“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Is it arrogant to claim knowledge that Christianity is true?

...In the last post I pointed out what is obvious but all too often missed: Christianity is not just a cultural tradition or way of life, but a worldview that claims to describe reality as it is. In particular, it makes historical truth claims that we can test under the scrutiny of historical evidence. But it claims much more than that. How could we possibly test claims like "Jesus is one with God the Father" or "the universe was created by God"? Wouldn't it be incredibly arrogant to claim to know such things?

No, not necessarily. While the knowledge claimed here is indeed extraordinary, our acquiring of that knowledge is not explained by any outstanding qualities in us, but rather by God's wisdom and power in making himself known to us within the limiting context of our physical world. According to Christianity, God created us and the universe with the purpose of revealing himself to us, and he did that successfully. We did not climb our way to a transcending knowledge of the infinite God; rather, he limited himself so that we could know him (Philippians 2:6-11), and the way in which he accomplished this descent is truly amazing. This is the unique teaching of Christianity. Our confidence in knowing truth rests on God's ability to create and reveal, not our ability to discover.

In fact, it is very often the weak and lowly to whom God chooses to make himself known in Scripture. Consider Jesus' words, "I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children" (Luke 10:21), and Paul's teaching, "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Corinthians 1:28-29). This theme is everywhere in the New Testament, and in the life of Jesus. Christianity, then, gives us ample reason not to boast in our knowledge. Anyone who asserts their belief in Christianity in a way that proudly suggests they have arrived at that knowledge by their own skill and intelligence has missed a large part of the message.

Some might object that Christianity makes arrogant claims because its adherents think that humans are particularly "special" - God loves us and made us to be the culmination of his physical creation (at least in this universe). This may be true, but it's only one side of the coin. Christianity also teaches the less than flattering truths that man sinned against God, fell into a shameful state of inclination towards sin and inability to live righteously, incurred his just wrath, and deserves eternal punishment. The language used throughout the Bible to describe the sinfulness and evil of the human heart is incredibly humbling. Human nature, then, is paradoxical (see "The Paradox of Human Nature") - we are both very good (Genesis 1:31) and, in Jesus' own words (Matthew 7:11), evil. In C. S. Lewis' words, "you come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, and that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth" (Prince Caspian).

Most humbling of all is that we are so broken and fallen in our sins that our salvation could only be achieved by God himself suffering and dying. The cross of Christ is the center of Christianity - it is the clearest and highest revelation of God's love for us, and yet at the same time an incredibly humbling description of humanity. We could not save ourselves, yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

I think these reasons justify the conclusion that it is by no means arrogant to claim to know that Christianity is true (and by implication, other wordviews false). We ought to be humbled by the truths we embrace and amazed by God's wisdom in designing a way to make himself known to creatures as frail and small as us.

2 comments:

  1. I think the perceived arrogance of the statement "Christianity is true" is that it's not preceded by the phrase "I believe". The implication of such absolutism being that anyone disagreeing with it is therefore either ignorant or unworthy. It may just be an argument of semantics but maybe it would be helpful for you to define the terms "belief", "knowledge" and "truth" as you intend them to be understood.

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  2. Replying to your comment a little late here... Yes, that would be a good idea. By "truth" I would mean the way reality is, something that's objective and real and not just in someone's head. By "knowledge" I mean knowledge of that - an alignment between one's thoughts about reality, and reality as it truly is. A belief, I suppose, may be true or false, whereas knowledge may be absent or present. And yes I think "I believe" should precede extraordinary claims that cannot be empirically demonstrated to everybody else, as is the case here. We need to approach any dialogue with humility, and to question ourselves and look for our own assumptions and blind spots before we look for others', and we need to be ok with an element of uncertainty, even in our core beliefs.

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