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.

No comments: