Monday, January 09, 2006

More than personal: A case for an intellectual life in the Church (1)

Many people have this idea that the logical or intellectual approach to anything religious is just a clever way to win arguments and it's not a legitimate way for Christians to sway unbelievers to Christ.

In the very early days of my Christian walk, the longer I stayed a Christian the more I had to tell myself that witnessing for Christ is nothing more than just sharing my personal experience with Jesus, because that seemed to be what everyone else was doing. I didn't realize that by doing what everyone else did, I was putting myself in a vulnerable position where it can be said that my religion was a product of a kind of subjective belief that is of no relevance to others, therefore making my witnessing unnecessary and what’s worse, irrelevant. I find that once such an objection is raised, I no longer find my faith credible, let alone defensible, because my witness was based on experiences that are largely personal and therefore cannot be verified objectively.

With the help of teachers like C.S. Lewis, J.P. Moreland and many others, I realized later that something else was needed if I were to take my faith seriously and have an entrenched confidence that Christianity is believable universally, not just for me. We need a belief that is able to stand on its own regardless of our feelings or our vested interest in it. And to identify that diamond in the rough, we need some tools; something which is indispensable in the sharing and defense of the Gospel: a thinking mind.

A lot has gone wrong in people's ability to think critically about the important issues of life, and Christians are no exceptions. One of the most careless mistakes committed by Christians today is making the absence of a thinking life a prerequisite for faith. Join a local Bible study group and you will be convinced that an average Christian no longer holds the truth of God's Word on the level of objectivity. The message of the scriptures has become a subject of a person's opinion of how their experience has led them to believe what the Bible is trying to say to them. When difficult questions are raised by non-believers in our midst, we usually either meet them with a pat response or circumvent them by finding an easy way out of a ready answer. If on the other hand an objection is raised by someone in the family of believers, more often than not we would employ the "I don't want to judge and so shouldn't you" tactic to put people off genuine concerns to which we have no honest answers.

We the Church have lost our ability and courage to critically assess our faith before we eagerly offer it to the world. As a result we not only find that the world has more genuine objections to our faith than we are ready to handle, but that we are pushing our comrades, especially the young, to the frontline of fiercely competitive ideas armed with nothing more than an individual and separate sense of divine duty to convert nations. And when the world spearheads us with challenges (a lot of which are, not surprisingly, intellectual) and accusations of irrational and irrelevant faith, we wonder why our harvest is not more plentiful when our laborers are willing. Why then is the use of logical persuasions so important in our witness for Christ? What can an intellectual argument do that a personal, experiential account of faith cannot?

Two clarifications before I proceed to make my case, lest anyone take my lack of exactitude for certain false endorsements.

Continue to part 2...

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