By Joel A. Hess –
A couple of weeks ago, I had a fantastic conversation with one my faithful members at Emmanuel. He had something to say to me. As St. Paul makes clear to Timothy, I needed to listen and respect my elder. Quite frankly, my stubborn pastor heart has been #blessed frequently by the words of my mothers and fathers in Christ. I love it.
For some time, he had perceived that I taught that one had to have evidence of God’s claims in Scripture in order to believe. As he said quite eloquently, “God says it, I believe it!” How happy I am to hear God’s children speak like that!
Our church has begun a “Proclaiming Truth In Love” speakers series. Many others and I at Emmanuel believe that the current intellectual climate in America is militantly destroying the connection between the faith and reason. Specifically, our culture wants to separate the claims of scripture from physical evidence. Therefore, I often make it clear in sermons and Bible studies that there is far more evidence that Scripture speaks about tangible realities than not. In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul himself uses reason and evidence to convince his readers that Jesus resurrection REALLY happened, so theirs will too. John begins his 1st letter telling us that he and others saw, touched, and heard the Word made flesh. And Peter tells us that Christianity is not the result of well-constructed myths in his second letter.
Our past speaker explored the historical claims of Genesis and demonstrated that there is plenty of evidence that what Moses said happened actually happened. This Genesis apologetic stuff upsets my believing friend because it sounds to him like people NEED proof or they won’t believe. I appreciate His concern. It is, after all, the Holy Spirit that creates faith.
He may be confusing the use of the word faith in Scripture. The faith referred to in Scripture is not about whether or not Jesus lived, died, and rose. Faith refers to believing that Jesus lived, died, and rose FOR ME. Faith is trusting in the promises of the One who really lived, died, and rose, let alone made the heavens and the earth. For sure, this faith is given to us by the Holy Spirit and not by our mental investigations. I am sure there are plenty of people in Scripture who witnessed an extraordinary event right in front of their eyes but did not believe. I would suggest that some of the leaders of Israel believed Jesus was the Son of God but did not believe He was their savior. Sin makes stupid, after all. It takes more than evidence to rise from the deadness of our sins! Also, a Christian can trust in Jesus and yet deny God made the world in 6 days. As our latest speaker, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati praised God saying, “Illogic is not the unforgivable sin.”
Yet, our faith is founded upon a concrete reality. That is the wonder of Christianity against all other religions. It is about a God who does things in time and space—in history. It is about a God who can be touched and heard! As Paul said at the end of his rant in 1 Corinthians, if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain! Paul desperately wants His readers to look at the evidence and listen to his words.
Often times, we blame those liberal European theologians for separating physical reality from Christianity. Schleiermacher, Bultmann, et al did mental gymnastics, spilled huge amounts of ink in order to close up the womb, shut the tomb, and put God way back up there where he belongs. Yet, conservative Evangelicals may have done just as much damage by focusing on the spiritual while against the concrete. They make the mistake of thinking the word spiritual is tantamount to feelings and not reality! They have done their damage by getting God out of the waters of the font and the bread and wine of the table. He can’t fit in there, they say! He’s bigger than that! So just as Eve ate the fruit by rejecting God’s promise, they take the fruit away from His people today.
Yet, that is the gospel! God, who is bigger than that, fit into the womb of a poor peasant girl, fit into the tomb of you and me, and fit upon the cross and spilled real blood and water that even touches our bodies, hearts, and minds today and makes them holy.
Our children are more than ever being indoctrinated to reject the historical claims of Scripture without any evidence or reasoning behind it. They are being convinced by people whom Nietzsche mocked that they can have God and lose His concrete claims. By not counteracting that, we allow the snake to get its head in. And as Luther said, “Once the head appears, the whole body will follow.”
May the Good Shepherd smack him with His rod through the preaching of God’s Word.
Lord, have mercy.