A Reasonable Faith

The event caught my attention on a number of different levels.  It was billed as a “Reason Rally,” and it was held in Washington D.C.’s National Mall on March 24, 2012, ostensibly to promote and bring recognition to non-religion and atheism.  First, I guess I don’t grasp the motivation of why someone would travel such a significant distance at significant expense, to rally around what you don’t believe in?  If you know anything about the National Mall, a gathering of 20,000 people is small in comparison to other similar events.  That didn’t keep someone though from engaging in shameless self-promotion or inept reporting calling it, “the largest secular event in the history of the world.”  Really?!  In the history of the world?!  Then, there was the overall tenor of the event, which seemed more about attacking Christianity than celebrating the joys of atheism.  There were signs that read, “So many Christians, so few lions.” Numerous references were made that speaking about your faith was tantamount to “hate speech.”  And, oh yes, calls for everyone from Rick Santorum to Pope Benedict XVI to Tim Tebow to be arrested.  Their crime? I guess if you have faith, you should literally be silent about it.  Anyhow, it inspired me to wade in to make it perfectly clear that ours is a “reasonable faith.”

Faith Under Fire

You should know that when it comes to Christianity and especially belief in Jesus Christ, there has always been its detractors and its skeptics.  One of the unique features of our age is we are witnessing the rise of both skepticism and faith; doubt and belief are growing side by side.  This accounts for the resurgence of what’s been called the neo-atheists, with names like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins (author of “The God Delusion”), Sam Harris and others.

“New atheism is a more aggressive and anti-religious form of atheism that presupposes the validity of scientific theories and reason, and applies them to religious phenomena in an attempt to disprove that God exists and that religion is dangerous”Have you ever looked up the definition of skeptic or skepticism? The dictionary says, “To look at a matter closely; to scrutinize; to study with great care; in minute detail.”  True skepticism is not an excuse or refusal to think or investigate things closely; just the opposite.  I think this is what’s different about today: the goal is not honest dialogue or even honest disagreement, but the intention is to disparage and refute the truth of the Bible, often using mockery to intimidate believers.  I think of that intellectual giant, Bill Maher, of HBO who along with others have alleged that Christians should be in mental wards and are nothing more than sycophantic sheep.  That tone was definitely present at the “Reason Rally,” when Richard Dawkins told the crowd that (Christians) “need to be ridiculed with contempt...mock them, ridicule them! In public!”  Uhhhm, where’s the civility and the towering “reason” in all of that?  The bottom-line is that faith in Jesus Christ has always been “ground zero” of spiritual warfare.  Every believer and generation will be faced with its own adamant rejection of the message and truth of the Gospel.

By No Means A New Phenomenon

Looking back, there is a long, long list of famous or infamous skeptics, agnostics, and atheists who’ve crossed the stage of history.  There was the noted French author, historian, philosopher, and infidel, Francois Voltaire, whose boast and aim in life was to demolish Christianity.  He said, “In twenty years, Christianity will be no more.  My single hand shall destroy the edifice that took twelve apostles to rear.”  Well, Voltaire died like everyone else, and what’s more is that his home was used by the American Bible Society for the publication and distribution of Bibles!  In America, Robert Ingersoll drew large audiences for his lectures on atheism.  He liked to shock his hearers by taking out a big pocket watch and announcing, “I give God — if there is one — five minutes to strike me dead.”    When someone called this to the attention of the English evangelist, Joseph Parker, I like his answer.  He said, 

“And did the gentleman presume to exhaust the patience of the eternal God in five minutes?”

There is an added question here that is valid and interesting, and it is what makes an atheist.  I certainly don’t know everything or have all the answers, but I can tell you that there’s almost always a back story!  I was fascinated by the author and professor from New York University, Paul Vitz, in his book called Faith Of The Fathers.  He studied the 72 most well-known atheists in history, the Bertrand Russells, the Voltaires, and the Freuds, to see if they had anything in common.  The only thing he could find in common with every one of them is they all hated their dads, every one of them.  They had a distant dad, a demeaning dad, a dead dad...they had no relationships with their fathers.  That’s why it wasn’t surprising, but a bit sad, that one of the speakers at the Reason Rally was Nate Phelps, the son of Westboro Baptist Church pastor, Fred Phelps.  The church has become infamous fore picketing military funerals with signs and epithets such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates fags.”  Their position and ugly misrepresentation is that all of this represents God’s judgment on America for homosexuality.  Just imagine growing up in that home environment.  Is it surprising that at the stroke of midnight on his 18th birthday, he packed all of his belongings and left home, rejecting God and the distorted faith of his parents, in particular his father?  There is always a story behind things, often hidden, but nevertheless real.

In the end, you have to work hard at suppressing your belief in God since Scripture tells us “He has put eternity into man’s heart.”  It’s describing man’s instinct for God, not the result of some evolutionary process but God’s creative design.  You are either a Christian or an atheist, you see, by faith!  Robert Rowe is an atheistic professor from Purdue University, educated at Oxford who said: “Even as the evangelical Christian accepts God by faith, I reject the idea of God by faith, but I cannot reject God by reason alone for there is too much evidence of His existence.  It is by faith I am an atheist.”  I can appreciate the man’s honesty.

If you keep telling a lie frequently enough, eventually people believe it.  It seems that the common claim and biggest misconception about Christianity is that it’s all about “blind faith.”  It is portrayed as a blind leap into the dark, instead of a bold step into the light!  The caricature presented is that to become a Christian is to commit “intellectual suicide.”  In order to become a follower of Jesus Christ you have to unplug your brain first.  We need to dismantle that deception so that the truth can really set you free!

The Wonderful Possibility

God is such an awesome God!  The text that comes to mind is (Isaiah 1:18) “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Can’t you see the heart and the character of God here?  God is saying “Why don’t you and I sit down and reason together about the things that really matter in life.”  You know, the big things, the big questions that set the direction of your life and ultimately determine both its quality and outcome.  True wisdom possesses this quality as well, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17) Christianity is open for reason because of a simple fact: Christianity holds its own and can operate in the arena of ideas!

Throughout the NT, this was the Apostle Paul’s strategy.  (Acts 17:2, 3) “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ."  He reasoned with them from the Scriptures.  The word means “to dialogue; to discuss thoroughly; to open, explain, and give evidence.”  Arguments by Christians are more “reasonable” than those of the skeptics or the atheists.  Dr. George Eldon Ladd in his book, I Believe In The Resurrection, observes that “faith does not mean a leap in the dark, an irrational credulity, a believing against evidences and against reason.  It means believing in the light of historical facts, consistent with evidences, on the basis of witnesses.”  It is completely “reasonable” to put your faith in Him and serve Him all the days of your life.  There is a “divine reasonableness” to faith, to the Cross, to the resurrection, and to the call to holiness.  That is why ours is a “reasonable faith” to those who will take the time to examine and then to trust.

Here is insight into the task of every believer.  (1Pet.3:15, 16) tells us, “But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”  To live winsomely for and effectively for Christ in our age, we must first make Jesus Lord of every area of our hearts and lives.  Until this is done our lives will be half-hearted and we will not be taken seriously.  The second thing is we must be ready to give an answer (make a defense; reasoned argument) to everyone for the reason for the hope in our lives.  He’s talking about the field of apologetics.  Not that everyone has to be a Bible scholar, but we should be able to enunciate the what and the why of our faith and hope in Christ.  Then he tells us that our attitude and approach is what backs it all up.  A winsome witness is underscored by our lifestyle, “do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”  The truth backed up by a committed lifestyle is a winning strategy!

The Verdict

Paul’s closing argument was concise, This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” I was intrigued reading about an award-winning writer, John Jeremiah Sullivan, who had what he called an adolescent “bout with evangelicalism.” Sullivan walked away from the church and a biblical faith, but after all these years he can’t fully reject the person of Jesus Christ.  He claims, “Once you’ve known [Jesus] as God,” it’s hard to find comfort in Jesus as just another man.  And even after years of unbelief, Sullivan admits, “one has doubts about one’s doubts.”  You see, it always comes back to Jesus and our encounter with Him.  When the Apostle Paul made his defense before King Agrippa in Acts 26, the final piece of evidence was his testimony of how he met Jesus on the Damascus Road!  It was there that the greatest destroyer of Christianity became its greatest defender!  That’s why the saying is true: A MAN WITH AN ARGUMENT IS NO MATCH FOR MAN WITH AN EXPERIENCE.  That’s why Paul’s life passion from that point on became “that I might know him and the power of his resurrection.”  Christianity is both a FACT to be believed and an EXPERIENCE to connect with.  One without the other is to have a form of religion with no power.  DO YOU KNOW THEM BOTH?  Christianity says if you want to experience God, you have to believe the truth: you have to believe that He really lived that He really died, that He really raised...which leads to a real experience, which leads to more understanding of the truth, and the truth leads to more experience.  And this cycle keeps growing and being repeated in our lives!

Ordinary Or Extraordinary God

God needs to deliver us from the idolatry that is so common today.  Idolatry is defined as “the worship of anything or anyone other than or less than the true and living God” revealed in Scripture.  Several years ago in Britain, researchers went door-to-door asking persons about their belief in God.  One of the questions: “Do you believe in a God who intervenes in human history, who changes the course of affairs, who performs miracles etc.?”  When the report was published, it took its title from the response of one man who became typical of many.  He answered, “No, I don’t believe in that God; I believe in the ordinary God.”  If all we have is the ordinary God, then He certainly wouldn’t be worthy to be worshiped or adored with all your heart, soul, and mind!  I am so grateful that Jesus Christ is an extraordinary God and Savior; otherwise, I wouldn’t be a Christian today.

In some of my reading for this message, I read Tim Keller’s introduction to “The God of Reason” - Belief In An Age of Skepticism.  He told of a Columbia University graduate and atheist, Kevin, who was working on Wall Street with J.P. Morgan.  He and his future wife, Kelly, had their doubts about their doubts, so they started going to church.  It was still a slow grind, since they had a lot to work through.  But, let me put it in his words:

Kelly wrote, “As an atheist I thought I lived a moral, community-oriented, concerned-with-social-justice kind of life, but Christianity had an even higher standard–down to our thoughts and the state of our hearts.  I accepted God’s forgiveness and invited him into my life.”  Kevin wrote, “While sitting in a coffee shop reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, I put down the book and wrote in my notebook, ‘the evidence surrounding the claims of Christianity is simply overwhelming.’  I realized that my achievements were ultimately unsatisfying, the approval of man is fleeting, that a carpe diem life lived solely for adventure is just a form of narcissism and idolatry. And so I became a believer in Christ.” Oh, yes! Oh, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.

Dear ones, “Reason Rallies” come and go, but the God of Reason endures forever, and one day we will all stand before Him.  In fact, “In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and He invites you to give Him your hearts and your head, and discover that He is in the life-transforming business!  There is atipping point for this to be a reality in your life?  The prophet Isaiah tells us in this internal reasoning process: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."  I URGE YOU THIS EASTER SEASON TO BE WILLING AND OBEDIENT: AND GIVE THE LORD JESUS WHO IS THE “”RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE” A PLACE IN YOUR LIFE!  YOU WILL NEVER REGRET IT.