Home > Theology > Six Reasons Why I Don’t Really Fit in Anywhere.

Six Reasons Why I Don’t Really Fit in Anywhere.

I’m in a season of life where I am a Christian, but I am not quite sure why I am a Christian.  I don’t mean why in the sense of not knowing the causal chain that led me to faith.  That much is clear.  I rather mean that I am looking for intellectual reasons for being a Christian.  So it’s really something of an apologetic concern.

So I usually just end up re-phrasing the question in a number of different ways: Is Christian theology really knowledge?  Do we really have any reason to believe in the Trinity?  What is the truth value of non-Christian religions?  On what grounds should I accept the resurrection of Jesus?  The list could go on, but it’s all the same question really.

So today, rather than focus on what I don’t believe, I thought I’d spell out what I do believe.  This is not a creedal statement but really a statement of my theological presuppositions.  These are the points by which I measure whether a theological answer seems compelling or not.

1. Supernaturalism.  Now many have argued that the very term is too much of a capitulation to the Enlightment project with a false distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’.  Maybe I would prefer the term ‘spiritualism,’ but that has very different connotations than I am going for.  But the point is that I believe there is more going on than we can see.  There really spiritual forces and beings working behind the scenes.  Miracles are possible.  I resist the notion that it is only “our miracles” that are true but “their miracles” are mere superstition (as Hume berated Christians for doing).  I reject the idea that all supernaturalism degenerates into superstition (though it is certainly a danger).  So anything that rests on the naturalistic presupposition that “all we can see is all there is” is not at all compelling to me.

2. Theism.  Whatever else is true about God, I take it as a given that God exists.  The teleological argument carries a lot of weight, but ultimately it is the cosmological argument that carries the day for me.  It is totally implausible that there should be an infinite regression of causes, so I take it that there must be some non-contingent cause behind everything.  The fact that life and personality exists in a world where it seems like it shouldn’t suggests that this non-contingent cause is personal.  The fact that I have seemed to experience such a being only strengthens this presupposition.  So any non-theistic (or even any non-monotheistic) proposals will always seem unsatisfactory.

3. Pietism.  It would seem that God is more concerned with how we behave than what we believe.  Thus I tend to put more weight on experience than on ‘reason’, though I am similarly skeptical of the evidential value of experience to confirm our theological positions.  People seem to experience God on the basis of faith and piety, not on the basis of proper theology.

4. Non-contradiction.  I shouldn’t have to list this as a presupposition.  It is self-evident that any statement which results in a contradiction is necessarily false.  But Buddhist philosophers, apophatic theologians, and numerous others have tried to argue that God is not bound by the law of non-contradictions.  Such things are utterly absurd.  For example, God cannot be both eternally, limitlessly good AND not eternally, limitlessly good.

5. Anti-fideism.  If anything in our theological system requires a ‘leap of faith,’ then it is not a valid system.  If I think a person is trustworthy, then that means that I have evidence that I can trust the person.  In the same way, it is not somehow more virtuous to believe in God or a particular theological system with no evidence, or worse yet, against the evidence.  Moreover, if we ever resort to “you just have to take this on faith,” then we should offer the same courtesy to Islam or Mormonism, both of which seem to rest on the same principle.

6. Anti-idolatry.  I think it is bad to worship things, people, or other entities that are not God.  It distorts our humanity and is odious to God.  So I cannot simply embrace a pragmatic view of spirituality that “if it works for you, do it.”  If my pietist leanings push me towards theological liberalism, it is my concern about idolatry that keeps me from embracing it.

 Taking all these together, I am a Christian because I have found God through the Christian faith.  I do not think this validates my theology, though.  I am a charismatic theist by conviction but a Christian only by default.  Add to this the fact that sociologically I am most easily identified with conservative evangelicalism (and even fundamentalism to an extent), I feel like a big ball of contradictions.  But given my fourth presupposition, I have an obligation to sort through this all.  And that, my friends, is the point of this blog.

So when I end up saying things that don’t fit with whatever stereotype you may have labeled me, it is most likely one of these presuppositions behind it.

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Categories: Theology
  1. January 29, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    I basically have 2 real reasons for being a Christian.

    1.) I have experienced Christ personally in my life through providence and personally experiencing the Holy Spirit.

    2.) Because I believe the resurrection really happened and the Holy Spirit was subsequently poured out/given on the church in such a way that was undeniable to the early church.

    When ever I have doubts that’s pretty much what I lean on.

    The supernatural is actually one of the things that gives me the most faith.

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  2. January 29, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    “Is Christian theology really knowledge?”

    Let’s start at the very beginning. Do we have any knowledge at all whatsoever?

  3. January 30, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Bryan, If it was just a choice between Christianity and naturalism, I choose Christianity every time. The problem I have is that Christianity is not the only religion on offer. And not the only one that satisfies all six points. And nearly every religion has an equal share of people that have had numinous experiences — even Islam, which ought not to since they view God as totally transcendent.

    J.K., I’m not sure how to answer this. I don’t really want to play Decartes’ game of going back of, “cogito ergo sum.” I do not demand 100% certainty for it to be knowledge. I think historical reconstructions, for instance, constitute knowledge. Christian theology is trustworthy, in the sense that it offers wisdom for living and access to God (according to my pietist concerns), but I see no plausible reason why it and it alone (as it has traditionally claimed) offers true knowledge of God e.g. in its proto-Trinitarian statements.

    A few years ago I took an apologetics class. I was amazed at the strength of the theistic position in general. Philosophers have come up with so many amazing arguments for theism that I was sort of in awe. But I was equally disappointed with what little evidence there is for Christian theism specifially. So far I have not come up with very satisfying answers.

  4. January 30, 2008 at 7:54 am

    I agree Ryan, but that’s why I draw so heavily on the Resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit on the early church that was the source of so much miraculous power and tearing down of walls. If nothing else it seemed God was really concentrated in the origins of Christianity and that’s enough to make me stick with it.

    But that’s just me.

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  5. January 30, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    A few years ago I took an apologetics class. I was amazed at the strength of the theistic position in general. Philosophers have come up with so many amazing arguments for theism that I was sort of in awe. But I was equally disappointed with what little evidence there is for Christian theism specifially. So far I have not come up with very satisfying answers.

    You should get into presuppositional apologetics. They just begin with the Christian God and go from there. The reason being the very thing that you were disappointed about, namely that thestic arguments yield a God but not necessarily the Christian God. And if you became a presupper that would end all of these Trinity concerns. 😉

  6. January 30, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    RTJ,

    Decartes is a good person to know. His method is useful up to a point. It is undeniable that we know something: we exist. We have to exist because we doubt. WE doubt.

    Beyond that, what is it that makes theological knowledge, or knowledge about God, different than any other type of knowledge? Why is theological knowledge special?

    By the way, I have attempted to make the case that Christian Theism is the only version of Theism that makes sense of unchanging, immaterial laws of logic, mathematics, or morality. To a certain extent, I follow Greg Bahsen in this. Short version:

    Islam postulates a god whose idea of morality changes from this world to paradise (e. g. monogamous sex now vs. promiscuous sex with the virgins in paradise). His moral laws change and are not absolute, so His thinking changes.

    Judaism postulates a god very much like Christianity’s, but this god does not forgive based on an adequate atonement (The infinite Christ does not pay the penalty for their sins by suffering all of God’s wrath). If he forgives, his standards are not unchanging.

    The god of the process theologians and / or open theists changes himself as time goes on (e. g. he learns things about the undetermined future). He cannot then be the ground of anything like the laws of logic, which do not change.

    A finite god who came into being (this is really what a person is saying if they say God had a cause) would be ruled out as well. If God came into being, that would be changing. He could not be the ground of the laws of logic because logic requires an unchanging ground.

    Deism does not allow for a God who interacts with His world. The laws of logic would have to be inherent in the universe he made. The universe we live in changes constantly, therefore the laws of logic would change with the universe.

    Pantheism, the idea that god and the world are the same in their being, also falls short. In this god is all and all is god. The universe shows it changes. The unchanging laws of logic force us to assume that an unchanging God exists, so the universe must be different from God.

    Gnosticism’s god is irrational and illogical as defined by most expressions of that religion. However, I realize that not all forms of Gnosticism are alike.

    If any of the worldviews that oppose Christianity are true, we have no reason to think that we can have rational discourse. Long versions are available if requested.

    I also do not reject the claims of Special Revelation in the Bible as intellectually unconvincing. I follow John Warwick Montgomery in “History, Law, and Christianity” on this.

    Sorry for the long comment. I hope you read until the end.

  7. January 31, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Nick, I admit that I am not very familiar with presuppositional apologetics, but it sounds to me like fideism (number 5 above). “Just believe it and it will all make sense to you.”

    J.K., I have seen you make this argument before, but I just don’t find it convincing. It seems to me that your conception of God is derived largely from your view of the atonement, which is then used to critique all other positions. In other words, I get the sense that the consequences of logic, mathematics, and morality (as you describe them) are dependant on your Christian presuppositions. I do not think the adherants of many of the systems you describe are commiting the gross logical fallacies you seem to think they are.

    Let’s take your critique of the god of Islam, for instance. First, I think that Islam allows polygamy (and is not restricted to monogamy in this world), and that the virgins in paradise will be the believer’s wives (so this is not promiscuity). But even if there were differences, the differences would follow from a change in situation, not from a change in God. Does God’s morality change between singles and married couples (i.e. monogymous sex is sin vs. monogymous sex is permissible or even obligatory)?

  8. January 31, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    If you want to see (well, hear) it in action then check this out. Make sure you listen to the audio.

  9. January 31, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    So I should be a presupposer… but you don’t like presuppositional apologetics? What am I missing here?

    It is iteresting that you would put so much weight on ‘evidence’, though you expressed concern with my use of the term in reference to the Trinity. Have you changed on this point? Or just not consistent? 😛

    Wow. James White just got crushed in this interview. His answers made absolutely no sense at all. I totally agree with your post on this issue. I read the post first and mostly agreed, but after hearing the interview… wow. That was really bad.

  10. February 1, 2008 at 12:02 am

    I think you were missing the wink 😉

    Evidence is good where it can be used to prove something. There is evidence to support the veracity of the Bible (historical, arhceological, prophetic, etc.), but there isn’t evidence to support theological constructs. So no, I haven’t changed and I believe I’m consistent. The one thing from then to now that has changed is that I don’t see as much ‘internal consistency’ in the Bible as I used to (although it’s not much less now than it was then).

    And yes, that was really bad. At least when Bahnsen used to do it, he did it with panache. Check out his debate with Gordon Stein when you have some time (audio 1, 2, 3 / transcript). It didn’t hurt that Stein was totally unprepared for Bahnsen’s arguments and wasn’t all that bright, but Bahnsen still had great rhetorical skill.

  11. February 5, 2008 at 10:09 am

    The problem here is that I have absolutely no idea what the wink emoticon means. I never wink in real life. If I did, I would only do it with my wife and then it would have an entirely different meaning.

  12. February 22, 2008 at 10:49 am

    RTJ,

    I am with Bryan on the resurrection.

    When life comes crumbling down on me, and trust me it has, and I doubt God, two things help me get through it. I would have to say that my personal relationship with God, knowing in my heart that I know he is real (nothing other than just belief, trust, faith), and for my mind, the resurrection. It always comes down to that for all my doubts. I ask myself, did Jesus resurrect from the dead or not? I have done a full study of this, and I am fully convinced of it. This is settled in my mind, and heart and nothing will change my mind on this position.

    So if I can believe in the resurrection, the rest is easy.

  13. February 24, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Robert, you say you have done a full study of the resurrection and are fully convinced of it. And that is where my problem lies. I have also done a full study of the resurrection and I am not fully convinced of it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in it, but I don’t think the case for the resurrection is nearly as strong as some would make it out to be. When I wake up in the middle of the night with doubts, thinking about the resurrection only amplifies my doubts rather than putting them at ease. See my post on the ascension.

  14. February 25, 2008 at 11:01 am

    RTJ,

    Hey, I hear you. But like Paul said “If we have placed our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.” Maybe belief (i.e. faith = trust in God) is good enough. Maybe not for an atheist, or skeptic, but to us who Christ has been revealed, it is sufficient.

    After all I gave my life to Christ with very little, or no knowledge of him, the bible, the resurrection, other than I believed that he was God, I was a sinner, and needed to repent. It’s hard to explain but I did not need a lot of convincing to give me life to Christ.

  15. February 26, 2008 at 1:07 am

    I’m not quite sure what to say to that. On one hand I totally agree. I had a very similar experience. Perhaps I needed more convincing that I needed to repent than you did, but it was ‘spiritual’ convincing, not ‘intellectual’ convincing.

    But on the other hand, this view is basically fideism, and it seems to me that fideism leads logically to pluralism. If I can’t present compelling reasons for my beliefs, then they just as epistemically sound as a Muslim’s or a Buddhist’s. It seems to me that this is just saying, “I’m right and they are wrong because I believe that I’m right and they’re wrong.” You’ll forgive me if I’m not satisfied with this answer.

    This is the question that is driving me in this season in my life. So I certainly appreciate all the insight I can get from you and others.

  16. February 26, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    RTJ,

    I don’t think that I am implying that “I’m right and they are wrong because I believe that I’m right and they’re wrong.”

    I am simply saying that to us personally who have had an encounter with Christ, have a deeper sense of what we believe. Right? I mean we do know Him, that is what Paul said, “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, ” – Philippians 3:10

    That is our goal, to know him. I am a charismatic Christian, so I talk to God, and behave as if he is with me all the time, like he is my best friend. I know him, and hope to know him in the manner that is described by Moses in the Psalms. “He revealed His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel.” Psalms 103:7 Moses came to know the ways of God, and not just his deeds. I kind of think of this verse in this way. Don’t mean to pick on Nick, but his is a mutual blogger/friend. It’s like saying “you know the way Nick is”, I think that is how we should know God. I know this is simply theology, sorry.

    I do believe that we should be able to present compelling reasons for Christians, and non-Christians as well.

  17. February 28, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    Robert, I do agree with you on one level. But personal knowledge of God can only carry you so far. I have mostly emphasized the academic/philosophical aspects of this point so far. But let me shift gears and speak as a charasmatic for a second. William Branham was a great charismatic with a ton of healing miracles, but his theology was atrocious. Mike Bickle tells how he had to learn that people with strong prophetic giftings are not infallible in matters of church leadership or doctrine despite their abilites to hear from God.

    For years my personal encounter with God was enough to quell any doubts I had. If I didn’t have a mandate to share the gospel, I would never have thought twice about it. As I would share with unbelievers I had a strong conviction that I was right and they were wrong because of my personal experiences with God. But I have come to see that my experiences with God do not confirm my theology. I learned that if I am to be intellectually honest, an appeal to experience leads only to religious relativism since I now have to validate everyone’s experiences.

    It is interesting though that your point is not about affirming standard theological categories, but affirming personality and character. This is all fine and good (actually VERY GOOD), but this is not substantially different from any monotheistic faith, Christian or otherwise. So I affirm what you’re saying, but I think it leads me to monotheistic pietism rather than to a specifically Christian theology.

  18. February 28, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Hey RTJ,

    I think we are saying the same thing, you are just better at articulating the position than I am. Everything you just posted I agree with. As I stated that I whole heartily agree that we should be able to present compelling reasons for Christians, and non-Christian. I’ll even go further to say our experiences with God do not validate our theology. Our theology should confirm our experience.

    I also have learned to be intellectually honest, that is why I read so much, and visit thought proving blogs such as yours.

  19. February 28, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Ah shucks. You’re making me blush.

    Do you have any recommendations? Is there a book (or couple of books) in particular that lay out the reasons why you are a Christian? So far I haven’t found anyone that I’ve really felt nailed it on the head.

  20. February 29, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    The Book of Romans. 😉

    Not sure if I can nail one book that has really helped me, but keep in mind that I really wasn’t a skeptic, I was an easy fish to catch.

    But let me go through my library and see which ones I have found really useful.

  21. March 4, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    I love Romans, but not as an introduction to faith. I think the interpretive issues involved in understanding Romans at a deep level are challenging – probably more challenging than for the book of Revelation.

    I was a (somewhat) easy fish to catch also. The problem is in ‘staying caught’! 😀

    Thanks for adding me to your blogroll. I’ve just returned the favor.

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