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Vibrant Dance Revisited: Faith: Able or Willing?

I spent most of the posts back in November summarizing the Vibrant Dance Symposium on Faith and Science that occurred here in Austin back in October. One of the speakers was Alister McGrath, the British scientist and theologian, who, though unable to travel to the symposium sent a video presentation.

While an overall excellent presentation, he did make a point I wanted to visit at a later date. Turns out that’s today. At one point, McGrath argued that some people (mostly scientists) are trapped within reason, and unable to make the leap to faith.

I largely disagree with that statement philosophically. They are presupposing a purely naturalistic universe—but they do demonstrate faith in daily life, but it is faith based on reason, not blind faith.

I realize that is a loaded statement, so let me unpack it a little bit. Much of the issue depends on the definition of faith being used. For many, both Christians and non-Christians, ‘faith’ equates to ‘blind faith’—belief that exists either in the absence of evidence or in spite of contrary evidence. I have come to despise the term blind faith because it is patently unbiblical.

In Scripture, God always offers evidence to people before requiring obedience in faith. Before commissioning Moses to free Israel, He revealed Himself as the burning bush that wasn’t consumed and spoke. Jesus offered signs and miracles to authenticate His message. I could go on, but every time God asks something of someone, it is in the context of previously revealing who He is. Even David, when answering King Saul’s worry over his facing Goliath responded by saying, “The Lord delivered me from the lion and the bear. He will therefore deliver me from thus uncircumcised Philistine.” God’s faithfulness in the past gave David the courage to trust Him in faith in the future.

Therefore, we must abandon the idea of blind faith as an excuse for rejecting Christianity. Yes, it requires faith, but faith based on evidence. Then the question becomes the quality and quantity of evidence and what is the burden of proof in the listener’s mind. This is turn, depends largely on the will of the listener—are they willing to be convinced? If they are unwilling to let evidence speak, then there isn’t much that can be done.

However, this is very different from not having the ability to have faith. Every human demonstrates faith every day. Chances are you are sitting in a chair while reading this. You have put your faith in the chair because chairs are designed to hold people and probably your chair has held you faithfully many times. Yes, this is a rather trite example. You have faith that your employer will pay you on time and usually the proper amount.

The rub comes when you are asked to trust or put faith in a spiritual being that operates on a very different level that the material realm. This is much harder to do if you do not believe there is a spiritual realm to begin with. Again, one has to be willing to consider the possibility of such an existence and then look at the evidence.

Of course, Dr. McGrath knows and understands this. He was speaking colloquially. I find it useful to consistently define and contrast my terms in order to reduce confusion, and I feel had he done this here, it would have made the talk stronger.

It is a very different thing to say that “those who are trapped in reason are fundamentally unwilling to make a leap of faith because it seems to defy the reasonableness of their naturalistic worldview” than it is to say “those who are trapped in reason are unable to make the leap to faith.” This gives the naturalists too much wiggle room—“ah, I just can’t make the leap.” They need to realize that they are unwilling to consider the alternative, and deal with that. It is a choice, an act of their will. There will come a time when God will force them to acknowledge this. It is therefore reasonable to challenge them with the same now.


1 comment:

  1. I think THIS is THE BEST post that I've read of yours, at least in terms of clearly conveying a very important concept of how God's "faith" thing operates.

    I went back and highlighted your key sentences to put into my file of notes of "concepts to remember," and discovered that I'd highlighted about 65% of your text (after the 3 intro paragraphs)!

    It hits me particularly because that's the issue God hit me with.

    As a young adult (in my 20s), I had abandoned my youthful Christian experience, in favor of an almost atheistic viewpoint, because of all the "contradictions" in the Bible, and the lack of clear believable evidence of its validity.

    In my 30s, with a wife and 2 kids, I heard my Dad tell me one time, "Son, you ought to get those kids to church." He was active in the church, and lived it, but had never really pushed it. So my family went, for the moral and social benefit - not for any "faith" element. Through a long period of listening, examining, and discussing the Bible and related issues, I was struggling with this "faith" thing, and the lack of hard evidence.

    In my 40s, and shortly after a kind of "fleece" event (Judges 6:36) (suggested by a friend) which I had not yet fully grasped, I was sitting in church one day, not really listening to the sermon, when God actually spoke to me in my mind. I know; it sounds weird, but I know it twern't me.

    He called me by name, and said, "I have not given you PROOF, but I HAVE given you enough EVIDENCE, for you to decide: Do you want to do things YOUR way, or MY way?"

    I was dumbfounded by the question, but I immediately realized He was right, and I had seen enough of my way (the world's way) vs HIS way, to know my answer.

    I'm now in my late 60s, and I understand a lot more than I did about this God and the faith He offers. And it seems to me that there are 2 things that are critical to it:

    1) God wants everyone to have it. He has worked throughout history to make Himself known, and to show His Love for us and that He wants us all to have faith in Him, and how to do it.
    2) The 2nd ingredient in the recipe is OUR DESIRE to have it. If we're not willing to do things His way, then there's no point in His cramming faith down our throat. There is a saying,
    "A man convinced against his WILL,
    is of the same opinion still."

    For anyone struggling, as I did, with the "faith" thing, I would just ask:
    Do you turn aside to investigate the burning bushes He provides to you?
    Do you ASK Him to explain? (and KEEP ON asking - How badly do you want to know???)
    Or do you tell yourself, "It's impossible. Must be a trick," and go on your way?

    I guess that is the question of the ages:
    "Do you WANT to believe?"
    Or do you refuse to see the evidence that allows you to progress to belief?

    He has set before us life and death.
    Choose you this day.