Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Test Of Elijah

My niece and her husband are thinking of switching to the Greek Orthodox church, and I was asking them why they were going to change. This got into why we believe what we believe. This then got into a conversation on what truth is.

To them, truth is simply Christ Jesus and Christ Jesus is the truth. To me it is not that simple. As I like to say, nowhere inside of the scriptures does it say to blindly believe.

It is fine to discuss this in abstract, but I came up with a scenario which revolved around the Christian college that we went to. Although this college was supposed to be evangelical, the religious department was very liberal. As my niece said, "...that professor said that he was going to demolish any idea that scripture was the inerrant word of God." Now, she is a very strong and evangelistic Christian, so she was unhappy with the approach the college took.

So my question for the day was "what should have been taught in that class?" To the kids, they were thinking that theology should not be taught at all. Theology is something that is done inside of the confines of worship. Worship is the path to God, and inside of worship and the sacraments can we find truth. Jesus is truth, and experiencing him is all we need. One of the major attractions of the Greek Orthodox church is it reinforcement of the sacraments, which have power in they giving of the sacraments to strengthen our faith. Thus their potential conversion to Greek Orthodox was the the idea that this would strength their faith.

This to me smacks of fideism.

If I had the the curriculum at this college, I would bring the best and strongest defenders of the faith and those that were most against the faith. I would allow an open and honest debate. For me, it is only inside the debate of open ideas do the best ideas win out. If Christianity is not the best idea, then it should not win out. However, if Christianity was true, it would win out.

They thought that this was just a bit too risky. In some ways, the argument is very convincing, since I am not exposing my children to all the influences of the world today. (Some day I will, but I believe in a base before testing.) The most convincing argument on this was my niece's husband who stated that two family members had left the faith because of allowing strong examination of their faith. By doing this, they both had left traditional Christianity, which they considered a tragedy.

In my mind, however, the would have left the faith anyways. See, people who leave the faith do it on the basis of wanting to be be free of the judgment. This fact is obvious as the nose on my face. It is so true that it provoke laughter on Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" on the radio. In a recent broadcast, he said because a few too many infidelities had happened, the local church brought in an evangelist. The evangelist pointed out that hell and damnation await those that were bad, thus a little bit of pleasure in the short term would not make up for an eternity of punishment.

"You know," Keillor said, "What makes perfect sense loses perspective when are are getting progressively close to the short term pleasure." However, if there is no Hell, then you can do what ever you want.

However, in my faith, I will go back to the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. I believe that Christianity can take any comers in an open discussion in the same way that Elijah could take on the 450 prophets of Baal. Let the arguments for non-Christianity happen. Let's discuss the other faiths. Let's discuss atheism. If Christianity doesn't win in the end, then it wasn't a faith worth having. If my God can defend his turf, then he is no God at all.

What happened at Mount Carmel? Very simply the mother of all debates happened.

The debate at the time is whose God is better. The God of Abraham or the God of Baal. So to determine this, a show down was called. Elijah suggested a very simple test. Whoever had the more powerful God would simply ask God to consume a sacrifice that they built.

450 prophets of Baal built their alter, and no god came to take their sacrifice. In the subtext of the conversion of the story to text, we lose how exactly strong the contest was. After nothing happened, Elijah started to jeer them. This isn't a nice prophet. This is a prophet that has nothing but contempt for the competition. Although it was been bowdlerized out of the Bible, I have read that the original Hebrew had Elijah yelling, "Hey guys, yell louder. I think your God is taking a crap and can't hear you."

The net sum of of the story is that when Elijah stood up, he called on the Lord and a fire fell from heaven and took the sacrifice. Elijah then turned to the assembly and said, "Kill those false prophets at the Kishon."

The problem with the Church today is that we've gotten completely weak or completely stupid.

What is being completely weak? Completely weak means that we allow anything to happen. Do others have different faiths? Sure let them have different faiths. As long as they don't threaten me, then I won't threaten them. We'll figure out better ways to program our Children through home schooling. They can program their children. This is the cowards way.

The completely stupid way is to have "Might makes right." These people say that "we'll pass laws against homosexuality. We'll legislate morality. We'll pass laws to keep the bad guys out. We'll burn the witch and kill the heretic." By the sword the religion will live and by the sword the religion will die.

I have the third option. Challenge God to show himself. Argue the faith. Show that the only faith that logically hangs together is Christianity. If we do this, we'll abandon positions that are indefensible (the Earth is flat or the Universe is only a few thousand years old), and we'll be forced to find those positions that that make Christianity unique (The Bible is historically accurate or is the only pre 15th century mythos that can be reconciled with the creation of the universe).

I have done my study. The Bible is unique. The mythos is unique. The faith has unique attributes that bring reasonable certainty to our Faith. Now is the evidence circumstantial?

The answer is yes. The evidence is completely circumstantial for us today. However, every legal system today will remove somebody's life based on circumstantial evidence. If we are willing to removed life because of circumstantial evidence, we need to also take up our own life based on excellent circumstantial evidence.


paula said...

I am behind on my reading so I didn't catch this post until today. As the niece in question, I am going to put forth a feeble defense that you are simplifying clan Gibbs' position rather too much. Regarding faith and truth, I think that we deserve a bit more credit than to say that we say that experiencing Jesus is all that we need. Or that a potential conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy is some sort of attempt to buoy up our faith with sacraments. Neither would I characterize your understanding of truth as risky (you don't seem to like some risks any more than we do -- that's why your kids aren't in the public school, right?). Rather, both Josh and I find your understanding of truth to be so un-human that we don't see the attraction, quite frankly. If truth does NOT equal Jesus, why is it so desirable to you?

However, it is nice to know that, before you married Aunt Lauri, the two of you sat down one day for a good, long debate about the truthfulness of the claim that you would love her for the rest of her life. I imagine that you spent many hours preparing your arguments and, when the day arrived, had a few butterflies regarding whether she would be convinced in the end (because, of course, you couldn't marry her if she wasn't). You presented your case slowly and methodically, allowing her to make counter-arguments and demolishing them one by one. You even called character witnesses: your parents, your sisters, your 2nd grade teacher. And you played a piece on the piano that you wrote just for her. Finally, you presented a killer closing argument that left her overwhelmed by your logic and the evidence of your life so far. She agreed that you loved her and promised to love you and be married to you as long as she could see evidence that you continued to love her. As a token of her commitment, she even promised that, should any of the evidence cease, she would allow you 2-3 weeks' grace period before beginning to doubt. More than a month, however, and she would be free to walk out of the house and pursue a relationship with a different man.

I mean, this is how it happened, right? Otherwise, why would you expect blind faith to carry anyone through a lifetime of marriage?

(This probably sounds more acrimonious than I intend it to, but I think you get the idea. I love you very much, Uncle T, and I wish we lived a heck of a lot closer to SoCal.)

Theologic said...


1. While I may have simplified your argument, I don't believe that they are overly warped. The wonderful thing, however, about blogs is that you can restate or clarify your views. But to clarify: I asked Josh what was the attraction of the Orthodox Faith, and the very first thing which he stated was "the sacraments" and a couple of other minor things. You weren't there when I asked.

In my mind, the challenge with your view is that there is no reason to suggest that you have any better truth than the Buddhist, the Mormon, or the Muslim.

2. As for the marriage analogy:

I have heard that with proper testing that a "bad marriage" can be predicted 90% of the time. In other words, using emotion--be it to select your mate or to select your God--is a very bad idea.

You probably won't be surprised that I read multiple books on successful marriages before I got married, and I had several criteria for the woman that I was to marry.

I remember that Grandpa disagreed with at least one of my criteria, but it seems to have worked out okay.