As I noted in part I, saying that something doesn’t
make “sense” is not a technical term of argumentation. The dictionary says that
“doesn’t make sense” is an idiom which can be translated as being
incomprehensible or unreasonable. It is my contention that the only legitimate way
an argument doesn’t “make sense” is if the argument is internally inconsistent
or self-referentially absurd. In other words, when examining a belief for
incomprehensibility, the truth of the facts claimed is not the question. The
facts are accepted as true and the only question is whether the view point is
internally consistent (i.e., “makes sense”) if the facts upon which the
viewpoint depends are taken as true.
So, does Christianity “make sense”? To answer, I am going to be careful about what is meant by Christianity. After all, Christianity can be seen as a single basic belief, what C.S. Lewis termed “Mere Christianity,” with a number of variations on the basic teaching where the Bible is either unclear or does not give an answer. These differing beliefs play out as various denominations and movements within Christianity that certainly fall within the broad spectrum of Christianity but which the teachings of which are not necessarily the only Christian teaching. Allow me to offer two examples.
One major division within Christianity is between those that believe that God saves people on the basis of his sovereign decision without human participation (broadly labeled as “Calvinism”) and those that believe that accepting salvation is a choice that is left to the person without God dictating who will be saved and who will not be saved (largely labeled as “Arminianism”). Of course, that is not every view on salvation under the Christian umbrella, but most views represent variations on these two viewpoints with some emphasizing the sovereignty of God over the choice of man while the others do the opposite. A quick summary of the two viewpoints can be found here. A nice little article which lists Bible verses related to the topic and how each of the two camps interpret them can be found here.
Now, I am certain that some Christians will call me a heretic for what I am going to say next, but I don’t believe that a person has to hold either view to be a Christian. Contrary to the viewpoint of virtually all atheists and even some Christians, God does not give you a pop quiz when you die nor will God be asking “Did you have the correct theology on the question of Calvinism v. Arminianism?” So, while this is an interesting and important theological discussion which it is worthwhile to think about, and while certain concepts within both views are very Biblical, a single, particular viewpoint about how God chooses who to save is not a teaching that is important to “Mere Christianity.”
A second example is the question of baptism. This is an issue that involves a lot of disputes within the Christian church. Some believe that the only way to baptize is to have that baptism as an adult when the individual makes a declaration that he is ready to accept and follow the Gospel. For some of the more extreme, this is a matter of salvation – failure to be baptized when that decision is made means that the person is not going to receive salvation. Others, such as myself, believe that a baptism is a Christian act, but infant baptism is every bit as legitimate and Biblical as adult baptism. I know that some of the Baptist brethren will disagree with this next statement, but the Bible can be fairly interpreted both ways. A particular means or timing for the sacrament of baptism is not a required element of basic Christianity.
In both of these examples, I would argue that while a particular viewpoint of how it is accomplished is not essential to the Christian faith, the base teaching of both views are essential. Under basic Christian belief, one must believe that God does offer salvation to humanity and has done so through his Son. Is it totally God’s work or does man have a role? That’s an interesting question, but one that does not require an answer. Under basic Christian belief, God commands that those who follow Him be baptized. Does it have to be at the time that a person reaches an “age of consent” or can the baptism that an infant receives be effective when that person later accepts the faith? Again, that’s an interesting question, but not one that needs to be answered to be a Christian.
So, how can I summarize the basic Christian teachings in a way that is sensible to skeptics and people who are really willing to give a fair hearing to Christianity while remaining faithful to what can be called basic Christian teachings? I have concluded that it is impossible to summarize to everyone’s satisfaction what the Christian faith teaches with respect to its base claims. Still, I think that I can make the following case, satisfy most Christians who are not hard-liners on some of these positions, and demonstrate that Christianity does “make sense.” By the way, I am not attempting to prove these points in this post. I am merely making the points with which I believe that virtually all Christians would agree.
- There’s something wrong with humanity. A person might mistakenly believe that he/she is somehow a really good person, but he/she cannot believe that the entire world is good without ignoring the news and the world as it exists. Every day there are murders, thefts, wars, and all kinds of examples of people hurting each other in various and sundry ways. In the Christian faith, this is called “sin.” This is not a natural condition of humanity, but it is present state.
- If we suspect there’s something wrong with humanity, it is, at minimum, sensible to conclude that something is wrong. It isn’t just an illusion that people engage in all types of evil actions. These actions can be evil in and of themselves, or the actions can be evil because they are done from motives that we recognize as being evil. As an example of the latter, killing another person in-and-of-itself is not evil. If a person kills another person in self-defense of in defense of another helpless person, that is not considered evil - the latter may even be considered chivalrous. However, if plans the killing of another person out of hatred or for monetary gain, that is universally considered evil and the punishment that accompanies that killing is worse.
- It is further sensible to conclude that those things that people widely perceive as evil are actually evil in a real, substantive sense. Evil is not a function of what society thinks is wrong, but an actual wrong that transcends times and cultures. In other words, it is an objective evil. Further, evil is not a “thing” in and of itself. Rather, it is the absence of good. And while societies can differ on what they consider evil, many (in fact, most) societies seem to be of the same mind in much of what they consider to be good.
- If there is actual good and actual evil, there is something that transcends nature, and that thing is the existence of moral law. Thus, it is fair to conclude that any thought system that rejects the existence of a universal, transcendent, objective moral law is not consistent with the universe that people observe.
- The existence of moral law infers a power that determines or serves as the standard for the moral law, i.e., there should be a moral lawgiver. As stated on the website compellingtruth.org, “Without an unchanging, absolute authority that uses an unchanging, absolute standard, which is based on the right and unchanging truth, ethics simply becomes emotive and opinion.” A law implies a lawgiver, and an absolute moral law implies an absolute moral lawgiver.
- This moral lawgiver has the power to judge us for if we break the moral law. The appropriate judgment for violating the moral law is death. As the Bible states in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death….” In other words, the person who sins earns death in the sense that the sinner’s actions has placed him in rebellion to God. One can argue whether death is the appropriate, but most agree that the person who rebels against a benevolent government deserves extreme judgment. (In jurisdictions without the death penalty, the punishment for treason is usually life imprisonment – the most extreme punishment afforded in those locales.)
- In judging those who are in rebellion to his moral authority, the moral lawgiver (i.e., God) can choose to grant sinners judgment or mercy. If the moral lawgiver chooses to extend mercy, the moral lawgiver can put conditions upon the granting of mercy.
- The way in which the moral lawgiver has offered mercy is to offer himself, in the person of Jesus Christ (the second person of the Trinity), to suffer the judgment (pay the penalty) we have earned in our place by dying for the evil acts we have committed.
- Following his death, the Son then resurrected from the dead to demonstrate that He had overcome death.
- To benefit from this mercy that the moral lawgiver has shown us, He asks only one thing: recognition that He is who He is both in our beliefs and how we act, and recognition that it was through His son that we are freed from the death that we should have suffered except for the Son’s act.
- Those that reject the terms of the mercy will suffer eternally because they will be removed from the presence of God. (I know my co-blogger, Jason, won’t agree with this, but that’s the traditional teaching and I think it is accurate.)
Next post, I will share my responses to an atheist’s argument that Christianity doesn’t make sense.