Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? The Certainty of the Christian Worldview
The Defense of the Gospel in Conflict
The Crisis of our Times
Statism in governmental theory and practice, logical positivism in the courts, hedonistic materialism among the masses, and a return to pre-Christian forms of pagan thought forms and rituals are like the seven demons in Jesus’ parable that have rushed into to fill the void left by the self-conscious abandonment of faith in God, his enthroned Son, and his all-sufficient Word. We are living in the twilight of American culture, intellectually, politically, and spiritually. To the present collapse the church has been both a contributing factor and a blind follower. Sustained criticism of the Bible has completely undermined the authority of the canon, confidence in the Christian Scriptures, and the practical authority of the Bible. Even in generally evangelical churches, considered by many to be the last bastion of the older Christianity, it is not uncommon to hear church leaders endorse theological positions, social agendas, and spiritual paradigms that radically depart from the traditional positions of the Christian church as expressed in its creeds, confessions, and catechisms. If statistical surveys and personal experience are correct, the average professing believer has embraced the skepticism and relativism of his unbelieving counterpart. Our departure from a generally Christian past, while gleefully heralded by many as ushering in a new era of individual freedom, social equality, and scientific advancement, has created enormous tension in virtually every area of society. The family has never been weaker. The illusory strength of our economy is subject to constant regulation and manipulation by the ubiquitous federal government. Education has become indoctrination in the tenets of the reigning political agenda of secularists, pluralists, and social engineers. Moral absolutes are non-existent, unless one considers the oxymoronic "principled pragmatism" an acceptable foundation. Scientifically, new discoveries abound, but many of them are pursued without the slightest regard for their moral implications. Entertainment enslaves the masses, who choose political candidates, educational paradigms, and religious authority based upon the contrived facades of attractiveness and success. Sexually, there are no more taboos. Skepticism, individualism, and hedonism are the dominant worldviews of a culture that has become trite, irreverent, and narcissistic. It is not that we do not recognize our problems. We no longer possess, however, a unified, coherent worldview that provides moral authority to address them.
Whether men realize it or not, there is one inescapable question that lies at the foundation of these problems and their symptoms: by what authority? The inability to locate a meaningful answer to that question is the crisis of our times. Is there an absolute standard by which political decisions should be made? Is there an authority higher than science by which science can be regulated and directed? What is the difference between pornography and art? Should homosexual unions be granted a legal status and included in the definition of "marriage?" Should morality be more than an enlightened pragmatism, in which each individual must find a workable standard of behavior that enables him to function in his environment? If there is such an authority, what is its nature? Is it religious? Philosophical? Scientific? Political? Individual? Communal? Some men say one thing and others say another. How can I know for sure? When philosophy has largely abandoned the quest for truth and certainty, politics is concerned supremely with the acquisition and retention of power, and science is concerned merely with what works, how can I be sure that what I believe is true? This question is further compounded by the current dominance of postmodernism, a paradigm that embraces uncertainty, doubt, and diversity, and above all insists upon the right of individuals and groups to develop their own worldview, which in turn is right for them and above the criticism of other groups that are not operating within in their specific context. The necessity of finding an answer to the question, "Why should anyone believe anything at all?" has become a life and death necessity for the segment of our culture that cannot find solace in language games, banal celebrityism, and religious hucksterism.
Facing the Consequences of Principled Uncertainty
For others, these developments are warmly embraced. Unbelieving man desires to avoid the implications of a self-existent God, who created this world by his power, upholds it by his providence, and directs it by his word. Paul is clear that this man constantly suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. He deceives himself into believing that he does not believe in the existence of God, that he owes his life to him, and that his word is objectively true and certain. Accordingly, many elements in our culture welcome the supposed openness of modern western society, for it provides a context to pursue personal priorities and agendas with a spirit of autonomy. What must be pointed out, however, is that issues of certainty and moral authority cannot be dismissed with such a cavalier attitude. Their claims may be denied for a while, but they inevitably surface with an irresistible force that demands resolution. For example, if marriage is to be defined purely in terms of love and commitment, then it is unjustified to place any limitations upon the participants in a "marriage." Fathers and daughters may marry. Polygamy is just as acceptable as monogamy. If there are no moral absolutes, then one cannot posit that murder is wrong, for that is evidence of arrogant, unjustifiable dogmatism that some cultures have chosen to disregard. One cannot find condemn pedophilia or bestiality. One may not prefer them, but preference is not the same thing as moral imperative. If God does not exist, human freedom is illusory. We live in an ultimately unknowable universe, in which man is the product of eons of time and blind chance, absolutely determined by his environment, over which he may seek to exercise control, but in which he is as much a part of the "muck" of existence as frogs, rocks, and bacteria. Dostoyevsky was correct. If God does not exist, anything is possible. We might equally affirm that nothing is possible, including moral absolutes, personal unity, and scientific explanation. This is not to say that men who embrace the reigning dogma do not continue to operate as if moral absolutes, scientific laws, and objective truth exist, but they cannot provide a rational explanation for them. This is unacceptable. It is not how the real world operates. Chance cannot produce order; time cannot produce truth. Scientists operate with the belief that their conclusions explain the "real world." Engineers assume the existence of physical laws that are not the products of time and chance. Judges, even the most radical, operate on the assumption that moral absolutes exist. Even postmodernists, who vociferously deny the objectivity of language, do not generally welcome a scenario in which their comments are taken out of context or intentionally twisted. Men everywhere operate on a foundation of certainty, rationality, and coherence that the entrenched worldview of our culture denies. Accordingly, the Christian is in the position in this culture of calling it out of its juvenile, wishful thinking that ideas do not have consequences, that the denial of absolute truth bears no evil fruit, and that science can consistently operate on the foundation of evolutionary hypotheses. In a culture committed to radical relativism, it is our high and challenging calling to posit afresh an answer to the question, "Why should anyone believe anything at all?" Faithfulness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over area of human life, submission to the inspired Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and obedience to the Great Commission demand an answer. By God’s grace, they also provide the answer.
The Implicit Skepticism of Popular Apologetics
It would seem that in such a cultural milieu, the message of the church would remain relatively unchanged. "Thus says the Lord" is absolutely true and certain, not simply because the Christian faith works intellectually, satisfies emotional needs, and provides a basis for communion with likeminded individuals in an otherwise impersonal society, but because God and his word have an objective existence, authority, and certainty independent of man’s acceptance of them. Hence, we may even in this culture present the truth with conviction and courage, believing that the Lord’s word provides the only legitimate basis for certain knowledge, human experience, and the scientific disciplines, will expose the foolishness of unbelief, and ultimately result in the discipling of the nations to Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this sort of presentation is not typically provided. Postmodern ways of thinking have increasingly infiltrated the church, paradigms for thinking and defending the faith that start from a position of uncertainty, or that deny that certainty is available for anyone. Others, thinking to salvage Christianity while doing justice to logic and philosophy, have adopted the postmodern paradigm that Christianity is true for us, and that if you will become one of us, the faith become your truth as well.
In his popular book Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All, James W. Sire demonstrates this sort of reasoning. Because he uncritically accepts the canons of autonomous logic and philosophy as providing the necessary criteria for truth, he denies the very faith he is seeking to proclaim, or at best, reduces it to a private, meaningful experience, that provides him with needed answers, psychological fulfillment, etc. He writes, "But - and this may be hard for firm Christian believers to accept - we could be wrong. Our experience as such does not full justify our belief" (58). According to Sire, why should we accept Christianity? "In the final analysis, Christianity gives the best explanation of all the tough issues of life" (179). In his concluding chapter, "The Challenge of Belief," he writes, "The task before each of us is awesome. We human beings face the world without the perfect mental equipment to know and discern with philosophic certitude just who we are, what our role in life should be, whether there is a God, if so which God and how we might find him/her/it" (209). His comments throughout the book demonstrate confusion over the nature of certainty. Accordingly, though he purports to answer the interrogative title of his book, he largely fails because he never issues a direct challenge to unbelief to repent of its autonomous foundations, does not demonstrate a consistently Christian approach to the subject, and allows for the possibility that Christianity is wrong.
Apologetic methods that allow for the possibility that Christianity is false or that it is not certain, cave in to methods of unbelieving philosophy and logic, blunt the claims of the gospel, and compromise the theology of the Bible. They fail to posit the absolute truth of the Christian-theistic position, fail to give a compelling reason for men to repent of their sins and turn to the Lord in faith and repentance, and inevitably reduce biblical Christianity to just another competing voice on the already crowded smorgasbord of available worldviews.. If biblical Christianity is to remain viable and distinctive in our age, and more importantly, if God is to be glorified by yielding to his Word the authority and certain conviction that it demands, the believer must understand that certainty is not only possible, but it is also demanded. It can only be attained, however, as man recognizes his creatureliness, submits to the authority of God in his Word, and engaged in an all out battle against the forces of skepticism that are aligned against the church and the gospel.
Toward a Christian Definition of Certainty
At the outset, it is important to define what we mean and do not mean by certainty. By certainty is not meant an indubitable proof for God’s existence, the deity of Christ, and the truth of Scripture that compels acceptance through man’s autonomous use of reason, experience, or scientific observation. This definition of certainty fails to remember that man is a creature, that there are some things he will never know or understand, and many things that he will always know imperfectly or incompletely. The Christian view of certainty must take into account that man is a creature, and that as such, his knowledge is always limited and fallible. This definition of certainty also fails to consider man’s fallen condition. The Achilles heel of all unbelieving forms of thought is the failure to distinguish man’s original intellectual and moral integrity with which he was originally endowed by God from his present spiritual deadness in sin. All unbelieving thought assumes that man is now as he always been, albeit perhaps on a higher level of the evolutionary chain; it denies that there is a radical moral and intellectual discontinuity between pre- and post-fall man. These two caveats do not consign man to skepticism or relativism. What is necessary for man to know for life and salvation may be known as man the creature submit to God’s the Creator’s revelation of himself in nature, Scripture, and ultimately, Jesus Christ. While his interpretation of the Creator’s word is subject to his sinfulness and finiteness, this revelation is nonetheless objectively true and certain. We might say that the Christian view of certainty attributes absolute certainty and knowledge to the Creator alone, while allotting to man objectivity and certainty to the degree that he yields himself consistently to God’s word and interpretation of reality.
The Biblical Foundations of Certainty
The Source of Knowledge
The foundation of a consistently Christian theory of knowledge and apologetic method is that certainty is to be found in the triune God’s infinite, comprehensive, and creative knowledge of all things. Whereas for man there is mystery, in that many truths are imperfectly known in this life, giving an eschatological element to all knowledge, with God there is no mystery. God is not in Plato’s cave of obscurity, groping, and uncertainty. He knows himself, man, and the universe exhaustively. This truth lays a foundation for the authority and certainty of the knowledge God has revealed of himself in Scripture. God’s perfect knowledge of all things is the foundation of the creature’s search for certainty. To leave man without any excuse for doubt on this matter, the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that God, the Creator of all things, is the source of all wisdom and knowledge. In Deuteronomy 32:4, he is revealed as the "God of truth, without iniquity." David proclaims that the word of the Lord is right, not only intrinsically good but objectively true, and all his works are done in truth (Psalm 33:4). Accordingly, God is the One who teaches man knowledge; apart from him there is nothing but darkness, uncertainty, and skepticism (Ps. 36:9; 94:10). God’s law, which should be taken foremost in the broadest sense of his revealed will for man’s life and salvation, is truth and endures forever (Ps. 100:5; 117:2). It has transcultural authority and relevance. God has revealed his word to man so that he may certain knowledge of God’s will (Proverbs 22:17-21). The conclusion of the matter is that God alone is the source of wisdom (Romans 16:27). The Christian worldview is not based upon an ultimate skepticism, probability, or possibility. It is based upon the infallible word of the Creator, whose knowledge creates reality and provides a foundation for certainty in the world.
Two Levels of Knowing
Objective and certain knowledge is available for man, however, only as he recognizes his creatureliness, repents of his autonomy, and submits his mind to God’s revelation in Scripture. In other words, in order to possess true knowledge of God, the world, and himself, man must submit to his Creator’s authoritative interpretation of life. To the extent that the creature "thinks God’s thoughts after him," he possesses the truth. This must be the comprehensive claim of the Christian apologist. Submission to God’s word is the presupposition apart from man cannot have objective and certain knowledge. Accordingly, faith in God is not an intellectual crutch; it is the absolute prerequisite for knowledge and certainty. Postmodernism is simply a sophisticated attempt to justify modern skepticism by stating that since man has not been able to attain true and absolute knowledge, such knowledge is unavailable to man. According to this view, man must accept the groundlessness of his being, formulate his own meaning, and avoid the tendency to hold personal views dogmatically. This is special pleading, begging the question, and utterly unscientific. Contrary to this view, the Bible establishes in a variety of ways that objective knowledge and creaturely certainty are possible for man. David wrote that the acceptance of God’s word gives light and understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:30). Solomon identified the fear of the Lord, a holy reverence and adoration of God that leads to the hatred of sin and a life of service to him, is the foundation of true knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). He adds that God alone gives wisdom and that knowledge and understanding come from him (Proverbs 2:6-9). It is only when we dedicate ourselves to God’s wisdom that we will come to understand life. The prophet Isaiah wrote that God’s ways and thoughts are high above man’s (Isaiah 55:8-11). Man is the creature of God; his knowledge is true and accurate to the extent they reflect God’s thoughts.
Christ and Knowledge
The Bible presents Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, the divine Logos, the personal and ultimate revelation of God to man (John 1:1-18). Accordingly, Jesus Christ is not only the source of all wisdom and knowledge, but he is also the restorer of man to knowledge and truth (John 8:31). This he does by his priestly office, in which he died to satisfy the wrath of God against sinners and obeyed God’s law perfectly in order to provide the sole basis of our justification. He also accomplishes this through his prophetic office. He preached the Word of God during his earthly ministry, and commissioned the twelve through whom the canon of the New Testament was written, supervised, and completed. He promised and gave the Holy Spirit to the twelve, who guided them into the truth; he continues to operate in the church and world today, bearing witness to the Word of God, opening the hearts of men to receive the truth, and guiding the church into ever deepening understanding of the faith once for all given to the saints (John 3:3-5; 14:17; 15:27,27; 16:7; 18:37; Ephesians 1:17,18). Christ, therefore, not only saves men from hell but also from ignorance, skepticism, and despair. Submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ necessarily entails obedience to his word and looking to him for wisdom and knowledge. For he is the truth of God (John 14:6), the One in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited (Colossians 2:3-8). Therefore, the Christian apologist must present Jesus Christ in all his saving significance and epistemological necessity. Men need saving from their intellectual autonomy and must renounce it, or they will never arrive at a true and objective knowledge of God, the universe, and man, much les attain to a saving knowledge of God or the blessedness of everlasting life.
Faith and Knowledge
The previous components of the Christian worldview combine to form one irresistible conclusion: faith precedes knowledge. Before man can know, he must believe. Even in his pre-fall condition, Adam was to pursue knowledge in faith and submission to God’s Word. Sin has intensified the need for faith, for it has exerted comprehensive effects upon man - spiritually, intellectually, and morally. Our conclusion does not imply that faith is devoid of knowledge or that it is unhistorical. Faith is based upon knowledge of God’s character, the saving work of Jesus Christ, and the life-giving and directing word. Faith, moreover, is not a leap into the void of mysticism. Faith is essentially a looking away from man as the source of truth and knowledge, repentance of intellectual and spiritual autonomy, and receiving and resting upon Christ alone for grace and knowledge. When Christian apologists insist that faith precedes knowledge, they are asserting that only the triune God revealed in the Bible can give man true and objective knowledge. This brief formula challenges both the intellectual idolatry of modernism and the prevailing skepticism of postmodernism, based as it is upon the acceptance of the ultimate irrationalism of the universe and the utter unknowability of objective truth. As no unbelieving system can embrace the comprehensive claims of biblical Christianity except at the cost of intellectual repentance, it is exactly here that the work of the apologist must begin, by demonstrating that faith in the Creator’s Word is the absolute precondition of true knowledge.
Scripture and Knowledge
One cannot provide a meaningful answer to this question without stressing that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the sole foundations of certain knowledge for man. The triune God is the Creator, Governor, and Sustainer of the universe. He spoke the world into existence. He created language as a suitable medium to convey transcendent truth to man his creature. Through every stage of man’s development since the Garden, the Word of the Lord has been his guide. It is true that some groups pursued alternative religious paths, but this was in rebellion against God’s covenant word and suppression of God’s clear revelation of himself in nature. The consequences were cultural suicide. As history progressed, he gave his chosen people additional revelation that built upon and expanded earlier truth, in order to create and sustain faith in his original promise to save the world through a coming Deliverer. In the fullness of time, that Deliver, who by this time had been progressively identified in the Old Testament revelation as the Prophet who would declare God’s word infallibly and consummate previous revelation, the Priest who would atone for man’s sin and restore him to fellowship with God, and his King who would rule over him, subduing his heart to teachableness and making him a willing servant of the kingdom of God. He is thus the supreme Word of God, the Logos of Christian Scripture and theology. His earthly ministry was short, but during his lifetime he commissioned his chosen apostles to be the authoritative conveyors of his word. To fulfill this calling, he promised them a special endowment of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, who would guide them into all the truth (John 16:13). In their oral proclamation, personal writings, and supervision of the writings of their close associates, God’s final word became enscripturated, an inspired, all-sufficient, and infallible record of the will of God. The chain of authority is clear: God sent his Son, his Son commissioned the apostles, the apostles left behind the written Scriptures that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is to this word that all men and nations must give faith and obedience if they are to understand God, the world, and themselves. Apart from these Scriptures, man is reduced to skepticism, uncertainty, and despair, as the history of men and nations that have rejected this word makes clear. It is only as western culture recovers its faith in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament that the dilemma of uncertainty in philosophy, morality, and science may be resolved.
The Apologetic Implications of Certainty
The Impossibility of Certainty (for the unbeliever)
Because the unbeliever rejects God’s word, he is a fool (Proverbs 1:7). In biblical terms, a fool is one who builds his life upon the shaky, constantly shifting foundation of human reason and understanding. Such reasoning will not stand up under the pressure God will bring to bear upon him (Matthew 7:24-27). This foolishness is not just spiritual, though it is fundamentally that. Paul writes that God has made foolish the wisdom of this world. God has consigned all unbelievers and unbelieving philosophical to wallow in the mire of their own foolishness until they repent of their rebellion against God and are transformed by the renewing of their mind (1 Corinthians 1:20). Accordingly, as long as the unbeliever seeks to build upon the house of knowledge upon the foundation of autonomous logic, materialistic science, and subjective experience, he is doomed to intellectual skepticism and despair. There is no certainty for man apart from his recognition that he is a creature of God, totally dependent upon God for his next breath and for his next right thought, and that epistemic certainty is found only in self-conscious submission to the Law-Word of the Creator. One important aspect of the apologist’s task is to demonstrate this folly, to demonstrate that all unbelieving systems, whether religious or non-religious, are intrinsically foolish, not simply because the Bible says they are, but because they are filled with internal contradictions and logical impasses that are manifestations of the consequences of unbelief.
The Defense of Epistemic Certainty
The absolute certainty of the Christian worldview leads to several important implications for the apologetic encounter with unbelief. First, we do not encourage men to become Christians simply because it is the best possible option, gives the best answers to difficult questions, or brings man the greatest happiness. All of these are true, but such a methodology fails to do justice to the Bible’s insistence on the objective truth and certainty of the Christian worldview. Embracing Jesus Christ is far more than one stage in the personal quest for meaning. Second, we may not allow that the unbeliever’s problem is a lack of facts; his basic problem is his rebellion against natural revelation. Third, we may not follow the unbeliever’s methods, i.e., autonomous logic, science, etc., for they are foolish and undermine the foundations of knowledge, experience, and reason. Fourth, we must insist that unbelief is immoral and will bring the judgment of God. There is no such thing as intellectual neutrality. A man is either for God or against him. Fifth, we must rejoice in the fact that objective truth and certainty is available to man through faith in Jesus Christ and submission to God’s Word. There are answers for man and his culture to the difficult problems facing him, the vast majority of which are directly due to sin and modern apostasy from the Christian worldview. Science, logic, and philosophy, while useful, are tools. They serve man, but they cannot serve as the foundations for certainty in any realm. They must submit to God’s revelation in Scripture. Then and only then are they given a foundation upon which they may function effectively. Then and only then is man rescued from his uncertainty and despair so that the great task of cultural dominion for the glory of God and through faith in Jesus Christ may be pursued with every tool God has provided for man’s pursuit of his high calling.
The Charge of Circularity
The Christian answer to the question, "Why should anyone believe anything at all?" is in four parts. (1) Failure to believe anything at all leads to intellectual, moral, and cultural suicide (2) The triune God of the Bible is alone the source of all wisdom and knowledge. Man is God’s creature, and through self-conscious submission to his Creator, he may possess a foundation for knowledge. (3) Due to sin, this foundation must be rebuilt in man through submission to Jesus Christ as the Word of God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (4) The Christian must boldly give this answer; it is the hope of men individually, culturally, and eternally. The fundamental objection to this answer, of course, will be its perceived circularity. In setting for this the Christian theory of knowledge, we have freely utilized the Scriptures. We have not sought independent, psychological, or expert vindication of them apart from their own self-witness. Admittedly, there is a degree of circularity in this approach, yet all creatures necessarily reason in circles, meaning that their foundation, methodology, and conclusions are intertwined. For unbelieving systems of thought, this is hopeless or vicious circularity, for man’s reason, experience, or a combination are the authorities at all three points. The Christian does not reason in a vicious circle. The self-attesting authority of God is the beginning point; his revelation provides our methodology and conclusions. There is no other circle in which the creature may operate to avoid intellectual skepticism and cultural collapse. This circle is the offense of the cross. The very fact that men reject this circle is the reason they need to be redeemed from their sin, their arrogance, and their autonomy. If we fail to provide this circle, we capitulate to the rebellion of man that caused the fall in the Garden and finally demanded the gory scene at Golgotha.