Monday, August 07, 2006

From William Lane Craig: Leaving the fold because Christianity is irrelevant?

During July I spoke a couple of times locally to high school and college kids home for the summer. Charity had told me about a wonderful Christian couple she had met at work who have three children in their early twenties—Charity’s age—all of whom have now fallen away from the faith. When Charity asked one of the daughters why she was no longer involved, her reply was, “It’s just not relevant to my life.” This reply absolutely baffled me. I said to Charity, “She must be presupposing that Christianity isn’t true.” (If Christianity isn’t true, then, of course, it’s not relevant to one’s life.) But it just floored me that any intelligent person could think that Christianity could be true and yet irrelevant. This got me so worked up that I decided to speak to the students on the topic “Is Christianity Irrelevant?” I argued that if Christianity is true, then it is hugely relevant because (1) there is meaning to your life, (2) there are objective values in life, (3) there is a purpose to your life, (4) there is hope for deliverance from the shortcomings of life, (5) there is forgiveness for your guilt, and (6) you can know God personally for eternity. Clearly, if Christianity is true, then it’s enormously relevant! So the question is, is it true? Well, that was the topic the students wanted me to discuss the following week, and so we did. I laid out a basic case for the truth of the Christian faith and then we talked about it. There were a couple of thoughtful atheists in the group that night, and I especially enjoyed discussing their questions with them.

It is amazing to me as well that Christians should somehow think of Christainity as irrelevant without coming to believe that it is false. But you know what is even more amazing? Church leaders who "dumb down" the content of Christianity for the sake of making it relevant. Some people want to make the church more seeker-friendly, and I find that fully acceptable. But my idea of seeker-friendly is sponsoring open-dialogue sessions in which it is considered OK to consider perspectives other than a Christian perspective. So if someone has doubts about the faith, we don't chase them away with churchy talk, we create as much open dialogue as possible. At the same time we must not de-emphasize, but rather must emphasize, the fact that Christianity is a claim that is either true or false, if it's true it's the deepest truth about God's relation to humanity and it is on that account as relevant as it could be, and if it's not true it's about as relevant as Ptolemaic astronomy.

I have a warm place in my heart for atheists, because these people realize that Christianity must be either true or false, and that matter a heck of a lot whether or not it is true or false. The idea that one can decide the question of whether or not to be a Christian, not on whether it is true, or whether it is relevant, means that people do not understand what Christianity is about.

The following essay on C. S. Lewis by Dallas Willard speaks to this matter.

8 comments:

Don Jr. said...

I've heard that same response (that Christianity is irrelevant) before as well. I too think that a rather silly thing to say. But what baffles me more is the people who go through life superficially without ever even taking into consideration cosmically important issues—e.g., whether or not there is a God, where we came from, what we here for, etc. (The old Socratic platitude comes to mind: "The unexamined life is not worth living.") C. S. Lewis perfectly describes my reaction (a mix of shock and confusion) to these sorts of people in his essay "De Futilitate":

How, I wondered, could a man have reached the middle forties without ever before doubting whether there was any good in the ruddy world going on? Such security was to me unimaginable. I can understand a man coming in the end, after prolonged consideration, to the view that existence is not futile. But how any man could have taken it for granted beat me, and beats me still.

I don't look down on these people at all; they just baffle the hell out of me. Whether one ultimately believes in God (or some such deity) or not, or whether one ultimately believes in a world full of purpose and meaning or not, how can a person not even seriously consider such issues?

Edward T. Babinski said...

I think Craig's emphasis on how unintelligible the person's statement appeared to him, doesn't make as good an article as could have been written had Craig instead asked the person, "What do you mean by saying Christianty is 'true,' but 'irrelevant?' And tried to draw out from the person in exactly what sense they found "Christianity" to be "true," and in what sense "irrelevant" to their daily life, or to the life of a nation or the world?

By asking such a question, Craig might have given the person a chance to explain what he meant, even given him a chance to take back his original adjectives and employ some less questionable ones.

I can only guess, but perhaps what the person meant was that he found nothing particularly unbelievable about accepting the possibility and reality of miracles in holy books or the truth of church doctrines concerning Jesus, but... maybe he found the institution of the church "irrelevant" to the health and well-being and decision-making that goes on in his daily life, and/or "irrelevant" to the life and health and wealth of modern day secular liberal democratic nations? (There has been a flurry of argmentation among social scientists for instance, concerning the fact that America is a G-8 nation with a high index of religiosity and belief compared with other G-8 nations, yet for all of her faith, America does not out-perform those other G-8 nations in ways that one might expect if a high ratio of religiosity was indeed important for the health/well-being of a nation.)

Here's another guess as to what the person with his vague reply might have been hinting at...Perhaps the person believed in some form of universalistic spirituality. After all, there are universalistic Christians (not to mention Hindus and Buddhists) who believe Jesus performed miracles and was divine, but they also believe that everyone will eventually (after a long while in some cases) get to heaven or nirvana or be enlightened--without having to dip frequently into the Bible or attend church often, or pray specifically to God in Jesus' name over every important matter in one's life.

So maybe the person disagreed with Craig's idea of "Christianity," as well as disagreed with Craig's idea of just how "relevant" daily Bible study or other practices and beliefs in Craig's life were for their own life? I mean Craig even believes the Bible is inerrant, and that his beliefs and Christian practices of Biblical reverence and testifying to Jesus are important in order to ensure one avoids eternal hellfire. Maybe that fellow disagreed with Craig on some of those matters and understandings regarding the words, "Christianity," and "relevance/irrelevance?"

Again, I'm only guessing.

But I will say that Christianity does seem to have peaked out centuries ago so far as it's contributions to art, science and the humanities are concerned. Today people do all manner of things from writing novels to creating art and architecture, to doing science and studying history, even sacred histories of all the world's religions, as performed by people of all faith or none.

HiveMaker said...

There certainly is a lot of "dumbing down" of scripture in non-fundamentalist denominations, where Craig's interlocutor was probably from.

For example, I once attended a church that allowed women to teach, allowed people to own non-communal property, frowned on snake-handlers and faith-healers, and denied that the earth was only 6,000 years old! When I asked them why they don't preach that the book of Genesis means what it says in plain language, they went off on a tear about how it's "true but not literally true" and how it's "intended only to demonstrate allegorically mankind's fallen relationship with Yahweh".

Is it really any wonder that once people start down the slippery slope of errantism and nonliteralism, some of them begin to doubt that a thirty-something homeless Hebrew once literally was nailed to a cross and then literally rose from the dead and then literally ascended to heaven and who literally demands worship and obedience in return for literally granting eternal life? If christianity can be "true but not literally true", why can't Hinduism be "true but not literally true"? Why can't the teachings of the Buddha also "express a profound but nonliteral 'truth' about man's relationship to the cosmos"? I deeply enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia, and I suppose in some literary, prephilosophical way they "express profound emotional truths" or some such; but I wouldn't call myself a "Narnianist", or say that Narnianism is "relevant" in the sense of my day to day life. This is probably what the person Craig was talking to was getting at.

Jason said...

Keeping in mind some caveats (ex. WLC wasn't really in much position to ask a daughter of someone Charity has recently met at work what she meant about Christianity not being relevant to her life--beyond what he may have not inaccurately heard by report in the first place); and realizing with a sigh that this is likely to only invite rampant topic spamming... {sigh}

...I think I can say that this was the most relevant post I've ever seen Ed put up (here or elsewhere). {s!}


That being said, there _are_ Christian universalists, such as myself, who happen to think a wide body of Christian doctrine is extremely relevant (and true, including in a mutually exclusive sense where appropriate); even in regard to the lives of people I love (including the one whom I love the most in the world) who would probably agree with the daughter-of-Charity's-new-friends that Christianity is simply not relevant to their lives.

Which, come to think of it, is part of the application of the principle of vicarious charity. {s} (When people reject me, they aren't necessarily rejecting Christ; but when people accept me, then insofar as I am acting as a proper representative of Christ, God treats them as accepting _Him_ by extension. A fairly technical and difficult theological doctrine, by the way. {g})

Jason Pratt

Mike D said...

The issue of whether Christianity is relevant can have many twists. It could mean that the current preaching is not practical. It could mean that going to church is not priority at this stage. It could mean that family is taking priority over community relationships. It could mean that this person does not find theological debates relevant to daily life. The person could be distracted by vacations, entertainment or other personal things that have a sense of immediate relevance to them.

From their age, one might suspect a severe case of postmodernism, in which case "truth" would have little relevence. There would only be slight mental gymastics to retain faith in Jesus but lose interest in church. It is scary for the parents but maybe not as bad as it sounds. People in their twenties have some very good Christian values that cause them to be quite disapointed in the church. And they are often right.

Jason said...

{nod} One variable we don't know about from the example, is what is being meant by various people (WLC, the daughter's parents, and possibly the daughter) by "falling away from the faith". That could be as little as not actively participating in church--which, it should be admitted, is arguably not so little a thing.

Still, out of all of us here, WLC (who technically isn't here either, I guess {g}) is the one who has actually had contact with the situation. And he _is_ correct to say that if Christianity is true, then it is hugely relevant to our lives.

Maybe it's a variation of being hypnotized by the electric light switch (to take a Bultmannian example.) {s}

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: william lane craig

Secular Humanism VS Christianity
http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2006/09/secular-humanism-vs-christianity.html

Anonymous said...

I'd like for an apologist to clarity this "meaning of life" business for me. Does the christian theory offer "meaning" to life because you can go to heaven? Or does it offer "meaning" because you have to go somewhere other than into Epicurean oblivion after you die?

If the latter, that seems to imply that if you wind up going to hell, why, that gives your "meaning" too.