August of this year, I attended Frank Turek’s Cross-examined Instructors Academy (CIA) in Charlotte, NC. The instructors were top notch in apologetics with defenders like Frank Turek, Greg Koukl, J Warner Wallace, and several others. It was a record class of 52 students, and many of them were already accomplished apologists from across the world.
In fact, the mix of students was astounding. There were those who were beginning a journey in apologetics ministry of one sort or another, already well studied in apologetics but looking for better presentation skills and their own niche, such as myself. There were those who were already in fields of apologetics ministry in universities and churches as professors or pastors, who were looking to improve or grow their well-established ministry. There was even a 16 year old young man who was inspiring as he explained his already full journey as a missionary and minister of the gospel. There were those though, who were already head first into what I call “pure apologetics”, such as New York Apologetics, two guys with radio experience, a killer website, and debates under their belt. It was, well, pretty cool to see God’s hand in what many of us believe to be the next Christian Enlightenment.
Among the students at CIA was a man named Jonathan McLatchie. Jonathan is a PhD student whose bio on the CIA blog reads like this: Jonathan has been a Christian since 1996, having had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home. He has become interested in Christian apologetics over the last 5 or 6 years. He holds an honors degree in Forensic Biology, a Masters (M.Res) degree in Evolutionary Biology, and a second Master’s degree in medical and molecular bioscience. He is a proponent of the scientific theory of intelligent design (ID), about which he has written extensively on Evolution News & Views and Uncommon Descent, in addition to being involved with the Centre for Intelligent Design UK. He is also a contributor to various apologetics websites, including CrossExamined.org, the Christian Apologetics Alliance, AllAboutGod.com, and GotQuestions.org. Jonathan has debated atheists publically and thinks impressively.
Recently, his critical thinking skills became harshly apparent to Elliot George on Justin Brierley’s radio show, Unbelievable which is a staple of Premier Christian Radio in the UK and a staple podcast for me. The show can be found at http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Scientific-evidence-versus-religious-belief-Jonathan-McLatchie-Elliot-George-debate
Interestingly, Elliot George, a pen name for the atheist on the show, came out on the offensive. He brought into question Jonathan’s use of the word belief. I think this is particularly interesting because of the attack of the culture upon the word faith. There seems to be a real disconnect with how Christians use the word faith and how non-believers understand it. i.e. Christians mean to say that faith is knowledge, ascent, and trust of a thing while some unbelievers understand faith as a blind leap or belief without evidence. Many apologists and Christian etymologists have proposed substituting other words for the word faith to clear up the matter. Two of the words proposed are trust and belief.
I believe George gave us some insight here, not on some so-called misunderstanding of the word belief or faith (a problem I think is real on a ordinary level), but insight on the atheist commitment to undermine the idea that Christianity has real evidence to support its claims. Since Jonathan chose to use the word belief rather than faith, George attacked the word belief as what he called, not very “useful”. Belief is “hopeful uncertainties”, he said. George proposed substituting the word “think” for belief because think carries with it the idea of continuous uncertainty. George claimed that when there is no uncertainty or a thing is self-evident, then it is no longer belief or think, but the truth of that thing is merely fact, and George claimed that facts “don’t require belief”.
I must say that Jonathan McLatchie was gracious as was Justin Brierley, as they kindly pointed out the obvious flaws in this un-epistemology. It was amazing to me that George stuck to his guns and pressed forward with his ill-conceived attack. It was appropriate for Jonathan to finally put this to rest by using a tactic laid out well in Greg Koukl’s book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. The tactic is called Taking the Roof Off. Propositions must have support. This support comes in the form of claims. Claims are much like the walls of a house that, if torn down, leaves a roof with no support and obviously in danger of collapse. Jonathan, along with Brierley, stated that if the only thing George could be certain of was his own existence, and all facts required 100% certainty, then George “believed” everything else. In other words, everything George thought was fact, by his own definition, was only a belief!
George’s reply was sweet. He said, after Justin Brierley fully exposed his unsupported roof, “I’m not quite sure how to respond to that.” What? Now that’s Unbelievable! (Pun intended)
There are only a few quick thoughts I would like to share about this.
First, I’m not sure yet that we need to abandon the word faith. There has not been a very good effort given by the church recently, to properly define this word for believers. Unfortunately, intellect has given way to emotionalism in many churches to the extent that the uppers don’t even want the lowers to understand the need to love the Lord with our minds. “If the lay people begin to do that”, leadership might say, “then we will have to keep up with the demand or we will lose control”. Although that’s not true in all or maybe even many churches, in the fundamental, independent South, it is. Other than that, there is simply no resources to do this or there is no realization that this teaching is needed.
Along with that, the church does not do a very good job of educating the general public on Christian lingo. I don’t believe its inherently wrong to use faith language in mixed company. I do believe it’s wrong to allow the culture to steal a Christian word and change it for their own use. Educated Christians simply correcting their friends, co-workers, and fellow students, while graciously explaining the word proper use and meaning, can correct this. Why give up the word before we try to prevent its corruption?
Finally, it is obvious that this attack on Christian etymology will continue, regardless of our shifty word choices. The particular words we use to describe our trust in Christ and beliefs in the Christian worldview as truth, are not the actual targets. The idea that we claim that these beliefs are supported by logic and evidence is the very thing that atheists abhor. They have owned (their opinion) the intellectual high ground for so long that they resist its surrender no matter how silly they look in doing it. Elliot George proved this in just a few moments last week.
Most atheists seem to be content, no committed to living in their self-designed sandcastles while the ebb and flow of truth washes the walls from underneath them. Their moats are full and the towers are falling, yet they continue to carry little plastic buckets of sand into the ocean. Why would we give up such a rich word to these people?
Although I do believe that there is a time that making a change in word use is useful, especially in evangelism on a lay level, I am not sure that time has been fully realized. Maybe we should give faith another chance.
Jonathan McLatchie can be found here: https://twitter.com/JMcLatchie1