Saturday, 20 September 2014

What comes first: that something *feels* true, or that it *is* true? How to approach Christian evangelism and apologetics

Truth should feel true and be true - subjective and objective - but which comes first?

'Postmodern' thinking says that feeling true is all that can be had - so all truth is personal, and also labile (changing over time, with mood etc) and temporary (everybody dies, and truth dies with them). This is self-refuting - but also a counsel of hedonistic despair.

Some traditional religion has it that truth is true and it doesn't matter what we feel about it - because feelings are personal, labile and temporary (as above). But, if it doesn't matter what we feel about it, truth is incapable of motivating us, incapable of providing a meaning or purpose to our lives. At most we could passively (and miserably) obey....

So we must have feelings and also objective being - but which comes first?

Traditional Christian evangelism and apologetics has it that objective reality comes first - logic and facts then feelings will follow; but traditional apologetics doesn't make converts.

Evangelical Christians and Mormons say that feelings come first - based upon personal experiences such as revelation and miracles; and then facts and logic come-in to back up the feelings - and evangelicals (including Pentecostals and Charismatic churches) and Mormons are the only ones who are getting significant numbers of converts (especially among the young, especially in China, Africa and South America).

So, the lesson for this, our time and situation, is: we need both feelings and logic-facts: but feelings should come first.



Rodney said...

It is an interesting phenomenon. I encountered something similar when I was being instructed by Mormon missionaries. Mormon theology seemed to have been custom-built for man, whereas traditional theology seems to want man to fit into it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Rodney - "Mormon theology seemed to have been custom-built for man" - well, there is a lot of truth in that, and most people don't get far enough to recognize that as correct; but of course having recognized that fact, the crux is who 'custom-built' it.

This is why Mormons must (first) believe in their hearts that the Book of Mormon is true - i.e. is what it says it is (i.e. custom built by God, and not by Joseph Smith and his associates).

Everything hinges upon that - and there is evidence on both sides, for and against; but if that is believed (in the heart) everything else follows.

Rich said...

Interesting. I feel that I came to be a Christian by knowing in my heart that the life I was leading was off or wrong. And that set off a search. However, it was not until I began to read moldbug then Deogolwulf and finally you, Bruce, that my heart became open to Christ. Once that little crack around the barrier formed it followed that a flood of love entered my being and my life was changed forever.

You have a great gift, Bruce. You have taught me more than I could have ever hoped for. Certainly more than I could have ever hoped for from a stranger on the internet! Thanks for continuing to push me forward. I'm so grateful.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ads - Thank you.

I too came to Christianity by rational steps, and via deism and monotheism - more like CS Lewis. But this took about fifty years, with many wrong turns and reverses - despite that I had spent probably hundreds of hours thinking about such matters directly and explicitly. Clearly the path I took is not going to be the basis of large scale Christian revival!

Looking back, my main feeling is that I was trying to achieve a pseudo-scientific certainty about God - a certainty in fact beyond that of science. I expected the evidence for Christianity to be conclusive and for each element to have no other possible explanation - what logical nonsense, in retrospect!