Lately I’ve been seeing some pretty unpleasant discussions at blogs where Christians have been positioning themselves in opposition to other Christians because those other Christians didn’t hold some doctrine that was essential to the faith, or else they did hold it, but they didn’t regard it as essential to the Christian faith. The example I have in mind is the rough treatment that William Lane Craig has received for not holding that an Augustinian take on original sin was essential to Christianity (even though he seemed, in that discussion, to think that something like it was still true). Think about that term: “Essential to the Christian faith.” Essential. Necessary. You can’t have Christian faith without it. Required.
A while back at this blog an atheist asked me what I thought about “modern evolutionary science.” The attempt, in context, was clearly to get me to say something that he could then label as scientifically ridiculous so that he could pretend to be highly amused (I find that things like self described amusement, anger, outrage and so on at blogs are often not genuine but are some sort of rhetorical device to give the right impression). My response was this:
As far as “modern evolutionary science” goes, I don’t believe it – in the same way that you don’t believe in aliens. It’s not that you have certainty that there are no such things, but you just aren’t in a place where you’re compelled to think that they exist.
Strange though many might find it, Christians can genuinely afford to be open minded when it comes to evolution, whereas someone who has settled on atheism really has no choice in the matter.
I am open minded about scientific questions that I know little about, although I deliberately worded my reply provocatively. The truth is I know that the scientific consensus is clearly in favour of evolution and I’m perfectly content to appeal to the authority of the scientific community and assume an evolutionary model of the origin of species, but I think my reply was the right one to make. Now, my correspondent immediately claimed, contrary to fact, that I had said that I had a “problem” with evolution, suggesting that I had denied it (so that he didn’t have to miss out on acting like he was highly amused). Getting back to the real world, however, you can see from my actual comments that I neither denied nor affirmed it.
I’m not all that bothered by how this makes atheist blog visitors see me. Heck, I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, so they already think I’ve sold the farm to crazy beliefs. And in a way, that’s the point of this blog: Which beliefs, exactly, are the ones that really count when it comes to qualifying as having “sold the farm” of the Christian faith? I write this because of how my evangelical peers will react to what I said above. A lot of my evangelical peers are going to think “wait, he doesn’t come out guns blazing against evolution? He’s happy to not even fight that battle? What kind of liberal is he?” I’m sure there are at least a few who will react in a way that interprets these comments in the worst possible way, because there are some blogs that simply thrive on doing this. This blog post is to explain why I can afford to take this fairly lax public stance on the evolution question by just leaving it alone. Lately one term has summed up the issue in my mind: deal breakers.
Let me put it this way. Say you’re a young earth creationist. What if you suddenly came to believe in mainstream big bang cosmology and accepted that the universe was billions of years old? What then, would you give up the Christian faith? What if you found out that evolution is true? What if you decided that a strict inerrancy was the wrong view of Scripture? Would that force you to give up Christianity? Here’s the thing: What if a person holds all of those beliefs, and also believes that God exists, and that God is personally revealed to us in Jesus Christ, whom he raised from the dead? See, if you were considering leaving Christianity, that would be the deal breaker. Because even if (and I am still speaking to a young earth creationist) the universe is billions of years old, the theory of evolution is true, and inerrancy is a mistaken view of Scripture, if God exists and raised Jesus from the dead, then whatever the right worldview is, it should be called Christianity.
That’s what a lot of enthusiasts for Christian apologetics may have missed. When a sceptic comes to you with objections to the Christian faith along the lines of “This verse in the Bible says that events happened in this order, but this other verse says that they happened in a different order,” sure, you can address the issue if you think you know a good response, and there may even be one. But a much larger question you could ask is: “What if you’re right, and yet God exists and raised Jesus from the dead?” If those things are true, and the sceptic is accountable to the creator of the Universe (yes, that would be another deal breaker), then quibbles over biblical chronology won’t save him: He’s in trouble.
It’s hard to say this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m exaggerating, but there are websites out there that seem to operate under the delusion that unless a person has adopted the entire Westminster Confession of Faith, they don’t have a Christian world view (or at best they’re a liberal), so as apologists that’s the point we need to get people to. My stance is noticeably different: What we need to be working to defend are the Christian essentials: The things that serve as deal breakers for anybody who would otherwise continue to reject the Christian faith. What are these beliefs? I make no pretence of being able to set out the ideal list, but it includes the obvious things: The fact that God exists, some very basic facts about what God is like, that God is uniquely revealed to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, that Jesus’ death makes it possible for our relationship with God to be restored, our need to repent of our sins, God literally raised Jesus from the dead, a saving relationship with God brings with it our sharing in the resurrection of Jesus and having eternal life, the fact that God calls us to obey him – these would be the big ones. These are the sorts of things that make the difference between a believer and a non-believer. But how old the universe is, whether or not the Bible is “inerrant,” precisely how sin entered the world, facts about biology – however fascinating these might be, they aren’t deal breakers by any stretch of the imagination.
- The Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit and Christian Confidence
- On an idiosyncratic faith
- Nuts and Bolts 013: Mere Christianity
- The death of the Apostles: Why would you?
- Theological Liberalism and Street Cred