The Idol of Truth
I always had this odd thought in the back of my mind that ran something like, “If the smartest people in the world thought and thought and read and read for a while, they more than likely would turn out atheists. Atheism, though I don’t believe it to be true, is probably what intelligent thoughts lead to.” And so I typed “Atheism vs. Christianity” into YouTube at age sixteen, intent on discovering whether Christianity had any rational viability in this modern world. I stumbled upon this brilliant debate (you can watch it here if you are/want to be as weird as me) between a Christian and an Atheist, arguing over whether or not “the evidence” favors Atheism or Christianity.
I found in the debate a man who would eventually become a hero of mine. On the Christian side was philosopher William Lane Craig, a man with PhD’s in both theology and philosophy, an expert in arguments for the existence of God. I became enraptured in these arguments, these glimmers of hope that served to support the religion in which I was raised. Deep down, I had doubted that the truths of Christianity could hold up to skeptical scrutiny. I moved from that debate into another, and another, learning to memorize these arguments-the premises, the conclusions, the popular rebuttals, the rebuttals of the rebuttals, and so on. His website contained a feast of articles, lessons on doctrine, Q&A, and more debates. 1
This, during my junior and senior years of high school, became my way of lived Christianity. Truthfully, I was yearning for a faith that had a greater richness and flavor than I had experienced thus far. I came from a family that prays fervently, upholds the authority of Scripture, and believes in the necessity of a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, in my teens, this contrasted with a church home that didn’t preach from the scriptures, provided an empty worship experience devoid of robust liturgy, offered little doctrinal substance, and had a dying youth group. Clearly, something was missing. In a reaction against this unfulfilling church experience, I turned to an intellectual Christianity in which I thought I was finding answers.
Through God’s gracious providence, I became serious about the truth of the gospel. With new eyes, I saw that, “If this is really the truth, if Christ really rose from the dead, then I can owe my life to nothing else.” I became emboldened to share this truth with others, no longer scared of questions concerning what I believed and why I believed it. I also knew that in college I would want to extend these passions into my studies and Christian communities. For these reasons, I think Christian engagement with apologetics (which I think we do a lot of here at Conciliar Post) is important, both to excite one within their faith and to embolden them to share it with others. However, my engagement with apologetics became a classic example of how sin can take something that is good, Christian apologetics, and twist it into an idol of intellectualism instead of a rich relationship with Christ in community with the Church.
Looking back, this idol became a stunted view and practice of the Gospel for many reasons. First, it turned the Gospel into an individual affair. Rather than seeking counsel and community in my newfound fascination, I made it into a ‘religion of the lecture,’ that was exciting so long as there was a new thought to think (the intellectual flipside of emotionally driven Christianity). Second, I lived out my faith as if philosophical argumentation was at the core of what it meant to be a Christian. In college, I became a part of a bible study, turning each conversation into a debate (my favorite issue at the time was Calvinism vs. Arminianism). Rather than longing to build others up in the faith, I looked to tear them down.
Third and most crucial, I practiced “Christianity” as if the arguments and apologetics were constitutive of the Gospel itself. I acted as if evidence for the resurrection of Christ was a substitute for the resurrected Christ himself. I acted as if intellectual excitement about salvation, resurrection, God as first cause, God as foundation of moral values, etc. was real worship. It is important that I do not see this as an isolated incident, something that I’ve left behind for good. We are all prone, I believe, to appropriate attributes that can only be ascribed to God (Holiness, Self-Existence, Omniscience, Providence, Omnipotence, Salvific, Righteous Judge etc.) and believing them to be intrinsic qualities of ourselves. It is only when we recognize God’s worthiness of worship that we can begin to become more Christlike. Living truthfully can only mean recognizing who we are in light of who God is, rightly responding in worship to the God who descends to us, rather than us attempting to ascend to him.
Lord, may we see you as the only one worthy of worship, the one in which we live, move, and have our being. May our union with Christ spur us not to idolatry in the truth, but in becoming more truthful about who you are and who are making us to be by your Spirit. May we owe our lives to no one else than to your Son whom you rose from the dead.