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Doubter's prison

Books | Faith is reasonable, say authors J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler, and Christians need not wallow in lack of confidence or lack of belief

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Jon Krakauer wrote in his best-selling Under the Banner of Heaven, "Faith is the very antithesis of reason." Biola University professors J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler, authors of In Search of a Confident Faith (IVP Books, 2008) take issue with that kind of thinking. They challenge "seven of the main doubt-inducing background assumptions of our culture," showing as they go that faith is not "a blind, arbitrary leap in the dark that has no basis in reason."

Since many secular professors love to accuse Christians of leaping in the dark, and some Christians also don't accord reason its proper place in bulwarking minds as God changes hearts, college students will particularly find useful the book's deconstruction of conventional campus assumptions such as "It is smarter to doubt things than to believe them. Smart people are skeptical. People who find faith easy are simplistic, gullible and poorly educated."

Moreland's previous works include The God Conversation and Love Your God with All Your Mind; Issler wrote Wasting Time with God.

Q: How do faith and reason go together?

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Today faith and reason are viewed as polar opposites-as one gains knowledge about something, there is no need for faith. They say we don't need faith in the claim that water is H2O or gravity anchors us to the ground. But, the argument continues, one does need faith for religious or moral claims because there is no knowledge that these claims are true, no evidence either way for them.

Yet consider: To have faith in some alleged truth, say, that cigarettes cause cancer, is to count on this claim, to retain a readiness to act as if the claim were true. Faith is essentially trust or confidence or reliance, and that its proper exercise crucially requires reasons, evidence, and knowledge. Faith is trusting what we have reason to believe is true. Christianity has always been a friend of reason and knowledge.

Q: So even though doubt is in these days, you declare that "the right approach to life is one that hungers to know as many truths as one can and to avoid as many falsehoods as possible."

Doubt is not unbelief. We think it's helpful to make a distinction between unbelief, doubt, and lack of belief. "Unbelief" is a willful and sinful setting of oneself against a biblical teaching. But "doubt" is an intellectual, emotional, or psychological hindrance to a more secure confidence. (As in, "I believe something but just have some doubts.") "Lack of belief" indicates "I don't believe something but know I should and want to-I need help."

Having doubts or lack of belief is not wrong, but it is hardly a place one wants to stay if that is not necessary. Sadly, skeptics are so afraid they will believe something false that they fail to believe many true things that would be of great help to them if they were more balanced in their approach to life. In our book we make clear that our goal is not to be skeptical or gullible. We are to be wise: believing as many truths and avoiding as many falsehoods as possible.

Q: You say "it raises the bar way too high to require that one can only claim to know important things relevant to Christianity when one is completely certain." You also acknowledge the reality of doubt. How does that go along with the hymn line, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine"?

Biblical confidence is not always an all-or-nothing affair. Consider that there are three ways of relating to a truth claim. You can disbelieve it, you can believe it, or you can be counterbalanced, literally 50/50 with no leaning either way. So if you do believe something, you are from 51 percent to 100 percent sure its true. If you do not have full confidence in something, you may lack trust to varying degrees. Therefore we think it's important to create safe, honest, non-defensive fellowships in which people are given permission to be on a faith-journey, with all the warts, messiness, and setbacks that are part of such a journey. Otherwise, people will hide what they actually believe from others, and even from themselves, all the while continuing to use faith-talk that avoids being socially ostracized in one's local fellowship.

Q: You write that the contemporary plausibility structure of Western culture creates a set of doubts about Christianity.

Every culture has a set of background assumptions-a plausibility structure-that sets a tone or a framework for what people think, how they feel, and how they act. It directs what they will entertain as plausible, what they will habitually notice or disregard without thinking about what they are doing, how they form and retain their beliefs. This plausibility structure is so widespread and subtle that people usually don't even know it is there even though it hugely impacts their perspective on the world. Our current Western cultural plausibility structure elevates science and scorns and mocks religion, especially Christian teaching. This scientism or naturalism, roughly, is the idea that the only truths about reality that can be known are those that can be tested with the senses and certified by the hard sciences.


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