Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Contradictions Don't Coexist

Thanks to Issues Etc. and Table Talk Radio we are far more aware of “bumper sticker theology” than we used to be. Religious positions are a dime a dozen, as are the cheap, never-gonna-scrape-that-off-your-bumper stickers you see on the road these days. Even John Lennon’s famous line has made it to fender fad fame: “Imagine no religion.” Yes, even this is a religious proposition.

If you were to make a game of it – call it bumper sticker bingo – chances are the one that comes up most often is this: coexist. I see it all the time here in the land of fruits and nuts. But all ad hominem attacks aside, there is a serious problem with this cliché canard. As much as you can sympathize with the motivation to “just get along” this is most illogical.

Christians are confronted with this dilemma all the time in the public square. I hear it on campus and in conversations with non-Christians all the time: “all religions are just the same; you know different parts under the hood but still the same car, you know.”

However, this objection to Christianity – or simply to any one holding any religious position – is one of the easiest to remove on your way to proclaiming Christ Crucified. You don’t even need Christianity (at least at the start) to make your case. All you need is a little logic. And as a brief aside, Luther was right in saying that reason was the devil’s whore when it comes to attempting to think your way into heaven, as if your brain was a new Tower of Babel. But Luther also held that reason is a gift of God to be used by men; in fact he held it in high regard when used properly, ministerially instead of magisterially. Remember your first article explanation…“my reason and all my senses.” That is something we need to remember in the apologetic task. Reason has a place, even a blessed one, in communicating the Christian faith and sorting out truth from error, as in the case of this bumper sticker.

It’s a simple logical fact. As John Warwick Montgomery states in the opening of his apologetic magnum, “The characteristic most fully shared by the religions of the world is their mutual incompatibility with each other” (Montgomery, Tractatus, Logico Theologicus, p.13).

There may be sociological similarities. There may even be common elements of truth shared among the religions of the world. For example, while many have different definitions of who should not be murdered and who is to be protected under the law it is clearly written on the heart that murder is wrong. Even though common activities and ceremonial parallels exist that does not in and of itself prove a common source or cause. In fact the world’s religions are mutually incompatible when it comes to their respective views on the following positions: man, the way of salvation, the goal and purpose of human life, the basis of authority, ethics and morality, and the origin of evil just to name a few.

A quick comparison between Islam’s and Christianity’s view on Jesus’ death reveals the same problem. Compare Sura 4:157, where the Qu’ran claims that Jesus was not crucified, with the Passion narrative of any of the four Gospels (not to mention hostile Roman and Jewish historians who corroborate the New Testament evidence by saying that he was crucified). They could both be wrong, but they can’t both be right. The better question is: which, if any of the world’s religions have overwhelming evidence in favor of their position? The answer I submit to you is this: Christ’s claim that he died and rose again.

While the Christian is called to speak the truth in love to the neighbor this does not include forsaking truth for a lie. Logically (let alone theologically) the coexist position is untenable, nonsensical and misleading. Of course, the atheist could be right: all the world’s religions could be false. That’s logically possible. But they cannot all be true.
As another famous Christian apologist once wrote: “There is a phrase of facile liberality uttered again and again at ethical societies and parliaments of religion: ‘the religions of the earth differ in rites and forms, but they are the same in what they teach.’ It is false; it is the opposite of the fact. The religions of the earth do not greatly differ in rites and forms; they do greatly differ in what they teach…Truth is, of course, that they are alike in everything except in the fact that they don’t say the same thing” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 134-135).

Contradictions don’t coexist, not in logic, not in theology, not in apologetics and not in the real world. Thankfully, the Christian has more to offer than sound logic. We also have history, geography, archaeology as solid evidence for the Christian claim. We have eyewitnesses that saw Jesus dead on a Good Friday and alive again on Easter Sunday. We have an impeccably reliable and veracious written record in the Gospels that rivals any other document of historical nature from the 1st century A.D. Those words are spirit, life and good reporting. What’s more, we have the Lord of heaven and earth who took on human flesh and blood, who made himself tangible, knowable, and hearable in human time and history. He has not left us a record of contradictions in the Scriptures, but a witness to the Him who is the way, the truth and the life. Christianity offers comfort in the face of contradictions. Truth in the face of error. Life in the face of death.

So, I think I’ve finally found a new bumper sticker that I’d like to stick on my window. Hopefully it will get a conversation going; one that begins in logic and ends at the cross.

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