More than a feeling…

7 Jan

Over the Christmas holiday I had the great pleasure of visiting with a friend from high school who I rarely get to see. Even cooler, she has recently been baptized after deciding to follow Jesus in earnest after growing up in a nominal Christian household. During the course of our conversation she asked me about some challenges she’s been getting from a vehement atheist in her life. I tried to be helpful (and think that maybe I was), but what stuck out to me was the following statement. In response to some scientific challenge or another she said “you have all these scientific things to say and that’s fine, but it can’t undermine my feeling.”

Ultimately, I agree with her – although my justification for allowing personal experience to matter in the case for the truth of Christian theism is more sophisticated. Essentially what I’d say is “I have good reasons to believe that God exists, that Christ was resurrected, and that the Bible is true. Given this, I am justified in believing that the feelings I experience in worship and prayer are legitimate indicators of the real presence of God.” In this instance however (and this is usually the case in my experience) the feeling statement comes off more like “ITS FAITH YOU CANT DISPROVE IT GET AWAY FROM ME STOP CHALLENGING MY BELIEFS!”

leave me alone

This is a dangerous approach because we concede the facts/values split identified by Schaeffer among others. We’re essentially agreeing that real stuff like science can be proven or at least trusted, while matters of faith and the supernatural are pushed into the realm of feeling. If our friends agree to leave us alone, we haven’t really won; we’ve simply allowed them to believe that their truth is somehow more real while our beliefs are the stuff of fantasy. That is going to be hard to come back from if we ever want them to actually believe the truth about Jesus.

For these reasons I think that we should be careful when appealing to experience and feelings when engaging with non-believers. We absolutely must use our testimonies and explain how the practice of Christianity is real for us, but these stories must be grounded in the notion that it’s “true truth” not something we just chose to believe. Peter instructs is to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have and that means being able to explain to mean old Johnny Atheist that our worldview is rational and plausible, even if he remains unconvinced. (To be fair, most atheists are super nice and thoughtful and rarely shake their fists at you).

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