This post begins year two of ifaqtheology. As I said last week, I plan to give this year to the theme of Christianity’s truth. I will take my time. I need to clear away some bad arguments, confused language, and rash and uninformed claims, some made by unbelievers and some by believers. In my view, most apologetic efforts in recent history have done as much damage as good and created as much doubt as confidence in the Christian faith. Bad arguments in favor of a good cause are worse than silence. Some arguments for Christianity overstate their case and understate the force of objections. Some try to prove too many things.
So, in the course of this year I will be critiquing certain types of apologetics as well as unfolding my own argument. I will attempt never to misrepresent our situation with respect to what we can know and what we cannot. I want to state fairly the case against belief as well as the case for belief. I want to be clear about the kind of evidence I am presenting: a claim to historical fact, a logical truth, a metaphysical truth, a practical truth, speculation, opinion, trust in the reliability of others, religious experience, and others. I want to be clear about what I am asking the reader to do in response: open their minds to alternative views, accept a conclusion as possible, preferable, probable, or true. At minimum, I want to clarify the choices we must make and what is at stake in each.
I do not plan on attempting to prove God exists or Christianity is true. Proof is a strong word that applies only to a limited number of activities, mostly in logic and mathematics. And even proofs in these areas begin with unproven axioms or assumptions. The “proved” conclusions in logic or mathematics are true only if the axioms or assumptions are really true. Logic and mathematics use clear and simple language and don’t challenge us morally, existentially or spiritually. Philosophical and theological approaches to religious questions deal with highly complex data and must use language that is far from clear and simple. And they deal with the most important, challenging and emotion-laden questions human beings ask.
What is at stake in the question, “Is Christianity true?” Already we have moved into uncertain terrain! Exactly what is this question asking? (1) Am I asking about our ability to show that Christianity is true? (2) Or, about our subjective certainty that it is true? (3) Or, am I asking about the difference for the meaning of human existence between the objective truth and objective falsehood of the claims of Christianity? Each of these interpretations is worth pursuing. In (1) perhaps you are a believer but you have limited ability to give reasons for that belief. Your inability may limit your capacity to engage with unbelievers on a rational level, but it need not dampen your faith or restrict your living of the Christian life.
In (2) your certainty is in question. How certain are you of the truth of Christianity? Your level of certainty may affect your joy and your willingness to live thoroughly as a Christian. But the question of certainty is not the same as the question of truth. Certainty is a subjective measure. People have been completely certain of things that turned out to be false. (3) This question gets at the central issue I want to address. The claims of Christianity are either true or false. If they are false, every hope, moral rule, comfort and belief that depends exclusively on their truth is also false. Likewise, if the claims of Christianity are true, every hope, way of life and belief that depends on them is also true. If you think that nothing of existential or moral consequence depends on the truth of Christianity, then you won’t be very interested in the question. It does not matter either way. But that view itself is contestable, and refuting it is a very important part of my argument.
But the question, “Is Christianity true?” cannot be limited to the particular claims Christianity makes about Jesus of Nazareth. It is true that if Jesus Christ is not the Son of God and Lord, and did not rise from the dead, Christianity is false. But Christianity also makes claims about God and the world. If there is no God, Christianity cannot be true. If there are millions of Gods, Christianity cannot be true. If God is not good, Christianity is false. If materialism is true, Christianity cannot be true. If the divine is completely unknowable, Christianity cannot be true. Hence in addressing the question about the truth of Christianity I plan on dealing with the most comprehensive issues involved in this question: Do we have reasons to think anything really exists other than matter? Does it make sense to believe in God? Where do we begin in moving from belief in God to full Christian faith?
Next week we will begin to clarify some concepts needed to think about the truth of Christianity. I find that many people have no clear understanding of such concepts as reality, truth, falsehood, fact, knowledge, opinion, fancy, subjective, objective, mythical, historical, and many others. We will think first about the qualifiers real and true.