In Search of Better Stories

The Problem of God

Lots of people have problems with God. Mark Clark has some good answers to those problems. His approach is to convince people that the Christian faith is “a rational belief based upon a preponderance of evidence.” This book aims to prove the truth about God and Christianity based on facts and reason. By embracing facts and reason as the solid foundation for belief, people can feel certain that they have embraced the truth.
Since I have just written a book that emphasizes the need to embrace story over facts, desire over reason and mystery over certainty as the central underpinnings of the faith, it should come as no surprise that Mark Clark’s book might throw many of my thoughts into turmoil.

The idea of letting the better story of God capture a heart and then allowing those affections to shape how a person understands history, philosophy, and science appears to be a patently backwards approach to Mark Clark.

“We need to first test our assumptions against the facts and then let the facts speak for themselves”

“I have come to see that Christianity isn’t a less rational worldview (then secularism) but a more rational one.”

It may be stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever contradicted a biblical reference.

That said, I do believe that Christianity is the most comforting, hopeful, and beautiful worldview among the marketplace of ideas on offer to us in the great debate of life. (Or as I would say, Its the better story) But that’s not the reason I believe it. No, I believe historical, philosophical and scientific conclusions confirm the legitimacy of Christian faith.

I realize that Christianity brings great comfort, but this comfort doesn’t negate its truth. It is not the reason to believe — it is the fruit of believing.

It’s not a set of teachings or a philosophy of life; it’s about a historic moment, a real event that actually happened, that if proven false, makes the whole thing fall apart.

I wasn’t drawn to Jesus for personal benefit. No, I was compelled by a conviction that the story of Jesus was true.

For Mark, Christianity’s success or failure depends on things like archaeological evidence, defence of the reliability of the Bible and solid rational argumentation. Is he right? Is Christianity’s truth reduced to a pile of historically provable facts and impressive debating points?

In some ways, I feel like Mark sees more support for the legitimacy of Christianity than mere fact-finding missions. We get glimpses in his writings that help us understand this. For example, Mark says:

“Everyone, even the most convinced atheist, has a faith position. Everyone believes in something and makes assumptions about reality that can’t be proven even through science”.

Exactly! So, if all of us at our core are faith-based, (not fact-based) than the question of what’s better, becomes more important than the question of what’s true.

Faith is more about the heart than the mind. It’s always been that way. None of us have near the facts we think we have about the distant past. We do our best, of course, to piece the ancient stories together, but ultimately we must believe something. “Evidence” is helpful, but it’s more supportive than foundational.

I’m not against “evidence” type books. They are helpful, and Mark Clark’s book is a good one. Buy it! But what I like to discover as I read books like his are the glimpses of “Believe the better Story Apologetics” that show up. For example:

What is fair, however, is to contrast the worldview of Christianity and atheism to see which best avoids the injustices we all abhor… In other words, some ideas are just better than others.

I agree, and we should chase this observation all the way down to its roots. Atheism has facts and reasons just like Christianity does, but in the end, it proves to be a lousy story, one that ultimately doesn’t connect with the deep longings of our hearts. It’s these sorts of conversations which will win over the atheist, not debates about whether the pool of Bethesda and the “five roofed colonnades” existed.

I believe that evidence-based arguments have lost some of their potency in our post-modern, “fake news” skeptical culture. I think Robert Webber, is spot on when he says:

“But we no longer live in the modern world that privileges reason, science, and the empirical method of proving this or that to be true. Some bemoan the shift from the modern world. Some even hang onto the modern world because their theology is dependent on it. For them, the thought of thinking differently is threatening, so they do not want to go there. But in the post-modern world, the way of knowing has changed. We now live in a world in which people have lost interest in argument and have taken to story, imagination, mystery, ambiguity and vision.” (The Divine Embrace p. 17)

Webber again has it right when he calls us to live inside a story and not an argument:

“We are called to this story, not as an idea that needs to be defended with intellectual argument as if its validity depends on proof, but we are called to enter the story by delighting in it and participating in it” (The Divine Embrace p 28)

I feel like Mark knows this. His statistical observations point to it. Quoting an extensive survey, he tells his readers that the #1 problem people had with Christianity was its anti-homosexual views. In fact, a lack of evidence played no role in the top 6 reasons why people are rejecting Christianity. People are walking away from Christianity because they are convinced that Christianity is a lousy story, not that it’s necessarily untrue. Going back to the mat over and over again with better evidence about the truth of Christianity is an exercise in missing the point, as these statistics indicate.

Is the Christian story better when it comes to the issue of homosexuality? If 91% of people polled say “anti-homosexual” views are the deal-breaker for them, then books like Mark Clarks have to address it. He doesn’t. Why not? It’s these non-evidentialist, heart oriented struggles that apologists must engage in, now more than ever.

Arguments that don’t help — In pushing back against the allegation that Christian Scholars from the middle ages were against science, we are told that “Bruno was not executed for Copernicanism but for a series of theological heresies centring on his view of the trinity” — Great, it’s helpful to know that they offed the dude because of theology rather than science. This doesn’t help. I get it, God was the most important game in town in the Middle Ages, and the stakes were very high. I need to be careful not to be too anachronistic in my judgments for that era. But no one in today’s modern world is going to give Bruno’s execution a pass. It’s probably worse to a secular mind that he was killed for his theology than his science.

Big Bang Beauty — The Big Bang theory, which has been grudgingly though almost universally accepted by scientists as the human origin story, destroys the possibility of the eternality of matter. This is one of the critical presuppositions of die-hard atheists. Everyone agrees now that at some point, there actually was a beginning. The big bang cries out for a divine explanation.

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