheists? 

 

Well that depends on a lot of things.  The relevant thing for us here, however, is that the believer should keep things in perspective. 

Count it all joy!

Relax and resist the temptation to convince the unbeliever, to argue him or her “into the kingdom.” 

 

Rather, think of your discussion with the unbeliever (which should be calm and compassionate) as planting a small seed, or at least as making the unbeliever think twice before ridiculing you or your loved ones for your faith. 

Count it all joy!

"Above all, love the atheist," says Stokes. "Pray for them. Keep a warm sense of humor. 

 

"After all, it doesn’t all rest on your shoulders. Thank God."

Count it all joy!

These discussions were inspired by the book A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists by Mitch Stokes, published by Thomas Nelson.

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