“By What Standard?”

Many times when people with varying world views and belief systems are having a heated conversation you will hear each person state particular ideas without offering any evidence to back up those ideas. Generally speaking, the ideas that we feel we don’t have to question are our presuppositions. In other words, no person is coming to a conversation with a completely neutral position, instead, we argue from our held beliefs. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as we recognize that we are doing it. Being blind to our own presuppositions or assuming that they are universally believed is a prime reason so many conversations do not end well.

            We must be able to get to the root of our beliefs in order to have constructive conversations. We do this by asking two primary questions. 1) Why do you believe what you believe? And 2) What is the standard or foundation for your belief? Let me explain using an illustration that I have used many times in the past.

            Imagine I’m working on a puzzle. After hours of work, I put in the last piece, smiling as I look at my accomplishment. You look at my work and say, “Something is wrong.”

            Amazed at your seemingly rude comment, I respond, “What do you mean?” You tell me I did the puzzle incorrectly, that I need to go back and correct it.

            “What gives you the right to say that I’m wrong? Who made you an authority on this puzzle?”

            “I don’t consider myself an authority. However, if you look at the picture on the box, you’ll see that yours doesn’t match. I may not be an authority, but the puzzle box sure is.”

            I take a deep breath, look at the box, and finally admit you are right. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I can see that many of the pieces don’t actually fit together but were forced together. As I use the box to correct the puzzle, the picture becomes clear. Originally, my puzzle appeared to be an abstract painting, but now I see that it is a lake with a boat and a big blue sky filled with clouds. It’s a beautiful picture and I almost missed it.

            In this example, the puzzle box is the standard or objective measurement by which one is to judge the correct construction of the puzzle. Sure, you may be able to force some pieces together, but unless you use the true standard to judge the puzzle you will always be off. Similarly, if one were to ask the second person why he believes that the puzzle was wrong, he could simply point to the box. In other words, the question is, “Why do you believe what you believe about the puzzle being wrong?” The answer would then be, “The box shows that it is wrong.” We’re not talking about emotions or “this is the way I was raised”, we are talking about objective standards for belief.

            You see, this is important for all people to consider. Whether you consider yourself religious or nonreligious, a Christian or an atheist, a Republican or a Democrat, why do you believe what you believe? By what standard do you support your belief? Are your beliefs grounded in objective truth and reality? Or do you believe particular ideas because your parents did? Or because you’ve been swayed by culture? Or because you have an emotional attachment to a particular view? There are many reason we believe certain ideas, however, the question remains, “What is the standard of your belief?”

            One person might say, “I believe that God created the world in six literal days. That Adam and Eve were the first humans from which all people today have come.” Another person might say, “I believe that the universe came about through the Big Bang and that human beings are the result of billons of years of natural evolutionary processes.” Still another says, “I believe the earth was made by the Fairy Queen from Candy Land.” How would one go about judging each of these beliefs? Which one is true? “It’s true if it’s true to you.” No, that’s not a tenable position. We tend to go hyper PC when dealing with beliefs. That is not helpful to anyone. Instead, we can start by asking the two questions mentioned above.

            Imagine a brief conversation between the above people (we’ll leave out the Fairy Queen for now). “I believe that God created the world because it’s part of my religious faith.” The other person interjects, “Well, I believe in the Big Bang and evolution because it’s science. And I believe in science.” Now, this could be a very short conversation that wouldn’t get anywhere if these two people don’t start to address each others presuppositions. For instance, what is the standard for religious belief? Is there objective reasons to believe in God and His revealed truth? Likewise, what is the standard for scientific inquiry? What can science tell us and what are the limits of science? Perhaps, some might find it interesting the faith and science actually tend to go hand in hand. So whether you would say you believe in God creating the world, the Big Bang, or somewhere in between, my question is why do you believe that? If your response is simply because of my religion or because of my belief in science, I don’t think you’ve thought it through enough. What is the standard for your belief in science or faith?

            Over the next few weeks, I want to continue to engage each reader with a number of arguments and propositions intended to get us all to examine what we think we know. What are the standards for what we believe and are we willing to examine these core issues? Finally, if we see contradictions or false ideas in our belief systems and world views, are we willing to change them accordingly?

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Test All Things”

Why do you believe what you believe? Last week I discussed the important idea that not every belief is created equal; in fact, some beliefs are outright wrong. Just because an individual is sincere and devout about a particular set of ideas does not make them true. This may be a hard “pill” to swallow, but truth is important and grasping truth is important.

For instance, the idea that the earth is the center of the universe, geocentrism, was the commonly held belief among the best and brightest minds for 1,500 years following Ptolomy’s  work, “Almagest”, which codified this model in the second century AD. However, the idea was wrong. We know this today: the earth is not the center of the universe. That is not to say that Ptolomy was an idiot and we should make fun of him. Nor were those who came after him who believed in and even built off of his work. Yet the fact remains they were wrong about the geocentric model of the universe. Is that rude or mean-spirited to say? Is it wrong to point out?

Do you believe anything that is false? “Well,” you may respond, “that’s a stupid question. Why would anyone knowingly believe something that is false?” That is exactly the point. No one thinks any of their beliefs are wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t believe them. But obviously, with all of the varying and contradictory beliefs out in the world, some people must be wrong. Now, I don’t know about you, but I do not want to base my life on false ideas and assumptions. I want, as much as humanly possible, to know and believe only that which is true. Therefore, I am constantly examining my ideas and beliefs in order to discern whether or not they are viable. When was the last time you questioned a firmly held belief? Whether the topic is political ideologies, sociological concerns, or religious beliefs, are you willing and able to assess what you have thought to be the truth? 

Now, obviously I am personally coming from a particular perspective and worldview and I am not shy about it. I am writing as a Bible-believing, Christ-following, local church pastor; however, I commend inquiry to all people, even those I shepherd in the local church. You see, if one believes they possess truth about any given subject, there should be no fear of examination. Truth remains truth even in the midst of intense scrutiny. 

Likewise, the Bible itself commends people to examine whatever is presented as truth. Contrary to commonly held assumptions, Biblical Christianity does not require nor demand blind faith. Rather, any idea put forth is to be scrutinized. The Apostle Paul writes, “Test everything; hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).” Christians are not simply to believe something because a leader or teacher asserts it as truth. 

In fact, the Bible praises the people of the ancient city of Berea because they did not simply believe Paul’s preaching; instead they examined his teaching, thought it through, and weighed his logic in order to come to a conclusion. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11).” Similarly, as I present truth in my own local church, I constantly remind the congregation to not simply believe something because I say it, but to test what I say. Again, truth has nothing to fear.

On my bookshelf are a number of volumes with which I have enormous disagreements, authors ranging from Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens to Bart Ehrman and Rob Bell, each with its own slant and each trying to uproot historical Christianity in its own way. Why are these books be in my office? Why would I want to read through pages and pages of material that I believe to be false information? Because inquiry is important and truth has nothing to fear. I am willing to give these authors a fair hearing. I am willing to listen to their arguments and to try to understand where they are coming from. Finally, I then am able to make an educated, well thought-out response to that which I disagree with in their belief systems. This is what healthy dialogue looks like, listening and thinking before responding. 

Are there books or articles that you won’t read because they go against your worldview? Do you believe that the “other side” has nothing to say that will ever change your mind, so you will never give them a fair listen? Do you have religious leaders who warn you to stay away from “anti” material, content that goes against your organization, and to only consume material produced by your particular group? Surely, truth has nothing to fear, so why not do the research, read the books, have the conversation with a person who has opposing views? In the end, don’t we all just want to know what is true? Or does our pride and arrogance come before truth and inquiry? 

Over the next few weeks, I want to engage each reader with a number of arguments and propositions intended to get us all to examine what we think we know. If you consider yourself a Christian, an atheist, a spiritualist, or nothing at all, I encourage you to read and test what is presented. Let us humbly seek truth together.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.   

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Faith and Bloodletting”

“It’s all the same in the end… Just be a good person, help others, and we’ll all have one big party when we get to heaven. I mean, do you really believe in a god that would send people to hell for believing in a wrong religion?” Ever hear this type of sentiment? Perhaps you’ve spoken this type of sentiment. In fact, I think I have spoken something similar to this at a point in my life. However, upon closer examination does this type of logic hold up? Can we say that all belief systems are created equal and lead to truth, lead to God?

Perhaps an historical anecdote will help make my point. George Washington was a very brave and strong man. It seemed that nothing could kill him. As a boy, fighting small pox (a disease that killed many), and later as a solider fighting in many fierce battles, Washington always seemed to get through unscathed. That is until he met his deadliest foe… his doctors. On December 12th, 1799 Washington spent the day out in the blistering cold working around his plantation. He woke up the next morning with a severe sore throat that became increasingly worse throughout the day. When he began having trouble breathing and speaking the doctors were called.

Upon examination, the doctors agreed that the best treatment would be bloodletting. This common medical practice of the time involved bleeding a patient of “diseased” blood in order that the body would produce fresh blood. Blood was drained from Washington pint after pint. When this didn’t seem to be working the doctors also gave him laxatives to drain his bowels and vomit-inducing drugs to drain his stomach. At the same time the doctors were draining the life out of Washington. On the morning of December 14th, George Washington breathed his last.

What happened there? Washington was surrounded by 3 doctors! The problem was that the medical procedure that they chose to employ was not based on fact. The outcome being that the very procedure that was intended to save his life was what took his life. If this is what happens when ideas about our physical needs are false, even when preformed in ignorance and with sincerity, why should we think any less about the importance of our spiritual and eternal needs?

All medical ideas and practices past and present lead to healthy people, right? Wrong! In the same way, it is a lie to say that all religious systems or spiritual ideas lead to God. The popular culture espouses such thinking in order to be “kind” and “loving” to all people. I understand the desire to be kind, but is encouraging belief in a false god really loving? If someone stepped on a rusty nail and had the belief that a lucky rabbits foot would keep them from getting Tetanus would you encourage them to keep believing in that rabbits foot? Would that be a loving thing to do? No, it would be foolish, especially since we have reliable treatments for Tetanus. The loving thing to do would be to tell the person that no matter how sincere their belief in the rabbits foot is, they are wrong and should go to the hospital for a Tetanus shot.

Similarly, it is not loving to encourage false beliefs about God. True followers of Jesus Christ must be bold at pointing out error and pointing to truth as it has been revealed by God His word, the Bible. I recognize that many people believe things with great zeal and sincerity. However, this alone does not make it true. Jesus speaks of people who had all the outward appearances of being His followers and great zeal in doing so and yet, He identifies them as strangers. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Likewise, the doctors who attended to President Washington were sincere in their care for him. However, their sincerity did not equate with truth. In sharing truth and correcting error it is not the goal of the Christian to win an argument or make the other person look stupid, the goal is that people would come to the true knowledge of God and be saved. That is why we are called to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) The desire for truth is a means to knowing God, not to become puffed up with arrogance.

Are you ready and willing to accept bloodletting as a legitimate medical practice today? I don’t think so. So why should you be ready and willing to accept any old idea about the truth of God. Not all religions are created equal and many may claim to be the way to eternal life but in the end they lead to eternal death. Now, is that a statement from a mean and arrogant person, or is it words of love and concern? You tell me.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe