"Now Faith," wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, "is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods." 1In the second published Narnia book, Prince Caspian, Lewis further explored questions of faith, as well as God's calling, through two recurring characters: Aslan the lion and Lucy Pevensie.
Readers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will no doubt recall both characters. In the book Lucy encounters Aslan for the first time, while in Prince Caspian she returns to Narnia, but Aslan, for a time, eludes her. A Christ-figure, Aslan embodies all that is just, holy and good. Like Christ, his divine presence is not only a comfort, but also radiates majesty, power and truth.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy is the first to enter Narnia, but when she returns to her world her siblings do not believe her. In Prince Caspian she finds herself in a similar situation when it comes to sensing Aslan's presence: "'Look! Look! Look!' cried Lucy … 'The Lion … Aslan himself. Didn't you see?' Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone." <>2But no one else sees Aslan at this time. Peter, her oldest brother, begins, "Do you really mean—?" Susan, Lucy's older sister, immediately suggests that Lucy only "thinks" she has seen Aslan, casting doubt on Lucy's assertion./p>
Lucy is firm in her claim that she has seen Aslan, even when her traveling companions have not. She also believes that her seeing Aslan is a sign that they are going in the wrong direction. After some discussion (and argument), the group votes and decides not to act on Lucy's insights. Following a series of mishaps, the group then decides to turn around and go in the direction Lucy first suggested. Lucy later awakens from a deep sleep, "with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name." 3Lucy heeds the call, gets up, and wanders through the woods alone. She is rewarded by meeting Aslan. "Welcome, child," says the lion. Lucy perceives him as being bigger than he used to be: "That is because you are older … every year you grow, you will find me bigger." 4
Of all the human characters in the Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy is most attuned to Aslan's voice and calling. She hears him and obeys. Her faith opens her to the wonders of God and His calling. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." 5The Bible, however, does not call us to blind faith, but reasonable faith that understands Christianity as being, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "true and reasonable" (Acts 26:25). As C.S. Lewis wrote, God "wants a child's heart, but a grown-up's head." 6
But how can we become better attuned to God's presence and calling in our lives? Following are several spiritual disciplines we can practice in order to better discern God's calling:
While space does not permit a thorough discussion of each of these points, they are all important to keep in mind, particularly the last point. We wonder sometimes why it is difficult for us to sense God's will and calling in our lives, when in fact our lives are frenetic disaster zones, filled with entertainment, distractions, noise, and non-stop busyness.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read that Jesus "went up on a mountainside by himself to pray" and "when evening came, he was there alone …" (14:23). We should follow his example and take breaks of solitude. It is too easy to be distracted by diversion. The neglect of the spiritual life is a neglect of God. Far from heeding the biblical instructions to "never be lacking in zeal" and keep our "spiritual fervor, serving the Lord" (Romans 12:11), we find it easier to lose ourselves in diversion.
A media-saturated culture promotes the craving for fast-paced amusement, emphasizing sounds and images, rather than careful reflection. Learning to become quiet is important when it comes to hearing God's call. We need space for holy reflection.
Biblically, we are told by God via the psalmist to "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). Numerous times, particularly in several verses in Psalm 119, Christians are instructed to meditate on God, including contemplating His "precepts" (verses 15, 78), "ways" (15), "decrees" (23, 48), "wonders" (27), "law" (97), "statutes" (99) and "promises" (148). To be still and contemplate in a biblical sense involves an effort, but it is an effort God has called us to make, as excessive diversion desensitizes the soul to God's calling. We must give God room to grow in our lives. He stands at the door to our heart and knocks (Revelation 3:20). We must let Him in. But how can we hear His knock if our own actions drown out His call?
In Prince Caspian, Lucy is open to Aslan's call. She hears him and responds. Her faith and commitment open her to sensing Aslan's presence, despite her circumstances. But she is not perfect, at one point even expressing a sort of superiority and pride about seeing Aslan when others have not. This we must avoid at all costs, lest it lead to pride—what Lewis called "the great sin" and "a spiritual cancer." 7
In one sense the Christian life is "easy" in that Christ's "yoke is easy" and his "burden is light," allowing us to find "rest for" our "souls" (Matthew 11:29-30). But in another sense, to truly follow Christ and God's perfect will for us, we must "deny" ourselves, take up our cross, and follow (Matthew 16:24), bringing to mind a passage C.S. Lewis often quoted or alluded to: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it" (Matthew 16:25).
God's calling requires a dedicated effort on our part. But true fulfillment in His "good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2) is within our reach, if only, like Lucy, we are open to hearing the call, acting on it and faithfully obeying. In order to do so, our spiritual lives must first be uncluttered.
Robert Velarde is author of The Heart of Narnia (NavPress) and Conversations with C.S. Lewis (InterVarsity). He studied philosophy of religion at Denver Seminary and is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary.
Hey, I gotta question!" yelled a student from the back of the room. I was sharing the claims of Christ at a University of Massachusetts fraternity house when he interrupted me. "Yes, what is it?" I queried. "I think Jesus is great for you, but I know Buddhists and Muslims, and they're just as sincere as you are. And they think their views are true just like you do. There's no way a person can know his religion is the 'right' one, so the best thing to do is to just believe everyone's religion is true for them and not judge anyone."
Ever heard something like this? It's hard to believe you haven't. What should we make of these ideas? How should we respond? I think there is a good response to this viewpoint and I hope to provide it in what follows. But before I do, we should carefully note what seems to underlie such a claim. The student was assuming that there are no objective principles that, if applied to one's religious quest, would help one make the best, most rational choice of religious options. In the absence of such principles, any choice is either purely arbitrary or totally based on emotion or upbringing. In either case, such a choice would in no way put a person in a position to judge someone else's choice as being wrong.
Are there objective principles to guide one in choosing a religion? Indeed there are. I believe the following four principles should be used to guide one in choosing which religion he or she will follow and, if properly applied, I believe they will point to Christianity as the most rational choice.
Principle 1: A religion's concept of God should harmonize with what we can know about God from creation.1
I will not develop the argument here — I want you to look into the matter for yourself — but a powerful intellectual case can be made from facts about the creation that a single personal God exists.2 This case claims that the existence of one personal God is the best explanation for (1) the existence and beginning of a finite universe, (2) the beauty and order of the universe, including the existence of biological information, (3) the existence of finite minds such as our own, and (4) the existence of objective moral law and the equality of human rights.
Please note that Principle 1 points to monotheism, not because the Bible requires it, but because monotheism is the best explanation of these facts about creation. Principle 1 leaves Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the running.
Principle 2: An adequate explanation of a religion's origin and success should have to appeal to divine activity.
One should not be able to explain a religion's origin and success simply as a result of brilliant human insight or philosophical wisdom. As important as these factors are, by themselves they do not indicate whether the religion is a human invention or a divinely sanctioned revelation. For example, Mohammed claimed that he received most of the Koran in a cave. Clearly, there is nothing about this aspect of the origins of Islam that escapes naturalistic explanation.
By contrast, at least two factors indicate that Christianity has supernatural origins. First, there is fulfilled prophecy. Jesus fulfilled numerous centuries-old prophecies and this fact cannot simply be the result of human wisdom. Such a fact defies naturalistic explanation. Again, I will not develop the argument here, but one should familiarize oneself with some of the Old Testament prophesies Jesus fulfilled, along with the evidence that he really did fulfill them.3 Second, based on the historical evidence that the New Testament documents are reliable, one can argue that Christianity is based on real miracles done by Jesus and his disciples, including his resurrection from the dead.4
If Jesus really fulfilled numerous prophecies, and if he really performed miracles and rose from the dead like the New Testament claims, then we need supernatural explanations for the origins and continued success of the Christian faith in a way that we do not need them to explain the origins of Islam and other world religions.
I believe Principle 2 leaves only Christianity and Judaism in the running.
Principle 3: A religion's diagnosis of and solution for the human condition should be more profound than its rivals.
A student of mine came from India to study at Talbot School of Theology. Having been raised a Hindu, he began an intense search for religious truth as a teenager. His search led him to study the religious texts of the world's leading religions. His search also led him to Jesus Christ. Why? He said that, by comparison, the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament towered over the others for their depth, profundity and power. While all religions have some truths in them, one should choose a religion that does the best job of diagnosing what is wrong with human beings and how their condition can be solved.
When one does a cross-cultural study of the human condition, one finds the following universal human experiences and desires: All humans (1) experience threefold alienation — they feel alienated from God, from other people (including those they love), and from themselves; (2) experience deep and abiding shame and guilt; (3) desire personal life after death in which their loves and ideals may continue to be a part of their experience; (4) desire that their individual lives have meaning and purpose; (5) desire a life of beauty and drama, to be a part of something big and important, to be part of the struggle between good and evil; and (6) experience the need for help and empowerment to live a life of virtue and character.
I believe that if one carefully compares the New Testament with other religious approaches (including atheism), like my student, one will discover that the religion of Jesus of Nazareth provides the deepest, most penetrating analysis of these six factors, along with the richest solution to these longings of the human heart.
Principle 3 points straight to Christianity.
Principle 4: Pick a religion in which one gets all of Jesus and not just a watered-down, distorted part of him.
This principle may seem to stack the decks in favor of Christianity, so let me explain. Have you noticed that all religions, including some sects of Judaism, want to claim Jesus as one of their own? For New Agers, he is a channeler, for Muslims he is the greatest prophet, and so on. Now why is this so? I believe this is because Jesus is easily recognized as the greatest figure in human history. Given that most people do not want to line up against Jesus, why not pick a religion that has the best chance of presenting an accurate account of who he really was, what he actually did, and what he really taught?
To review, I believe Principle 1 limits the choices to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Principle 2 limits the choices to Judaism and Christianity, and Principles 3 and 4 point directly to Christianity itself. But don't take my word for it. I have refrained from including the arguments here so that you can find out where these principles lead.
If you agree that they are good principles for selecting a religion — and what makes them good is an interesting question in its own right — then start reading and studying so you can fill in the gaps I've left here. If you do this, not only will you gain a greater understanding of your own faith, you will be able help people see that choosing one's religion need not be an arbitrary step in the dark.
An ancient maxim reads, "About matters of taste, there is no disputing," while another one advises, "About matters of truth, we should engage in dispute."
On the one hand, we hear much in public discourse about the need for tolerance, usually presented as the non-judgmental acceptance of all perspectives. On the other hand, those who stand for truth are often branded as narrow-minded, intolerant and judgmental. Unfortunately, this is often the case when it comes to Christianity. All too often Christian beliefs are said to be matters of faith, not matters of truth. As a result, Christians are told tolerance must override faith. After all, with so many religious and non-religious perspectives in the world, isn't tolerance to be desired over dispute? Are Christians really so prideful as to think they have the corner on truth in certain areas?
In reality, the matter of tolerance and truth is not as simple as it appears. To clarify matters it will be helpful to define two terms: truth and tolerance.
In the Gospel of John, Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" but did not stay for an answer (John 18:38). Dictionary definitions of truth usually identify it as a "quality or state of being true … that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality." In slightly more philosophical terms we could say that truth is that which corresponds with reality. Consequently, what is real is true and what is true is real. A statement is true, then, if it coincides with the way things are.
But let's not make this more complicated than it needs to be. At a basic level we all have a pretty good idea of truth. We know, for instance, that when someone is caught in a lie they did not tell the truth (what they said did not correspond to reality). When it comes to facts, we know that it is not true that the capital of the United States is Los Angeles, rather it is Washington, D.C.
When it comes to moral matters, truth also applies. For instance, either abortion is wrong or it is not. Either a fetus is actually a human being or it is not. Truth in religion also applies. Either Jesus is Lord or he is not. Either God exists or He does not. In these and other questions, whatever corresponds to reality is the truth.
But how does truth apply to the Bible and, specifically, to Christianity? Below are eight relevant points, offered by Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis:
Groothuis concludes his chapter on "The Biblical View of Truth" by writing, "Without a thorough and deeply rooted understanding of the biblical view of truth … the Christian response to postmodernism [a worldview that often denies or distorts the reality of truth] will be muted by the surrounding culture or will make illicit compromises with the truth-impoverished spirit of the age."
But what about tolerance? What's wrong with the non-judgmental acceptance of all perspectives? What's wrong depends on what one is being tolerant about. Remember the opening sayings about taste and truth? "About matters of taste, there is no disputing" and "About matters of truth, we should engage in dispute."
Being tolerant is more than acceptable under certain circumstances, especially when it comes to taste. Authors Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl demonstrate this well in their book Relativism (Baker Books, 1998) where they discuss liking a certain flavor of ice cream, adding, "Tastes are personal. They're private. They're individual. If you didn't like butter pecan and favored chocolate instead, it would be strange to say that you were wrong. You should not be faulted, it seems, for having different subjective tastes about desserts than someone else. What if my claim was not about flavors, though, but about numbers? If I say the sum of two plus two is four, I'm making a different sort of claim than stating my taste in ice cream."
Do you see the difference between being tolerant of tastes and of truth? Being tolerant of someone's personal taste for ice cream is fine, but what about in the area of mathematics? Two plus two equals four, but doesn't it seem narrow-minded to say so? After all, why should there be only one narrow answer to that problem? Does this mean all answers to the problem that are not four are wrong? Well, that seems so judgmental! The point is, there are some instances where truth—what corresponds to reality—is exclusive simply because it is true.
Tolerance is one thing, but truth is another. Now if by tolerance one means being respectful of the beliefs of others, then Christianity is in full agreement, as Christians are called to defend their beliefs "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). But to confuse tolerance with truth is not helpful.
Can tolerance pass a worldview test? Since tolerance is often applied to morality, let's briefly explore moral relativism in relation to this question. Moral relativists claim that whatever one happens to believe is true or right for them. Morality becomes completely subjective. What's wrong with this approach? If moral relativism is accepted then nothing can be considered wrong, but we know some things are inherently wrong, which is why we have a legal system and criminals serving time. There are many other problems with moral relativism, but this one is enough to destroy it as a viable system.
Psalm 31:5 reads, "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth" (NIV). Truth is real and it matters. Moral truth is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15), but we must also use our heads (Matthew 22:37) if we are to faithfully serve "the God of truth."
Robert Velarde is author of The Heart of Narnia (NavPress), Conversations with C.S. Lewis (InterVarsity Press) and Inside The Screwtape Letters (Baker Books). He studied philosophy of religion at Denver Seminary and is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary.
(The following is an interview he conducted with Boundless Webzine, Focus on the Family's online magazine for young adults. Christian philosopher, theologian, author Dr. William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif.)
Boundless: Hi, Dr. Craig. I'd like to talk just briefly about matters concerning apologetics and campus evangelism. Specifically, I have questions that concern undergraduates living and working in a secular setting. I have just a general biographical question to start with: What brought you into this particular ministry?
Craig: Well, I come from a non-Christian family, so, when I came to Christ in high school, I wanted to share my faith with my brother and with non-Christian friends in high school. So, I was immediately confronted with the necessity of providing reasons for my new-found faith. So, right from the start, I was giving reasons for my faith. This interest was sharpened as I went to Wheaton College, where I was taught to integrate my faith and learning. It was there that I felt the call to go into an area of evangelism that would appeal to the head as well as the heart.
Boundless: OK. I'd like to talk about questions in campus apologetics and evangelism. What are the greatest challenges to Christians who want to present intellectual arguments for their faith on college campuses today?
Craig: I think the major obstacle today is religious pluralism or relativism. Students don't think that religious beliefs are knowledge. They don't think that they are expressions of facts, and they don't think that they are things that can be known. And so, they think that religious beliefs are mere expressions of personal taste or opinion. As a result, when Christians claim that they know the truth about these matters, people are deeply offended and think of Christians as bigoted, dogmatic, and even immoral people. I think that's the greatest challenge. Another one related to it would be that, because of the moral issues that Christians take stands on today, many non-Christian students regard us as really immoral people, really bad people. They ... Well, one non-Christian student put it to me this way: He said, "Why is it that Christians always come down on the wrong side of moral questions like abortion, homosexuality, and so forth?" For him, Christians are really immoral people because of the stances they take, and that's a huge obstacle in commending our faith.
Boundless: How has this sort of campus apologetics-oriented ministry changed in recent years? In light of this pluralism, relativism business, has it changed?
Craig: I don't think it has changed. I think that we need to keep on doing the same things except that we need to address more squarely and head-on issues like pluralism and relativism, and so I am very eager to give talks on this. It's interesting. When I give a talk on this, and lay out the problems in a very graphic way, I make the problems as hard as I can before I try to solve them. The reaction I get from students is very positive. I do not get hostility or skepticism. I find that if you give a good, solid, well-argued rational response, it seems to meet the need. So, I don't think that we should change in any way, except to be more direct and to confront the issues straightforwardly.
Boundless: Briefly, could you explain the difference between social pluralism and philosophical pluralism? … Just in a nutshell.
Craig: Right. Political pluralism is something that we all affirm, because we live in a democratic society that emphasizes a Bill of Rights. We all have freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, and so forth. And so, we all, especially Christians who believe in freedom of conscience, want to affirm this sort of political pluralism. But the error is to think that political pluralism implies pluralism with respect to truth [i.e. philosophical pluralism]. That's what I deny. I argue that the proper basis of tolerance is that every human being is made in the image of God and therefore endowed with certain God-given rights, like freedom of belief, freedom of expression. Therefore, tolerance means that I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Unfortunately, in our politically correct age, too many people have the impression that tolerance means, "I dare not disagree with what you say, lest I be branded bigoted or dogmatic for having dared to say it."
Boundless: Yes, it's an erroneous conflation of "tolerance" with "agreement" or "approval."
Boundless: Let's see ... next question ... What arguments against Theism seem most effective?
Craig: I think undoubtedly the problem of innocent suffering. This has tremendous emotional appeal, especially among a lot of students who come from hurtful and dysfunctional family backgrounds and so carry a lot of emotional scars themselves. I think that in many cases, students are wondering, "Why did God allow me to be raised as a child in a home that has left me so emotionally dysfunctional?" That problem, I think, resonates with students, and it's very hard to overcome.
Boundless: What arguments in favor of Theism seem most effective?
Craig: Interestingly enough, I think the moral argument is the most effective. I, personally, like the scientific and philosophical arguments, based on science and cosmology. But I find that those don't really move students as much as the moral argument, which says that apart from God, there is no absolute foundation for moral values. Therefore, if you're going to affirm the value of things like tolerance, love, fair play, the rights of women, and so forth, you need to have a transcendent anchor point. You need to have God. I think students [are so familiar with the idea God is dead, therefore everything is relative] that they resonate with that argument when you tell them that apart from God, there are no moral absolutes. Then, you just help them see how horrible the world would be without moral absolutes, and that they themselves — if they look at their own consciences introspectively — already affirm moral absolutes, despite the lip service that they might give to relativism. So, this argument has tremendous appeal to students. It is one to which they respond.
Boundless: Now, on to the converse: What are the least effective arguments against Theism?
Craig: You know, that's a really hard question. I suppose that they would be arguments that are too abstract and philosophical. For example, in a recent debate I had with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong at Dartmouth College, he argued that if God is timeless, then he could not act in history. Well, that argument is so abstract and removed from everyday experience that I don't think that it moves many people.
Boundless: Now, suppose that you're talking to undergraduate Intervarsity students somewhere: What would you tell them were ineffective arguments against Atheism?
Craig: Undoubtedly, I think that the ontological argument would be the least effective argument for God. I have been so tempted to use the ontological argument in a debate someday! I think it's a sound argument. I think it's a good argument for God's existence. But, whenever I try to explain it, it is so abstract and so far over people's heads that, in the end, I scratch it because nobody ever understands it. That one doesn't work very well. I am still sorely tempted to try it someday.
Boundless: And now, on to the "Charismatic and Pentecostal's Advocate" question: I have many friends and acquaintances who are in churches like Assemblies of God and Church of God in Christ, and they confront me sometimes when I talk about apologetics with the assertion that none of it matters. They say "Conversion is all the Holy Spirit. You're never going to argue someone into the Kingdom, etc." How do you respond to that sort of criticism?
Craig: What I say is, just as the Holy Spirit can use preaching, he can also use apologetics and arguments to draw someone to himself. The key here is to realize that the Holy Spirit uses means. He uses means by which to draw people to himself. There's no reason to think that he can't use argument and evidence, just as much as preaching. When you look at the book of Acts, that's exactly the way Paul operated. He would argue with people. He would hold lectures in the hall of Tyrannus. He would discuss these things with the philosophers on Mars Hill. I find, in dealing with people from a Charismatic or Pentecostal background, that the most effective thing to do is simply to let them see you use arguments in evangelism. And they get excited. It's only because they haven't seen it done effectively that they're skeptical. I just came from a large Assemblies of God Church in Edmonton, Canada, a couple of weeks ago, where we had over 900 people in the 20-somes age range. I spoke of the absurdity of life without God, and they just ate it up. You can't just go on emotions and be a whole person. Even folks in this sub-culture of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity have minds that want answers. When they see it in action, coupled with passionate commitment to Christ, they love it too. They really eat it up.
Boundless: Could you suggest a reading list for the undergraduate Christian who wants to build up his or her philosophical arsenal in defense of the Christian faith?
Craig: I would begin first by mastering some biblical materials. For example, I would get Donald Guthrie's New Testament Introduction, published by Intervarsity. Then I would also get the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, published also by Intervarsity. If you want a good philosophical intro, J.P. Moreland and I wrote a book called Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, published by Intervarsity. That's a somewhat difficult or intermediate level book, but nevertheless it would really be a great one to have. Another good book to have would be A Reason for the Hope Within, edited by Michael Murray. There is a series of booklets published by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, written by Christian philosophers, on a whole range of apologetic issues. I would encourage people to get that whole series of about fifteen booklets and work through those. My own book, Reasonable Faith, presents, I think, a very sound, positive apologetic for the Christian faith, based on the existence of God and the Resurrection of Jesus as its two pillars. I would also recommend one more book, Jesus Under Fire, edited by Wilkins and Moreland, published by Zondervan. It's a terrific book in response to the so-called Jesus Seminar. Very timely, I think.
Boundless: Is it along the same lines as Boyd's Cynic, Sage, or Son of God?
Craig: Yeah, but it's written by a range of Evangelical authors who each contribute a chapter. So, you get a real range of expertise there.
Boundless: And could you recommend something along the lines of pre-evangelistic reading, say for those dealing with a skeptical roommate, friend, fraternity brother, or sorority sister? Someone who doesn't really want to read the Bible. What would you recommend for such a person?
Craig: I think Lee Strobel's books The Case for the Creator and The Case for Christ would be good books to put in the hands of a seeker. God has used those books to bring a lot of people to Christ, I understand.
Copyright August 2006 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.