From the Rational to the Relational ~ Kirsten Powers and Holly Ordway

“Certain words can mean very different things to different people. For instance, if I say to an atheist, ‘I have faith in God,’ the atheist assumes I mean that my belief in God has nothing to do with evidence. But this isn’t what I mean by faith at all. When I say that I have faith in God, I mean that I place my trust in God based on what I know about him.”

William A. Dembski and Michael R. Licona, Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 38.

I found this intriguing, and, many academics and skeptics I have read who have come to faith later in life express similar thinking. That is, they have relied purely on what they think is reason — however, God gets in-there and tips over some tables and shows the non-believer that they have been ~ in fact ~ unreasonable in their conclusions. Not only this, but a reality of personal (Personal) Being is involved… and this frightens many, and why CS Lewis and others explain that they were brought into the Kingdom “kicking and screaming.” Something rises above the skeptics own intellect and they have to trust a Person on Who They claim to Be (notice the capitalization).

This is momentous. And such a shift in thinking can be somewhat frightening. This weight of importance and why it is suppressed is expressed by R.C. Sproul and his co-athors well in this excerpt:

But even a sound epistemic system, flawless deductive reasoning, and impeccable inductive procedure does not guarantee a proper conclusion. Emotional bias or antipathy might block the way to the necessary conclusion of the research. That thinkers may obstinately resist a logical verdict is humorously illustrated by John Warwick Montgomery’s modern parable:

Once upon a time (note the mystical cast) there was a man who thought he was dead. His concerned wife and friends sent him to the friendly neighborhood psychiatrist determined to cure him by convincing him of one fact that contradicted his beliefs that he was dead. The fact that the psychiatrist decided to use was the simple truth that dead men do not bleed. He put his patient to work reading medical texts, observing autopsies, etc. After weeks of effort the patient finally said, ‘All right, all right! You’ve convinced me. Dead men do not bleed.’ Whereupon the psychiatrist stuck him in the arm with a needle, and the blood flowed. The man looked down with a contorted, ashen face and cried, ‘Good Lord! Dead men bleed after all!’

Emotional prejudice is not limited to dull-witted, the illiterate, and poorly educated. Philosophers and theologians are not exempt from the vested interests and psychological prejudice that distort logical thinking. The question of the existence of God evokes deep emotional and psychological prejudice. People understand that the question of the existence of God is not one that is of neutral consequence. We understand intuitively, if not in terms of its full rational implication, that the existence of an eternal Creator before whom we are ultimately accountable and responsible is a matter that touches the very core of life

R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 69-70. (Emphasis Added)

Here is how Kirsten Powers wrote of this first Personal encounter with God:

…Then one night on a trip to Taiwan, I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, “Here I am.” It felt so real. I didn’t know what to make of it. I called my boyfriend, but before I had time to tell him about it, he told me he had been praying the night before and felt we were supposed to break up. So we did. Honestly, while I was upset, I was more traumatized by Jesus visiting me.

I tried to write off the experience as misfiring synapses, but I couldn’t shake it. When I returned to New York a few days later, I was lost. I suddenly felt God everywhere and it was terrifying. More important, it was unwelcome. It felt like an invasion. I started to fear I was going crazy.

I didn’t know what to do, so I spoke with writer Eric Metaxas, whom I had met through my boyfriend and who had talked with me quite a bit about God. “You need to be in a Bible study,” he said. “And Kathy Keller’s Bible study is the one you need to be in.” I didn’t like the sound of that, but I was desperate. My whole world was imploding. How was I going to tell my family or friends about what had happened? Nobody would understand. I didn’t understand. (It says a lot about the family in which I grew up that one of my most pressing concerns was that Christians would try to turn me into a Republican.)

I remember walking into the Bible study. I had a knot in my stomach. In my mind, only weirdoes and zealots went to Bible studies. I don’t remember what was said that day. All I know is that when I left, everything had changed. I’ll never forget standing outside that apartment on the Upper East Side and saying to myself, “It’s true. It’s completely true.”

Kirsten was taken out of her comfort zone and was faced with knowing that God is real and that He is personal… and that she would ultimately have to answer to a Personal Being for her life — since she now realized He is her Creator. Accepting Christ’s imputed life and sacrifice was her response.

Here we switch to Dr. Holly Ordway describing a similar feeling, just worded differently. Before meeting God ‘personally,” Holly had to first come to the realization of God/Christ truly existing in order to believe the claims made by this Personal Being (both is Scripture [Revelation] and in Jesus claims about Himself):

I had accepted God as an Idea; now I was confronted by His reality as a Person. I had known, intellectually, that He could be encountered, but I had not the least idea of what that encounter might be like.

Looking back, the experience makes sense in a way that it didn’t, and probably couldn’t, then. If I were to have a relationship with Christ, I would have to know Him as a person, not just as an idea.

When I did encounter God, it was at a moment when I wasn’t con­sciously ready for it: I was still thinking through the philosophical issues, still trying to understand what the implications might be. I wasn’t looking for a relationship with Him yet; at that moment, I didn’t even understand how a relationship might be possible. And therefore, it was the perfect moment for the Spirit to make Himself known to me.

Because there was no question of wish fulfillment. God made Himself personally known to me in a way that I could recognize without being completely overwhelmed—in a way, perhaps, that might seem oddly anticlimactic to someone else. There were no vi­sions, no voice, no tears: just a profound and inescapable recogni­tion of the Other. Trust me, it was quite enough. What’s more, He made Himself known to me before I sought Him, and before I had the slightest idea what His presence would be like. As I thought about the experience, I could not shy away from the implications.

If I had been looking for Him when I encountered Him, I might not have been entirely sure that the experience was real. I might have doubted, wondering if perhaps this was, indeed, a case of wish fulfillment. The fact that I recognized, beyond any reasonable doubt, that my “experiment” had returned a shockingly positive result be­fore I had consciously started it, was the sting in the tail. I could not disregard this experimental data even if I wanted to—not if I Were to retain my own intellectual honesty.

And that, after all, was the lodestar for me in this journey: to fol­low Reason where it led, and not to be afraid, and not to abandon the experiment even if the results were unexpected.

Well, the results were not at all what I had expected—and now I knew something that I could not have even imagined knowing just a few weeks earlier. God was real, and He was active in my life.

Holly Ordway, Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds Radical Faith (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2010), 94-95.

Both these women speak to initially having their doubts, previous conclusions, presuppositions, and the like destroyed by answers to their “vague generalizations or unchallenged assumptions,” which left them wanting more of the “intellectually rigorous weaving [of] art, history, and philosophy”:

Powers ~ “…I was fascinated. I had never heard a pastor talk about the things he did. Tim Keller’s sermon was intellectually rigorous, weaving in art and history and philosophy. I decided to come back to hear him again. Soon, hearing Keller speak on Sunday became the highlight of my week.”

Ordway ~ “…whenever I challenged a point, he had solid information and clear reasoning to back up what he’d said. What’s more, he respected my intellect by not letting me get away with vague generalizations or unchallenged assumptions. That was refreshing…. I was stunned by the very concept that there were rational arguments for the existence of God. Never mind whether I agreed with the argu­ments or not, the simple fact that Josh said, ‘Let’s reason this out’ rather than ‘You have to take it on faith’ made me want to hear more…”

And then, and only then, being confronted in a personal way by God, their Creator and Owner, they realized they were dealing with a Being interested in their well-being, unto salvation.

Here is Theologian Wayne Grudem explaining this understanding a bit more for the deep-thinker:

Personal saving faith, in the way Scripture understands it, involves more than mere knowledge. Of course it is necessary that we have some knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done, for “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom. 10:14). But knowledge about the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us is not enough, for people can know facts but rebel against them or dislike them. (Rom. 1:32; James 2:19)….

In addition to knowledge of the facts of the gospel and approval of those facts, in order to be saved, I must decide to depend on Jesus to save me. In doing this I move from being an interested observer of the facts of salvation and the teachings of the Bible to being someone who enters into a new relationship with Jesus Christ as a living person. We may therefore define saving faith in the following way: Saving faith is trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal lift with God.

This definition emphasizes that saving faith is not just a belief in facts but personal trust in Jesus to save me…. The unbeliever comes to Christ seeking to have sin and guilt removed and to enter into a genuine relationship with God that will last forever.

The definition emphasizes personal trust in Christ, not just belief in facts about Christ. Because saving faith in Scripture involves this personal trust, the word “trust” is a better word to use in contemporary culture than the word “faith” or “belief.” The reason is that we can “believe” something to be true with no personal commitment or dependence involved in it. I can believe that Canberra is the capital of Australia, or that 7 times 6 is 42, but have no personal commitment or dependence on anyone when I simply believe those facts. The word faith, on the other hand, is sometimes used today to refer to an almost irrational commitment to something in spite of strong evidence to the contrary, a sort of irrational decision to believe something that we are quite sure is not true! (If your favorite football team continues to lose games, someone might encourage you to “have faith” even though all the facts point the opposite direction.) In these two popular senses, the word “belief” and the word “faith” have a meaning contrary to the biblical sense.

The word trust is closer to the biblical idea, since we are familiar with trusting persons in everyday life. The more we come to know a person, and the more we see in that person a pattern of life that warrants trust, the more we find ourselves able to place trust in that person to do what he or she promises, or to act in ways that we can rely on. This fuller sense of personal trust is indicated in several passages of Scripture in which initial saving faith is spoken of in very personal terms, often using analogies drawn from personal relationships. John says, “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Much as we would receive a guest into our homes, John speaks of receiving Christ.

John 3:16 tells us that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Here John uses a surprising phrase when he does not simply say, “whoever believes him” (that is, believes that what he says is true and able to be trusted), but rather, “whoever believes in him.” The Greek phrase pisteuo eis auton could also be translated “believe into him” with the sense of trust or confidence that goes into and rests in Jesus as a person. Leon Morris can say, “Faith, for John, is an activity which takes men right out of themselves and makes them one with Christ.” He understands the Greek phrase pisteuo eis to be a significant indication that New Testament faith is not just intellectual assent but includes a “moral element of personal trust.” Such an expression was rare or perhaps nonexistent in the secular Greek found outside the New Testament, but it was well suited to express the personal trust in Christ that is involved in saving faith.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 709-711. (Emphasis Added)

God was present in every step of the way, from the rational and logical conclusions of science, history, philosophy, and the like… to the Holy Spirit breaking through in the ultimate sense by making the presence of Jesus REAL. All truth is God’s truth and the apologist cannot even begin to make truth claims unless it is first God’s truth. An amazing coinciding of testimony from two amazing women that God loved so much that He gave His only begotten Son for.