Recently via Facebook a young man for whom I was pastor when he was a very young teen contacted me with questions that he had developed in his spiritual journey. There were five of them and he prefaced them with this statement: “I have a few questions that you might be able to answer. To preface a little, I was watching the History channel’s documentary on the Bible stories and in particular, the overlaps between religions.” The questions ranged from “Lilith-was there a woman of sand? Or just Eve?” to “Do you think we could learn more about the history of the world by communicating between religions, to fill in the gaps, instead of trying to figure out which one is right? The arrogance that Faith instills in mankind is powerful and has caused many wars over many years, but would it not be more beneficial to cross-reference?”
My response initially is these are good questions.
Depending on who you are as a reader of this blog, you may find these questions strange or right on target, I am an apologist by way of passion and profession. An apologist in religious terms is one who “explains the faith” generally to persons who are not yet persuaded to be a part of that faith — or who are simply trying to find some focus in the plethora of religious ideas. An apologist is not a disinterested person, but more an intellectual ambassador for the truth that religion represents. A true apologist actually lives by the faith he attempts to make sensible or accessible to others by answering (to the best of their ability) the questions that the seeker poses.
Later, with Brian’s permission, I will share my answers with you via this blog. For now I want to address one foundational issue. For much of history, particularly in what is called “the common era” (ironically dated around the birth of Christ), truth has been considered to have an objective character. Truth was revealed.
Even that which is now relegated to myth by contemporary scholars began in the hearts of humanity as something that was “black and white,” a description of reality.
Roughly beginning with the Enlightenment and the so-called Age of Reason, human thinking began to shift. With its increasing emphasis on the material nature of things and the belief that reality can always be observed, measured, described without any particular outside assistance – two things occurred. The belief in the supernatural was set aside because everything about it could not be tested objectively by the human mind. Thus, even Bible scholars began to dismiss any references to the miracles in the Bible because “who can demonstrate how the Red Sea can be parted or a virgin have a child without a male human partner?”
The second, more a product of postmodernism in the last sixty years, was the truth was defined by human experience. It wasn’t truth until it was validated by experience. But more narrowly, truth for me might be different from truth for you because we have a different experience. Even with the admission of the spiritual nature of humanity and the possibility of the supernatural – truth moved into the subjective spectrum. Truth is found within ourselves. It is not really revealed, it is self-revealed as a part of the self-actualism of my personal encounter with life and the world. Objective truth may be possible, says the postmodern, but they seriously doubt if it can be found or adequately described.
Basically with these developments – truth is defined by the person(s) with power or position. The higher the credential – academic or experiential – the more likely is to be presented as truth as a description of reality. The very popular cable channels like The History Channel or National Geographic Channel or The Discovery Channel were formed by persons trained by persons trained in the Modern Era – hence, holdovers from the Age of Enlightenment with many of the assumptions that still debunk any sense of revelation or supernatural or even a spiritual dimension. Everything is a creation by humanity using its intellect to advance humanity.
The more postmodern purveyors of religious scholarship (I haven’t figured out their channels yet), have been fascinated by the alternative religious ideas – often discounted by religions in power, They do not always need a belief in the ultimate triumph and power of human reason. They are just describing “what is experienced” or “what may possibly be experienced.”
For biblical Christianity, the authority which establishes truth is a God who reveals that truth.
For religions including Christianity steeped in Enlightenment assumptions, the authority for truth is what can ultimately understood and described by the human mind.
For general postmodern spirituality, the authority for truth is what can be experienced (and that’s all that really
My answers to Brian will come from the first position – which as a biblical Christian means that the revelation found in God’s Word is the ultimate source of truth.
It is not as simple to answer a good question as people might like think, because if you don’t want to accept the response as the real truth based on your personal biases, you can always find a reason to disagree and/or reject. Ultimately, an apologist never depends simply upon the force of human logic or argument, but the conviction and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in the process to break down the barriers to (Real) Truth.