"Christianity is Illogical"
You’ve all heard this objection or something akin to it. Christians are crazy! You have to kiss goodbye to your intellect to be one of those born again evangelicals. Or as the Sunday School student put it when asked by the teacher what faith is:
Faith is believing something you know isn’t true.1
Should we Christians lie down and accept that we will always be consigned to the lunatic fringe of society by those who would describe themselves and their own views as “rational” and “sensible” and “objective” – or should we stand up and defend our Christian beliefs against those who attack and mock them by trying to show people that Christianity is in fact reasonable after all?
The apostle Paul, for one, stood firm against all the attacks that came in his day. He was conscious of being “put here for the defence (apologia2) of the gospel” (Phil. 1:16) and his idea of defence was not to shrug his shoulders and apologize for holding Christian beliefs. On the contrary, by his own testimony, he went on the offensive against the unbelieving views of those who attacked Christian truth, and in the process “demolish(ed) arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2Cor. 10:5).
To a Greek philosopher, such as Socrates, all a Christian like Paul would have to do would be to convince him that Christianity was rational, that it made sense to him as he went about weighing anything and everything up independently in his mind. To a man like Socrates, reasonable arguments and convincing proofs were everything. Even the gods and their actions were to be scrutinized against the touchstone of his human reason. If the actions and proclamations of the gods were reasonable, well and good; if not, they were to be rejected:
In the Phaedo, Socrates taught that the soul “will calm passion, and follow reason, and dwell in the contemplation of her, beholding the true and the divine” (84a). Expanding upon this in the Crito, Socrates described the rational man as an independent thinker who is neutral in his approach to truth. The philosopher should be a completely detached, rational thinker who refuses to heed popular opinion in order to follow after the truth wherever it may be ... Hear the Socratic exhortation:
My dear Crito, ... we must examine the question whether to do this or not; for I am not only now but always a man who follows nothing but the reasoning which on consideration seems to me best ... Then, most excellent friend, we must not consider at all what the many will say of us, but what he knows about right and wrong, the one man, and truth herself will say.3
The apostle Paul knew how important reason and rational arguments were to Socrates and the other Greek philosophers. But he also knew something about them that they did not know. He knew that they, along with all the rest of mankind, were part of fallen humanity and that their problem was not that they lacked a good argument or a rational explanation of Christianity. Their problem was an ethical one. Because of the fall they were not neutral and objective at all. In fact, they were busy suppressing the clear and obvious truth that God had already given them because they would rather do that than face up to the consequences of humbling themselves before their Creator and Lord and acknowledging their sinfulness and their need of salvation. Over against Socrates, above, listen to the apostle, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be know about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:18-22
So then, for the apostle Paul, defending the faith to a man like Socrates did not amount to giving him an argument that he had not yet considered and thereby convincing him by superior reasoning to become a Christian. Socrates had already been convinced by God’s general revelation of himself through creation. But Socrates had suppressed that plain truth and turned away from what was staring him in the face, only instead of constructing an idol in the form of a graven image made to look like man and birds and animals and reptiles, he fashioned instead an idol of human reason and bowed down to that instead. Socrates did not need to be convinced. He needed to repent. And in order to do that, he would need the gracious enlightening work of the Spirit of God to remove the scales from his eyes and give him the will to obey and respond to God’s call (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14; Romans 8:7; John 3:3-8).
Consequently, when Paul went to the Greek city of Corinth as a missionary, he was determined not to defend the faith by means of appeal to human reason. Instead, he said the following:
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. The Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25
And in Corinth Paul resolved to preach “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1Cor. 2:4, 5).
Likewise, in Athens, when defending the faith in the hearing of Greek philosophers, he simply proclaimed the truth about God, over against the idolatry of the city. He did not shy away from speaking of the resurrection, even when he knew that for the Greeks, this would be a stumbling block and downright offensive (Acts 17:16-34). And when some believed, including a man called Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus (vs. 34), Paul knew that this was not because he had spoken with superior argument and reason, it was because God the Holy Spirit had graciously worked in their hearts and enabled them to see the truth and repent from their sin.4
For us as Christians today, this should encourage us greatly. We know something about our non-Christian colleagues, neighbours, schoolmates, fellow university students, etc. that they do not yet know about themselves. Their problem is not that they have not yet been given a reasonable argument for the existence of God or for the validity of the Christian worldview. Although they might challenge us to supply this and they might even say that they would believe if we did, we know that this is not the real issue. The issue for these people is ethical or moral. They are suppressing the truth that confronts them continuously because they do not want to face the consequences of humbling themselves and submitting to their Creator and Lord. That being the case, one of the first and best things we can do is pray for them. Pray that the Lord would work in their hearts, remove the scales from their eyes, and give them the will to believe and respond. Secondly, we can challenge their own way of looking at the world and the way that they try to determine what is true and right for them. What accounts for the order, pattern and structure of the world if not the Bible’s explanation that it has been created by God? What makes science even possible if the world is a random collection of atoms that just happened to be thrown together by chance? How do concepts like evil and justice have any meaning at all if they cannot be referred back to a God who has created the world and whose character determines right from wrong, good from evil? If every human being is “ultimate” and must determine for himself what is reasonable and true, on what reasonable basis can societies function, establish laws and conduct their affairs?5
Above all, do not be discouraged with any conversation that you might have with a person who does not yet believe. Remember that whether or not a person believes does not come down to whether you have the right argument or the right words to say. Simply bear testimony to the truth and pray that the Holy Spirit will use your witness in this person’s heart and life. Even if the response is not encouraging right now, that very conversation that you have had can be brought back to a person years later as the Holy Spirit continues his work of enlightening darkened understanding and calling people sovereignly to God the Father and to the saving work of Christ.