Monday, February 3, 2014

Should Christians Accept Secular Critique?

As humans we tend to prefer to listen to those who agree with us and avoid the discomfort of having our views challenged.We find this in all sorts of people who hold all sorts of different views- be they religious, philosophical, political, or whatever. As a child my most common exposure to this attitude was from those in the church. I remember one person pointing to scripture to affirm such an attitude:
Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual...The spiritual person can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone." 1 Corinthians 2:12-15 (HCSB)
It was offered that the wisdom of unsaved people is useless to me, and the wisdom that I offer them is foolish to them. I was led to believe that anytime an unbeliever challenged my view, that scripture encouraged me to completely disregard it and anything else the person had to say. After all, even a challenge that seemed genuine or logical was really to trick me into rejecting God: that is the agenda of the Enemy- the "Father of all lies." Even the consideration that something I believed might be wrong was a cause for alarm.

Can Unbelievers Be Dismissed?
This leads to an attitude that we are above unbelievers in our knowledge- that we may dismiss what they say in virtue of them being unbelievers. If someone is a humanist, we don't have to listen to them. If someone is an evolutionist, we should disregard their evidence against our model. If someone is an atheist, run for dear life.

Unfortunately, I still see this quite often today. Some people believe that their views are not subject to critique by naturalists simply because "they can't understand God's wisdom." They shut off dialog before it even begins by marginalizing their critics by underscoring their lack of belief in God. They fear that being wrong about a nonessential of Christianity undermines the entire worldview (see Is Your View Falsifiable?), and they project that fear to those who will listen to them uncritically.

A Consistent Interpretation of Scripture
But is that what Paul was saying? Are Christians supposed to ignore critique of their views? Absolutely not! First, I don't believe that Paul was talking about all areas of knowledge. There are concepts that exist in the Christian worldview that do not exist at all in a naturalistic worldview (objective morality, logic, objective value, ultimate purpose, etc.). These concepts are foolish to the naturalist because their worldview cannot accommodate them; the naturalist has no ground to evaluate these concepts of reality. Any evaluation of a believer by a naturalist is relegated to mere opinion because of the lack of a mechanism to evaluate (logic) or standards by which to compare (morality and value).

The Dire Implications
Second, unless we are prepared to disregard as false all secular contributions to mathematics, history, and science simply because they were not Christians, then we could easily be thrust back to the stone age. Unbelievers can recognize facts of reality that may very well be in conflict with the beliefs of Christians (let us not forget the challenges to the church's views of geocentrism and the earth being flat- matters of interpretation, not scripture). Paul also told us that unbelievers have all of creation that gives them correct knowledge (Romans 1). If we are to reconcile Paul's words to the Romans with his words to the Corinthians, we must conclude that he was not talking about all knowledge in 1 Corinthians 2.

It is quite important that we not only allow our views to be challenged, but we take those challenges seriously (even if others do not). We are held responsible for what we believe, no one else. If we believe something that is incorrect about God, His Word, or His acts (including creation), we limit ourselves in our understanding of God, and thus limit our relationship with Him (see 3 Good Reasons to Question What You Believe). It seems to me that someone, who is unwilling to allow anyone to critique their view, has a dangerous amount of pride in their ability to decipher truth on their own. This pride can and will come between the person and God. Ironically enough, God can use secularists to draw Christians to a more accurate understanding of Him.

Scripture Taken in Context
We also cannot forget that later in the same letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15) that Paul states what Christianity is based upon: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not false if the universe is billions of years old; it is not false if God used natural processes to create; it is not false if God chose to create a multiverse; it is only false if Christ was not raised from the dead. We should not choose to limit God's work in us by refusing to honestly evaluate secular critiques of our views. We should be grateful if a wrong view is brought to our attention, so we can dispense with the false and embrace the true- worshiping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

As tempting as it is to let the challenges of those we disagree with "go in one ear and out the other," it is just as dangerous, if not defiant of our Creator, to not meet these challenges head-on, with a heart and mind that is humble enough to change if necessary.

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