Personal Philosophy

Stan Birchfield

What is the meaning of life?  Is there a purpose to our journey on earth?  Where do we come from, and where are we going?  Does God exist, and what is he like?  These and similar questions have been asked by mankind throughout all ages and cultures since the beginning of time, but there has been little agreement as to their answers.  In fact, because of the wide variety of opinions that have been offered -- with no apparent winner among them -- many people today are skeptical that the questions have answers at all, much less that we can know those answers.  However, I am of a different persuasion.  I happen to believe that the answers both exist and are knowable.  If you have a moment, please join with me as we explore these important topics in order to evaluate the rational basis for believing that these answers are true.

The nature of knowledge

Philosophers have debated for centuries how it is that we know anything at all.  Some say we learn everything we know through empirical observation, while others claim that knowledge comes about intuitively or inductively, and so on.  In the 17th century the philosopher Descartes, after contemplating the question for some time, came up with his famous truism, "I think therefore I am."  The problem with this statement, however, is that it doesn't really say anything at all because it is a tautology (to see this notice that the conclusion, which can be rephrased as, "I exist", says no more than the assumption, which can be rephrased as, "I exist and I think", because thinking presupposes existence).  In fact, the problem with all such philosophies that begin with man as the starting point is that they inevitably lead the philosopher in circles, and eventually to a contradiction.  Consider just a few examples:

Skeptic:  We can never know anything for certain.
Friend:  Oh really?  Are you certain about knowing that?

Empiricist:  All truth is gained through empirical observation.
Friend:  So then, what empirical observation led you to this non-empirical conclusion?

Skeptic:  There is no truth.
Friend:  Well, if there is no truth, then is your statement true?

This last example, in particular, is easy to see.  If the skeptic agrees that, yes, his statement is true, then he contradicts himself.  On the other hand, if he disagrees, then he also contradicts himself.  Either way he loses.  We could continue with additional examples, but hopefully these illustrate the point:  Man can never be the starting point of knowledge because, being finite and imperfect, he can never know anything for certain on his own.  Certainty in knowledge requires a fixed, infallible reference point.  (For more in-depth reading, see the section on "The Epistemological Failure of Unbelief" in Greg Bahnsen's Van Til's Apologetic, which exposes the inherent contradictions in man-centered philosophies such as ancient idealism, ancient empiricism, modern rationalism, resultant skepticism, logical positivism, recent idealism, and so on).

Ok, so if man is not to be the starting point, then what is?  Some would cry foul at the notion of making God the starting point, because God is not a concept about which we all agree.  Instead, they would say, we should start with a foundational concept that is agreed upon by all parties in the discussion.  Here is where Cornelius van Til, in his classic work, The Defense of the Faith, makes an insightful point:  Ontology (the study of being) cannot be divorced from epistemology (the study of knowledge), and in fact the former actually precedes the latter.  In other words, whenever someone asks the question, "How do we know anything?", he or she has already made a prior commitment to the nature of reality, having already answered (at least implicitly) questions such as, "Who am I?" and "Does God exist?"  Again, we are back to a contradiction because knowledge is first assumed before the question about knowledge is asked.

All thinking, and hence all reasoning and knowledge, is presuppositional in nature.  That is, every statement that we make rests on a whole set of presuppositions, or things that we understand to be true, whether we realize it or not.  Raw facts are insufficient, in and of themselves, to stand alone, because what someone accepts as factual, as well as the interpretation of those facts, is governed by his underlying "philosophy of fact", i.e., an all-pervasive system of belief containing the presuppositions that are taken for granted.  This is why, for example, two people can look at the same data and draw different conclusions.  As a result, it is imperative that we adopt the correct presuppositional system if indeed we are to reason correctly about such data.

Having seen the futility of using man as the starting point for knowledge, and having seen the inevitability of presuppositions, we now turn to the alternative of using God as the starting point.  The Christian worldview begins with the personal, self-sufficient, sovereign, and triune God, who created all things from nothing and made man in his own image.  God knows all things and directs all events according to his wise, providential plan.  Being true in and of himself, whatever the Lord says is utterly truthful, including every passage of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Scriptures (i.e., the Bible).  God not only is truth and speaks truth, but he has created us with the capacity to know truth and has revealed that truth to us in his Word, the Bible.  To the extent that we believe the truth contained therein, and the truth contained in the world He created, we can know truth.  And, because God (being omniscient) knows the truth with 100% accuracy, and because he (being omnipotent) is powerful enough to communicate that truth to us, we, too, can know the truth with 100% accuracy in regard to those things that he has revealed to us.  Given this overall worldview, the Christian can give an account of the objectivity of truth; the relationship of the mind to other minds and to objects in the world; and, most importantly, the possibility of our finite minds comprehending universal and absolute concepts with certainty.  (This paragraph is a paraphrase of that found in Van Til's Apologetic, p. 311.)

Many proofs have been offered over the years for the existence of God, some better than others.  The best proof, in my opinion, is what Greg Bahnsen calls the "impossibility of the contrary."  Proof by contradiction is a standard technique in mathematics and logic in which the negation of a statement is assumed, from which a contradiction is derived, thereby establishing the validity of the statement.  So let us define God as the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable being who created and sustains the world -- both the visible and invisible aspects -- according to an orderly plan.  Suppose this God does not exist.  Then, what can we say?  Well, the first thing we notice is that, because there exist only finite creatures, no certainty in knowledge is possible.  As a result, we cannot say that God does not exist, or that he is unknowable, or even that we do or do not exist.  In fact, we cannot even say with certainty that no certainty in knowledge is possible.  As Bahnsen has pointed out, the transcendence of the world upon which we so desperately depend (e.g., language, the laws of logic, the laws of mathematics, absolute moral standards, etc.) depend upon our being connected to an unchangeable reference point.  For example, if God does not exist, then there is no reason to believe that the atoms moving in my brain are constrained by the same laws of logic as the atoms moving in your brain.  You may happen to follow modus ponens ("if P then Q; P; therefore Q", which is the standard rule of inference in propositional calculus), but I just happen to go by modus absurdum instead because exceptions to modus ponens have been demonstrated (by modus absurdum, of course).  Moreover, without a transcendent reference point, there is also no reason to believe that the vibrations of your vocal chord refer to the same entity as the vibrations of my vocal chord.  Language and communication presuppose a transcendent dictionary, and without it they are impossible.  Atheistic materialism is unable to account for these transcendent concepts because, in that framework, we are nothing but atoms in motion.  The self disappears as well, because I am simply a collection of atoms without any fundamental distinction from another set of atoms.  If God does not exist, then I cannot even say, "I believe..." because there is no "I" and there is no "belief."  All I can say is that this collection of atoms is generating neural impulses that cause these vocal chords to vibrate in a certain pattern.  (Actually, I cannot even say that, because I cannot say anything -- use of the first person pronoun is itself a contradiction.)  It is as if a muzzle is placed tightly over our mouths, preventing us from speaking about anything whatsoever.  If God does not exist, then there can be no debate about whether God exists.

The subservient role of science, naturalism, evolution, and the nature of man

A common myth in our day is that science and religion are somehow in conflict with each other, or that they speak about different aspects of the world and hence must respect each other's turf.  Either way the consequences in our culture are the same:  Scientists are allowed to draw whatever conclusions they deem warranted by the scientific data, while religious beliefs that are in conflict with these conclusions must be modified so as to make room for them.  Science is seen as an independent way to arrive at truth, while religion has been made dependent upon science to verify its truth claims.  Religion, in our day, has therefore become inferior to science. 

It has not always been this way.  Historically, the study of God, otherwise known as theology, was known as the "queen of the sciences."  To understand God was to understand the fountain of all knowledge, thus making all other studies possible and providing a cohesive framework in which to incorporate all such learning.  This cohesiveness is reflected in the term we use for our institutions of higher education, university, meaning "one turning" or "one truth".  Without the unifying concept of God, knowledge becomes fragmented and disjointed, with there being no reason for the truths of one field of study to be related to the truths of any other field.

To make religion dependent upon science is to put the cart before the horse.  True religion can operate without science, because God, being omnipotent, is able to reveal himself whenever and however he pleases.  God, the creator of science and of all that science studies, is not restricted or limited by his creation but rather is capable of communicating with us, his creatures, in the manner he chooses (either through science or apart from science).  Science, on the other hand, is inherently dependent upon religion.  It is no accident that modern science arose in the Western world, where Christian beliefs dominated man's understanding of the world and provided the necessary foundation to enable man to study it, nor is it any accident that many of the great scientists in all ages have been professing Christians.  Although science is usually treated as an autonomous enterprise, this is a fallacy because science itself rests upon non-scientific, metaphysical presuppositions:  (1) the world is orderly, (2) the world is causal, and (3) the scientist is a rational being who can discover truth through observation.  These assumptions are metaphysical in nature and therefore cannot be established by science itself.  Rather, they must be accepted a priori, or else proved from some non-scientific system, before any science can take place.  Thus science is dependent upon religion, not the other way around.  The Christian religion provides such a system, because the necessary presuppositions for science can be proved from the foundational Christian beliefs.  Without this metaphysical/religious framework, however, there is no rational basis for science.   

The fallacy of using science to independently validate or disprove religion is now apparent.  Since the scientific engine rests upon religious presuppositions, the engine cannot be used to derive conclusions that are at odds with those presuppositions.  Otherwise the whole house crumbles.  Science can only be used to validate or disprove religious conclusions while operating dependently upon religious assumptions.  Those who ignore this fact unwittingly adopt a religion of their own (e.g., religious humanism), which -- unlike Biblical Christianity -- is unable to give an account for the metaphysical beliefs that are necessary to support the structure of the scientific engine.  Divorced from its foundation, the resulting science oftentimes degenerates into a pseudo-science that endorses unsupported assertions masquerading as scientific conclusions derived from independent data.

The supposed conflict between science and religion has received the most attention, perhaps, with regard to the question of evolution.  According to the standard scientific dogma, the universe is several billion years old, and everything that we see around us today is the result of purely natural causes since that time.  In other words, the standard belief is that all the atoms of the universe move -- and always have moved -- strictly according to fixed natural laws.  Matter, in this view, is seen as eternal, and mankind is viewed as being fundamentally no different from any other animal or organism, having arisen from non-living matter in the same way as all the others.  This view is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Bible, which says that God created the world in the space of six days, out of nothing (ex nihilo), approximately six thousand years ago, and that man is unique among the creatures by being made in the image of God.

The clash here is not between science and religion, but rather between two different metaphysical worldviews:  one which believes the Bible to be God's revelation to mankind and therefore without error, and the other which believes that all events can be explained purely in terms of natural causes.  This latter view, known as naturalism, is prevalent in our day.  The reason that different people can examine the same data and arrive at different conclusions is not because they are stupid (which is so often the type of name-calling used by opponents on both sides of the creation-evolution debate) but rather because they are approaching the data with different worldviews, and hence different assumptions, in mind.  As explained above, every person has a set of core presuppositions that they bring to the table whenever they approach a topic, and they always interpret incoming data using those presuppositions.  Data that does not fit well into the existing belief system are massaged to make them appear to fit.  Scientists are no different from anyone else in this regard.   The reason many scientists say that the world is billions of years old is because they have scientific evidence, examined under the assumption of naturalism, that appears to indicate this age for the universe.  Under a different assumption, however, the same scientific evidence will lead one to conclude that the earth is approximately six thousand years old.  In either case, if the assumption is false then the conclusion is unwarranted.  The validity of such conclusions, therefore, rests not so much upon the data itself but rather upon the underlying philosophical / religious presuppositions used to interpret that data.  No matter how many specific scientific indicators one presents in favor of the earth being young, one who is committed to naturalism will simply not see it; and vice versa.  Having said that, it is important to remember that the facts are not mutually supportive of both conclusions:  Those on the wrong side of the presuppositional divide will inevitably find themselves manipulating and massaging the raw data in order to fit them into their flawed framework, thus arguing against the data rather than because of the data (the evolutionist argument that the lack of transitional fossils actually supports the notion of large transitions comes to mind); while those on the correct side will find that the accumulating mass of data to increasingly support their conclusion with very little (if any) rationalization required.  The paradigm shift often does not occur, however, until a new generation of scientists with fewer prior commitments is willing to abandon the much beloved but untenable theory. 

Some will argue, no doubt, that science by definition must proceed under the assumption of naturalism.  Even if one does not actually believe that atoms always move according to fixed natural laws, they would say, one must always make this assumption in order to conduct science.  Thus a distinction is made between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism, and Christian scientists who do not believe in naturalism as a metaphysical truth must nevertheless adopt its methodology (put on their naturalistic hat, so to speak) before they can draw any conclusion deemed "scientific."  According to this view, naturalism is necessary to avoid the possibility of invoking a "God of the gaps," where any data can be explained away by appealing to a mysterious, unobservable agent.

This view contains a mixture of truth and error.  It is true that methodological naturalism is necessary for scientific inquiry, because one must assume that the atoms in motion are behaving according to fixed natural laws; otherwise there are no laws for the scientist to discover.  This requirement holds for both the atheist and the Christian, although the latter will see the hand of the supernatural God in causing the atoms to move according to the natural laws that he has made as a result of his orderly character.  However, it is not true that one must apply the naturalistic assumption to all facets of the inquiry, what I call pervasive naturalism.  In fact, one must necessarily exclude, and one always does exclude, some portion of the inquiry from this assumption.  All scientists without exception obey this rule, whether they acknowledge it or not.  For any given scientific experiment, the scientist himself is not brought under the naturalistic umbrella but rather is treated as a rational agent who observes the data and draws conclusions from them.  If, instead, the scientist were treated naturalistically, then the conclusions of the scientist would be nothing more than the result of the deterministic motion of atoms, thus stripping all meaning and information content from the scientist's writings, because deterministic motion cannot give rise to information.  In a similar manner, whenever raw data are compared with the observations made by other researchers (e.g., by citing the literature), the researchers thus cited are not treated naturalistically but rather as rational agents who were able themselves to interpret their data.  This practice is even more pronounced in the so-called "soft sciences":  Historians, for example, rely heavily upon the output of rational agents, such as eye-witness accounts or secondary sources, for their information, and they do not treat the authors of such sources naturalistically.  Methodological naturalism, therefore, not only has its place but also must be put in its place.  We should not be afraid that suspending this assumption will lead to the death of science, because science itself always has and always will suspend it when necessary. 

If one were to boil the argument for six-day creation down to its essence, it would be this.  We have an eye-witness account from a trustworthy source who was not only present during the creation of the world but was also the one governing it.  This account states clearly that the world was created in six days, ex nihilo (out of nothing), and it contains genealogical information from which it can be inferred that this event took place approximately six thousand years ago.  Moreover, the account describes a catastrophic worldwide flood that destroyed all living things on the earth, with the exception of eight persons and two of each kind of land animal, who were preserved in an ark.  Just as an archaeologist will interpret the raw data from a dig using historical writings that are deemed trustworthy, so we should interpret the scientific data in light of this trustworthy account.  (Why it should be deemed trustworthy -- and even infallible -- will be explained below.)  The creationist finds that, when the data (such as the fossil record, the movement of the moon, or the earth's gravitational field) are approached in this manner they are found to be completely consistent with the eye-witness account.  On the other hand, when the data are approached using the naturalistic assumption behind evolution, all sorts of problems emerge.  Despite the desire of evolutionists to present a united front, the truth is that there are wide disagreements among them, disagreements that are so serious as to lead some to conclude that nothing in evolution is known.  In fact, the only reason that the neo-Darwinian evolutionary explanation has not yet been discarded is because no one has been able to provide a more plausible naturalistic explanation, and in our current philosophical climate only naturalistic explanations are allowed.

One of the reasons that the creation-evolution controversy is so confusing to study is the ambiguous use of terminology.  The term evolution, by itself, simply means "change", and therefore everyone believes in evolution.  When evolutionists speak of "evolution", however, they may mean one of two types of change.  Sometimes the term is used to refer to the change that happens to descendents of an organism based upon genetic variations and natural selection, i.e., "descent with modification", while at other times the term refers to the notion that all living organisms in existence today descend, via purely natural causes, from a single-celled organism, and, prior to that, from non-living matter.  By using a single term for both concepts, the distinction between them is blurred; and a careful reading of the evolutionist literature reveals that this ambiguity is leveraged extensively to make it appear that the evidence for the former concept is also evidence for the latter concept.  How an organism evolves over time due to a rearranging of its genetic material, however, says nothing about how that genetic material was created in the first place.  These two very different concepts have sometimes been called microevolution and macroevolution, but these terms are deficient because they fail to capture that the difference is not one of degree but rather one of kind.  Large amounts of so-called microevolution do not add up to so-called macroevolution.  As a result, I prefer the terms lateral evolution and upward evolution because they emphasize that the two concepts specify different directions of informational change.  In one case the informational content is rearranged, while in the other case new informational content is added.  Once this distinction is made, it is easy to see that there is no such thing as a theory of upward evolution, because no mechanism has ever been proposed to explain the operation of the phenomena.  Thus, creationists should avoid arguing against the "theory of evolution" but rather should expose it for what it is:  a non-theory, a merely wild conjecture without supporting factual evidence and which, if true, would overthrow several well-established laws of science.  See the following table, in which I contrast lateral and upward evolution:  Two types of biological evolution(See also Chapter 8 of Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, where it is shown that not a single scientific paper or book has ever been published describing how the molecular evolution of any real, complex, biochemical system either did occur or even might have occurred; Phillip E. Johnson's Darwin on Trial is another excellent resource exposing the many problems of neo-Darwinism.)

According to the Christian worldview, man -- both male and female -- is unique from all other animals and creatures because he is made in the image of God.  As a result, Christianity provides a basis for concepts unique to rational beings such as language, intelligibility, knowledge, the laws of logic, free will, and moral responsibility.  With metaphysical naturalism (the philosophical basis for upward evolution), however, all atoms move according to fixed, physical laws.  Free will is hence excluded, without which all the other concepts disintegrate.  If we are nothing but deterministic machines, then it makes no sense to speak of our being morally responsible for our actions, or of our understanding or knowing anything.  The notion of choice or belief is also excluded.  One devastating consequence of this logic is that, philosophically speaking, there is no such thing as a person who chooses to be a metaphysical naturalist.  A naturalist is someone who believes that all atoms move deterministically, but belief requires a choice, and choices cannot happen without free will, in which atoms move according to decisions made by a rational mind.  Metaphysical naturalism is thus self-refuting, and insofar as atheism implies metaphysical naturalism -- all atheists I have ever known have been metaphysical naturalists -- atheism also is self-refuting.  Once again we see the futility of unbelief.

It is important to note that, underlying all the statements of modern naturalistic science about the origin and age of the universe, the origin of life, the evolution of the species, etc., is the assumption known as uniformitarianism.   Uniformitarianism is the belief that the laws of nature (including the laws governing gravitational forces, atomic forces, motions of bodies, and so forth) have always been in operation exactly as they are today.  If this assumption is valid, then we can indeed apply the machinery of science indefinitely back in time to determine the events of the past.  There are, however, two problems with this assumption.  The first problem is that it is in direct conflict with the infallible revelation of God, which states that the world was created ex nihilo, out of nothing.   According to Biblical doctrine, if we were to reverse the clock past this point of creation, we would find that there is no universe, no atoms, no laws to govern them, and no time -- hence the laws would be inapplicable.  The second problem is one that cannot be escaped, even by those who do not accept the Bible as authoritative.  Scientists who have consistently applied the assumption of uniformitarianism have been led, reluctantly, to the startling conclusion (to them) that the universe does have a beginning.  This beginning is what many of them call the Big Bang, and before the Big Bang (in their own view) the laws of nature were not in force.  First they assume uniformitarianism, from which they show that uniformitarianism is false.  As a result, uniformitarianism is false, even in the cosmological systems of unbelieving scientists.  As a result, all the conclusions that are reached as the result of this assumption are suspect, being without a foundation. 

One of the consequences of the naturalistic worldview is the fallacious notion that there is no fundamental difference between humans and computers.  If humans are simply atoms in motion, and if computers are simply atoms in motion, then there is of course every reason to believe that computers are capable (given enough memory and a fast enough processor) of imitating all human behavior.  The naturalistic assumption underlies the goal of the most outspoken researchers in artificial intelligence, whose goal has been from the beginning to create machines that can think and act in every way like humans.  Whenever their predictions as to when this will take place are found to be false, they simply readjust their timetable without questioning whether their underlying assumption may be false.  If we are to be honest inquirers, however, we must be willing to ask whether their goal is even achievable.  There can be no doubt that computers and robots will be able to imitate a wide range of human behavior, and we must not underestimate the immensity of their capabilities, at least in theory.  In fact, we should expect to see great progress in fields such as expert systems, speech recognition, computer vision, and robotics over the coming decades.  Nevertheless, humans, being made in the image of God, have non-material, eternal souls, something that computers will never have.  These souls are capable of exercising free will, a fact which cannot be denied without destroying all moral responsibility, any notion of ethics, and civilization itself.  Computers, on the other hand, are deterministic machines that move according to the laws of nature:  Given an input, they compute an output.  There is no essential difference between the most sophisticated digital computer that will ever be built and the equation y=f(x).  An equation cannot desire, love, or appreciate ("If only f(x) would love me ...").  It cannot be sad, happy, excited, or feel pleasure or pain.  It is not capable of imagining, inventing, or discovering. It makes no sense to say that an equation thinks or believes or chooses, unless one wants to speak anthropomorphically.  An equation cannot be lazy or inept, it cannot disobey or sin. There will never come a point at which the machine will take control of itself, because there is nothing inside the machine to do the taking:  It has no soul.  This is the great gulf between humans and computers, and that gulf will never be crossed, no matter how many transistors are put on a chip.

A related fallacy is the search for extraterrestrial life.  In the naturalistic mindset, life on earth is the product of time and chance -- in other words, an accident.  Therefore (so the thinking goes), this accident must have occurred somewhere else, or at least it is highly likely that it occurred somewhere else, and we would be grossly negligent not to attempt at least to make contact with these other living things.  Like alchemy, however, such an endeavor is doomed to failure.  For years naturalistic scientists have been searching for life elsewhere with no success, yet their optimism remains unchecked.  Periodically we hear of another exciting discovery using the latest space probe that life may exist somewhere else, only to find the hypothesis quietly abandoned a few weeks later.  The optimism in this endeavor has no scientific basis, because all the empirical evidence indicates that life does not exist elsewhere.  There are thousands of features of our planet and the universe that together make life possible, such as the Earth's distance from the sun, the tilt of the Earth, the atmosphere, the structure of the water molecule, and so on.  The tolerance on many of these constants is so incredibly low that the slightest deviation in their values would immediately render the Earth uninhabitable. These findings corroborate the teaching of the Bible that the Earth is unique, being the only place God has chosen for the habitation of creatures made in his likeness, among whom his only begotten Son came to dwell.  The Earth is the location of all the central events of history:  the creation, the fall, the flood, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, the second coming, and so forth.  The rest of the universe was created for God's glory, but only earth was created to sustain intelligent material life.  Extraterrestrial creatures may make for good science fiction, but they have nothing in common with good science.  But suppose that one day some aliens did show up at our doorstep, what then?  While many naturalistic scientists would no doubt be giddy over the find (and the apparent reassurance that the vast resources thrown at the SETI program were in fact not wasted), other people would remain skeptical.  Whether you or I would believe the aliens to be truly our cosmic neighbors or, for example, demonic spirits in disguise, would be determined by our presuppositions about the nature of reality.  Once again, the importance of the fact that facts in fact do not speak for themselves but must be interpreted through a grid of prior religious beliefs, must not be underestimated.

The uniqueness of Christianity

Now that we have seen the inescapability of basing our worldview upon God, we must ask the follow-up question:  Which God?  Should we believe in the Christian God, the Jewish God, the Allah of Islam, the Supreme Being of Hinduism with its manifestation in various deities, or some vague divine force?  The answer to this question does matter, because the various religions are not in agreement with one another, and thus they cannot all be true.  Christianity is unique in its concept of God, in its message of salvation, in the life of its central human character, and in its holy book.  We will look at each of these in turn, demonstrating the truth of Christianity by its unique reasonableness based upon many externally verifiable facts.

The Christian God is a triune God, where triune means "three in one."  There is one living and true God, and yet in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which are of one substance and are equal in power and glory.  This concept of the Trinity is the perfect balance between unity and variety, the two components of beauty.  Moreover, the mystery and incomprehensibility of the doctrine actually points to its truth by confirming the saying, finitum non capax infinitum ("The finite cannot grasp the infinite").  We, as finite creatures, should not expect to be able to fully comprehend the infinite God.  Nevertheless, although there is mystery in the doctrine of three being one, there is no contradiction, as can be seen by simple multiplication:  1 x 1 x 1 = 13 = 1.  Contrasted with Christianity, all other religions of the world (as well as heretical departures from orthodox Christianity) believe in either one God or in multiple gods.  The doctrine of the Trinity is unique to Christianity. 

The living and true God is known by his attributes.  God is a perfect spirit, the source of all that is (excepting evil, of course, which is not actually something but rather the absence of something, viz., the absence of good).  As such, he is infinite in space ("omnipresent"), infinite in time ("eternal"), infinite in power ("omnipotent"), and eternally unchangeable.  These attributes, namely infinity, eternality, and unchangeableness, are known as God's incommunicable attributes, because they are inaccessible to us finite creatures.  His communicable attributes, on the other hand, are those qualities which he shares, to a limited extent, with people, namely his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.  God's attributes, being revealed in Scripture, are also consonant with reason.  For example, if God were not eternal, then there would be some other entity that existed prior to him and gave him his existence, because nothing can be the cause of itself; in this scenario God would cease to be the source of all that is and would hence cease to be God.  Omnipresence and omnipotence go hand-in-hand, for one cannot exhibit control where one does not exist, and one cannot occupy space without exhibiting control over it.  Similarly, God cannot be changeable if he is omnipotent, because the one able to change him would be more powerful than he.  The goodness of God is evident in the fact that an evil God would destroy himself -- another contradiction.  The unity of God arises from the inherent contradiction of multiple gods who sometimes disagree (in which case the one whose will is overridden is not God) or who always agree (in which case they are no different from a single God).  The plurality of the Godhead accentuates the attribute that "God is love", because love is more complete when there is a plurality of persons.

The second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, is also known as the Lord Jesus Christ.  Existing from all eternity, he took upon himself a human nature and was born of a virgin shortly before the year A.D. 0.  In fact, his entrance into the world is the event upon which our modern calendar system is based, with all events being dated as either B.C. ("before Christ") or A.D. (anno domini, Latin for "in the year of our Lord").  At thirty years of age, he entered the ministry and for approximately three years taught the people of Israel about God and about himself.  During this time he miraculously healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, and raised the dead back to life.  Despite this, his own people, including the religious leaders, turned against him and killed him.  But death could not hold him and, as he had predicted, he rose from the dead three days later.  He remained on earth for forty days, appearing in person to hundreds of his disciples on several occasions, after which he ascended into heaven in the sight of them all.  No one can be compared to Jesus Christ:  From his miraculous birth, miraculous acts, powerful teachings, predictive prophecies, sinless life, and voluntary sacrifice, to his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, he was and is unique among all the men of the world.

Another unique aspect of Christianity is its doctrine of salvation, which is perhaps best explained by way of analogy.  Suppose you owed someone a trillion dollars but were broke.  Now suppose that every time you worked to pay off your debt, it just so happened that your operating expenses were greater than your revenue, so that you ended up making negative money no matter what you did.  Your situation at this point would be pretty hopeless:  You would be deep in debt, and you would be getting deeper despite your best efforts.  Would there be any way out of this predicament but to find a rich friend to bail you out?  According to the Bible, this is the situation in which we all find ourselves.  We are in enormous debt to God, and over time that debt continues to grow because we are unable to pay any of it back while at the same time we keep taking out loans.  The debt is not monetary, however; it is moral.  Our debt is our sin.  God, because he is infinite and perfect, demands perfection from his creatures, but we, being descended from Adam (the first man), are guilty of original sin and are in rebellion against God.  We are continually doing things that we know, in our conscience, we should not be doing.  If you have ever tried to be perfect, even for a day, you know that it is impossible (if not, then you have deceived yourself by lowering the bar for perfection).  To err is human; and to err is to sin.  We humans do not have to be taught how to sin because it comes naturally to us.  The only solution to this problem, as before, is to find a rich friend.  That friend is Jesus Christ, who took upon himself that debt when he voluntarily died upon the cross.  Though sinless himself, he bore upon himself the sins of all his people, so that his righteousness would be credited to their account.  As a result, God looks upon them as being wealthy rather than bankrupt (i.e., as righteous, not sinners).  This is the Christian message of salvation, namely, that Christ has substituted himself for our behalf so that we, by believing in his name, might not be under the judgment of God but rather under his loving protection.  This is why it is called the gospel, or "good news".  There is nothing that we can do to earn these riches because they are entirely a gift from God through Christ.  We have only to exercise faith by believing in, trusting in, and following Christ.  This message of salvation is unique, for all other religions involve some sort of cooperation between God and man, some sort of good work that we must do to earn God's favor.

The Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith, and it is there to which we must now turn.  If the Bible is not a reliable book, then the entire Christian system crumbles, because there is no reason to believe in Christ if his person, life, and teachings are not accurately recorded there.  But if it is reliable, then we have no other choice but to recognize it as the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God.  First we will deal with this subject philosophically, then empirically.  We must approach the subject in this manner because no amount of empirical evidence will convince someone who is interpreting that data using the wrong philosophical belief system.

Philosophically, the Bible is God's Word, and it in fact must be God's Word.  This is the axiom upon which all the other beliefs rest.  But wait a second, you may be thinking:  Did I not just state as an assumption the very concept which I set out to prove?  Is this not circular reasoning?  Yes, it is.  The reasoning is circular, I admit.  But if we are to be honest we must admit that all reasoning is circular.  There is no escape from this limitation of human reasoning.  If you say you believe such and such, and I ask you why, and you say such and such, and I ask you why you believe that, and so on, what will happen?  Eventually you will come back to where you started.  This is necessarily the case because human reasoning uses human language, and everyone knows that dictionaries are circular.  To see this, look up the definition of any word in the dictionary, then look up the definitions of the words used in the definition, and so on, until ... guess what?  you come back to the very word from which you started.  As a result, it is impossible to make a statement without presupposing other statements -- this was the earlier point we made about presuppositions.  Some may try to escape this conclusion by saying that some reasoning is not circular but axiomatic, but such an argument is evading the point because axiomatic reasoning is just another form of circular reasoning.  The axioms have to come from somewhere or else they are completely meaningless, and a system founded upon meaningless axioms is no system at all.

Now let us apply this fact to the situation at hand.  I believe that the Bible is God's Word.  Why?  Because it says that it is.  Why do I believe it when it says that it is?  Because God the Holy Spirit has revealed to me through my mind and in my heart that the Bible is trustworthy and true.  Why do I believe that?  Because the Bible says that the Holy Spirit lives in my heart and will reveal such things to me.  Why do I believe that I even exist and have a heart in which the Holy Spirit can dwell?  Because the Bible says so.  Why do I trust the Bible?  Because it is God's Word.  Yes, this is circular reasoning, but it is consistent and airtight.  It cannot be disproved.  Moreover, because it uses God as the reference point, it allows for certainty, which is a foreign concept to all man-made systems.  Any statement of belief derived within a man-made system must be qualified by the phrase, "I think", which is not the case with this system.   I am absolutely 100% sure that the Bible is God's Word. 

It cannot be emphasized enough that the truth of the Bible as God's Word can only be appealed to, ultimately, by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.  We must have faith that the Bible is God's Word in order to believe that it is God's Word.  Having said that, however, this faith is not a blind faith.  It is not a faith without fact.  We do not have to close our eyes and leap off the cliff, hoping that we will land safely without any reason to believe that we will do so.  Rather, we can embrace God and his promises by faith, and then within that framework we can look at the factual evidence to verify that, indeed, the things we are believing are true.  God has been gracious to provide us with ample, externally verifiable facts to support the notion that the Bible is true.  Anyone who scoffs at the notion that the Bible is God's Word has simply not examined the evidence accurately. 

Suppose you were to take ten authors, all from a single time period, a single culture, a single socio-economic status, and a single language; and stapled their writings together.  Assuming they had not been allowed to collaborate, what would you obtain but a disconnected anthology of writings?  Or suppose you were to ask them to write about a single controversial topic, would they all agree?  Of course not.  Now suppose you were to take over 40 different authors from all walks of life and various socio-economic backgrounds and levels of education (political leaders, kings, heads of state, priests, doctors, fishermen, and herdsmen).  Suppose you selected authors from 40 generations over a period of 1500 years, writing on three different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe) in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), during times of war, times of peace, times of joy, and times of despair.  What would you get but complete chaos if you were to do this as a human compiler?  And yet this is exactly what has been done with the Bible.  Despite its varied and unusual authorship, the Bible is not a collection of unrelated books but rather an integrated whole, a continuous unfolding story from the first book of Genesis to the last book of Revelation.  The human authors of the various books of the Bible speak about hundreds of controversial topics, and yet they all agree perfectly.  No other book can make this claim.  No other book even comes close.  The Bible is unique in its composition, which corroborates its claim of divine authorship.  [This and the following paragraphs borrow heavily from Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Vol. 1, 1979]

Now suppose you were to write prophecies regarding the future.  Not the vague sort of prophecies that could always be construed as having come true, and not just one or two prophecies.  Rather, suppose you were asked to write hundreds of detailed prophecies, all of which must come true in order to retain your credibility.  Could you, as a human author do it?  Yet this is exactly what we find in the Bible.  Hundreds of years before Jesus Christ was born, the Bible recorded the details of a man, the Messiah, who would come to save the nation of Israel.  The prophet Micah said that he would be born in the town of Bethlehem, and the prophet Isaiah said that he would come from the land of Galilee.  The authors of the Bible recorded that he would be a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David.  They described his forerunner, the popular John the Baptist, who was also his cousin, and they described his virgin birth.  They explained that he would come before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (which occurred in A.D. 70) and that he would arrive before the tribe of Judah lost the power of governing (which occurred shortly after Jesus' birth).  They described his earthly ministry, that he would open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, as well as heal the legs of the lame and the tongues of the dumb; that he would teach in parables; that he would enter the temple; and that he would enter Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  They described the events surrounding his death, in particular that he would be betrayed by a friend for thirty pieces of silver, and that the money would be thrown to the potter in the house of the Lord; that he would be forsaken by his disciples, rejected by his people, abandoned by his friends, and falsely accused; that he would be silent before his accusers, smitten and struck; that he would be thirsty and given vinegar to drink; that the people would wag their heads and stare at him; that his hands and his feet would be pierced but his bones would not be broken; that he would die in the company of wicked men but would be buried with the rich; that his garments would be divided but for his vesture men would cast lots.  In addition, the Bible described that Christ would rise again after his death, ascend into heaven, and sit at God's right hand.  All these prophecies, which are found throughout the Old Testament (see Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 in particular) were literally fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ, as can be verified by reading the Gospel accounts in the New Testament.  Again, the Bible is unique, this time in its many, detailed, and accurately fulfilled prophecies.

It is appropriate at this point to note that the window of time for fulfilling several of these prophecies has already passed, making it impossible for the Scriptural Messiah to arrive today.  Those who believe that the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament has yet to arrive should consider the following.  First, since the genealogical records were destroyed by Herod in the first century, it would now be impossible to verify whether someone claiming to be the Messiah were actually descended from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, or David.  Secondly, as mentioned above, Moses wrote in Genesis 49:10 that the Messiah would come before the tribe of Judah lost the sceptre (i.e., the power of governing), which occurred in the first century A.D.  In fact, when this occurred, the Jewish Sanhedrin (not recognizing that Jesus was the Messiah) covered their bodies with sackcloth and ashes, proclaiming, "Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come!" [McDowell, p. 169]  Thirdly, according to Daniel 9 and Malachi 3, the coming of the Messiah is before the city of Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed; and it is a fact of history that both the city and the temple were destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman army.  Finally, the prophecy of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9 specifically pinpoints the timing of the Messiah as occurring in the early first century (Exactly sixty-nine weeks of years, or 483 years, transpired from the decree in 454 B.C. to rebuild Jerusalem, as recorded in Nehemiah 2, to the beginning of Christ's ministry in A.D. 29, as calculated by James Ussher in his The Annals of the World) .  These prophecies and the facts of history show that the Messiah has already come, and that he came no later than the first century A.D., which is precisely when Jesus Christ came.

In addition, the Bible contains many prophecies whose fulfillment is recorded in secular history.  The book of Daniel, for example, prophesies during the time of the Babylonian Empire (sixth century B.C.) that three great empires will follow, and the descriptions given match the kingdoms of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, which came to power hundreds of years later.  It explains that after Rome, the power will be divided into ten kingdoms, all of which will share the power but will not adhere to one another to create a single great nation -- an accurate description of Western civilization ever since the fall of the Roman Empire.  Greece is mentioned by name, as well as Media and Persia.  The eleventh chapter of the book is worth special attention because it contains perhaps the most detailed prophecy in the entire Bible, fulfilled by historical events exactly in the order described.  The text explains that

All of these events, as you can see, happened in history in the exact way foretold in Scripture. In fact, the description is so detailed, and it matches so well with secular history, that critics have accused Daniel of writing the events after they happened rather than before they happened.  The problem with such an accusation, of course, is that there is absolutely no factual evidence to back it up -- it is merely an assertion arising from a presuppositional bias against the undesired conclusion.  That the book of Daniel was written in the 6th century B.C., hundreds of years before the events took place, is attested by the internal evidence of the book itself, the evidence of the contemporary prophet Ezekiel, the 3rd-century B.C. translation of the entire Old Testament (including Daniel) into Greek known as the Septuagint, and the fact that Alexander the Great himself was shown these prophecies (which speak about him) while he was still alive, as recorded by the first-century historian Josephus [Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 11.8.5].

Other Biblical prophecies were not even completely fulfilled until hundreds of years after the Bible was complete.  For example, Ezekiel 26 says about the ancient city of Tyre, that (1) Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, will destroy the mainland city, (2) many nations will come against the city in waves, (3) the city will be made bare like a rock, (4) the debris of the city will be thrown into the water, (5) the city will become a place for fishermen to spread their nets, and (6) the city will never be rebuilt.  These specific prophecies were literally fulfilled.  Three years after the prophecy Nebuchadnezzar laid seige against the city, broke down its gates, and destroyed the mainland city.  Two hundred fifty years later Alexander the Great beseiged the remaining Alcatraz-like island fortress just off the mainland and destroyed it, casting the debris into the sea.  After rebuilding, the city was again besieged and reduced by Antigonus a few years later.  It was destroyed again by the Moslems hundreds of years later, after which time it has never been rebuilt.  Although the location of the city remains excellent, with an abundance of fresh water from the neighboring springs of Reselain, yet the location remains to this day a bare rock and a place for fishermen to spread their nets, as explained in history and travel books.  Similarly, in Ezekiel 28 we find a prophesy against Tyre's sister city, Sidon:  (1) blood will be in her streets with the sword on every side, but (2) no mention is made of her destruction.  Indeed, Sidon has had a bloody history, with 40,000 of her inhabitants committing suicide in 351 B.C., falling three times before the Moslem armies during the crusades, and the scene of conflicts between the Druses and the Turks, and between the Turks and the French, and so on.  Sidon, however, remains a city to this day.    In the New Testament, Christ prophesies in Matthew 11 that the ancient cities of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida, beautifully situated in or near the shores of the Sea of Galilee, will be judged more greatly that Tyre and Sidon.  Sure enough, around A.D. 400 an earthquake destroyed Capernaum, and the other two cities perished at the same time.  Since then attempts have been made to rebuild the cities, but the attempts have never been successful.  The three cities lie in ruins to this day.  A city not mentioned in Christ's prophecy, Tiberias, also along the coast of Galilee, remains to this day, having been rebuilt several times after partial destruction.  Additional prophecies regarding Jerusalem, Palestine, Samaria, Gaza-Ashkelon, Moab-Ammon, Edom, Thebes, Memphis, Ninevah, and Babylon, can be found in McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

The Bible is not simply a collection of moral teachings and prophecies but also the history of a people.  As such, the Bible contains many historical facts, with specific names, places, and dates.  Whenever the Bible has been attacked by critics as being historically inaccurate, the attacks have been shown to be unfounded.  Time and time again a critic has leveled a charge against the Bible, only to have counter-evidence appear later.  The archaeological and external evidence overwhelmingly supports the accuracy of the historical descriptions in the text.  According to Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archaeologist, "It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference."  And according to the great archaeologist W. F. Albright, the skepticism of the 17th and 18th centuries has been "progressively discredited.  Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history."  [McDowell, p.65].  For example, the proper names of the kings of surrounding nations (Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Moabite), as determined by external archaeological evidence according to Robert Dick Wilson, compares with the most minute accuracy to the transliterated names embedded in the Hebrew text, as well as the relative dates of their rule.  The skeptics said that there was no such person as Abraham until that name, along with Abraham's brothers Nahor and Haran, was found in Babylonian cuneiform tablets.  They also said that there was no such person as David until an inscription at Dan that mentions the Aramean victory over Israel (I Kings 15:16-22), the king of Israel, and "the house of David," was discovered.  They said that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) because the technique of writing had not been invented until after Moses' life, until the Ebla tablets were discovered that had been written a thousand years before Moses, complete with law codes and elaborate judicial proceedings.  They scoffed as fictitious the five Cities of the Plain (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar) until these same Ebla tablets were discovered in which these five cities are mentioned in the exact same order as that of Genesis.  Skeptics said that the ancient city of Dibon, where the Israelites camped on their way out of Egypt, did not exist, until inscriptions were found in Egypt, at the temple of Amon at Karnak, describing an ancient trade route with a city named Dibon on the route.  Mosaic legislation has been found in Hittite, Assyrian, Sumerian, and Eshunna codes.  King Ahab's treaty with the king of Syria is recorded in Syrian inscriptions.  During the excavations of Jericho, Garstang discovered that the walls of the city fell outward so completely that the attackers would be able to run into the city, exactly as the Bible describes (city walls normally fall inward).  Moreover, the grain was found, too, just as the Bible says, although the normal practice was for invaders to take the valuable grain.  In this case, however, they scattered the grain and burned it along with the city.  The pattern is clear:  Skeptics have a poor track record of pointing out supposed flaws in the Bible's recorded history, and there is no rational reason to doubt the accuracy of its history throughout. 

The history recorded in the New Testament has been vindicated as well.  It is now well-recognized that Luke, the writer of two books (the gospel according to Luke and Acts), was a first-rate historian.  Sir William Ramsay, one of the greatest archaeologists of the 19th century, was skeptical of the accuracy of the New Testament and set out to prove its inaccuracy, in particular the writings of Luke.  But the more he studied the more he became impressed with its accuracy, and he eventually wrote a book, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, to share his findings.  For example, Luke speaks of Lysanias the Tetrarch, and an inscription found near Damascus says, "Lysanias the Tetrach" dated around that time period.  Critics said that Luke's account of Christ birth was not accurate because there was no census, until discoveries indicated that the Romans had a regular enrollment of taxpayers and held censuses every 14 years, one of which was in 9-8 B.C.  Moreover, a papyrus was found in Egypt giving directions for a census, saying that persons should return to their homes to complete the family registration, just as recorded in Luke.  Critics said that Luke was wrong when he said that the city of Iconium was not in Lycaonia, until a monument was found that showed Iconium as a Phrygian city.  Adding to Luke's credibility is the fact that he does not hide behind ambiguity but rather uses the specific words and terms to refer to the people and places of his day, such as "meris" to describe the division of a district, "praetor" to refer to a Philippian ruler,  "proconsul" as the title for Gallio, and "politarchs" to denote the civil authorities in Thessalonica.  At one time critics attacked him for his use of these terms, thinking that they understood the terms better than he, but subsequent archaeological discoveries have vindicated him in this matter.  There can be no doubt that Luke writes as a well-informed eye-witness. 

Now that we have seen the Bible's uniqueness as to its authorship, its prophecies, and its historical accuracy, a natural question to ask is whether the Bible we have today is the same as the original.  In this category as well, the Bible shines forth its authenticity and uniqueness.  A standard way of testing the authenticity of an ancient document is to count the number of manuscripts and compare them.  With over 24,000 known manuscripts, the New Testament has ten times more data than all the major writers of antiquity combined, and the intervening time between the original writing and the oldest manuscript available today is less than one-tenth when compared with other ancient texts.  Among all the manuscripts, the textual corruption of the New Testament has been estimated at approximately one percent, far less than the corruption of comparable ancient manuscripts, and many of the corruptions in the New Testament are obvious copyist errors such as spelling mistakes that do not affect the meaning of the passage in question.   Similarly, there is considerable evidence that the Old Testament has been preserved to the present day.  The Talmudists and Massoretes who were responsible for transcribing the text to replace old, worn-out manuscripts, took great pains to ensure that no errors were introduced:  counting the number of letters on a line, the number of lines on a page, the number of times a letter occurs in a book, the middle letter of the Bible, and so on.  These pains have ensured that the text is relatively error-free.  Confirming this statement is the fact that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written around 100 B.C., agree with the Massoretic text of the standard Hebrew Bible in about 95% of the text, with the remaining 5% being chiefly slips of the pen and spelling variations.  Thus, in approximately one thousand years no substantial changes occurred.  Moreover, the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek in the third century B.C., agrees substantially with the Hebrew manuscripts.

If you have made it this far, hopefully you will now agree with me (if you did not before) that there is no religion in the world like Christianity.  The many details in this rather lengthy section show that, although we must accept Christ by faith and not by purely rationalistic thinking, there is no need for us to leave our brain at the door, so to speak, when we come to him.  Rather, his teachings are entirely reasonable, and there exist many externally verifiable facts which point to their truth.

The problem of pluralism

All of these arguments about Christianity being unique cut against the grain of our modern notion of pluralism.  According to the prevailing notion today, all beliefs (especially those of a "religious" nature) are considered equally valid, and it is taboo to try to persuade someone that his or her religion might be wrong.  This approach, however, of believing that everyone is right and no one is wrong, even when we all contradict each other, is nonsense, because two contradictory statements cannot both be true simultaneously.  If two statements contradict each other, at least one of them must be wrong.  To say otherwise is to destroy all sound reason.

Although toleration is a good thing when applied to matters that are morally indifferent (such as tolerating different skin complexions, ethnicities, dialects, and food preferences, etc.), toleration in and of itself is not a virtue. Rather, whether toleration is to be commended depends upon whether the thing being tolerated is itself virtuous or reprehensible. No one (at least no one I know) would think of saying we should tolerate the “alternate lifestyle” of a serial rapist, or that we should tolerate the “consensual relationship” of an incestuous man who wanted to marry his 10-year-old daughter.  To the contrary, we generally recoil at such behavior and condemn it.  When we do this, we are testifying to the rarely acknowledged fact that unqualified toleration is a logical impossibility because every form of tolerance by necessity implies an intolerance of the opposite. The following conversation illustrates this:

Christian:  Christianity is the only true religion.
Pluralist:  You are so narrow-minded. You should learn to tolerate other people’s beliefs.
Christian:  If what you say is true, then why will you not tolerate my belief that Christianity is the only true religion?

Underlying this prevailing notion of tolerance is the postmodern relativism that denies moral absolutes. This, too, is self-refuting:

Pluralist:  There are no absolutes.
Christian:  Are you absolutely sure about that?

Yes, we should tolerate many things, but we should not and cannot tolerate everything.  Primarily and foundationally we should tolerate truth; tolerating truth must be our starting point, and it necessarily implies not tolerating error.  How absurd it would be for a math teacher to say to the class, "Although I believe that 5 is a prime number, you do not have to believe it if you do not want to, because I want to be sensitive to the fact that you may be offended by this notion."   This is silly, of course, but why are matters of religion any different?  Only because we have, as a culture, largely bought into the notion that religious truth is unknowable.  But, as we have seen before this skeptic's approach is self-refuting and untenable.

Christianity is an exclusive religion.  The claims made by Christianity are unique, and they are incompatible with all other religions.  According to Christianity, Jesus Christ is the only way to God and to heaven.  Christ himself claims that he is the only way -- not one of many ways -- to God.  Christ claims to be self-existent and eternal.  He claims to have raised others from the dead and to have raised himself from the dead.  He promises to raise us from the dead, if we will believe in him.  He claims to be the one who will judge the world at the last day.  He commands us to believe in him, to worship him, to obey him, and to forsake all else -- including our own life -- in order to follow him.  He never considered himself merely a good moral teacher, but rather the Son of God, even God himself.  As C. S. Lewis said, we cannot honestly call him merely a good moral teacher, because a fully human moral teacher would not say the outrageous things that he said.  If his claims are false, then he is a liar or a lunatic, but if they are true, then he is the Lord himself, deserving of our praise and trust.   

Reformed Christianity

If one accepts the conclusion above that Christianity is true, one still must address the question of which brand of Christianity to embrace.  Sadly, the Christian church today is split into thousands of denominations, all of which hold to conflicting and irreconcilable belief systems.  As a result, it is not immediately obvious just what someone means by the word, Christianity.  This confusion presents a poor witness to the world: Why should anyone believe that Christ is "the truth" if his followers cannot even agree on what the truth is?  This tolerating of conflicting doctrines within the church (ecclesiastical pluralism, or denominationalism) and tolerating conflicting doctrines outside the church (worldly pluralism) is a sad reflection of the times in which we live.   

I am not convinced that there is an easy solution to this current mess in which we find ourselves. However, it would seem worthwhile to consider the role of covenanting.  A covenant is a solemn agreement, or promise, between two parties, such as the covenant of marriage when a husband and wife agree to be bound to each other for the rest of their lives.  Now, in order for the church to be united in the truth, Christians must agree with each other on what that truth is.  The last time in the history of the world that the church made such an attempt at unity occurred in the 1640s, at the height of the second Protestant Reformation in Europe, when a group of men (mostly pastors) met in London, England, for this very purpose.  Because they met in the Westminster Abbey, the group is known as the Westminster Assembly, and it was the largest, longest, and most learned of all the synods throughout church history.  These men swore to a covenant, known as the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), in which they pledged to work toward the further reformation of the church and state in order to establish a Christian nation founded upon the truth revealed in the Bible.  The covenant was sworn by all ranks of people throughout the British isles, including Parliament and the king, as well as the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  Sadly, the covenant was soon broken, and all of the current problems of our nation can be traced back, one way or the other, to the fact that we have continued to neglect and break this covenant.  

As an outgrowth of their commitment to the covenant, the Westminster Assembly produced the following documents which accurately summarize the teaching of the Bible:

(Contains all the documents
in a single bound volume)

I would be remiss not to close this section with a brief word regarding Bible translations.  One sad consequence of our current backsliding condition is that the Bible itself has been corrupted.  Although the original Bible still exists in the collective Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, all modern translations of the Bible are based upon a demonstrably faulty principle of textual criticism that causes a small number of corrupt manuscripts to take precedence over the vast majority of faithful ones.  These corrupt manuscripts have a questionable history, have been edited over the years by various scribes, and disagree significantly with the faithful manuscripts and even with each another in many places.  Although the corrupt manuscripts are admittedly older than the other manuscripts, they are not the oldest evidence available.  The early church fathers and early translations precede them, and these sources verify the accuracy of the thousands of faithful manuscripts over against the corrupt ones.  Moreover, age alone does not make a manuscript more trustworthy than another but must be weighed with other factors such as number, catholicity, respectability, continuity, context, and reasonableness.  For further details, Dean John W. Burgon has provided a thorough refutation of the modern approach in his book, The Revision Revised.  The most accurate (though not perfect) translation of the Bible into English remains the King James Version, also known as the Authorized Version. 

The meaning of life

So back to our original question about the meaning of life.  Three thousand years ago, the wise Solomon, King of Israel, summed up his view of the meaning of life in this way:

Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. -- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

Now this is a sobering thought.  Nothing we do escapes God's notice, not even the things we supposedly do in secret. As Jesus Christ said, "Every careless word that men shall utter they shall render account for it in the day of God's judgment." I don't know about you, but I utter many careless words every day which would be better left unspoken, or better yet, unthought. The notion that God is going to remember them all is a little more than frightening.

So where does that leave us? A perfect God demands perfect obedience from his creatures, and his creatures are unable to obey Him in anything that even remotely resembles perfection. After all, "to err is human," as we have noted before. We disobey God all the time, and this disobedience, otherwise known as sin, is a debt that we owe him and for which we have no resources to pay. The result of the disobedience, then, is death -- not your plain and ordinary physical death that we will all inevitably face one day (no real surprise here although most of us try not to think about it too often), but eternal and spiritual death that will separate us from God and from all that is good forever and ever and ever and ever and ever....

The only solution to this problem must come from the outside. A debtor who is not only in way over his head, but who also accumulates debt faster than he can repay it, even with his best efforts, is helpless to get himself out of the pit he has dug. No one at the bottom of a big slimy hole with no traction and no tools, can save himself. A very big debtor requires a very rich friend. A convicted criminal requires a perfect substitute to take his place and bear his punishment.   This is what Jesus Christ has done. Christ came to this earth, obeyed God's law perfectly, and offered himself once for all a sacrifice for guilty sinners like you and me by dying on the cross. Being both God and man, Christ is the mediator who bridges the infinite gap between the creature and the creator. If we place our faith and trust in Christ, His perfect obedience is credited to our account, and we are considered in God's eyes as if we had obeyed Him perfectly ourselves. It is as if Christ, our rich friend, had deposited several trillion dollars into our bank account with a negative trillion dollar balance, so that the amount available after the deposit is even greater than would have been available had we never been in debt at all. Not only that, but we are not simply set free from our debt and sent on our merry way, but are instead invited into the creditor's home to live with him. Yes, it is a mystery beyond our comprehension, but if we place our faith in Christ, God will not only forgive us of our sins, but He will adopt us as His children.

The most succinct, comprehensive answer to the question of the meaning of life is that provided by the Westminster Assembly at the beginning of the Shorter Catechism:

Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Our purpose in life does not revolve around materialistic things, like how much money we have or what kind of car we drive. It also does not revolve around personal things, like our health, our friends, our popularity, or our status. It doesn't even revolve around our making the most of every moment, enjoying friends and food, children's smiles, pretty flowers, or majestic mountains. Now don't get me wrong: All these things, if pursued properly, are well and good. But they are only good if they are pursued in the right manner, at the right time, and for the right reason. They are only good if they are pursued in the context of glorifying and enjoying God, for He is the reason for our existence. All things were created by God for his own pleasure and glory, and it is only by our recognizing our dependence upon him, our miniscule though significant part in His overall plan, and our relationship with Him through the Lord Jesus Christ, that our life has any ultimate meaning.  If you are a student, it may be helpful to see that this conclusion is precisely that found in Harvard University's original Student Handbook:
Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, John 17:3.

January A. D. 2006