Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Great Faith Debate – DAY 1

Today I am starting a week-long blog series designed to address questions raised on my Facebook wall by two friends, both avowed “non-theists,” who began debating each other after I posted a quote on the nature of faith.

The young adults group my wife and I are blessed to be a part of (despite the fact we don’t meet the criterion of being “young”) is studying Paul’s letter to the Romans. I believe God has been speaking to us through this study about the nature of faith … about how Abraham was the father of many nations not simply because he was the first Jew, but because God reached out to him with a promise, and he responded in faith. He believed God, and that faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness,” establishing the pattern for the rest of us (many nations) who desire to claim all God has for us, to be in relationship with him, to “seek him while he may be found.”

While studying Romans 4 I listened to a sermon by one of my favorite pastors, Jon Courson of Applegate Christian Fellowship. Something he said about faith jumped out at me so I quoted him on my Facebook wall …
So you're a skeptic, and say you don’t believe in faith?

You go to a doctor whose name you can’t pronounce. He has degrees on his wall that you have never yourself verified. He gives you a prescription that you can’t read, and you take it to a pharmacist that you have never met. He gives you a chemical, a drug that you ...don’t understand. And he puts it in a bottle you can’t open!

It’s faith, man! People practice faith continually, every day.

The question is, if you can have faith in the doctor whose name you can’t pronounce, and take without hardly thinking about it the medicine he prescribes, then why can’t you exercise faith in the God who created the universe (and you in it), the One who loves you so much that he came to this earth and died in your place … who simply asks you to accept that historical, verifiable, undeniable fact and its implications?
- Pastor Jon Courson (Applegate Christian Fellowship), teaching on Romans 4

Actually, to be fair to Pastor Jon, that’s not a precise quote. I inserted the first sentence, as an introduction. And to be honest, I wasn’t really talking to non-theists … I was talking to myself, addressing my own frequent failures of faith.

I did think this quote cut through a lot of the clutter about the nature of faith, which I think (from a biblical perspective) is really a very simple concept that people are often mistaken about. And I also thought it was a clever quote, especially the part about not being able to open medicine bottles. I really identified with that.

So I put it on my Facebook wall, hoping it might bless other faith-journeyers as it blessed me.

I find it ironic that this quote, intended to encourage people like me who struggle to walk by faith, fired a debate between friends who both think faith is delusional. Most of their salvos have actually been on the interpretation of various passages of Scripture, even though these two individuals both say they don’t believe in God and don’t respect the authority of the Bible. If that’s not ironic, I’m not sure what is.

The sad part is that these are both people I like, and a part of me hurts for what they have experienced in their lives and how they have responded to it and the place it has apparently taken them to. They are, after all, two among my 553 Facebook “friends!” (Sorry, I’m trying to be funny. It’s not working, is it? You gotta love Facebook.)

Anyway, reading through what these two friends posted made me realize how crucial it is, when writing about something this important, to define your terminology and make sure you are communicating as clearly as you can. I promised both I would respond as I intend to do here and seek to address various important points they raise. I am not trying to “convert” either of them, although it occurs to me that God makes a clear point of depicting how ardently he both pursues sheep who have wandered away from the fold, or waits eagerly by the road to kill the fatted calf for a prodigal son returning home. Therefore I won’t hesitate to encourage each of these individuals to repent, to turn around and seek their Father’s love and forgiveness once again.

One has questioned, based on Heb. 6:4-6, whether it is even possible to reconvert the deconverted? I hope so, but I am not sure … the good news is that, even if such reconversion is unlikely, it’s not because God rejects the deconverted; Rom. 5:6 says that “at just the right time” Christ died for the ungodly … and a deconverted person is no more ungodly than any of the rest of us, as far as I can tell. Jesus still loves you so much He died for you. Truth!

But I do respect their right and capacity to make their own choices as intelligent adults. I mainly just want to express life as I see it through my own lens, correct what I believe are misperceptions in their statements, and contribute light (rather than heat) to the discussion which I initially (unwittingly) launched on Facebook.

Because this response is fairly lengthy, I am going to post it in seven (or possibly more) parts …
  • This introduction
  • A proper definition of the word “faith” as it is used in Scripture
  • The relationship between faith and obedience
  • Seeking “proof” and seeing a lack of faith from God’s perspective
  • Addressing the issue of a plethora of faiths
  • What about hell?
  • God-shaped hole, or defective brain?
  • Why does God allow evil?
I am presenting the first two parts today, then hopefully one part per day thereafter. I may also post more parts or a final conclusion if there are additional objections or questions we need to deal with.

Please jump in with your comments, questions and suggestions. Just keep the tone civil and respectful! I don't mind if your comment is critical ... just if it's uncivil or uncouth.

This is the type of issue I think we can all have an adult conversation about, quite nicely, if we really try.

Next up: How should we be defining “faith?”


Elizabeth Grattan said...


"The sad part is that these are both people I like, and a part of me hurts for what they have experienced in their lives and how they have responded to it and the place it has apparently taken them to."

I see this happen OFTEN. And I find comments as this so condescending. It makes me sad that you have experienced something in your life that has made you respond to fantasy thinking and the path that you are on. (see how awful that sounds).

The tendency of the theist to look down upon the atheist as a "lost" person in "need" of salvation is paramount in your belief system. But it is such an arrogant belief system. And it contradicts itself by the mere mention that it stems from "care" or "compassion", because it's so condescending. Make sense?

Your desire (although you say it isn't) to convert or RE convert the atheist back into the fold... makes all your motives suspect.

Hope you understand that.


Larry Short said...

I didn't intend for it to sound condescending. Please accept it for what it was: compassion.

According to "my belief system" we are all in the same place, lost in our sin, in need of salvation. I therefore have no perch from which to "look down on you."

Elizabeth Grattan said...

Whether you realize how condescending the statement is isn't really the point.

Your belief system most definitely puts you on a perch. You said it yourself. You think I'm lost and in need of salvation. You think you are found and have it.

You want me to conform and change and convert and believe what you do. And if I don't, it's my loss.

That is arrogance in a great degree. I'm surprised you can't see that?

I'm not seeing how it can be called compassionate to view me as someone in need of something I don't need at all.

The problem with the archaic belief system of theists is that you can't view others objectively at all. You can't really be compassionate, because again, all your motives are suspect.

Amanda McCracken said...


Please don't mind me jumping into this conversation, but I just have a quick question. Would you call it arrogant if a homeless man found a loaf of bread and offered to share it with his starving companion?

If our belief system says that a person is in a very literal sense dying without what we have found (by being in the exact same position as that person) how can we not tell him or her about this salvation? It is the equivalent of pulling a man out of the way of an oncoming car or giving a drink of water to someone dying of thirst. I truly apologize if this way of thinking seems arrogant, but in a situation like that, what are you supposed to do? Ignore the cry of the needy because it would 'put them down' to help them?

I'm sorry, that ended up being more than one question :) but that's my two cents.

Elizabeth Grattan said...


The problem with this analogy is that again: it begs the question. That's what theists do. They BEGIN with a premise that doesn't work.

You assume first that there is a homeless man and starving people then go on to assume it is a loaf of bread found.

Theists believe they have discovered a "truth" and are at the advantage over the "lost" souls who "need salvation." It is an arrogant assumption not based on any evidence outside of story telling over and over again.

The problem with your belief system is that you are compelled to reinforce it and the arrogance and continue to look upon others as in need of what you have.

That is arrogant.

About as arrogant as my wishing the theists would get better educated.

Except that education is something we can point to that actually is needed in our species.

Joe Hendricks said...

"About as arrogant as my wishing the theists would get better educated."

Nicely honest :-)

Even Richard Dawkins concedes that although he sees God as very highly improbable, God cannot be disproved. (In fairness, he also says the same for belief in an orbiting toaster or teatray)

" arrogant assumption not based on any evidence outside of story telling.."

Only if you start from the premise that "personal revelation/ experience" is unacceptable as evidence...that a spiritual reality is disproved simply because it is not observable or reproducible using scientific methodology. Lots of assumptions on both sides here, imo.