The Christian Tradition Is a Castle, Not a Cabin – The Gospel Coalition

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Justin Brierley’s new book The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God recounts the stories of various public intellectuals, commentators, scientists, and novelists who have come to believe in God or confessed faith in Christ.
As the host of the U.K. radio show Unbelievable for more than a decade, Brierley had a front-row seat to hundreds of debates over the most contested issues facing Christianity in a secular society. He found his faith not weakened but fortified as he saw “the intellectual strength of the Christian story as it has been tested by atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths who have appeared on the show.”

Unfortunately, both in the world and in the church, it often seems like Christianity is expected to take a back seat to philosophy or science.

Faith Is for the Unenlightened?

In the Western world, there’s the Enlightenment myth—the idea that it’s bold and courageous to set aside the silly superstitions of past eras and that the thinker “come of age” must reckon with the reality that this world is all there is. It’s immature, a bit childish, to cling to religion for comfort. Immanuel Kant’s “Dare to know!” is the rallying cry, and Bertrand Russell’s “unyielding despair” in the face of meaninglessness is the only “firm foundation” on which to build your life. If you’re smart, you’ll look reality in the face and roll your eyes at the pedantry of the peasants.
In the church, there’s the fideist myth that assumes Christianity doesn’t need to make intellectual sense for it to be emotionally satisfying. The whole point of faith, we’re told, is to take the leap, to believe what’s unbelievable. No wonder, then, that many believers water down the truth and dismiss as highfalutin the idea of a serious education in philosophy and science. We expect to run aground when we debate the scholars and intellectuals, and thus we reduce our faith to a personal, private thing that “works for us” whether or not it can be properly defended in the public sphere.

Cabin and the Castle

Believers battle feelings of inferiority, and we often feel patronized by the world. It’s as if the church’s intellectual tradition is a crumbling cabin, poorly constructed, barely able to keep out the rain. Oh, it may provide a cozy fireplace of personal warmth, but not much more—nothing we expect to prove deeply compelling to others. Meanwhile, the atheists and agnostics of our time inhabit an imposing edifice of unassailable arguments.
The reality is, we’re the ones living in a great castle, an intellectual tradition that goes all the way back to the Hebrew Scriptures, an inheritance that incorporates what’s best in the great Greek philosophers, a pattern of thought refined by the great medieval and modern theologians, a movement that has bequeathed the towering minds of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas (and those are just the As).
Why should we shrink back when secular writers say this world is all there is but still hope we’ll live as if there’s a moral order to the universe? Why accept such logical incoherence? Why narrow our minds to a reductionist philosophy that cannot allow even a speck of the supernatural lest all of naturalism be exposed as a sham?
There’s no reason to think the world’s condescension toward Christianity is deserved. Nor is there any reason to feel shy or awkward about what we believe, as if no intellectual could possibly entertain the truths propounded by Christianity. We may not be familiar with all the ancient treasures, yet still, we live in a castle, not a cabin.

Go Exploring

My daughter shared the gospel recently with a friend, and she responded well to some of the spiritual and existential questions that arose. I told her that if she gets asked a question she’s not sure how to answer, she should say she’ll look into that and reply later. I want her (and her friend) to assume there are plenty of good answers in the Christian tradition that can be found through a little study. We may need to explore an ancient corridor or rummage through one of the closets in the castle, but we’ve no reason to fall back and say something silly like “This doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what faith is for!”
Come to think of it, it’s not only in our evangelism where we need to remember we live in a castle. In a time of widespread doubt and deconstruction, we should expect young people growing up in our churches to face challenges to their faith.
What’s needed is an environment where pastors and church leaders wrestle with the big questions of life, so that when young people run up against an obstacle of some kind, they’ll say to themselves, I’m sure there are Christians in the past or in the present who have wondered the same thing, and I should seek out what they’ve said. We need a church that showcases Christianity as a castle, not a cabin, so we develop in the hearts of young believers the instinct to go exploring.

Confident Enthusiasm

To speak the truth with confidence doesn’t excuse arrogance. There’s no room here for pride. On the contrary, exploring the castle should give us a sense of awe at the riches we’ve inherited, a reverential gratitude at the glories of this treasure.
We want to be people of passion who persuade others to enter the castle, not a belligerent presence at the castle gate, shouting at our neighbors. So let’s engage the world not from a place of inferiority or embarrassment, not with dumbed-down doctrine or a compromised creed, but with confident enthusiasm and bottomless joy.

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Trevin Wax is vice president of research and resource development at the North American Mission Board and a visiting professor at Cedarville University. A former missionary to Romania, Trevin is a regular columnist at The Gospel Coalition and has contributed to The Washington Post, Religion News Service, World, and Christianity Today, which named him one of 33 millennials shaping the next generation of evangelicals. He has taught courses on mission and ministry at Wheaton College and has lectured on Christianity and culture at Oxford University. He is a founding editor of The Gospel Project, has served as publisher for the Christian Standard Bible, and is the author of multiple books, including The Thrill of Orthodoxy, The Multi-Directional Leader, Rethink Your Self, This Is Our Time, and Gospel Centered Teaching. He and his wife, Corina, have three children. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook, or receive his columns via email.


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