How to Choose Your Faith Wisely
- 2008 1 Apr
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mark Mittelberg's new book, Choosing Your Faith... In a World of Spiritual Options, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2008). Our reader commented: "I’m passionate about apologetics..., and this is one of the best apologetic books I’ve ever read! ...Lots of seekers... will start thinking critically about faith after reading it."
You live your life by faith, whether or not you place your trust in a set of religious beliefs. Every day, you eat meals with the faith that your food hasn’t been poisoned. You drive from place to place with the faith that you can make it to your destinations safely. You type personal information into your computer with the faith that it won’t be broadcast to people who will use it steal from you.
So, no matter what your religion or lack of it, you already have a faith. But is it a wise faith – one that truly works and is supported by facts? Did you intentionally choose the faith you have, or did you just slide into it at some point along the way?
The faith you base your life on is vitally important, so it makes sense to think it through well. Here’s how you can choose your faith wisely:
Think about how you’re thinking. Before you consider what faith to choose, you should consider how you’re thinking about the various faith options you have. Are you just arbitrarily deciding on a particular approach? Are you accepting an approach that’s been handed down to you from others, such as your family members? It’s important to think critically about faith so you can truly discover what you believe, and why.
Understand the Relativistic approach. This approach says, “This is my truth. You find your own.” It claims that truth is what fits each person’s individual perspective, so something can be true for you but not for others. But this approach is self-defeating, because if someone says that truth is limited to his or her own point of view, then the claim itself – that all truth is a matter of perspective – must itself be limited to the speaker’s point of view, and thus is not relevant to or binding others. If it is relevant to or binding on others, then it’s the exception that proves that all truth is not a matter of perspective. While religious tolerance is a good thing because it respects people’s free will, all religions can’t be true at once. Many of different religions’ claims contradict each other. All the various religions could all be wrong, but they couldn’t all be right. Truth is objective; it’s simply what’s real. Truth is a matter of the way things really are – whether you like it or not, whether you can prove it or not, whether you have a different perception of it from someone else, and whether you think about it or believe it. Your faith needs to be based on something more than what you sincerely hope will work for you. You can be sincere, yet still be sincerely wrong. Whatever is real in the spiritual realm was already real before you arrived; it doesn’t depend on you. So set out to find what’s truly real and then align your life with that reality.
Understand the Traditional approach. This approach says, “But I’ve always believed what I believe.” It claims that truth is reflected by the traditions that others who have influenced you – such as your family members—have carried over into your life. But just because it’s become a habit to adhere to a certain set of beliefs doesn’t mean that those beliefs are true. Rather than passively accepting them without question, it’s wise to actively examine them. Step back to study your inherited beliefs to make sure you’ve thoughtfully and intentionally chosen a faith that’s worth following. Be willing to consider the real possibility that what others close to you have taught you is wrong, even though they’ve sincerely believed it. Lower your defenses so you can become a lover of truth instead of just a defender of tradition. Seek to discover what’s accurate, no matter what. You can still maintain respect for your family and friends while challenging their points of view and considering the evidence for what’s true and what’s not.
Understand the Authoritarian approach. This approach says, “You’d better believe it!” It claims that truth consists of the ideas espoused by religious leaders to whom you’re in submission. But the problem is, you won’t know for sure if those ideas are correct unless you critically examine them yourself. Ask God to give you the courage and clarity you need to reconsider what you’ve accepted until now and test the credentials of the religious authorities in your life. A trustworthy spiritual leader should have at least these characteristics: integrity, consistency, accuracy, and openness.
Understand the Intuitive approach. This approach says, “I just feel that it’s true.” It claims that truth is found in feelings and instinct. But ignoring information from your senses and refusing to think logically can be dangerous. Many people’s lives have been shattered by following their hearts alone. To discover the real truth, you need to test your feelings and intuitive hunches against other, proven methods of finding and affirming truth. It’s wise to carefully scrutinize and corroborate your instincts by testing what you sense to be true against evidence and logic.
Understand the Mystical approach. This approach says, “God told me it’s true!” It claims that truth is discovered through an encounter with a supernatural entity (such as the Holy Spirit or an angel). But keep in mind that, while such experiences can indeed be genuine, they should be tested and confirmed against other evidence because they can also be imaginary or deceptions from evil sources. What you feel doesn’t necessarily equate with something that’s real, and even if it does, it doesn’t necessary equate with something that’s good. One way to test the validity of a mystical encounter is to consider whether or not it’s: true to the world, true to the messenger’s own words, and true to God’s words. Carefully test the mystical experiences you have, remembering that the ones that come from God are those that communicate His love, truth, encouragement, or guidance to you in ways that don’t contradict what you know to be true about the world and God’s revelation so far.
Understand the Evidential approach. This approach says, “I’ve got to see it to believe it.” It claims that truth can only come from information you gain through your five senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting). It stresses the importance of logic and experience, which can prove very valuable in discovering truth. However, it ignores the fact that you can gain knowledge about truth through supernatural means as well as natural ones. By limiting the ways in which this approach seeks truth, it severely limits the amount of truth toward which it leads. Instead of viewing science as an end in itself, see it as a means to help you discover more about truth – wherever that quest may lead you. Realize that there is much more truth to be discovered than what science alone can show you. Be open to all the possible answers to your questions.
Pray for wisdom. If you believe in God already, ask Him to guide you to spiritual truth. If you don’t believe in God, but are open to the possibility that He exists, try praying a skeptic’s prayer: “God, if You’re there and You can hear me, show me the way to truth.”
Consider the reasons for faith in Christ. There are many reasons that point you toward biblical truth and away from opposing viewpoints. Among them are: Design in the universe points toward an Intelligent Designer; Fine tuning in the universe points to an intentional Fine Tuner; Information encoded into DNA points to a Divine Encoder; The Beginning of the universe points to a Divine Originator; the sense of morality throughout the human race points to a Moral Lawgiver; The Bible shows itself to be a uniquely consistent religious book; The Bible is a uniquely historical religious book; The Bible is a uniquely preserved work of antiquity; Archaeology shows the Bible to be a powerfully verified book; The Bible shows itself to be a uniquely honest religious book; Miracles, performed in the presence of believers and critics alike, point to the prophets, apostles, and Jesus as messengers of God; Fulfilled prophecies point to the Bible as a divinely inspired book and to Jesus as the unique Messiah of God; Jesus’ sinless life backed up in His claim to be the Son of God; Jesus’ resurrection powerfully established His credentials as the Son of God; The emergence of the church points to the authenticity of its message; The changed lives of early skeptics affirmed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and the teachings of the church; The willingness of the disciples to die for claims they knew to be true affirms the trustworthiness of their claims; The changed minds of many modern skeptics further support the Christian truth claims; The testimonies of countless believers throughout history attest to the reality of God and the value of following Jesus; and It’s true because Jesus said so, and He has the credentials to speak with authority.
Embrace both belief and action. Once you’ve decided what you believe, act on it. Move in the direction in which the evidence points. If you’ve decided to follow Christ, who declared that He is the truth, begin a relationship with Him. Trust Him with your life both now and for eternity, and make Him your highest priority.
Adapted from Choosing Your Faith... In a World of Spiritual Options, copyright 2008 by Mark Mittelberg. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Ill., www.tyndale.com.
Mark Mittelberg is the author of Becoming a Contagious Church; coauthor with Bill Hybels of the best-selling Becoming a Contagious Christian; contributing editor for The Journey: A Bible for the Spiritually Curious; and the primary author of the newly updated Becoming a Contagious Christian training course, which has been translated into 20 languages and taught to more than a million people around the world. Mark has a master’s degree in philosophy of religion from Trinity Evangelical School. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Heidi, and their two children.