Philip Clayton‘s book, The Predicament of Belief, is perhaps the most impacting book that I’ve ever read. It directly tackles every major objection I had (have?) to Christianity. And it does so in a way that isn’t vapid and apologetic; this book jumps directly into the most difficult criticisms Christianity has to face.
Clayton’s opening statement is this:
He then lists the top five reasons to doubt the Christian faith.
4. the state of the historical evidence for the Bible
5. the claim of the resurrection
It is not a long list, nor will you see any new or outrageous attack on Christianity. These topics have been fought over for years, with both sides having something to bring to the fight. Scientific claims and the state of the historical evidence for the Bible were two topics that knocked my faith down. Let’s see what Clayton has to say about each topic. I want to note that these are introductions to the topics, and we will be delving into each one at a deeper level in future posts.
As I stated in my first post, science and the fact of evolution dealt a death blow to my faith as a fundamentalist Christian. It took almost three years for me to find a symbiosis of faith and science.
For me, science answered the god-of-the-gaps problems I had encountered in fundamentalist Christianity. Whenever there was a gap in our current scientific knowledge, that is where I thought God could work As that gap in knowledge is getting smaller and smaller, so was my view of God.
This objection to the Christian faith is very strong and as Clayton points out, evokes a dramatic emotional response. He succinctly states:
If God is all good and purely benevolent, then why is there so many bad things happening? I could see “natural” evil as something that God could not be blamed for. “Natural” evil would include typhoons and earthquakes and disease, things that can occur naturally. We live in an open system and things like that just can happen. No one person or deity is to blame.
“Moral” evil, on the other hand, is severely different. The argument against God’s existence looks something like this:
(1) If God exists then he is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent.
(2) If God were omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent then the world would not contain moral evil.
(3) The world contains moral evil.
(4) It is not the case that God exists.
All you need to hear about is one child being raped and murder and your first response is GOD! WHERE WERE YOU! I think every human struggles with this question at some level.
3. Religious Plurality
If I am honest, the problem of religious plurality never even registered on my mind when I was a fundamentalist Christian. Simply stated, I was right in my belief system and everyone else was wrong. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Absolute truth claims leave little room with which to wiggle.
As the doubts about the truth of Christianity grew inside me, the above question was like a loud gong in my head. Cultural anthropology is an amazing field of science, and it teaches that we as individuals are shaped by our surrounding culture more than anything else in the world. If I had been born in India, I would be Hindu. If born in Syria, I’d be a Muslim. If you were born at any different place in the world and any place in time and you would be a completely different person with a completely different belief system.
The fact of religious diversity in the world begs another question. If there is an Ultimate Reality that is Personal in Nature, then why does that Being have a communication problem? The adherents of every other faith in the world believe THEIR revelation of Deity is the right one, and they believe it just as vehemently as any Christian. That is why atheism is so attractive to some people. Instead of trying to figure out which faith system is the correct one, it is easier to just throw them all out.
4. The State of Historical Evidence for the Biblical Record
This objection of Christianity hit very close to home with me. As a die hard believer, you know the Bible is God’s word and revelation. It is written over 1600 years and tells the same story with no contradiction. There are different genres of literature in the Bible to be sure, but it is God’s history of his relationship to us. It is literally HIS STORY.
But when you take a step back, and take a look at the Bible with The Outsider Test for Faith, things look dramatically different.
This applies to the Bible as you know it today. Clayton is not talking about the manuscript evidence and the differences contained in those thousands of manuscripts. You don’t even have to read the Gospels very carefully to see that they differ on key points of the story of Jesus.
The birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are so different as to contradict each other. Even the day of Jesus crucifixion is different from the Synoptic Gospels to John’s Gospel.
Maybe even more importantly, Clayton mentions
The landscape of early Christianity held a huge variety of beliefs. Some people thought Jesus was purely human but was adopted as The Christ after the crucifixion. Some thought he was purely spirit. The point is that the New Testament are the handpicked books from the victors of the early Christian theology wars. There was no pure objective standard used.
Did you know that the Catholic Bible has 7 more books then the Protestant version? Martin Luther, the Great Reformer himself, tried to get Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelations removed from the Canon. I mention all this to point out the many different views of Scripture. It is not the static thing we have been taught.
It isn’t as easy as God said it, I believe it!
5. The Resurrection
Clayton tackles the objection to Jesus’ physical resurrection directly head on.
Occam’s Razor is a theory that states “The simples solution to a problem is usually the correct one.” If applied to the Resurrection and empty grave, it would say that Jesus never rose from the dead. The body was stolen, or the Gospels give an incorrect account of what happened. Never before and never again has someone risen from the dead. How likely is it true to have happened 2000 years ago?
I feel I’ve over stayed my welcome in your brain. There is a lot to chew on here. And we are just getting started.
I ask two things. If you are a person who has never doubted your faith, then kudos to you. Read all of the above information and try to understand it, as I guarantee someone in your life is asking these very same questions. That way, when you finally find out they are doubting their faith, you will have at least tried to walk in their shoes.
If you are a person who is currently asking these same questions and more, please stick around! I plan on blogging through the entire book as time permits. Hit me up on twitter or email me if you want to talk!