Plane chats and comforting words

On our trip back from Winnipeg, Julie and I had the “opportunity” to sit with a chatty fellow on the plain. While Julie was right next to him, all three of us interacted throughout the journey back to Vancouver, which in the end was a pleasing experience considering that I was not enticed by the French version of Will and Grace playing on the TV’s. This man was a professor of Transportation Economics at the U. of M., and was quick to fill us in on all the latest happenings and present predictions in the world of transportation. The book he was reading on the history of the automobile from 17??-1842 looked quite fascinating (boring???) as I did not even know the automobile existed at that point in history.
All said, the topic eventually lead to human values and religion. It was at this point, already knowing that I was a theology student, that he popped the question, “how do we know which religion is the right one when they all claim to be the right one.” Now, on the spot I honestly did not know how to respond as I usually take the route of careful reflection when it comes to these matters. Therefore, I kind of dodged a straight answer and related my understanding of my own religious experience and how it is a process of discernment done in the company of others, rather than the smörgåsbord approach so many individuals seem to take these days. With that response I think he realized I was not prepared to paint myself into a corner and the conversation shifted to something else.
The rest of this week I have found myself wondering if my answer was adequate and if perhaps I should have been quicker on my feet to challenge his question, particularly the part about how all religions claim they are the only right ones. I felt somewhat discouraged actually, thinking that here I am, a theology student, and I am talking about is my personal religious experience. Shouldn’t I say more???
Then today I read an article by one of my professors, John Stackhouse, which ended offering some comforting words. Discussing the modern approach to evangelism as traditionally having taken the line of “we’re better than all of you” Stackhouse points us to the example of the Apostles where the primary focus was relaying what they had seen, touched and heard (1 John 1:1). Basically, their response to the religiously diverse atmosphere of the 1st century was there own experience of encountering Jesus Christ himself. Stackhouse follows this verse with the comment that I found most comforting, stating that “Jesus called us to be his witnesses, not his experts in comparative religion.”
The reason I found this article encouraging is because my goal as a Christian is to be faithful with my whole life as a witness to Christ, not just my ability to logically prove something beyond a shadow of a doubt. While I recognize the danger of using this concept to shirk the responsibility of intelligibly communicating the Christian faith at all, I was glad to know that my Christian witness is far more just providing the “right” answers to questions from a gentleman on the plane…
Thanks John!

1 comments:

son of puddleglum said...

Hi, interesting blog.

I haven't read the article, but it could be noted that Stackhouse has written apologetics works (Humble Apologetics, Can God be Trusted?) that attempt to answer the kind of question that your interlocutor asked. And his approach is not that we can prove something beyond a shadow of a doubt, but that we can point to Someone beyond a (fairly) reasonable doubt. This can and ought to be done by winning the friend, not just the argument (as Stackhouse has put it).

But this does not mean that the Spirit cannot use logical arguments to help convince someone to at least take Christianity a serious look. And the reason we need to use such arguments is because we cannot "see, touch, or hear" as the apostles did (though we certainly do experience the risen Lord in that mysterious, numinous manner). But we do have their reliable records of their seeing, touching and hearing. In addition, every sermon preached in Acts was apologetical, centered around the resurrection of Christ.

On the other hand, as Stackhouse's friend (acquaintance?) Bill Craig points out, the ultimate apologetic is how one lives his/her life. Which I believe was the main point of your post. (so I guess we're in agreement...so, ahem, carry on)

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