Christians are often at pains to point out that, contrary to popular perception, Christian faith is not blind but rather rests on a solid foundation of evidence and reason. Yet there is a place for blind faith in some measure, for didn’t Jesus say to Thomas “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe”?
John’s gospel is written so that its readers might believe that Jesus is the Christ and so have life through his name, and it narrates the signs Jesus gave so that all may have reason for believing. Yet it also seems to suggest that there is a superior kind of faith that does not merely believe on the basis of sight, but actually believes without sight as well. Why might this be?
Possibly we see a glimpse of some of the inherent weaknesses in faith-by-sight in John 6, in which a crowd has witnessed the incredible miracle of the feeding of the 5000 and is now pursuing Jesus in search of a repeat performance (6:30-31). Faith that rests on sight is never satisfied – it always wants more evidence, more feelings, more experiences that will replenish the faith tank.
We have a tendency to forget the things we have already seen the hand of God in, and demand an ever-present display of miracles. I have a funny feeling that if Jesus started to turn water into wine on my dinner table each night, pretty soon it would be no more remarkable to me than the provision of breakfast cereal each morning, and I would then be needing Jesus to part the Brisbane river each day (which would certainly save me paying the toll) for my faith to be bolstered.
Furthermore, faith that rests on sight tends to become focussed on the physical rather than the spiritual. In John 6, Jesus critiques a large crowd of people for that very thing – their desire is simply to have another free lunch provided rather than to feed on the living bread of life, Jesus Himself. Faith by sight may get excited by miracles, apologetic arguments, or spectacular experiences, and yet fail to focus on the wonderful person from whom these may come.
Every evening I have great faith that I will enjoy a wonderful meal – but it is not just the smell of the food, or the history of past meals, that convinces me. It is the presence of my wife that makes the meal wonderful, and the food is just an added bonus. When we become fixated on the physical, we run the risk of placing faith in Jesus because of what He can do for us rather than who He is to us.
Jesus wishes to push us beyond mere faith-by-sight. Because sometimes we will not be able to see Him, and He will appear to go missing as He did in the case of Mary and Martha on the death of their brother (John 11). Yet His purpose is to push us to a deeper recognition of our fallen weakness, and of His sufficiency for all our needs, resulting in a faith which loves Jesus on a far deeper level.
So let us keep encouraging one another to have blind faith – faith that is not unquenchable in its thirst for ‘proof’ but instead is satiated by the person of Jesus.
If you want to know how to totally muck it up as a Christian leader then take a look at King Saul, the details of whose reign we find mainly in the books of Samuel. He provides some quite brilliant examples.
His main weakness, which eventually became his downfall, was that he was driven by pride. He was terrified of losing the respect and love and praise of others, and his obsession with keeping those things overrode his desire to obey God.
It’s interesting to observe how this one sin mutated into three different forms throughout Saul’s life, neatly offering us three keys things to avoid if we want to be godly and effective leaders…
1 – FEAR OF FAILURE
In the first stage of Saul’s kingship recorded in 1 Samuel 9-12, he is becoming established as a leader, and God reveals through various means that he will be Israel’s first king. Saul, however, appears to be very hesitant to take on the job. He comes across as a very shy, bashful, humble chap. Now of course it can be a great virtue to be humble and modest, but sinful weaknesses are often hiding deep within our virtues and this was almost certainly the case with Saul. Why was he reticent to stand up and take the job thrust upon him? Probably because of a fear of failure – a fear of the pressure of being constantly in the eye of the public, running the risk that his people might not love or respect him. Hiding behind his seemingly virtuous modesty was actually a great deal of pride.
2 – DESPERATION FOR AFFIRMATION
In the second stage, we see Saul well and truly established as king. Now he is obsessed with keeping his people’s respect. In chapter 13 he becomes terrified into offering a sacrifice as he sees his people scattering away from him. In chapter 14 he makes a foolish vow in order to try to force his soldiers to stay with him. In chapter 15 he lets his people disobey God’s command because he follows their desires rather than God’s. In contrast to his faithful son Jonathan, whose faith is in God rather than the number of soldiers behind him, Saul chooses to follow his people rather than to lead them, desperate for their love and support. His fear of man flowers into disobedience of God.
3 – REFUSAL TO LET GO OF POWER
In the final stage, from chapter 16 onwards, Saul quickly degenerates into a murderous tyrant, seeking to massacre any threat to what he held most dear to his heart: the exclusive love of his people. David has emerged as his likely replacement, and it is clear that he is God’s choice, but Saul’s concern is not for the will of God or even for the wellbeing of his people – his concern is entirely for himself as he faces losing his power. It is the same underlying weakness which has been there all along, now revealing itself in a different form – murderous jealousy.
The story of Saul is a powerful reminder for all aspiring to Christian leadership. Unaddressed weaknesses can end in leadership catastrophes. Our eyes need to be on Christ our perfect leader, believing and obeying Him out of a desire to do His will, not to nurture the praise and love of self.
But before we talk about the evidence of experience, I’ll deal with one more objection first which gets a lot of airtime in the media. That is, Christianity is rejected for a variety of moral reasons. For example, some people reject Christianity because they feel it is anti-gay, and that is old fashioned not to mention unjust. Others point to parts of the Old Testament which appear to sanction genocide and violence. Others point to contemporary issues with the church, such as the problem of child abuse within the church. Alternatively, some find fault with the history of the church, pointing to the Crusades or other low points of Christian history.
It is possible to offer responses to these questions from a Christian perspective, and I will give some discussion to some of them later, but for now, I simply want to make the case that as powerful as these questions may appear, they are actually secondary to the big question of whether Christianity is actually true.
That is, it is possible that all of the above criticisms are absoloutely valid and accurate, and yet Christianity is still true. The problem is, these criticisms only suggest that Christianity is harmful in its effects- but they don’t even deal with the question of whether Christianity is true or not. That is a separate question.
On the flip side, if I wanted to use this style of argument, I could make arguments that Christianity has done an amazing amount of good for our world, and that Christianity improves your health. However, even if those arguments were true, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that Christianity is true. They are actually rather irrelevant when it comes to the truth of Christianity. It is like deciding that you don’t believe that climate change is real because you don’t like the Greens’ economic policy on dealing with unemployment. They are separate issues, although they might both be commonly discussed by members of the Greens party.
So the big question is, what needs to be true for Christianity to be true? How do we know? It boils down to just 2 questions. Firstly, does God exist? Secondly, Is Jesus Christ God’s risen Messiah? If the answer to those 2 questions is positive, then Christianity is true, even if it is a very basic Christianity which accepts nothing else as true but those 2 statements.
So if God exists and Jesus is his risen Messiah, then even if the Bible wasn’t always true or always moral, and even if the church was full of rotten hypocrites, Christianity itself would be true. If the Bible was wrong in what it says about homosexuality, it is a separate question whether Christianity is true. If the Bible was immoral or factually mistaken about holy wars, it is a separate question in considering whether Christianity is true.
Don’t get me wrong, if Christianity is true, then it will impact the way you read and interpret the Bible. It will change your starting place for how you approach morality in general, and you may be willing to give the Bible far more benefit of the doubt than if you don’t believe Christianity is true.
But the basic question has to be is Christianity true- and for that question the place where we need to start is 1- Does God exist? And 2- Is Jesus his risen Messiah? I’m going to argue that there is surprisingly good reason to give those questions a positive answer. But regardless of your conclusion, it’s important to start with the right questions.
Well, it’s time to finish up Part 1, and get stuck into the first of my 3 pronged argument I’m going to set out in Part 2. The evidence of experience- it sounds rather subjective, doesn’t it? Actually, I think it’s an important part of the case to consider, as well as being rather fascinating.
But first an objection. For many people, the word “Creation” may have set off a negative reaction. Haven’t the theories of evolution and the big bang made any idea of God being necessary to create our world entirely redundant? This guy is surely not going to come out with some wild-eyed crazy conspiracy theory which says that all the scientists are wrong and who knows, maybe the earth is flat too?
For what it’s worth, I do happen to be somewhat skeptical of evolution and the big bang as explanations of life on earth. But actually, that’s not my main point. My argument will be that even if evolution and the big bang did occur, the argument from creation would still hold and God must exist nevertheless. So evolution and the big bang are largely irrelevant.
In fact, in regards to the big bang, what many people appear to be unaware of, is that originally the big bang theory was viewed very skeptically by scientists because they thought it was too religious sounding. Furthermore, for a significant number of people today, the big bang is actually one of their favourite arguments for the existence of God. We’ll spell that out when we come to the argument from creation.
However, unlike most books on this topic, I’m going to start with a different topic than science and creation. I’m going to start with the argument of experience- that is, we can know God is real because people experience him. There’s a few reasons why I think this is a good approach.
The main one is that this is what I think most people want to know about. Science is a technical subject for the experts- and who knows who really is telling the truth? Besides, what good is it to say that God must have created the world way back at the beginning of time if we have never heard a squeak from him since? Surely if Christians say they have a personal relationship with God today, there should be something you can point to as evidence for that today, and that God really is interacting with people.
Some atheists dismiss Christians as people who believe in crazy things like “sky fairies” or magical cloud wizards. But of course, there is a big difference between what we’re talking about with God and sky fairies. Not many people claim to have ever experienced a real live sky fairy. But literally billions of people have claimed to have real live experiences of God. And the question is why is this experience so common? The evidence that there is something to it other than delusion and imagination is better than what you may have guessed.
Here is an analogy. Imagine the healing of a paralysed man by Jesus as an image of salvation. According to a free grace understanding, it might go something like this. Jesus says, “Do you believe I can heal you? Would you like to receive my healing?” The paralysed man replies, “Yes Lord, I believe. I receive your healing” The Lord replies, “Now you are healed.” The man has received healing- however, whether or not he gets up and starts walking is secondary. The man could stay on his bed for the rest of his life and claim that he has been healed by his faith, and yet be in effect still a paralysed man. His healing is purely a passive decision to receive healing, without any requirement at all to actually do any walking.
By contrast, the conversation according to a lordship salvation understanding might go like this. Jesus says, “Do you believe I can heal you? Would you like to receive my healing?” The paralysed man replies, “Yes Lord, I believe. I receive your healing”. Jesus says, “Get up then and walk”. It is only as the man responds to Jesus command to get up and walk that he finds he actually is healed. Note that the only way that the man could get up and walk was by the miraculous power of God, for there was no power within him to walk. Yet, it was the act of responding in faith to the command to walk by which he actually received his healing. He could not remain lying down and claim to have received healing if he had not claimed the promise to get up and start walking.
This is not an argument for either position. It is just an analogy which I think explains the difference quite well. As for me, I hold to the lordship salvation understanding, as I find it is a far better interpretation of the witness of all the scriptures. In this post I will not spend time arguing the case, but just note that I am in good company in holding this position. Some in the free grace crowd give the impression that anyone who holds to a lordship position have a deficient understanding of the gospel, do not truly believe in God’s grace and are subtly adding works to salvation. That’s bad news for the majority of evangelical theologians throughout history! See below for some of the most prominent evangelical theologians’ views on the matter from recent times:
Wayne Grudem: “It is misleading to brand ‘Lordship salvation’ as if it were some new doctrine, or as if it were any other kind of salvation—MacArthur is teaching what has been the historic position of Christian orthodoxy on this matter…”. Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994),715.
Michael Horton: “…James Boice, J.I. Packer, and others have argued in their works [that] no respected, mainstream Christian thinker, writer, or preacher has ever held such extreme and unusual views concerning the nature of the gospel and saving grace as Zane Hodges [and his free grace counterparts]… In our estimation, there is not the slightest support for Hodges and Ryrie to claim the reformers’ favor for their novel views”. Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation , (Wipf and Stock:2009), 11.
Michael Bird: “Strange parts of American evangelicalism –the so-called “no lordship” advocates – have even contended that one should not even preach Jesus as Lord in evangelism, but only as Saviour. Apparently making Jesus lord of one’s life is something that is not meant to happen until much later in one’s Christian walk. Such a view, quite frankly, merits the mother of all theological face palms. Profession of Jesus as Lord is not asking for assent to the mere fact of his deity, but calling people to faithfulness, obedience, and allegiance towards him. Jesus wants followers not fans!” http://www.harvardichthus.org/2015/06/kyrios-christos-the-lordship-of-jesus-christ-today/
Millard Erikson: “It is important for us to understand the nature of true repentance. Repentance is godly sorrow for one’s sin together with a resolution to turn from it…. The Bible’s repeated emphasis upon the necessity of repentance is an incontrovertible argument against what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” (or “easy believism”). It is not enough simply to believe in Jesus and accept the offer of grace; there must be a real alteration of the inner person. If belief in God’s grace were all that is necessary, who would not wish to become a Christian? But Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 19:23). If there is no conscious repentance, there is no real awareness of having been saved from the power of sin.” Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 937-938.
DA Carson: “In America, the basis of Christian assurance has erupted as the distinguishing banner of a small but vociferous segment of evangelicalism. The movement is strong enough to have formed its own organization, the Grace Evangelical Society, complete with its own journal. All of the publications that have emerged so far are at the popular or semipopular level; but that ensures wider circulation, not less. Doubtless the most influential of these writings is a book by Zane Hodges, The Gospel under Siege. The popular preacher John F. MacArthur Jr. has responded at about the same level, but with so large a number of unguarded statements or overstatements that his work has spawned more controversy than healing. The concern of Hodges and his colleagues is to make Christian assurance absolutely certain. To accomplish this, they tie assurance exclusively to saving faith and divorce it from any support in a transformed life. The countless passages that tie genuine discipleship to obedience are handled by making a disjunction between “discipleship” passages and those that promise eternal life. Eternal life turns on faith in the saving Son of God; discipleship turns on obedience; and Christian assurance is tied only to the former. To link assurance in any way to the latter, it is argued, is to corrupt a salvation of free grace and turn it into a salvation partly dependent on works. If my salvation depends only on free grace, then the basis of my assurance is as steadfast as the freedom of that grace. But if my assurance depends on observing certain changes in conduct in my life, themselves the fruit of obedience, then implicitly I am saying that, since I cannot be assured of salvation without seeing obedience, salvation itself depends on some mixture of faith plus obedience—and free grace is thereby destroyed. Hence the name of this new evangelical society. Its members are persuaded that the purity of the gospel of grace is at stake. There are numerous entailments to this analysis. Those who disagree with them are dismissed as supporters of “lordship salvation,” understood to mean that these opponents insist that part of the requirement for becoming a Christian, for receiving salvation, is the confession of Jesus as Lord. In the view of Hodges and his colleagues, trusting Jesus as Savior is all that is required for salvation. “Repentance,” in their view, must be understood in a narrowly etymological sense: it is the mental “change of mind” that accepts Jesus as the Savior, but entails no necessary sorrow over sin or turning away from it. That is the fruit of confessing Jesus as Lord; it is the fruit of obedience, and properly emerges from the confidence of knowing that one’s sins are already forgiven.” “Reflections on Assurance”, in Still Sovereign, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), eds. Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware, 252-253
John Piper: The Bible makes it plain, I believe, that people who persistently refuse the command of Jesus’ lordship have no warrant for believing that they are saved. Such people should not be comforted that they are saved simply because there was a time when they “believed” gospel facts or walked an aisle or signed a card or prayed a prayer. In fact, Jesus seems far more eager to explode the assurance of false “professions of faith” than he is to give assurance to people who are intent on living in sin. Where does he ever bolster the “eternal security” of a person unwilling to forsake sin?
JI Packer: “If, ten years ago, you had told me that I would live to see literate evangelicals, some with doctorates and a seminary teaching record, arguing for the reality of an eternal salvation, divinely guaranteed, that may have in it no repentance, no discipleship, no behavioral change, no practical acknowledgment of Christ as Lord of one’s life, and no perseverance in faith, then I would have told you that you were out of your mind. Stark, staring, bonkers, is the British phrase I would probably have used.”
“Repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place…More than once Christ deliberately called attention to the radical break with the past that repentance involves.”