Have you ever been frustrated by someone who, no matter what you say or do — I mean, you could be giving the very best presentation of the Gospel and explaining the Bible clearly and compellingly — but no matter what you say or do, your friend rejects it. And not even in a way that is careful and considerate, but almost like your words are a fly that is buzzing around their face in a rather annoying fashion. Have you ever met somebody like this?
I was talking to a friend a while back and explaining to him the Christian worldview and my friend kept saying this phrase to me — he kept saying, “Well, you have your beliefs, Nate, but I have knowledge.” So in other words, he was saying you hold to beliefs in God and miracles and the Bible but I stick to what I know about the world and reality because of science.
What my friend had essentially done was twofold: he (number one) created an unnecessary split between belief and knowledge; and (number two) he revealed a character trait in people that I think we need to be aware of and take seriously: He revealed why he was close-minded to an opposing religious worldview. Now, just stick with me because I’m going to explain what I mean by that in a moment.
I hear this canard every now and then from non-believers, specifically agnostics and atheists, and that is: belief is way down on this one end of the spectrum and then way down the opposite end of the spectrum is knowledge. And on the belief end of the spectrum there is no evidence, but on the knowledge end of the spectrum is all the evidence. Does this sound at all familiar to you?
And so, really, the enterprise of discerning the world around us entails moving towards knowledge — rooted in scientific evidence — and away from belief (that has no evidence). Because belief is opposed to knowledge, and because of that, the closer we get to the certainty of what we know, the further away we get from what we believe in faith.
Well, that’s all garbage, ladies and gentlemen. Not only does this way of characterizing belief and knowledge not accurately capture what the Bible is talking about when it talks about belief or faith. This isn’t even an accurate secular understanding of knowledge.
Look, the Bible says that Jesus’ miracles were written down so that, “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That’s John 20. So in other words: The miracles of Jesus are evidence. This is why when Jesus told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, and the Pharisees scoffed at Him, Jesus performed a miracle. He said, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’” And the man did! He got up, picked up his bed, and walked away!
This is also why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Jesus is not alive from the dead then our faith is “in vain” and “futile”! So the Bible has never characterized faith as belief without evidence. Faith has always been understood as a trust based on evidence!
But even secular philosophy understands that belief is a necessary condition for knowledge. Why? Because it would make no sense to say — for example — that Frank knows that there’s milk in the fridge while at the same time Frank doesn’t believe that there’s milk in the fridge. How can you know something to be true when you also don’t believe it’s true? You can’t! In order to know something, you must, at the very least, believe it to be true at the same time, or else you don’t really know it.
Ok, so that’s point number one: Christian faith is largely misunderstood by non-believers. Religious belief is just not what non-believers think it is at all. And belief is a necessary condition for knowledge. So we can’t get away with pretending that belief in something and knowledge are on opposite ends of the spectrum. They’re not! So if you are a non-believer watching this show or listening to it on podcast, I encourage you to be fair to our point of view and hear what it is we’re saying.
But to my second point… remember, my friend said, “Well, you have your beliefs, Nate, but I have knowledge.” And what that also led to when he said that to me was an unjustifiably narrow-minded disposition when it came to opposing points of view. As a matter of fact, whenever I spoke about Jesus, the Bible, or the Christian worldview, he either immediately rejected it or explained it all away in a manner that fit into his preconceptions about reality. And he never once took a second to reflect on his own preconceptions.
St. Gregory of Nyssa once said that: “Concepts create idols. Only wonder comprehends anything.” Let me say that one more time: Concepts create idols. Only wonder comprehends anything.
I don’t think that concepts are, in and of themselves, bad. It’s that human beings have a tendency to idolize the wrong things. As a matter of fact, God talks about idolatry so much because human beings create idols all the time! In the past idolatry took the form of statues… of birds and other animals. Well, today, idolatry takes the form of devices, technology, other people… even concepts. And the moment that happens — the moment that we idolize concepts, we slip into something that the secular culture understands quite a bit these days: Confirmation bias.
Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind, defined confirmation bias as “the tendency to search vigorously for evidence that confirms what one already believes.” But it goes beyond that! Confirmation bias beholds prior concepts so infallibly that it rejects any evidence to the contrary! Sir Francis Bacon talked about it this way: “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects.”
Confirmation bias has been around as long as people have been around. Even the Greeks understood confirmation bias and talked about it going all the way back to Thucydides!
“Concepts create idols. Only wonder comprehends anything.” So if that’s the case, then how do we deal with people like my friend? People who, when we make a case for Christianity or we talk about Jesus, they reject it or explain it away too easily?
The answer lies in our First Date Evangelism method. Why? Because if you’re going to do what everybody else does these days and just tell people what you know, just give them a lecture or a speech about what you want them to hear, then you’re providing whoever you’re talking to the opportunity to interpret what you’re saying through their preconceptions and confirmation bias. And what happens next? They bat it away like an annoying little fly.
However, if you don’t make speeches and instead ask questions that are designed to challenge your friend’s own beliefs, then the dynamic of communication completely changes! Now, instead of batting away whatever concepts they don’t like to hear… Now, your friend has to explain the logic and coherence of their own view. The burden of proof shifts! And that will elicit the kind of wonder that I think St. Gregory was getting at! Because giving good reasons for a particular belief is a job that you’ll find not very many people are capable of doing.
And so it’s in that magical space of time — where you adopt our First Date Evangelism approach and you ask a great leading question… and your friend struggles to answer the question — that’s when the cracks in their worldview become revealed and that’s when wonder can start to set in and that’s when lives can change by the power of the Holy Spirit.