Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gospel Truth Despite Doubt

What is truth?

That's the basic question of life, isn't it?  In what can we believe?  To what can we affix our hope?

It's the question Pontius Pilot asked Jesus.  It's the question all of us ask - however subconsciously - as we develop our worldview and make our way through our lives.

It's the question that born-again evangelicals say we've answered by putting our faith in Christ.  And while for some, that sounds like a trite answer, perhaps its triteness comes the consistency of its trueness.  Even if, at least for Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, it's an answer that's been given more in theory than in practice.

For generations, regardless of how strongly anybody believed in Jesus, as Americans living in our Christianized society, acknowledging the historicity of the Bible has sufficed in providing at least a benchmark for religiosity.  One didn't have to be "born-again" to acknowledge that the Bible is more than just another work of literature.  For people who took the Bible seriously, their claims that God's Word is true were met, on the whole, with at least a begrudging acquiescence by the general population.  Public dissent against Christianity and its teachings was extremely rare, and its doctrines seldom challenged in the public square.  And when they were, dissenters were portrayed as outside the mainstream.  .

When we talk about America entering a "post-Christian" phase, we're talking about all of that cultural context flipping backside-to.  Whereas Christians had become accustomed to commanding America's moral dialog, nowadays, we're finding ourselves on the defensive more than ever.  Over the past few decades, our culture become more pluralistic, and suddenly, it seems, more and more people have become comfortable with - and even driven to - openly challenging longstanding assumptions about Christianity.

"How do you know that God exists?  Or that the God of the Bible is the only god?"

"How do you know the Bible is completely true?  What makes it so special?  Plenty of cultures throughout history, around the globe, have created their own analogies, myths, and superstitions about how and why the world works the way it does."

"Isn't it awfully convenient for you to say we shouldn't do something, even when we want to, just because a book of Jewish mythology says so?"

Actually, it's not like any of these are new questions.  Nobody's asking anything today that hasn't been asked since Satan tempted Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden.  What's different about today's questions, however, is that cultural tradition doesn't suffice as an answer anymore.  In the minds and souls of many Americans today, the Christianity that has been part-and-parcel of Americana since Pilgrims set foot in New England no longer is sufficient proof for the Bible's validity.

That's not to say that the Gospel has become irrelevant.  Or that Christ isn't as powerful as He used to be.  Or that God really can be Whomever we want to imagine Him as being.  The orthodox truth of God that has existed and been believed by angels since before the world was created is the same truth in which I believe today.

Evangelicals like me simply can't expect anybody else to take that at face value anymore.

Not that I haven't entertained doubts in my own mind.  After all, I'm not unaware of how bizarre much of the Bible sounds to people who don't believe it.  Six days to create the universe?  A flood that covered every inch of the globe?  Shouting until a city's fortifications were obliterated by some unseen force?  An immaculate conception?  Feeding thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish?  Resurrection from the dead?

Come on!

How do I know that I'm not making some massive, foolish mistake by living my life according to some ancient proverbs instead of my own intuition and emotions?  Didn't God make me as a person capable of independent thought?  A lot of those proverbs are found in the literature of other cultures, by the way.  What makes them so special just because they're in the Bible?

And don't tell me that I won't understand about the Bible unless some event like being "saved" through a "working" of some invisible being called the "Holy Spirit" takes place in my soul.  We are an enlightened, educated, and scientific society.  We need proofs, validations, and empirical evidence.  Otherwise, your word is as good as anybody else's.  Merely an opinion.  Which means you're entitled to your opinion, just as I'm entitled to mine.  Everything's relative, and the only absolute is the individual; the self.  Which means I shouldn't have to change my lifestyle to accommodate your beliefs.

Sound like a lot of the push-back evangelicals are receiving by society at large today?

Frankly, to a certain degree, it's all a fair argument.  Little of Christianity makes sense if you take its theology's linchpin out of the picture.  And that Linchpin is Christ.  And even with Jesus, plenty of secular scholars, along with other world religions, acknowledge that He existed, and walked on this planet, and did good stuff for humanity.  It's His divine nature as the Son of God that skeptics can't embrace.  There is no literal, physical proof that Christ is a member of the Trinity.  Even the "Trinity," as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a concept whose very name is never mentioned in the Bible.

So, how do I know the Bible is true?  That God is Truth?  And that Christ is Truth incarnate?  How do I know that believers through the past two millennia who've been killed for their faith haven't been gravely mistaken?  How do I know that God hears my prayers, and that He answers them?  How do I know that Heaven is where my soul will go when I die?

Again, these are just some of the doubts, questions, fears, and aspersions that have bedeviled almost everybody who has ever heard the Gospel of Christ.  They represent just a smattering of the questions for which society wants concrete proofs, so that when evangelicals advocate for heterosexual marriage, or life in the womb, or even morality in the media, we people of faith have what society at large can accept as a legitimate reason for why it should listen to us anymore.

I could provide a listing of Bible verses to try and explain why I believe that eternal truth resides in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But none of it will mean anything to anybody who doesn't want to accept them as facts.

So I'll just say this.  Truth is that which honors God.  Don't believe it?  Well, even unbelief can honor God, because His Word teaches that without the Holy Spirit revealing His truth to us, none of us will truly believe it.  We might acculturate to it, like generations of Americans did before us, but that's not the same as accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior.  And maybe one of the unconventional truths about the Bible is that it teaches that the Gospel isn't for everybody.  Nobody can be forced into it, nobody can be chided into it, or guilted into it.  God has created belief and truth to exist whether you want it or not.

Not everybody will be saved.  Not everybody will believe in Christ.  Not everybody will tolerate the Gospel.  In fact, the Bible teaches that most people will not want to hear that heterosexual marriage is the only type of marriage that honors God.  Most people won't really care about protecting life in the womb, either, or whether a young female singer gyrates on a TV show watched by youngsters.  People will intentionally fly planes into office buildings.  People will kill other people simply because of the color of their skin.  People will hate, castigate, and fornicate with apparent impunity.  And some of them will claim the name of Christ.

But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  The Fruit isn't literally edible, but it is a lifestyle given by the Holy Spirit to everybody who accepts Christ as the Lord of their life.  And to the degree that these Fruit - they're a set - can be seen in my life, and in the lives of everybody else who professes faith in Christ, then you will know that we are His disciples.

You still may not want to believe that what we believe is the truth.

And you'd be in good company.  After all, the powerful Roman prefect, Pilate, didn't, either.

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