By Rev. Lance Filio
Religion took the center stage in the Philippines when the President made a blasphemous remark against God. Duterte called God stupid for allowing Adam and Eve to get tempted and to sin against him when they were in the garden. During his speech, he also questioned the doctrine of original sin and called it unreasonable. These recent tirades of the President made headlines and received a lot of negative reaction from social media and especially from the Roman Catholic church.
Various public reactions ensued. Critics of the president stormed various media outlets with public opinion. Some capitalized on the situation and used it to bring down the credibility of the president. Many got into the whole madness and it sparked online debates by those who are for or against Duterte’s remarks. On the other hand, there were those who simply ignored him and went on with their lives. Some dismissed him as an old foolish man. As a result, the reactions were varied.
I personally cringed when I watched the clip of Duterte speaking against God. While I dismissed it as foolish talk, I was bothered by the various reaction it attracted from professing Christian. I realized how these rationalizations affected the church and it seems she was not ready to defend her faith against such attacks. This is why I decided then that I will spend a sermon month series on knowing why we believe. I wanted us to learn how we can defend the faith against foolish talk.
You may have been affected by the issue. It may have prompted you to also examine your own belief. You were convinced of your need to learn about the foundations of your belief. You realized that as Christian you are called to defend the faith.
This morning, I will introduce a new sermon series called “Know Why We Believe”. The aim of this sessions is to prepare everyone on the task of Apologetics. This means we will be studying the reasons of our faith. To start, we will hear about the importance of knowing why we believe. After which, we will then examine the role of reason in the area of belief.
From What to Why
Is it important to know why we believe? Is it not enough that we believe?
In order for us to answer these questions, we need first to understand how our reasoning is affected by authority. In a sense, we can only receive reasoning based on the properly recognized authority. This is what presuppositional apologetics teaches. Presupposition means the basic or fundamental assumptions a person considers authoritative in his life. Let us look at a typical Filipino setting.
Reasoning or the explaining the foundation of thoughts is neglected by the Filipino culture and even more so problematic in Filipino mindset. In a sense, people don’t value it that much. It does not push them to carefully examine their reasons for being, therefore, they don’t put much thought into it. We, as Filipinos, do not recognize its authority and it does not influence our behavior in any conscious way. But unconsciously Filipinos do know everything happens for a reason yet at the same time, accepts things can also happen by chance. So they thought it is always best to leave everything to a higher being called “god” and simply do the best they can in this life hoping for a better life in the future. This is often called as the “spirit of positivism” or the “Filipino optimistic spirit”. And because of this mindset, reason takes a back seat in their psyche.
Now if this is indeed the Filipino outlook, then what kind of authority do they submit to? Well, because most embrace a vague notion of god, they submit to man-made authorities. Rather than acknowledging God’s divine rule over their lives, they settle with those earthy authorities which they can see, touch and feel. These are earthly rulers they can, naturally speaking, experience.
But who are these rulers? I call it relational strongholds. I think we are not often aware of this but they are foundational to our psyche. These are the various authorities connected to a person in terms of his/her relationship with either his family, friends, office and even the society at large. It is a network of relationships that a person developed over a period of time and grown to respect as relational authorities. As Filipinos, we fanatically submit to them as ultimate authorities but since these are created authorities, it cannot replace God’s divine claim over them. And due to man’s fallen nature, being unregenerated in his thinking, he replaces God’s divine authority with man’s earthly authority. Therefore, in order to suppress this truth, they ignore the real and ultimate authority that God placed in this world. As a result, because Filipinos are culturally not individualistic, these relational stronghold takes the place of reason, therefore, it does not submit any godly persuasion or reasoning. This, I believe, is the problem of the Filipino mindset against biblical Christianity.
But this does not mean that Filipinos cannot accept reason or does not have the ability to reason out. No, Filipinos are not unreasonable people. However, any reason they may possess can only be received with authority if it comes from the subjective authority of those who are personally related to them. Relational structures dictate what reasons get accepted or rejected. So in order for Reason to serve its purpose, the relationship authority needs to be destroyed first. According to Scripture, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).”
I discussed all of these in order for us to see our own cultural biases and sinful tendencies. In sum, Filipinos do not recognize reason as part of their normal and everyday thinking. Instead, they surround themselves with people who are related to them and receive their authority. In this way, Filipinos filter their own belief systems and reasoning. But is this relational stronghold properly Christian? No, for Christianity only recognize the sole authority of the revelation of God in Scripture. The divine authority of God transcends all racial and cultural boundaries. Again let us listen to God’s Word, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. We need to first confront a person’s presumed authority structure in order to persuade him to accept the sole authority of Christ and His Word. We are called to uphold “Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3)”.
We need to demonstrate to each and everyone that we suppress God truth because of sin. As Filipinos, the suppression happens when we use relational stronghold to alleviate ourselves of guilt. We still know the truth of God, yet we are guilty of sinning against him so, in reality, we have no excuse said Paul in Romans 1. Therefore, a radical uprooting from the subjective authority of relationships to the ultimate authority of the Word of Christ in Scripture has to happen. However, only the work of the Holy Spirit can do this. Reasoning cannot help yet on this part for Paul explained in 1 Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (verse 2:14)” Therefore, in order for us to know and reason properly, we need to be “renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:10)”. We need to be transformed from Sin-embracing to God-acknowledging creatures.
So to answer the questions raised at the beginning of this first point, we say Yes, it is important for us to know why we believe, however, we need to understand that knowing why we believe comes second to the regenerating work of God. The ultimate authority of God’s Word, not the relational strongholds, should take root first in the heart of the person and this will happen when the supernatural work of God takes place.
Reasons to Believe
What is the role of reason in faith? Are there enough reasons for us believe?
Anselm, the famous theologian of old once said, “Credo ut intelligam”. It means in English, “I believe so that I may understand”. This maxim was also credited to an older theologian named Augustine who also seeks to relate faith with reason. These theologians wanted to emphasize that reason is important but it needs to presume faith in order to understand the reasons for it. In essence, they explained as a Christian we say, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand”. Therefore, there is a fundamental assumption of faith for every reason to believe. Just like what the book of Hebrews explained, “…and without faith, it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6)”.
The role of reason is to serve faith. Reason cannot be used to create faith. However, when a person possesses faith, he/she will be able to understand his/her reasons for it. That would be the time he/she will be able to conclude that it is indeed reasonable. This is what Romans 12 explains when Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We need to receive God’s renewing work in our minds in order for us to follow the wisdom of His will. Without Him, we will only see in the dark but because of Him, we can clearly see Him, our own self, and others. He is the light that enables us to see everything. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. So this is our claim to reason as Christians, “Only Christianity can shed light on everything we think, ask, live or do.”, wrote K. Oliphint. In this sense, there are enough reasons for us to believe. In the same way, we can account for the proper role of the reason for our faith. We can know what we believe and at the same time, know why we believe it.
Next week, we will discuss why we believe in the Bible. The Bible is so fundamental to the belief system of Christians so logically we need to start with learning why we believe it. In the meantime, I would like to challenge our thinking about the role of Scripture in our lives in relation to faith and reason.
I would like to say that while the Reformed faith is the most reasonable explanation of biblical Christianity, it is not its reasonableness that converts people to faith. Only God can regenerate his people so conversion is preceded by the new birth. Without it, no one will come after God. However, we need to equally understand that it is our role to demonstrate the reasonableness of our faith to other people. It is our responsibility to explain or witness our faith to them when an opportunity arises. Peter exhorts us, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).”
It is a daunting task. Any serious Christian will have to think harder and relate better in order for this to happen. Evangelistic methods that only addresses the relational aspects helps with the surface problems of the task but do not engage the spiritual aspect of the problem. Paul wrote, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).” He also reminds us that “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you are not to do whatever you want (Galatians 5:17).” Therefore, we always need to assert the divine aspect of authority that comes with the Word of God and not use any human and earthly means in our work of witnessing to others.
This is what I love about the Reformed Faith. It does not employ superficial means of connecting with an unbeliever and in the same way, it does not comfort the believer with his own doubt. It confronts everyone with the truth and only by this truth everyone is called to submit. It helps us with our own inconsistencies and enables us to freely share the truth of Scripture. It is the consistencies of Scripture that we share with others. It helps us at the same time helps others. Like a lamp we bring to a dark place, it sheds light on everything (Psalms 119:105). It exposes everyone’s heart and helps us recognize our own sin and shortcomings. We do not bring our imperfect lives as witnesses to other people but simply bring with us the divine light of Scripture and bring everyone under its authority. Again, we bring Scripture and not ourselves.
ZCRC(Imus), it is important to know why we believe and our reasons for believing is grounded in the Word of God. While it is God who works to regenerate the heart of his people, we, as his church, are called to be witnesses of our faith to Him. It is part of our calling as Christians “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).” May the Lord continue to enlighten his people. Amen.