Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Reformation Day

On Oct. 31, 1517 Martin Luther (reportedly) nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany thus sparking the Protestant Reformation.

The immediate problem Luther was dealing with was the selling of indulgences to pardon sins and free souls from purgatory. This was an offense to the real good news that we are saved by grace through faith!

A few years after posting the 95 Theses Luther would write Concerning Christian Liberty describing the inner and outer man, and the relationship between faith and works. In this work he gives the following illustration:
To make what we have said more easily understood, let us set it forth under a figure. The works of a Christian man, who is justified and saved by his faith out of the pure and unbought mercy of God, ought to be regarded in the same light as would have been those of Adam and Eve in paradise and of all their posterity if they had not sinned. Of them it is said, "The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" (Gen. ii. 15). Now Adam had been created by God just and righteous, so that he could not have needed to be justified and made righteous by keeping the garden and working in it; but, that he might not be unemployed, God gave him the business of keeping and cultivating paradise. These would have indeed been works of perfect freedom, being done for no object but that of pleasing God, and not in order to obtain justification, which he already had to the full, and which would have been innate in us all.

So it is with the works of a believer. Being by his faith replaced afresh in paradise and created anew, he does not need works for his justification, but that he may not be idle, but may exercise his own body and preserve it. His works are to be done freely, with the sole object of pleasing God. Only we are not yet fully created anew in perfect faith and love; these require to be increased, not, however, through works, but through themselves.
Let's remember the courage of Martin Luther and other reformers who took a strong stand for Jesus making sure that the truth of the Gospel was clearly taught at a time when it was dangerous to do so.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Examining The Outsider's Test of Faith

I stumbled on a blog Debunking Christianity that is written by John Loftus a former preacher turned atheist.

One of his recent entries talked about "witnessing to believers" using a technique called the Outsider's Test Of Faith. Interested in what the technique was I read on. I was unsure what this test was but was easily able to find the following definition on the blog in another post:
Earlier I proposed something I called The Outsider Test for your faith, where I wrote: If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact. Dare you deny it? Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism. Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating. If your faith stands up under muster, then you can have your faith. If not, abandon it. For any God who requires you to believe correctly when we have this extremely strong tendency to believe what we were born into, surely should make the correct faith pass the outsider test. If your faith cannot do this, then the God of your faith is not worthy of being worshipped.(emphasis in original)
I understand his point about where people are born having a huge impact on whether a person hears the good news about Jesus or not, though I will not focus on that part of the test. I think the main crux - what the author is aiming at (correct me if I am missing it) can be summed up using his own words (emphasis removed):
Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating. If your faith stands up under muster, then you can have your faith. If not, abandon it.
In another entry also defining the test he defines the outsider as a
mere seeker who has no prior presuppositions about any faith, or no faith at all
I can't say that by this definition anyone is a true outsider. We all certainly have our presuppositions whether we have faith in Jesus or faith in something else like reincarnation, the absence of supernatural activity, or Darwinian evolution.

He goes on to ask the question:
So what's the problem here? Why aren't Christians posting by the droves and saying, "Fine, I have no problem with The Outsider Test?” Why not?
It is the test and the supposed problem with the test that I want to comment on. As a Christian I don't have a problem with the test, ie) evaluating your faith against facts.

When ever I (or anyone else) attempts to witness we are asking someone to essentially take this very test. We are trying to help someone abandon their current position (what would be the insider's view) and accept another position - likely the one we hold (the outsider's view) by considering the facts we present. In such a conversation the person we are talking to is likely doing the same thing, trying to get us to consider their position. We then need to have an open dialogue about our current faith and beliefs (assuming an atheist would accept the terms faith and belief as describing their views), which would require both people to be able to discuss facts and difficulties regarding their positions.

As Christians are we afraid to take the same test we ask others to take? I certainly hope not. The Bible actually commends our checking out the facts before making a decision.

By way of example consider the apostle Paul, a Jew turned Christian, who went to various countries to share the good news with Gentiles. The Gentiles - typically polytheists living outside of Palestine - would be taking the outsider's test and determining if what Paul was telling them "passed muster". Emulating Paul, Christian missionaries do this all the time when they travel to distant lands today - to make sure that those living in say Saudia Arabia for example have a chance to hear.

Paul in defending the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 says if
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless
He appeals to the prophetic nature of Scriptures, living witnesses, and his testimony as proofs of his claim and therefore encourages the readers to examine the claim he is making regarding the resurrection of Christ and the dead.

In Acts 17, the Bereans are commended as being noble-minded for examining the things Paul taught. One note of interest is that they were eager to accept the truths, but still checked them out to make sure that it was truth.
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
Of course John (1 John 4:1) and Moses (Deuteronomy 13, 18) tell us to be wary of false prophets and to test them.

Certainly examining the basis of our faith is something we should not be afraid of. However we must remember that most things can not be proven to 100% iron-clad guarantee. One must examine the facts and work on coming to a reasonable conclusion that is beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the case for examining the resurrection as much as for evolution.