Evidence That Demands Skepticism

The older I get the less theological stuff I want to be dogmatic on.

There is some core teaching I’ll go hard with, but there is plenty that is either negotiable, mysterious or just plain incomprehensible. That would have scared me when I was 20.

As my kids get older they ask me questions that I once knew the answers to, but now am not so sure about. That’s difficult because at their stage in life and faith they need fairly black and white answers and I see shades of grey far more easily. I refuse to give them trite answers to complex questions.

It was nice to be certain and assured of my responses and a part of me would like to go back there, but 52 years of life has left me with plenty of questions that aren’t easily resolved. In fact if I weren’t a Christian today then I doubt I’d have much chance of finding my way to faith. I seriously doubt you could put me in an Alpha course and have me pop out the other side convinced and converted.

That said I know the ‘reasons for faith’ and I could present them to you. Plenty of them have strong currency, but I subscribed to them when I wanted to believe. I ‘bought’ them when I was growing up in a Christian community. I think now I’d try to poke holes in them and I’d find a flaw in every piece of reasoning and use that to hold all belief systems at arms length.

I’m a natural skeptic and questioner, so things I just took as ‘gospel’ earlier in my life I have been revisiting and asking ‘what do I think now?’ And that’s a trickier question when you get paid money to be (at least somewhat) sure of things and to lead people to a strong place in faith.

What its helped me grasp is that there are few people out there just waiting to be intellectually convinced of faith (sorry ‘Case for Christ’ fans). I became a Christian largely because the ‘data made sense’ – the ‘numbers added up’ and I couldn’t refute the evidence (but I was also unconsciously being strongly formed by the Christian community I was in). It was the Josh McDowell / apologetics era, but much of what I took on board then is still valuable in holding a reasonable faith.

However in a world where there are so many competing ideas I don’t think people are chasing a ‘reasonable faith’. I don’t think many people are waiting for someone to hit them with a killer argument for the gospel.

Rather I sense that the difference will be encounters with God that have undeniable potency – prophetic insights, experiences with the divine that send chills down the spine – inexplicable love and grace. If faith is all down to logic and reason then I think we are fighting a losing battle.

But because my faith has been formed in a community, where I have experienced God repeatedly and also heard stories of his actions, I have a much harder time when it comes to letting go of my belief system. I would have to deny or re-interpret so much of my life experience.

As I’ve pondered how we approach evangelism in this climate it has led me to consider that the keys will be the supernatural experiences / divine encounters that give people a context in which to consider the ‘evidence’. I’ve begun praying for people more – and telling them I’m praying for them. It certainly opens up conversation and allows for God to do his thing. In that context there has been opportunity to speak of how I see the world – of how I see Jesus.

I’m sure there is still a place for well formed apologetics, but it seems that for every answer there is an equal and opposite response. I don’t really know how to do it, but reclaiming a faith that is more spine chillingly supernatural may just be a foothold in a slippery world.

 

7 thoughts on “Evidence That Demands Skepticism

  1. I wouldn’t discount the good old fashioned fear of God deep in the soul, that serves as a great motivator for people to return to him.

  2. Interesting insight …i really enjoy reading your blogs. I agree with you that there does seem to be a response (an often scathing one) to every logical argument put out by apologists today. But i don’t think that matters…often those very responses, when carefully dissected, hold little water and even when we can’t provide a return response we can’t discount the hand of God. After all its Him who ultimately open eyes and hearts and calls people to salvation. So I think we hold our ground as far as apologetics are concerned. Aren’t we actually encouraged to do so in 1 Peter 3:15….to always be ready to provide an answer and defend our faith. I know there are many ways to do this and I dont discount God’s supernatural means of intervening. However, i think if we rely on the experiential and supernatural as the means of either pointing others to faith or strengthening our own, we run the risk of being mislead…afterall Gods enemy has a knack of replicating the so-called divine, leading many astray. At the end of the day there is nothing more powerful than scripture…its rich and amazing and it cuts to the soul.

    • Hi Michelle – Nice to hear from you. I dunno that there is nothing more powerful than scripture. I think it’s a combination of elements that move people, but scripture and experience are both open to interpretation. I’m certainly not for abandoning apologetics (as I said) but I’m not convinced it is the starting point for a skeptical culture

  3. Hi Hamo,

    I’ve got a questions about this section:
    “Rather I sense that the difference will be encounters with God that have undeniable potency – prophetic insights, experiences with the divine that send chills down the spine – inexplicable love and grace. If faith is all down to logic and reason then I think we are fighting a losing battle.”

    I hear from your statement that you claim faith shouldn’t be about logic and reason.
    So my question is, how are ‘prophetic insights’ and ‘experiences with the divine’ not simply pieces of evidence that proponents would use to logically and reasonably come to a faith position? To me there seems to be a contradiction in your position; “it’s not all about logic and reason, but these experiences are evidence in a system of logic and reason”.
    I guess it comes down to the old question of what faith is based on, if not evidence (of any sort) in a system of logic and reason.

    As I fellow skeptic, I also have an issue with your claim that such insights and experiences are ‘undeniably potent’. As you would be well aware, spiritual experiences are highly subjective and able to be manufactured, not just in Christian circles, and don’t exactly lend themselves to objective verification, but maybe that’s a discussion for another time.

    Cheers
    Adam

    • Hi Adam – I’m not saying logic and reason aren’t important, but I don’t think they would be the most critical elements for me at this point in my life. I think some ‘facts’ are important but on their own they can feel pretty dry.

      I think it’s a combination of experience, community and reason (prob other stuff as well) that shapes our beliefs.

      My point here – and maybe it wasn’t said clearly – is that in an Information Age where people have access to arguments for and against everything simple facts may not be highly regarded.9

  4. I find myself in the off position of both feeling strong agreement, but also a disagreement at the exact same time. Perhaps its a sense for me that there isn’t any ‘one’ starting point, but a multitude of onramps, all interlinking with different people taking different paths.

    I resonate strongly with the need for more ‘supernatural’ interactions, the simply logical approach rarely bears fruit, but at the same time I still find more of my conversations with people outside the faith to be around those logical/scientific questions. Maybe its because I’m more wired that way that I tend to land in those conversations?

    Its funny that you mention the ‘Case for Christ’ book. I have done, and continue to use that book quite extensively, but only after talking to someone and sensing questions of that nature. Most people who accept it and read it come back quite stunned at its content…but perhaps as you have experienced, not ‘changed’. It might be that they are at that point more open, but they still need something REAL, something tangible, perhaps something spiritual to get them over the line?

    I saw the movie ‘Case for Christ’ last night and found the way they approached it very fascinating. The wife had a more ‘spiritual’ encounter and really wasn’t too worried about the logic. She couldn’t deny what she had experienced. The Lee Strobel character however was uninterested in the ‘experience’, he just wanted the logic.

    I’m only 32 but I am more and more open to ‘questions’ and not having to hold quite so tightly in some areas, and I am convinced we need a very healthy injection of the spiritual/supernatural into our evangelism and discipleship, but my own experience still see’s a strong place for good old fashioned apologetics, its just more of a journey than a one encounter event.

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