Note: This post makes mention of Ravi Zacharias. It is with a heavy heart that I must acknowledge a tragic independent report concerning evidence of sexual abuse and predatory behavior on the part of Ravi Zacharias. This man was a huge inspiration to me, as is evident from reading my blog, and the news was more than heart shattering. Some ministries leaders have come to the conclusion that removing articles about and references to Ravi is the right move; I have come to a different conclusion, and here is why:
- Though I cannot begin go to imagine the grief or pain of those Ravi hurt and the emotional toll of his behavior, it is also the case that to discredit a piece of information due to the character of the source of such behavior is to commit the genetic fallacy. If I quote or mention Ravi, it is because I believe those items to contain truth value on their own merit.
- To go back and change previously written information without a careful disclaimer is, I believe, a form of revisionist history. If a disclaimer must be offered anyway, I believe there is value in keeping the material accessible. So while I know it is a difficult ask to say, “Just trust the ideas and disregard his personal character,” I must ask that of you as a careful thinker.
- I have seen a lot of comparisons by Christians to not removing Ravi’s work because biblical characters like King David and others had fallen into terrible sin, and they have obviously been given to us as a gift to learn from (Romans 15:4). Why “cancel” Ravi if we’re not “cancelling” the Bible? It does seem to me, though, that there are two problems with this line of thinking: (1) These books are inspired by God and thus we can trust his revelation to us. They were examples given for a purpose. (2) These characters also seemed to show true biblical repentance of their wicked actions. Ravi remained unrepentant until his dying day. Therefore, I do not think these are 1-and-1 comparisons. This behavior reflects SERIOUS error and dangerous behavior on the part of Ravi and, to an unknown degree, RZIM as a whole, and that must not be taken lightly or swept under the rug.
I do not expect you to agree completely with this decision. I do ask that you respect the thought, prayer, and seeking of counsel in which I engaged regarding it.
If you ask most atheists and other varieties of religious skeptics, subjectivism is the “name of the religious game,” so to speak. In other words, it’s one thing to say “I heard from God”–it’s another thing entirely for your claims about God to be proven true. We often hear of these “religious experiences”; these include the kind that supposedly disprove religion altogether,1the “burning in the bosom” paraded by adherents to Mormon teachings, and Nirvana–the “perfect bless” of Buddhists, to name a few pertinent examples. Critics of Christian teaching tend to liken such subjective religious experiences–including, of course, the Christian’s appeal to the Holy Spirit–to one another, as if they are fundamentally the same. Ravi Zacharias has noted that while “we assume that all religions are the same and only superficially different, it is the reverse that is true. They are fundamentally different, at best, superficially similar.” Indeed, it was Christ Himself in John 14:6 who claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Dogmatic claims such as this one have led noted philosophers of the past to ask, “Who was Jesus–liar, lunatic, or Lord?”2
At once, it must be admitted that there is at least some truth to the subjectivism of religious experience. Indeed, there must be in order for just one to be true. This was not news to the biblical writers. It was John, after all, who advised that we “try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The logical inference is that there will indeed be those spirits which purport to be bearers of the truth, but be found false, fake, and wanting nonetheless. The question then becomes this: Whose subjective experience is right? To answer this question we rely, usually, on evidence. That which is true will have evidence in support of it. This seems intuitively obvious. Much of my writing is dedicated to this evidence, particularly in matters of philosophy, science, etc. But, then, there is the worldview issue. Evidence will be interpreted according to the overarching worldview one subscribes to. So, to assume the myth of neutrality–that is, to falsely assume that an objective look at the evidence apart from a worldview is possible–would make any evaluation of the available evidence a frivolous attempt. In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul asks rhetorically, “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” He then asserts, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (vv. 20-21). The clear implication is that it will take what seems foolish to the unbeliever to accept Christ, because man–in his own wisdom–simply cannot reach God. The only solution to this problem seems to be that we have an evidence so powerful that one simply cannot deny it–and it’s likely that this evidence will be crystal clear to the believer, and wholly irrational to the skeptic. That is to say that no matter how hard a Christian believer presses the issue, examines the arguments for and against, and avails himself to the most brutal of objections, he cannot help but to see that which has been so clearly revealed to him–the truth of God, his bankrupt, sinful condition before Him, and the hope of salvation wrought by the work of Jesus Christ. It is, I believe, this kind of evidence that is available to the Christian. I want us to approach this issue a bit differently. If you are reading as a skeptic, I’d like to invite you to set your skepticism to the side for a few moments, assume with me the truth of the Bible, and examine what Christian salvation might look like assuming there is a God. So, in this post I will not offer arguments for Christianity, but for the validity of Christian belief in a world of religious diversity and pluralism. We shall assume facts that I believe to be true and have written on, such that God exists and the Christian worldview is wholly coherent and rational, we live in a world where mankind, created by God, has fallen, Jesus Christ claimed to be God and was crucified for making those claims, and there is sufficient historical evidence that Christ rose from the dead three days after His crucifixion and burial, thereby accomplishing the salvation of any and all who would believe on Him.3 The above considered, let’s look at the experience of Christian salvation. I’ll be arguing for three elements which I believe make the Christian experience wholly justified, unique, and “warranted”4–even independent of argument.
1. The Call is Personal
Recently, I watched a video online in which noted Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, gave a short talk on the (non)compatibility of materialistic naturalism and Darwinian evolution.5 Near the end of the Q&A, he was asked a question that I’ve often heard asked of religious academics in these settings–“Why do you personally find Christianity so compelling/convincing?” Our inclination is a desire to hear men of this caliber reply with sophisticated answers; the more intelligent-sounding, evidentially-satisfying the reasoning, the better. But Plantinga did not deliver in this regard. Actually, he gave what some might perceive to be a rather “Sunday School” sounding answer. To summarize, Plantinga responded, “I just find the whole Christian story overwhelmingly attractive; it just seems right to me! I can’t think of much by way of serious argument for it…the most I can really say here is that it just seems right.” At first blush, a response of this sort would seem to warrant dismissal from even the most basic of “apologetics 101” classes. Why, then, is perhaps one of the most highly-esteemed and influential Christian philosophers of the 20th and 21st centuries giving such an answer–and getting away with it? I submit to you that it’s because Plantinga rightly realizes that the truest and best evidence for Christian belief is found internally; that is, not accessible by external, evidentialist argument. While this sort of evidence may lead us to conclude that Christianity is true or highly likely to be true–indeed, “the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19)–it cannot lead us to place our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. It is this holistic belief–that God created the cosmos, created man who rebelled against Him and fell into sin, sent Jesus into the world to suffer, die, rise again, and thereby redeem fallen humanity, and is indeed capable of extending that salvation to oneself–that Plantinga believes Christians are wholly justify in holding, even apart from argument.
A Three-Step Approach
Plantinga argues in his book Knowledge and Christian Belief for what he calls the “extended A/C model.”6 This is a model which aims to ground Christian belief as a “properly basic,” warranted, and therefore justified (true) belief. It involves three things:
- The Sense of Divinity (what Calvin called one’s “Sensus Divinitatis”7)
- The Internal Ingestion of the Holy Spirit
To summarize this system of thought in Plantinga’s own words, “Christian belief is produced in the believer by the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, endorsing the teaching of Scripture, which is itself divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. The result of the work of the Holy Spirit is faith — which, according to both John Calvin and the model, is “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” According to the model, these beliefs enjoy justification, rationality, and warrant.” On the sensus divinitatis, one could think of this as a sort of “natural knowledge about God” possessed by humans. Indeed, this would seem to be confirmed culturally by the fact that in 2016 Gallup reported that over 89% of the U.S. population believes in some sort of personal deity, scientifically by the fact that neuroscientific studies show humans are more generally wired to believe in something than to disbelieve in something, and biblically by the argument given in Romans 1:19-20.8 Plantinga writes, “according to the A/C model this natural knowledge of God has in many or most cases been compromised, weakened, reduced, smothered, overlaid, or impeded by sin and its consequences. Due to sin, the knowledge of God provided by the sensus divinitatis, prior to faith and regeneration, is both narrowed in scope and partially suppressed.” So while it is biblically and scientifically sound that God has placed within each of us an inclination to believe,9it will still take a supernatural work on His part in order to bring us to belief in Him.
The Unique Christian Story
In a nutshell, then, Plantiga argues, “The extended Aquinas/Calvin (A/C) model shows how it can be that beliefs of these sorts do indeed have warrant. On this model, Christian belief does not come by way of arguments from other beliefs. Rather, the fundamental idea is that God provides us human beings with faculties or belief-producing processes that yield these beliefs and are successfully aimed at the truth; when they work the way they were designed to in the sort of environment for which they were designed, the result is knowledge or warranted belief.” This, if true, is quite profound. It may be temping to explain this away with a subjectivist view of religious belief, but this would be heavily problematic. Consider the (surprisingly few) options before us:
- Pantheism (or some variation)
The millions of (g)ods fabricated by this world can basically be classified into these categories. Each view makes exclusive truth claims, so all cannot be true. This ultimately rules out Polytheism before we even get started (which god(s) ought we follow?). On a pantheistic view, “god” is not personal–but is everything!10 So while one can claim they feel strongly that they are “one with the universe” or something of that nature, we’ve no reason to assume that one can have a meaningful personal experience of any sort. It’s ad-hoc. This leaves monotheism, classically understood to be the “Abrahamic religions”–Christianity,11Judaism, and Islam. Islam won’t cut the cake because Allah is considered to be so far above man that we could not even describe him–suggesting that he is not a personal god, after all. Plus, the Quran is logically contradictory when it affirms the Books of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Gospel of Jesus as prior revelations from Allah, but then peddles contradictory information. Rabbinic Judaism suffers difficulty in light of passages rendered effectively meaningless without the New Covenant (i.e., Messianic prophecies such as Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, etc.). Although they have methods of explaining these away, they are hardly coherent and desperately ad-hoc. Furthermore, we are still talking about the same God. This is a God who claims to be personal. Still, on strict monotheism–one which would not allow for the Trinity such as Judaism–how could this God be personal? It seems like that a self-existing God, in order to be personal, would need to be in a relationship. This is precisely what the Trinity–and Christianity–offers! God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit have enjoyed an eternal, self-existing, co-existing relationship; when the Bible says God is love, then, this makes sense, because each Divine Person of Trinity has been in an eternal, loving relationship with the other. Furthermore, what more justification does one need for a “personal” God than for God Himself to have taken on “the form of a servant….made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7)? God became a person! To be clear, then: when a Christian says she affirms the truth of the Christian story, she is not referring to: a religious “experience,” a feeling, a wild guess, hopeful reflection, universal synthesis, religious “hallucinations,” heightened senses, a sense of guilt,12etc. No; the person who affirms the truth of Christian story and has experienced genuine conversion simply “knows”–it “seems right,” and it is “obviously true.” Despite my love and passion for the evidence for Christianity, I must admit that probably 98% (or more) of the believers I know have never considered an evidential case for Christianity of any kind. They, as do I, merely claim to know God in the same way those in the Bible knew Him–they have a personal sense of His presence, can usually remember a specific time and place when the Holy Spirit entered into their lives, are keenly aware of His personal working in their lives, and are convinced–apart from argument–that the Christian story is true. This is why Christian converts, regardless of race, status, background, physical location, etc. report the very same kind of “knowledge” about God. This knowledge is acquired instantaneously; one will not need to study the Bible to know they have received salvation, they just “know.” So while intrigued neuroscientists may be able to manufacture an artificial feeling of elation, gratefulness, etc. in a person and call it a religious experience, they simply cannot manufacture Christian belief–the kind of belief which requires the sense of divinity, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and genuine faith in God–to produce the “knowledge of the holy” (Proverbs 9:10). 1 John 5 makes this tremendously clear: “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son” (v. 10). The verse above teaches that a person knows by way of the “witness in himself,” and the “record that God gave of His Son.” You see, while Christian belief is wholly justified apart from evidence–it’s a worldview full of evidential support and falsifiable claims! John seals the deal when he says, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). The Bible says, “…without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is…” (Hebrews 11:6). When you truly believe that God “is,” the Holy Spirit begins His work, you place faith in Him for salvation (thereby “awakening” your sensus divinitatis), which produces true, genuine, warranted Christian belief–the kind not detectable by medical equipment, and the kind not offered by any religious deity except the God of the Bible.
2. The Conversion is Permanent
The personal call to salvation seems to be a clear differentiator from mere “religious experience,” which seems to be the best any other religious worldview can offer. But, perhaps there is yet another marker which makes Christian belief distinct. This line of reasoning may be controversial for some Christians, but the overwhelming majority of Christians I know and have interfaced with affirm the doctrine of eternal security; that is, “once saved, always saved!” I’ll not take the time in this post to deal with the blatant misconstruction of this doctrine which often lies behind the motive for rejecting it, but assuming that eternal security is true and biblically sound, this has massive implications on the nature of salvation. In the Bible, salvation is not described as “turning over a new leaf,” becoming a more moral person, caring for the animals, working at the soup kitchen, working to please God, etc. While all of these things are honorable, they hardly require Christian salvation. I’ll quote Ravi Zacharias again: “Jesus Christ did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive.” Again, we are not talking a mere revision of moral character here–at all. We are talking about the supernatural rebirth of a person. Paul said it like this, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In John Chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, a noted religious leader of his day, that “religion” wouldn’t cut it–he was going to have to be “born again.” Nicodemus asked the right question in response: “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”13 Jesus stood firm–“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”14 This passage suggests something radical. When a person becomes a Christian, he literally–not figuratively–becomes a new person. Prior to exercising saving faith he was spiritually dead. After, he is spiritually alive. This may not be a good argument to persuade one to be a Christian–in fact, it’s not intended to be; however, the Christian can know within himself what this is like. You don’t become a new person and simply feel some ethereal call to moral and social reform. Again–such virtues are not products of the Christian worldview alone. My pastor often says that “religion may keep you out of jail, but only Jesus can keep you out of hell.” It is this “newness of life” (Romans 6:4) which allows us to take part in the final resurrection–and, ultimately, to have “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Knowing vs. Believing
Earlier, we learned that the justification for knowledge–“warrant”–can be described as “justified true belief.” So before moving on, we should ask ourselves a very practical question with respect to “knowledge” and religious claims/experiences. It’s been rightly said there are only two religions in the world–“Cain and Abel”–i.e., “Works and Grace.” This is no secret at all. Every world religion has man working his way to God (or, “god”)–even Judaism–except one: Christianity. On the Christian story, man gives not his life for God. Rather, God gives His life for man–to bring it home–He gave His life for mine. Here’s the question: How can a person claim to know their god is true, if they don’t even know if they are going to “heaven?” The best any religion can offer is “I hope I make it.” But on Christianity, in virtue of becoming a brand new person, we can know we are going, and thus, know that God exists and that heaven is a real place where we’ll dwell with Him for eternity. Now; this distinction does not necessarily prove Christianity to be true. But it does seems to suggest that while the Christian can be justified in making a knowledge claim, adherents to, well, any other religious worldview or system of thought simply can’t. I thereby conclude that the very eternal and transformative nature of Christian salvation in itself is what makes Christian belief rationally justified in the first place.
3. The Command is Perspicuous
Finally, we come to an interesting issue–that of proselytizing.15 Although the act of proselytizing is not usually brought up as an “apologetic” for a worldview, I actually think it will be helpful to underscore the authenticity of Christian belief. In fact, very few religious systems command, endorse, or encourage proselytizing at all. The Christian16system is really alone in this regard, except for the Bahá’í Faith. The Bahá’í Faith, however, is considered a form of universalism, which cannot be true because it ultimately falls subject to the law of non-contradiction. Above, we narrowed the available options for legitimate, personal religious experiences to the “Abrahamic” traditions–but neither Islam or Judaism fit the bill. This conclusion holds in light of the fact that neither actively engage in proselytizing, at least, not in virtue of any mandate or personal compulsion to do so. On Christianity, however, the command is perspicuous–or, clear. Not only are we given mandate to share our convictions with others in hopes to persuade them to believe in God and trust Christ for their salvation, but a genuine Christian will feel a compulsion to do so simply in virtue of having received a new nature! Consider Jesus’ admonition to His disciples: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Although this is speaking contextually to the disciples about a specific event, the application for all believers is hardly missed by most preachers and theologians: “Jerusalem” speaks of being a witness in your hometown, “Judaea and Samaria” speaks of witnessing in your surrounding areas, and the “uttermost part of the earth” speaks of domestic and foreign missions work. Further, Jesus famously and unambiguously commissions all believers to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). How is this accomplished? Paul answers with a rhetorical question: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). In fact, in virtue of the undeniable change that will take place when an unbeliever “passes from death unto life,” we are admonished to live such a life that others will ask for “a reason of the hope that is in you,” and we should “be ready always to give an answer to every man…with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). But, why? Why proselytize? I suppose that, if your religious system is just another on the “buffet,” or if there is not good reason to believe your worldview is true, or if you think your worldview might be true but it’s quite possible that it isn’t, I can see no reason at all to do such a thing. If there are no real consequences for believing contrary to your view, then there seems to be no reason at all to waste time converting others to your faith. If, however, there is good reason to believe you have the Truth, if you have a natural compulsion to share with others because you legitimately know something (or Someone) that they don’t, and if you have good reason to believe there are dire, eternal consequences for not accepting the Truth, then there is every reason to proselytize! Well-known atheist celebrity, Penn Teller, even commented on this once: “I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? “I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.” Why, then, despite its social qualms and the general disdain among those who aren’t so open to being witnessed to, do Christians go out of their way to do this? I submit to you that it’s because they know they have the truth, and have not merely a command, but a natural, inescapable compulsion to tell others. The Apostle Paul said “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” No reason to be ashamed about knowing the Truth! And while you may remain unconvinced, it seems awfully coincidental that the only world religion which maintains good reason and a solid foundation for personal spiritual revelation is also essentially the only one that seeks to actively bring others to the acknowledgment of this truth–and to do so because the alternative is eternal separation from God in a real place called hell.
In summary, I have argued that Christian belief is rational and justified (warranted) according to Plantinga’s “Extended A/C Model,” and that Christianity is the only world religion whose fundamental tenants warrant and provide foundation for true, personal revelation. I have argued that this warrant actually follows from the nature of salvation itself–namely, that it is the complete rebirth of a person, and manifests internal knowledge of an eternal existence with God–the Creator of the universe and the Savior of fallen mankind. Finally, I’ve argued that such a firm and justified conviction would be the only form of religious faith which naturally led to the intrinsic compulsion to proselytize and convince others of the truth of the Christian worldview. And, incidentally, this is in fact true of converts to Christianity. I therefore conclude that yes–the Christian salvation is experience is unique in what those who have experienced it are justified in knowing to be true, that it is unique in virtue of its very nature, and that it is unique with respect to the command and compulsion to share it with others in hopes they too will become followers of Christ. — Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!
- Scientists are able to produce “religious experiences” by altering the brain of test subjects using special medications and techniques. However, there is not a shred of evidence linking these fabricated “religious experiences” to Christian belief in God, as we will see.
- This is the famous “trilemma” as proposed by C.S. Lewis.
- It’s worth noting that the only reason we are making these assumptions is for arguments’ sake. In other words, I stand by the conclusions reached in this post despite the fact that many who read will still disagree. It’s my position–as will be argued within–that, in fact, no mere “argument” for the existence of God, etc., is sufficient to producing saving faith. Making these assumptions from the outset will simply invite the unbeliever to not rely on these arguments as a fallback and to hopefully avoid being distracted by them.
- “Warrant,” in philosophical terms, may be defined as “justified true belief.” It is that which you are justified in believing to be true.
- The talk he gave, in case your wondering, was on his famous “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.”
- The A/C stands for “Aquinas/Calvin,” as the model combines elements of thought from both Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin–noted theologians of days gone by.
- Plantinga writes, “The purpose of the sensus divinitatis is to enable us to have true beliefs about God; and when it functions properly, it ordinarily does produce true beliefs about God. These beliefs therefore can meet the conditions for warrant; when they do, if they are strong enough, then they constitute knowledge.”
- “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…”
- It should not be lost on you that, as in the study mentioned above, evolutionary scientists and psychologists typically use Darwinian evolution as a post-hoc explanation for this. Granted, it *could* be one small part of an evolutionary story related to the survival of our species, etc. But what makes that explanation more compelling than the biblical view? The observable science doesn’t undermine the biblical view at all–it confirms its predictions!
- Or, is *in* everything, in the case of panentheism.”
- I make no provision here for aberrant traditions such as Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for reasons which the linked articles should make clear.
- In the sense that, the only way to please the “god” in question is by doing good works.
- I say this was the “right” question because it draws a clear analogy. Being saved is literally like being born for a second time–but this time, of the Spirit. Therefore, just as you cannot be “unborn” physically, neither can you be unborn spiritually.
- As an aside, this is another reason to affirm the teaching that God is “personal.” Just as one is born into the world as a person through his mother, so is he “born” into the world as a “new creature” through the Holy Spirit.”
- Proselytizing is the act of sharing your religious convictions with others in an attempt to convert them to your worldview. Personal evangelism and witnessing, for example, are synonymous terms.
- Including, in this case, aberrant traditions such as Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.