This is part 2 of a post about the my difficulty with the Church to catch up read part 1.
“Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam”
“I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand”Anselm of Canterbury
Anselm’s great line about the relationship between faith and knowledge has been used by many to highlight how their Christian faith leads them on a quest for intellectual truth. But there is another reality which kept creeping into my mind as I wrote yesterday’s post; at some level all of the intellectual truths about Christianity begin to breakdown if Christians do not act like Christians. Another way of saying this is, “At some level if Christianity is going to be proven true it must be proven experientially true.” While scholars and apologists debate things like the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and the rationality of the Christian faith, these pursuits are only part of the truth of the Christian claim. As I said in the last article, part of our truth claim is that God, in the person of the Spirit, is working in and through Christians and churches to change people’s lives.
I have related before that my training is in history and I have read many of the relevant books on Jesus’ resurrection and its historicity. In good historian style– I think that on balance the evidence points to the fact that the earliest Christians experienced something they could not explain except in terms of Jesus’ Resurrection. That is a fancy way of saying that I believe the Gospel stories are on the whole historically accurate. I know not every historian is convinced but I think the evidence is worthy of belief. I have also read a number of philosophical books for and against religion in general and Christianity specifically and have reached the conclusion Christianity is rational and often more rational than atheism. Yes, some thinkers like Christopher Hitchens make good points and some Christian apologists need to go back to school, but the there are also trash atheist apologists like Richard Dawkins and great Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga. Though the sciences are often discussed as proof against Christianity, the sciences cannot deal with the “why” questions of this world and so merely provide evidence to help frame an existing worldview. With so many wonderful Christians at the top levels of scientific research (like Francis Collins) we can easily see that with some level of thought the sciences can fit into a Christian worldview. It is only by creating a parody of the Christian faith that Richard Dawkins is actually able to “prove” science is antithetical to religion.
These intellectual pursuits have been a major part of my life for the last two decades and I plan to continue reading in these areas because my intellectual curiosity for God and God’s world is innate to who I am; I enjoy trying to understand how God works in the world. That same pursuit has also led me to humble myself to the point that I recognize logical and historical have a limited impact on a person finding God. At the end of the day, Christianity makes a decided claim that God is active in the world and this claim must be proven somehow. The temptation is for people to look to the created world and miracles for proof of God [God is not suddenly going to write, “I am here” on the moon]. God has chosen to work through humanity in this world– at least that is what Christianity teaches– therefore the proof that God is working in the world is Christians living out the fruit of the Spirit. I know this version of proof is too subtle for some but that is the message of Scripture, we are the walking, talking evidence of God manifest in the world.
All of this brings me to my point, I have plenty of knowledge to make me a Christian what I need is faith, but not simply my own faith I need to see faith lived out in the church around me. And I am not the only one our culture needs to see this. Our culture does not need us to preach our beliefs (as important as they are), it does not need rational argument (even though this too is valid), culture does not need to be reminded of judgment (conversion is not about scaring people out of Hell), our culture (and every culture) needs to see transformed lives. The part of the Bible that is most meaningful is that death did not have power over Jesus and he is alive and working today. I am thankful I see this reality in the lives of people around me because without that reassurance I would have a difficult time believing the Gospel stories. But we need more of this, we need more Christians to place a greater emphasis on living out life in the Spirit. Too often the narrative that finds its way into the public forum is “Christianity against…” or “Christians offended” or “Christians angry about…”; yes I know the larger culture does not always get the “righteous anger” or “our values” but we must also do a better job. We must curtail the scandals, we must stop being as argumentative, and start showing God alive and well in us. We must show the world:
- Our hatred turned to love
- Our sorrow made into joy
- Our violent outbursts replaced by peace
- Exasperation turned away by patience
- Rudeness met with kindness
- Stinginess repelled by our goodness
- Faithfulness displayed in a world known for rejection
- Turning the other cheek in gentleness when others are harsh
- displaying self-control when we are wronged
Look at leaders caught up in scandal, what were they focused on, look at those individuals deconstructing their faith what are they craving? What I see is people crying out for an authentic, life-transforming encounter with God and leaders focused elsewhere. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule but this is the general trend and we as Christians must deal with this reality. Our response must be a renewed focus on making ourselves more like Jesus, laying aside the good things like numbers or being right in favor of presenting God’s Spirit to the world. When this is the Church people see they will be confronted with the best possible evidence for God and when this is the Church other Christians see their faith will grow and lives will be transformed. The current trends in American Christian say we have an image problem that must be dealt with, there is no other way to confront this issue than by recovering a true life in the Spirit.