As a young Christian, I struggled to reconcile the fact that I was a thinker with what I seemed to hear from my church: “just believe and don’t ask awkward questions”. It wasn’t actually until I met atheists and Muslims, who raised really challenging objections to my faith, that I was finally forced to think through my faith in Jesus.
I’m not alone in this. Last year, I spoke at the University of Aberdeen on the historical evidence for the resurrection. Afterwards, a student came and shared his story: he had been a Christian in his teens, but had abandoned it at 15, and become an atheist. But then he looked me in the eye and asked: “Why did nobody tell me there were reasons that Christianity was true? You’ve just given a lecture packed with evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and it’s very compelling. I think I’ve made a horrible mistake in giving up Christianity too quickly: what should I do?” I assured him that Jesus is very much in the business of dealing with our mistakes and encouraged him to sign up for the Alpha Course.
I think it surprises many people to learn that the Christian faith is something for which reasons can be given.
In 1 Peter 3:15, Christians are told “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have”. I think it surprises many people to learn that the Christian faith is something for which reasons can be given. As we think about evangelism, about sharing the message of Jesus with our friends and colleagues, it’s worth reminding ourselves that good evangelism should be persuasive: let’s not just tell people about our hope in Christ and the profound difference it makes, let’s explain that there are good reasons to believe.
For example, there are philosophical reasons: such as the rather obvious fact that there is something rather than nothing is a powerful argument for the existence of God.
Then there are scientific reasons: for example, the intricate fine-tuning and balancing of many of the numbers plugged into the laws of physics is evidence for a designer. As the atheist cosmologist Fred Hoyle remarked: “[It appears] a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature”.
The intricate fine-tuning and balancing of many of the numbers plugged into the laws of physics is evidence for a designer.
There are moral reasons: the fact that “good” and “evil” seem to be real, objective categories, more than just personal preference, points to a moral lawgiver.
There are anthropological reasons: if we believe in human value and dignity (necessary for human rights) or consciousness and mind (necessary for reason itself), this points powerfully toward the idea that humans are divine image bearers.
There are existential reasons: our deep concern with things like meaning, significance, and beauty.
Look back through two thousand years of Christian history and you discover that it is overflowing with men and women who thought hard about their faith
And finally there are historical reasons: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the evidence that Peter points to in his sermon in Acts 2, or that Paul so powerfully says underpins all Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15).
Look back through two thousand years of Christian history and you discover that it is overflowing with men and women who thought hard about their faith, who weren’t content to simply hang their brains up at the door. People who took seriously the words of Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and mind” (Mark 12:30).
When I meet somebody with an intellectual objection or question about the Christian faith, I take their question very seriously; I often begin helping them explore it by asking questions:
- “That’s a great question, why do you ask it?”
- “What’s your evidence for your claim?”
- “If I answered this question, would you put your trust in Christ? (And if not, what’s the question or issue that prevents you?)”
Perhaps you could ask these questions too, and then, having explored the question with your friend, answer it (or research the answer for them). Your answer alone won’t lead to them faith, but it may help them along the way by removing stumbling blocks that keep them from seeing Jesus clearly. As C. S. Lewis’s friend, Austin Farrer, once remarked: “rational arguments do not create belief, but they do create a climate in which belief may flourish”.
Christianity doesn’t merely encourage the life of the mind, it goes much deeper than that.
As I look back on over 30 years of following Jesus, I’m excited that Christianity and the life of the mind belong together. As a philosopher, as a computer scientist, as somebody who is wired to think, I feel incredibly at home in Christianity because reasons are part of its very fabric. But not reasons purely for reasons sake: Christianity doesn’t merely encourage the life of mind, it goes much deeper than that. In Jesus Christ and the gospel, we aren’t just offered powerful answers to life’s deepest and most challenging questions, but we also have the opportunity to encounter and enter into relationship with the very one who created mind, thought, and reason in the first place.
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