1.18.2006

Religious Fettuccini

I recently spoke to two Mormon missionaries on my doorstep. When dialoguing with Mormons, I usually try to steer the conversation by asking this question: How do you know Mormonism is true? That's a reasonable question and one which Mormons are usually excited to answer. But it's a setup, and points to a fundamental flaw in their religion.

According to Mormonism, if a person prays about the Book of Mormon "with a sincere heart... he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:4). If this is done, "your bosom shall burn within you" as confirmation of its truth (Doctrine and Covenants, 9:8). In other words, Mormons believe Mormonism is true because they have a personal conviction, a subjective revelation, a burning bosom.

Not only is this thinking flawed, it permeates our entire culture. Nowadays, people believe things are true, not because they can be objectively verified or proven, but because they can be passionately felt. This is the rotten fruit of relativism.

You've heard the saying, What's true for you, is not true for me. In some cases, that statement is accurate. Is it true that Fettuccini Alfredo is the best dish on earth? Well, to me it is. But that issue ultimately has to do with personal tastes, rather than objective facts. Now, is it true that little green men serve Fettuccini Alfredo on the darkside of the moon every Thursday night (PST)? No. Well, how do I know that? Because there's enough objective evidence about the moon -- its history, topography, inhabitability -- to sufficiently rule out the possibility. Earth's telescopes have scanned the moon for decades with nary a noodle sighted.

But what if my bosom burns within me? What if I have a dream or an overwhelming personal conviction that Green Cheese Cafe is open for business this Thursday, with a steaming hot plate of Fettuccini Alfredo waiting for me. Does this make it true?

The story is told about the day Abraham Lincoln debated a relativist. In pressing the man's illogical assertions, Lincoln asked, "Would you agree a cow has four legs?" "Of course," huffed the detractor. "What then if we agree to call the cow's tail a leg? Would then a cow have five legs?" The man thought for a moment, then replied, "Yes. If we agree that the tail is a leg, then cows have five legs." Lincoln replied, "No amount of debate and definition can turn a tail into a leg."

Burning bosoms, passionate dialogue and sincerity do not define truth. Factual correspondence, logic and evidence does.

When my Mormon friends go into their spiel about burning bosoms and personal convictions, I usually proceed along these lines: Do you believe the world is round? (Which, after a moment of hesitation and skepticism they must answer, Yes) Well, what if I believe the world is flat? In fact, I believe it so sincerely that I have prayed about it, received a burning bosom and am now an official member of The Flat Earth Society. This usually puts them in a bind. The point is obvious: No amount of belief can make the world flat; no amount of sincerity can make a tail a leg; no amount of conviction can make a religion true.

Now, here's the hinge of the discussion -- and the point where most people err: Christianity is more about objective facts than personal preferences. Most people think of religion as they do Fettuccini Alfredo. Religion is a matter of taste, they say, of personal preference. In other words, religious truth and scientific / historic truth are two different things.

This is what's so cool about Christianity, and one of the main reasons I abandoned my former beliefs in favor of it. Christianity's central claims are built upon objective, historically verifiable evidence. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are historic events which changed the course of history. You can see where He walked, where He preached, where He died and where His body once laid. Christianity is founded upon the Person of Christ; His ressurection is what separates Him from every other religious leader. Unless you're out to rewrite the evidence, it's indisputable. A small, ragtag group of Jewish misfits changed the world. How? Because of a lie? Because of a burning bosom? No because they physically heard and saw and touched Him (I Jn. 1:1-3), and poured out their lives, even unto death. It was far more than personal preferences that led them to the slaughter.

The Bible is the most authentic ancient historic manuscript in the world. We have far more archeological evidence of the Bible's factuality than any other historic document. It's reliability has been proven time and again. It's prophetic accurancy is stunning, predicting thousands of years beforehand about the coming of Christ, His life and death and return to earth, the fate of the Jewish people and the end of our age. Thousand of years ago, Scripture predicted the Middle East would usher in the Apocalypse. Here we are in 2006 with the Iran threatening to nuke the Jewish state. Coincidence?

Finally, the Bible's assessment of the human condition is coherent and frighteningly relevant. Though some firmly believe humans are essentially good and have it in themselves to create a utopia, our experience proves otherwise. Violence, crime, murder and hatred escalate, just as Scripture predicts (II Timothy 3:1-2). We live like kings and queens, fallen from our thrones, wandering the earth in search of our former glory. The Bible calls this sin, separation from God; it cripples each of us, and no matter how much we deny its presence, our existence carries the ugly stamp. Only as we concede these facts and surrender to Him, can we alter our plight and find peace.

How do I know Christianity's true? Not because I have a burning bosom or a strong conviction, but because of the facts. Conviction cannot make the world flat. Belief cannot make a religion right. Sincerity cannot make something true. Unless we're talking about Fettucini.

15 comments:

michael snyder said...

Man I really like the way your brain works.

Now, about that fettuccini...does it have chicken in it? If so, my bosom will burn, baby burn!

Dineen A. Miller said...

The Bible is the most authentic ancient historic manuscript in the world. We have far more archeological evidence of the Bible's factuality than any other historic document.

Mike, what do you base this statement upon? I believe it to be true. What I've read, which isn't much, confirms it, but I've made this statement to an atheist (i.e. husband), and he said it wasn't true. I need hard facts to communicate. (But please don't think I'm out to convince him--not my job. I just want to sound intelligent.) Like you, he believes in facts, not feelings. Which is good since faith is based on fact, not feelings, or should be. However, I find it so frustrating when the anti-Bible "intellectuals" place their theories out there, and they're taken as fact. How does one combat that?

Dineen A. Miller said...

Oh, just to share. The last time Jehovah witnesses came to my door, I told them I was one of the 99, and that they needed to go find the one lost sheep. (No, I don't believe Jehovah's Witnesses are on the right track but I have seen God use them to bring people to him.) They argued with me. Again, I told them, "You're wasting your time. If we share the same belief, why are you here?" One kept nodding her head (what was that about?) and the other stood there sputtering at me. They haven't come back since...

Mike Duran said...

Hey Dineen, thanks for stopping by and asking the great question about the Bible's authenticity. As I see it, not nearly enough Christians ask questions about this vital subject -- we just take for granted that our pastor believes it, and that's that.

Something to remember when discussing this subject is that it's very technical. So, from my perspective, it's better for the average person to understand general principles and have quoatable sources, than try to pretend to be an expert. First, it has to do with how any historic manuscript is tested for authenticity, whether it's Plato or Shakespeare. Does the Bible pass these tests? Second, it has to do with the actual documents themselves -- how many are there? how reliable are they? do they substantiate or contradict existing manuscripts? etc. For instance, the Dead Sea scrolls was a great discovery because it validated huge sections of the Old Testament, confirming what scholars already believed and increasing the wealth of evidence.

Okay. There are many sources of information, so I'll just ramble some. One of the best, classic works is Josh McDowell's, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. It's presented in collegiate format and is very thorough. If you just Google, Bible documents reliability, you'll get lotsa links, from simplistic to technical. You could try this one and this one and this one. (Hopefully, all these links work. If not, Google it.)

It's important to remember that most people who dispute the Bible, do so because of its message rather than the facts surrounding its authenticity. In other words, it's easy to just dispute it, than face the implication of surrendering one's life to Christ. In scholarly circles, the Bible's authenticity is accepted -- it's the message that people choke on. And the next time your beloved husband disputes these facts, you might just ask him some simple questions like, Do you know the standard tests for textual authenticity or Exactly how many New Testament documents do you think we have? Of course, do it in love...

Gina Holmes said...

Great apologetics lesson Mike. Makes me want to crack open my Ravi Zacharias books. It's good to be on the side of truth. Imagine how frustrating it would be to be arguing a lie.

Pedrique said...

Mike,

I'm thankful that folks such as yourself exist who defend the faith with objective reasoning, and while I am sometimes tempted to go down the apologetic road myself with various readings, I find that a pursuit of Christ on those terms leaves me feeling stiff, bored, passionless.

It may be true that some facts of Christianity can be objectively known, but some cannot. I cannot objectively prove that Jesus rose from the dead, that His spirit is alive and well and that He lives inside believers encouraging them to walk the narrow way.

Legally, I suppose, we have witnesses who testified (testify) on His behalf. And you could say the jury's out on whether we are succeeding in that regard. I confess that I do fear some of our methods end up hurting our endeavor, including the zealous pursuit of factoids to back our position.

The truth of the Bible, the Gospel, to me is both bigger and smaller than following a trail of facts. It is bigger because it is a giant story that begins and ends at the cross. And it is smaller because each one of us must come to terms with our sinful humanity in our own way, our own time.

To sum it up, I don't think Christ's love needs me to prove it. It is what it is. A Mormon or a Jehovah's witness or an atheist's beliefs are better changed by meeting Christ's love in the body of a friend than they are in a point by point debate of the facts.

Mike Duran said...

Hey Pete, I appreciate you taking time to comment here. I don't think this is an either/or but a both/and issue. In other words, it's not facts OR faith, it's facts AND faith. Faith saves, not facts. But real faith is founded on facts. If it's not, then it's blind faith.

I like how Blaise Pascal put it in Pensees. He said, God's given us enough evidence that we can confidently trust Him. But He hasn't given us so much that faith is irrelevant. I like to think of it in terms of a marriage. Most marriages (at least, good marriages), are built upon a combination of faith and fact. We learn enough about a person to believe we can trust them and surrender our lives to them. Nevertheless, we are not robots and the future is uncertain. So faith is required. Likewise, I know enough about God to know I can trust Him. But I'm not a robot and life is terribly difficult, so I still need faith to follow.

I think you're absolutely right that people are won to Christ by love, not facts. Nevertheless, without facts you cannot know what type of Christ to win them to. The Bible says there's many "false Christs." Well then, how do we know when we're presenting the "true Christ"? It can't be our feelings because people's feelings about Christ are terribly different. The true Christ was a historic figure, Who made specific claims and performed specific acts. See my point? We need both facts and faith. If we cannot establish the authenticity of Scripture then we have no point of reference to lead anyone to Christ, nor any real reason to.

I appreciate your comments, Pete (or is it Pedrique). Keep the fire burnin', bro.

Pedrique said...

Mike,

I understand what you are saying and, I think, I agree. Scripture is without a doubt a cornerstone of our faith - we need it to help us walk the walk, to help validate whether our words and actions and new convictions of the moment are Christ-like.

My point is simply this - while it is interesting and faith-affirming to know that the Bible is accurate from a historical perspective, it is not in my mind a necessity for a faithful, God-honoring walk with Christ. And yes, I realize I'm treading dangerous waters.

I think I could walk into a jungle with no Bible, tell the Christ story and the first two commandments (all the law is fulfilled in these two, according to Christ) to a few pigmy converts, leave and write letters of encouragement, and come back a year later to a growing Christian group - amazed at how God has led them down the road of grace and redemption. I wholeheartedly believe this is possible, because I believe God is larger and more powerful than the scriptures that help reveal him.

Sorry, I think this horse was dead somewhere back in the 2nd paragraph.

Pete, Pedro, and Pedrique will all turn my head.

Mike Duran said...

Hey, I love these types of discussions, P! It appears you've thought through this stuff. I whole-heartedly agree, we could "walk into a jungle with no Bible, tell the Christ story and the first two commandments," and come back and see growing pygmies (pun intended). But it's a catch twenty-two because "the Christ story and the first two commandments" are found in Scripture. It's the whole balance between, general and special revelation (see Romans 1-3). In the "general" sense, God's Spirit speaks to everyone, including pygmies. No Bible is required because the law is written on our hearts. But, God didn't leave us there. He gave us "special," specific revelation, of Himself and His laws.

Here's a case where "special revelation" was employed: Acts 18:26 "and he [Apollos] began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." Was God with Apollos? It appears. Did he need some specific direction / correction? Yes. So that's my point, Pedrique. While the pygmies, can be saved and grown by God, part of that saving / growing is the bringing of special revelation, clarity. And this is where we bump into the neccesity for facts.

Peace, Mr. P. Fight the good fight!

Dineen A. Miller said...

Thanks Mike, I'll look these over. But I think one key issue here is the difference in how we relate. Though my beliefs are based on facts, I relate to my faith emotionally. Hubby relates to things intellectually. It's a struggle for me to express what I know without the emotional side, goes agaist my character, but that emotional aspect seems to be what casts doubt for him.

And I agree with you, both are needed--faith and facts. And peace is found in knowing that, ultimately, God is the one who brings them together for special people like my hubby.

Ame said...

I love this, and the discussion. If nothing else, it shows the width and breadth of God, don't you think? That God, without adapting, without altering who He is or His character ever . . . our un-changing God, is able to so specifically relate to all of those whom He created?

The combination is always needed. Perhaps the difference is in the personality . . . the more intellectual need more factual evidence; the more passionate need more touchy-feely evidence. And in the end, God is able to, and does, (Rom 1) reveal Himself to all men despite man.

I love that about God. No two finger prints or eye prints or anything else about who we are have ever been the same in all of the history of mankind. We have more medical specialists who still will never completely master their specialty because God made us so complex. And that same God knows the way to our hearts.

For one it may be through much intellectual study . . . and in the end the intellect touches the heart and the two become one and the eyes can see and the ears can hear.

For another it may be through touch: time over coffee; an unexpected meal; sitting next to one while waiting for a loved one in surgery; kneeling next to one as they weep over their child laying in the coffin; the time taken to willingly offer friendship over a long period of time. The touch through the heart is backed up with the intellect and the two become one and eyes can see and ears can hear.

A woman who touched the edge of His robe in a crowd. A blind man on the side of the road. A man hunkering in a tree. A woman tending to the needs of drawing water from a well. An enormous crowd of hungry families. And the intellect and the heart meet, become one, and eyes can see and ears can hear.

And as different as a finger print, God is able to, and does, blend the two and so intimately touches each person in ways so specific just to them. That is so cool :) That is SO God :) And only the Creator of All could so intimately touch All.

Kelly Klepfer said...

Norman Geisler has a book titled "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist" that I would recommend highly.

Great comments and discussion. I'm going to print it and give it to my son. He's teaching apologetics to the youth group.

And he pretty much thinks fettuccini is great stuff, so I think it will be right up his alley.

Pedrique said...

Hey Mike, good thoughts. Romans 1-3 is interesting - did a study of Romans not too terribly long ago.

I think 2:15 and the end of chapter 3 speak toward my issues - "that gentiles who show the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or excusing them" and that "it is faith that establishes the law."

So when I read scripture it validates what by faith Christ was already beginning to reveal. I think we're saying the same thing, really. So no point debating.

The reason this subject is an issue at all for me is that I am a bit of a paradox. I attend a bible church but I am not a literalist, or at least I don't have the conviction that some claim to have about the literal truths of scripture. And it bothers me that this is a dividing line among the brethren (and sistren).

i.e. it doesn't really matter to me if Jonah was really swallowed by a great fish or whether the story is allegory. Its doctrinal message is still the same. Yes, I believe God could have caused this to happen, but it is not important to me to debate this issue - the same could be said for other stories of scripture (Job, for instance)

It is also not important to me to try and prove that the Bible has no inaccuracies. If a math book tells me on page 5 that 2 + 2 = 3 then I don't discount the theory of mathematics as a result. Same with scripture.

Don't worry, I understand the slippery slope argument and the reasons why some choose to defend scripture's accuracy so adamantly, but to me, to carry the slippery slope argument to its fruition (how can you even say Christ died and rose again if you say Jonah isn't true?), this removes the element of faith, of God's spirit leading men and women on their journey to be little Christs. Does that make sense?

There's no point in saying you're a Christian if you take out Christ, so to follow that logic to its end seems fruitless (even though if you wanted to you could follow that logic)

Also, I'm not saying that my comments define who you are, Mike, only that this issue in general always sparks this debate in my own heart.

Peace, brother.

Mike Duran said...

Wonderful presentation, Pete. And just so you know, I'll pull the plug if I feel our conversation is uncivil or mean. But it's not. This is the spirit of dialogue I think is necessary and needed in the Body.

I'm extremely concerned about the "slippery slope" here. You said: If a math book tells me on page 5 that 2 + 2 = 3 then I don't discount the theory of mathematics as a result. Same with scripture. But what if every other answer in the math book is wrong? Or one-third of the answers? At some point, the factual inaccuracies in the book would undermine the entire book. Yes, the theory of math might remain intact, but that book should be trashed. Here's the kicker, Pete. The "theory" of theology is rooted in the Scripture. So to undermine Scripture (the Book) is to call into question our entire theology.

Your concern about faith is something I need to hear -- and I appreciate your point. I have a tendency to want to walk by sight, not by faith. And I think that's your point. An overemphasis upon facts, sterilizes faith. I've always looked at the Christian journey like a plane flight. No matter how safe an airline or plane may appear, you still must exercize faith to fly. Faith that the mechanics did their job. Faith that the pilot knows what he's doing. Faith in God that freak storms and lightening won't strike. Facts about the plane and the pilot, do not eliminate the need for faith. That's the same way I approach this issue. Facts about Christ and Scripture are essential (I need to know the vehicle I'm getting in is trustworthy). These facts help me board the Christian Church. But I still need to get in, trust the Pilot, go where He wants to take me, navigate the storms and learn to get along with the other passengers w/out trying to parachute out. So, I really do see that as a both/and situation -- we need facts AND faith.

Thanks again Pedro for taking the time to dialogue and maintaining a positive spirit. May we both trust the Pilot and find our way safely Home...

Pedrique said...

Yes, I get the slippery slope concern, and on some level I appreciate those who aggressively defend against it.

I just think the slippery slope argument is a fallacy from the get-go, at least in terms of its ability to undermine scripture which leads to undermining theology. In other words, admitting a few translation errors, or admitting that you don't know if Jonah is a literal story, is a far cry from saying that a third of the Bible is complete crap.

And there is a part of me that believes the opposite can be true - that an aggressive defense of the indefensible undermines our faith.

To be specific, when in Chronicles it talks of one of David's men slaying the giant Goliath, when we have an entire story in Samuel about how it was David who slew the giant, it makes more sense to me to admit there might be a mistake than to vigorously defend it by saying there were two Goliaths.

I think these examples are few and far between. I think the Bible is an accurate reflection of history and is a perfect reflection of God's character.

By the way, congrats on the story that is awesome buddy. You are a great writer.