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The Christian Story: Making Critics Wish It Were True

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll
2015 14 Feb

There was a time when it was nigh impossible not to believe in God—not because of man’s irrational superstitions, as atheist popularizers tell it, but because of nature’s rational design.

To early thinkers, the intelligibility of nature pointed to an ineluctable fact: a prime, non-contingent source of reality (the uncaused Cause, One, Apeiron, Logos, Yahweh) brought the universe into being with a structure that made knowledge possible. By the late Middle Ages, that fact led researchers to science —a methodological system of inquiry that liberated knowledge from the limits of natural philosophy, and the errors of alchemy and astrology.

From belief to unbelief

Ironically, the success of the Scientific Revolution eventually led to the disenchantment of nature, unseating “God” from the firm ground of “fact” and pushing Him into the misty region of “faith,” making disbelief tenable.

As confidence in nature’s God shifted to confidence in man’s mastery over nature, a certain script took shape: God is out of the picture; and man, through the unlimited powers of reason and science, will unfetter civilization from the vagaries of nature and put it on the inevitable march to progress.

During the next 200 years, the story gained currency, finding a ready ear with anyone having an aversion to the “Man Upstairs.” Although it has had limited success over rank-and-file folks (the vast majority of people today still hold religious beliefs), the meme has had a growing influence over those who shape the media, entertainment, the arts, education, law, the courts, and other cultural institutions.

The effect over the last half-century has been the shrinking of societal support for religion, making religious belief harder to maintain. Since 1960 there has been a seven-fold increase in unbelief, from 2 to 14 percent, with religious liberty becoming ever more tenuous, especially the arena of sexual ethics and lifestyle choices.

Telling a better story

In light of all this, what should concerned Christians do? According to Oxford theologian Alister McGrath, we need to “tell a better story” than the one being foisted by secularism: a story that appeals not only to reason, but the imagination.

Speaking at the 2015 Mere Anglicanism conference, Dr. McGrath suggested that we start out not toprove Christianity true, but use story to make people wish it were true. It brought to mind what someone once said about evangelism: the job of the evangelist is not to give people a drink or even lead them to water; it’s to make them thirsty. Of course that requires knowing people to know what will trigger that thirst.

case study is the apostle Paul’s tangle with the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill. Continue reading here.