I’m big on the Bible. If you’ve listened to these podcasts or read my blogs you know that by now. I’m constantly memorizing and quoting Scripture. Yet you might be surprised, though, to hear that I also listen to and read from sources outside of my conservative Christian circle – even sources antagonistic to my faith. I find this helpful in a number of ways. This leads to our first question:
How can it be helpful to interact with sources outside of Christian circles?
1. It’s helpful to interact with outside sources in order to properly understand them
It’s one thing to learn about atheism by reading a description of it in a Christian book, it’s another to actually hear an atheist or a person from another religion tell of their beliefs in their own words. It’s all too easy, in our descriptions to make another view look sillier or weaker than it really is. This is called, in logic, the “straw man” fallacy. Have we given them a fair hearing? This allows us an accurate, fair understanding of their beliefs. By the way, often the tough questions they ask about our faith are fair questions. Even we believers have wrestled with them.
2. It’s helpful to interact with outside sources in order to show respect to those who hold these views
One of the common criticisms of Christianity is that we don’t listen very well to those with other beliefs. We think that we already know what they believe or that, in a sense, it doesn’t matter, since we already have the right answers. But by carefully listening, we show them respect; revealing that we take their views seriously and want to fairly understand them. This, in turn, helps us to build trust. They can see that our dialogue is truly a two-way street and not just a set up for our spiel. This leads to the next point:
3. It’s helpful to interact with outside sources because our willingness to learn from them sometimes opens their hearts to learn from us
If I’m willing to listen to you and to learn from you, then you’re more likely to be willing to do the same toward me. Instead of me being “one up”, being the “wise one”, we become partners in the search for truth. That feels better to most people.
4. It’s helpful to interact with outside sources in order to learn from them
Yes, you heard me right. I said, “in order to learn from them”. Christianity does not have a corner on the truth. Every person is made is God’s image with God’s law written on their heart. Furthermore, every person is given a mind to think and to discover. The Bible, while it is our benchmark of truth, does not claim to be comprehensive in its teachings. For instance, it tells me in my anger not to sin, but books on anger management may give me more specific tips on how to do that. Furthermore, others have had life experiences which we have not had, and gained wisdom from these experiences which may be useful to us. To quote the title of this piece, borrowed from Arthur Holmes, “all truth is God’s truth”.
5. It’s helpful to interact with outside sources because it helps me not to be afraid of them
I’ll be frank here, when someone challenged me to read Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, I had to force myself to do it. Dr. Dawkins is a harsh critic of religion in general, and of Christianity in particular. He’s also clever in his use of words. I felt insecure about what I might hear; nervous that his criticisms would overwhelm my Christian apologetics. And, on the one hand, the book was painful. Dawkins is good at going for every Christian soft-spot he can find and loves to ridicule. On the other hand, it forced me to better think my own faith through. I discovered that Dawkins’ arguments, when carefully examined, aren’t particularly convincing once one gets past his clever sound-bite sophistry. Even some of his fellow-atheists aren’t impressed with all his rhetoric. We believers don’t have slam-dunk replies to every legitimate criticism, but we have reasonably good answers to most of them, good enough, anyway to keep me solid in my faith. When we’ve really listened to outside beliefs, and done our homework, we’re more secure in our faith and more relaxed in our interactions with those who question them.
At this point, some of you may be questioning the wisdom of interacting with “the world”, whether through books or in direct dialogue. Isn’t it potentially dangerous? It is. Consider how many go to college only to abandon the beliefs they grew up with. Nor do we have to go to college to get our faith shipwrecked – Christianity has critics everywhere. Here are some potential safeguards as we interact with the unbelieving world.
Safeguard #1: I enter the dialogue with a solid, close relationship with Christ
Ultimately, it’s not logic or education which will keep us strong in our faith. The foundation of our faith is a living relationship with Christ. The Holy Spirit, living in us, strengthens our faith, sharpens our minds, empowers us and protects us. Without Him, we’re at a severe disadvantage as we interact with our world. Which leads to the second thing to remember:
Safeguard #2: I keep in mind that I’m living in a spiritual battle zone
This is not just some neutral discussion about philosophical preferences. If Scripture is true, there really is a God and a Devil, a Heaven and a Hell. While we can learn God’s truth from many sources, and while we’re called to show love and respect to everyone, nevertheless, those who would lead us away from God are still on the wrong side. Jesus said, “You are either for me or against me”(Matt. 12:30). The Bible describes this world as being in a spiritual battle against God (Rom. 8:7). And the stakes are high. Keep your spiritual armor on.
Safeguard #3: I ground myself in the Word of God
Paul calls the Bible “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). If we’re to successfully interact with our world, it really helps to pack our mind with God’s truth. It’s not only light for our souls, it’s also packed with spiritual power.
Safeguard #4: I do my homework
Now, we’re not all gifted philosophers, but we can all take the time to do our homework; to think through our faith, instead of just taking it at face value. Through Scripture, and with the help of other gifted thinkers, we can arm ourselves with a solid rational understanding of various faith questions and problems so that when we encounter the tough questions we’re somewhat prepared and not easily blown over.
Safeguard #5: I know my limits
The more we grow in Christ, spiritually and intellectually, the more challenging dialogues we can handle. I wouldn’t encourage a new Christian to spend overmuch time dealing with tough skeptical issues and opponents. Get grounded first. Even for the experienced believer, it’s good to major on faith-building sources and choose carefully what outside interactions you can handle. We all have different limitations. What’s too much for me may be just fine for you.