On Not Being a Christian Muslim

I was in a book discussion with some friends and colleagues recently.  The topic was Luther’s Bondage of the Will.  As you may be able to discern from the title, there is much in the book about free will (or the lack, thereof) and God’s sovereignty.

Now, I tend not to take a side in the controversy and prefer instead to embrace the mystery.  But after listening to some pretty heavy Calvinistic discourse, I ventured forth that Paul’s speech to the Athenians doesn’t make a lot of sense to me if free will really has nothing to do with it.  Why, if the free will is essentially irrelevant, does Paul tell the men of Athens what God is like and then confirm his case by noting that God furnished evidence by raising Jesus from the dead?

What happened next is the reason for this post.  One of the men in the room listened to what I had to say and then remarked that he never really had liked “evidential apologetics.”   I responded that evidence appears to be pretty important if you look at the passage I’d cited.  He again insisted that he didn’t care much for “evidential apologetics” and we left it at that.  My guess would be that he didn’t care much for an argument that someone should follow Christ because of evidence because the logic runs against a hard election interpretation of scripture.

The disdain for evidential apologetics bothered me because I think it shows a lack of appreciation for the uniqueness of the Christian faith.  Muslims, for example, follow without any kind of evidence.  Their faith is based on assertion.  So, too, are other faiths which rely on the assurance of some person, now long dead, that a revelation has been given which must be followed.  To the extent that Christians express a lack of interest in “evidential apologetics” it seems to me that they are engaging their faith much as the Muslims do theirs.

As he addressed the men of Athens, Paul thought it important not merely to describe the attributes of God, but also to point to an event in real space and time as evidence that he was not just another bloviator claiming to know the truth.  Evidence is at the core of Christianity.

Reason and revelation are not the same thing, but they stand closer together in the Christian faith than in any other.

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4 thoughts on “On Not Being a Christian Muslim

  1. Hunter: Terrific post. So important. I think the main idea you are communicating here has become the central message of my professional academic life. –Craig Hazen

  2. Excellent point. I personally relate it to the miracle of the Incarnation–the union of seeming incompatibles that occurred when the Word became Flesh. But then, I relate everything to the Incarnation.

  3. As a Christian of the Reformed persuasion, I find that my faith is buttressed and informed by evidence, not the least of which is creation. In Romans 1, Paul says it very well. Creation reveals God, his power and divine nature. Once established in my mind the utter impossibility of the universe and everything in it being a product of chance, I look for evidence of the reasonableness of scripture’s testimony for the divinity of Jesus Christ. It’s everywhere. There is also much extra scriptural evidence not only for the existence of Christ, but for the historicity of the Gospel accounts.

    Free will exists. The evidence of our senses and experience do not lie, nor does Scripture which affirms free will at every turn. But, is the will of man in bondage to sin without the sovereign working of God? Is man “dead” in his sin without the sovereign working of God as Paul asserts? Does God change man’s heart of stone into a heart of flesh by his sovereign power displayed in Christ’s death and resurrection? I would argue, yes indeed.

    You cannot isolate man’s will from God’s working his power in man’s soul. If you do this, you make the work of salvation simply a presentation of logical statements about salvation in the hope that man’s free (not tainted by sin? only tainted so much? not really dead as Paul says?) will will decide evading hell and going to heaven is a really good thing. I don’t see how a dead person can do this.

    Those Reformed folks who eschew evidence as somehow peripheral to faith are idolizing the rational to the detriment of mystery. I don’t have any idea how both exist, but they do. Scripture simply won’t allow any other interpretation. Hunter, I think you were right in the first place to embrace mystery. In my humble opinion that is the only way to be consistent to the “evidence” of Scripture.

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