Berean cogitations

Friday, September 02, 2005

Rational faith

Atheists and other Christian-bashers often dismiss Christians as being irrational. They frequently claim that Christians simply turn their brains off and accepting their beliefs on blind, unreasoning faith. They often say that faith is, by its very nature, irrational. Conversely, they pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves for being (ahem) "rational."

This simply proves that they haven't put much thought into their own claims. In reality, atheistic and Christian-bashing claims are often a horrible mishmash of illogic and self-contradition.

Sadly (and amazingly!), many Christians are quick to accept atheist accusations. I've often heard Christians insist that they don't need to study the scientific or historical basis for Christianity; after all, they have "faith"! I've often heard Christians criticize those believers who study such evidence, insisting that "Faith with evidence isn't faith at all!"

Balderdash. There is nothing mutually exclusive about faith and evidence. If my best friend has proven himself to be trustworthy and reliable, then I can put my faith in his steadfastness... and why? Because of the evidence. Because he has shown himself to be worthy of faith. Similarly, I have faith that my mother would lay down her life for me, even though she has never proven this. Why? Because of the evidence..

No, faith is not belief without evidence. Rather, faith is belief without proof -- without absolute proof. Faith is believing in something, while knowing full well that this belief has not been proven to be true. In other words, faith need not be blind faith.

Now, this is where critics frequently backpedal. They'll say things like, "Oh, but your friend HAS proven himself. Therefore, your belief in him isn't really faith." Or they'll say, "Well, I think your mother has proven that she'd die for you. So that's not faith your talking about." Again, balderdash. My friend has proven no such thing; in fact, it's entirely possible that he'll turn around someday and stab me in the back. It is also possible that my mother would choose to save her own life rather than put herself at risk for me. They have provided evidence of their steadfastness, but not absolute proof. Ergo, my belief in them is rooted in evidence, and it most certainly require faith.

Just look at the New Testament writers. Did they ever tell their audience, "Ya just gotta believe! Don't get hung up on logic. Ya just gotta take that leap of faith, because I'm telling you the truth!" No, they didn't. Instead, they appealed to evidence--evidence such as fulfilled prophecies, the Resurrection, and Paul's own transformed life. Ultimately, a measure of faith was still required, but they asked the people to consider the evidence as they formed their faith.

Contrary to what the skeptics--and many Christians--would say, faith does not have to be blind. In fact, true Biblical faith, as modelled by the Apostles, should not be blind at all.

Character study: Luke

I found it interesting to dwell on the character of Luke, author of both The Acts of the Apostles and the gospel that bears his name. We know precious little about this man. The Bible only mentions him thrice--and only in passing (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim 4:11, Phil 1:24). if not for his authorship of the aforementioned New Testament books, he would be a fairly obscure character. So what do we know about this man?

First, it is commonly believed that Luke was a physician. This is in keeping with the attention to detail that Luke gave to the physiological details of Christ's crucifixion. (Mind you, Luke's gospel doesn't report these things in extreme detail. I certainly don't think that the level of detail necessarily implies that this book was written by a physician. However, these are certainly the sorts of things that a medical doctor would notice.)

Second, we know him to be a travelling companion of Paul, and a faithful servant of the Lord. Despite his advanced education, he chose to spend much of his time in ministry work. Some would say, "Well, maybe he was serving as a medical missionary!" but I think that's unlikely. Paul's epistles gave no indication that Luke was ministering to the people in any medical capacity, and given the nature of Paul's ministry--which was primarily preaching the Word and establishing churches--I think it's implausible that Luke was there because of his medical skill.

Third, we know that he's an obscure character. Interestingly enough, I think this is useful information. Why? Because many people contest the authorship of Luke's gospel. They suggest that some other writer must have penned this book--but if that were the case, then why would it be attributed to such an obscure individual? Why not someone more prominent, such as Thomas, Andrew or Philip? Luke's own obscurity strongly suggests that there was no ulterior motive in attributing the authorship of this gospel to him.

(As an aside, nobody has suggested any strong alternate suggestions as to who wrote this book, nor did the early church ever attribute it to anyone else. I think we can confidently state that Luke did indeed pen this narrative. By extension, we can attribute Acts to him as well, since it is widely recognized as a continuation of Luke's gospel.)

And fourth, we know that he was an outstanding scholar, writer and researcher. Luke's writings are known for their eloquence, and he is often regarded as having had the best writing style of all four Evangelists. In Luke 1:1-4, he claims to have carefully investigated all the matters on which he reported, with the purpose of presenting an orderly account of Christ's life and the nascent church. He was a man who used his skills to promote God's Kingdom.

Was he successful in his research and scholarship? Consider the words of Sir William Ramsay, one of the greatest archaeologists and historians of all time. Ramsay spent years in Asia Minor, attempt to disprove the historicity of Luke's writings. After 15 years, he was forced to conclude that

"Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."

Wayne Jackson concurred, as he wrote,
"In Acts, Luke mentions thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine Mediterranean islands. He also mentions ninety-five persons, sixty-two of which are not named elsewhere in the New Testament. And his references, where checkable, are always correct. This is truly remarkable, in view of the fact that the political/territorial situation of his day was in a state of almost constant change. Only inspiration can account for Luke’s precision" (“The Holy Bible—Inspired of God,” Christian Courier, 27[1]:1-3, May. )

So, Luke was an educated man, yet he spent much of his time travelling with Paul in service to the Lord. By all accounts, he was a faithful servant. While we see no indications that he used his medical expertise in direct ministry work, I think it's fair to say that these skills came into play as he recorded the details of Christ's crucifixion. We know that he's an outstanding writer, researcher and historian--a true scholar. And finally, while he labored in relative obscurity, this obscurity itself is valuable information, as it gives us great assurance that Luke was indeed the one who penned both Acts and Luke's gospel.