Reason to Prefer

Being a great shopper and having a love for cars, Samuel, our 16-year-old son, was asked to help my husband decide on our most recent car purchase. Samuel was attracted to a 6-speed sports car, but also showed my husband a Nissan Altima. It wasn’t enough to discuss the qualities of the two automobiles. In order to make a purchase, they had to come up with a reason to prefer one over the other.

In apologetics we often compare the Christian worldview with non-Christian worldviews. This is good. But we must be ready to go one step further.

 

If we are to actually “defend” the faith, we must not end with a comparison. We must actually establish a “reason to prefer” the Christian view. And I don’t mean this as a personal taste sort of preference, like the way in which we prefer science fiction over fantasy. I mean that the reason to prefer one view over the other is because we are demonstrating the TRUTH of Christianity.

Now before I give examples, let me say what I’m NOT saying.

1. I am not saying that we must give a reason to prefer in every conversation we have with a non-believing friend or acquaintance. Note that I said we must be READY to go one step further. We must know that the timing of what we say should be a matter of much prayer and great sensitivity. We may get to know someone for months, having deep discussions and sharing our beliefs with each other over dozens of dinners, before the time is right to give a reason to prefer Christianity.

2. Human beings are created in the image of God, and their thoughts are therefore to be valued. What I mean by this is that we must respect another person’s thinking, even if it is flawed. We have to remember that they are a person, not a logical construct. Therefore, we want to be very careful to not just try to win the argument, or we might risk losing the person. We want to understand the logic and reason of their position, in order to talk to them about it. But we want to be very respectful of them as an image-bearer of God. We can truly harm someone by being arrogant, harsh or uncaring in our attempt to win an argument. As James Sire says, “…we should not only learn the best arguments for the faith; we should also learn how to present these in the most persuasive way.”

So with the understanding that we will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading as to when and how we ought to defend the faith by giving someone a reason to prefer the Christian faith over their position, let us look at some examples.  Note that these are only examples ~ possibilities of a way to show a preference.  There are surely more ways than I have time to address here. But I want to make sure that you know that apologetics is more than a comparative study of different beliefs. We want to do more than compare. We want to defend the truth by showing that it is preferable for some reason ~ and hence true.

1. Fits the facts ~

The Christian position is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This was a literal resurrection in real space and time. The non-Christian position is that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Some say he only swooned, but never actually died. Some say His body was stolen.

We can set the Christian and the non-Christian views side by side. We can show exactly where they differ. But how can we say which view is true? Why should we prefer the Christian view?

William Lane Craig establishes four facts that are accepted by even non-Christian historians:

1. Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arithamea.

2.  The tomb was found empty on the Sunday after Jesus was buried.

3. Jesus appeared in his body multiple times after His crucifixion.

4. The disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Lane’s approach is to ask what explanation fits these truths best. His answer is that the resurrection of Christ is the best explanation of these four historical facts.  Therefore, the resurrection is true.

So we are saying that because it FITS THE FACTS, it is true.

2. Squares with reality ~

Let’s say you are having a discussion with a Buddhist friend. He says that all is ONE, and ONE is all. He says that reality rightly understood is complete unity, and that all individuality is just an illusion. You say that the Christian position is that God exists as a Trinity ~ three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) united in one Godhead. In the Trinity, three-ness and one-ness are in perfect balance with each other. God, being ultimate reality in the Christian view, determines the nature of all reality. We do not value unity, as the Buddhist friend does, over diversity. Unity and diversity are in perfect balance with one another in our world, just as they are within the Godhead.

So those are the two positions. But so far, we only have a contradiction. Both views of reality cannot at the same time be true. What reason do we have to believe that the Christian view is true? In order to answer this question, we might show how a Trinitarian view squares, or fits, with reality better than the Buddhist view of ultimate unity.

“Squares with reality” is very similar to the “Fits the facts” category, except that we are not setting forth particular, historical facts, but rather the WAY in which we understand and experience reality.  C.S. Lewis says it this way: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Francis Schaeffer use to say that only Christianity makes a full circle, by which he meant that the Christian worldview is the only one that can actually explain all of reality that we live.

The particular aspect of reality that you choose to use for discussion here will be determined by the situation and the person. You want to pick something that is clear in the experience of your particular Buddhist friend.

Let’s say that as you have gotten to know your friend, you have discovered that he is an artist. He is a Buddhist, but he is also a landscape painter. Now painting is a very “human” thing to do, because it is a form of communication; the artist is “saying” something with his painting. He is painting his perceptions to be viewed by “others.”  We communicate in this way because we are made in the image of God, and He is a communicator. But the idea of communication does not even logically exist in the view that all is ONE. In reality as your friend experiences painting, knowing that someone else will view his painting and either like it or not like it, understand it or not understand it. Still ~ there is that other person that is a part of his profession as an artist.

Because Christianity is Trinitarian, it better explains the world of the arts, where artists have perceptions, even universal truths, but they are able to communicate those truths through their work to other people. If all were ONE, and only ONE, then any form of communication in art is simply an illusion.

You might also talk to your Buddhist friend about relationship, love, or personality in this same way. This is not an iron clad logical argument. You are actually just appealing to the common grace that human beings have to know that some things are real.

(Note: My favorite example of “squares with reality” is John Cage, who wrote chance music, but was also a mushroom expert. His belief that all of life was chance did not square with the reality that you cannot eat mushrooms by chance. If you did, you could die!)

3. Impossibility of the contrary ~

In mathematics if we want to disprove proposition X, we show that assuming X leads to a logical contradiction.

Our claim that Christianity is true can be defended by showing the impossibility of the contrary. We are normally going to be doing this conversationally, with a real person that we care about over real issues that they care about. Sometimes we have to be kind enough to show someone that they are living in contradiction. We must do this with great care and respect.

Francis Schaeffer said that “Every man has built a roof over his head to shield himself at the point of tension…The Christian lovingly, must remove the shelter and allow the truth of the external world and of what man is to beat upon him. When the roof is off, each man must stand naked and wounded before the truth of what is…He must come to know that his roof is a false protection from the storm of what is.”

Of course in proving that a position is contradictory, you have not exactly proved Christianity is absolutely true. In order to make an airtight proof using the impossibility of the contrary, you would have to prove the impossibility (contradiction) of all other worldviews. So this is a limited type of proof, and it is not an airtight proof. It also assumes the law of non-contradiction. I have talked to some people who claim that they are not bothered by a contradiction in their thinking. This type of challenge is not a one-size-fits-all apologetics tool. But it can be super helpful, depending on the person and the situation.

C.S. Lewis puts it like this in his book Miracles: “You can argue with a man who says, ‘Rice is unwholesome’: but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, ‘Rice is unwholesome, but I’m not saying this is true.’ ”

Let’s say you have a friend who claims that morality is relative to the individual. She says that she does not want anyone telling her what is right or wrong in her own life. You might show her that this is a contradiction. The very fact that your friend is making a universal statement ~ that no one (applies to all people) should tell her what is right and wrong ~ is a contradiction. She doesn’t want to be told what is right or wrong in her life, but she is telling everyone else that it is WRONG for them to tell her what is right and wrong. So her basic principle is self-contradictory, and therefore not true.

We can defend Christianity in relation to another worldview by showing the contradiction in the other view. Christianity has to be open, of course, to this same type of challenge.

Greg Koukl has a great idea for broaching a contradiction in another person’s worldview. You start by saying, “Can you clear this up for me?” And then you show them where their thinking leads to contradiction or tension. Then you wait and let them clear it up.

I also want to restate very clearly that although I believe we ought to know clear, logical thinking in regard to truth, we have to be very, very wise in how we use this knowledge.

Last week I commented on the debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris. Craig presented good, logical arguments, but the way in which he presented them, in my opinion, was detached from the thinking of the audience. Harris actually used the 2nd way of comparison very well.  Here are some clips from their arguments:

CRAIG
By granting that it’s possible that the continuum of well-being is not identical to the moral, Dr. Harris’ view becomes logically incoherent.

Atheism is simply bereft of the adequate ontological foundations to establish a moral life.

HARRIS
Well that was all very interesting. Ask yourselves, what is wrong with spending eternity in hell?

Did you see what Harris did? He took all of Craig’s logical arguments leading up to the 2 conclusions I copied for you, and he dismissed them with 6 words. How could he do that? He could pull it off because Craig did not use his logical arguments in a wise way. And then Harris appealed to what the audience knows to be true ~ that there is something very horrible about spending eternity in hell. Harris challenges Craig’s view that people will go to hell because it does not seem to square with reality. It seems very wrong. I wish Craig had unpacked that statement, because in the Christian view, there is also something very wrong with spending eternity in hell. That is why God sent Christ to give us a way out of a situation that we caused by our own sin. But in creating man is His own image, God also created man with the dignity of choice. And so the spending of eternity in hell in the Christian’s view is also horrible, but the cause is not God, but the rejection of God’s provision for our dilemma.

You have probably noticed that there is some overlap in these three ways of comparing Christianity to other worldviews. And remember, I am using the word “preference” in the strong sense that we are claiming the truth of Christianity. I am also using this particular word, because it shows that a choice can be made between two worldviews based on the fact that one fits the facts and squares with reality, whereas non-Christian, non-True worldviews will always be found to be self-contradicting.

Samuel in the end recommended the Nissan Altima, because the people in our family wouldn’t fit in the sports car, it used too much gas, and it was not as good a value for the money. The choice was based on real reasons to prefer the Nissan over the sports car.

What other reasons can you come up with to defend the hope that is within you?

Note to NCFCA/Stoa competitors: I hope you are finding apologetics contexts as you deal with your apologetics questions. But I also challenge you to not stop there.  Go one step further and find a reason to prefer the Christian position.

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