Sunday, February 27, 2011

Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs by Tim Keller

This is one of the best presentations on understanding the issues and presenting the Gospel in our culture. It's not a quick read, but Keller's grasp of how to communicate the Gospel to the Western mind is unparalleled. Of course, that's just my opinion so you'll have to check it out for yourself:


1. Defeater beliefs
Every culture hostile to Christianity holds to a set of 'common-sense' consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people. These are what philosophers call "defeater beliefs." A defeater belief is Belief-A that, if true, means Belief-B can't be true.

Christianity is disbelieved in one culture for totally opposite reasons it is disbelieved in another. So for example, in the West (as we will explore below) it is widely assumed that Christianity can't be true because of the cultural belief there can't be just one "true" religion. But in the Middle East, people have absolutely no problem with the idea that there is just one true religion. That doesn't seem implausible at all. Rather there it is widely assumed that Christianity can't be true because of the cultural belief that American culture, based on Christianity, is unjust and corrupt. (Skeptics ought to realize, then, that the objections they have to the Christian faith are culturally relative!) So each culture has its own set of culturally-based doubt-generators which people call 'objections' or 'problems' with Christianity.

When a culture develops a combination of many, widely held defeater beliefs it becomes a cultural 'implausibility-structure.' In these societies, most people don't feel they have to give Christianity a good hearing – they don't feel that kind of energy is warranted. They know it just can't be true. That is what makes evangelism in hostile cultures so much more difficult and complex than it was under 'Christendom.' In our Western culture (and in places like Japan, India, and Muslim countries) the reigning implausibility-structure against Christianity is very strong. Christianity simply looks ludicrous. In places like Africa, Latin America, and China, however, the implausibility structures are eroding fast. The widely held assumptions in the culture make Christianity look credible there.
Read More Here.

Keller goes on to talk specifically about the defeater beliefs of Western culture:
What are the dominant defeaters in contemporary Western civilization? These are the dominant defeaters discovered in a recent survey I did of young under 25 year olds in NYC who are not Christian. Below six 'defeaters' are stated and answered in a nutshell. Why Christianity can't be true – because of:

a) The other religions. Christians seem to greatly over-play the differences between their faith and all the other ones. Though millions of people in other religions say they have encountered God, have built marvelous civilizations and cultures, and have had their lives and characters changed by their experience of faith, Christians insist that only they go to heaven — that their religion is the only one that is 'right' and true. The exclusivity of this is breath taking. It also appears to many to be a threat to international peace.

Brief response: Inclusivism is really covert exclusivism. It is common to hear people say: "No one should insist their view of God better than all the rest. Every religion is equally valid." But what you just said could only be true if: First, there is no God at all, or second, God is an impersonal force that doesn't care what your doctrinal beliefs about him are. So as you speak you are assuming (by faith!) a very particular view of God and you are pushing it as better than the rest! That is at best inconsistent and at worst hypocritical, since you are doing the very thing you are forbidding. To say "all religions are equally valid" is itself a very white, Western view based in the European enlightenment's idea of knowledge and values. Why should that view be privileged over anyone else's?

b) Evil and suffering. Christianity teaches the existence of an all-powerful, all-good and loving God. But how can that belief be reconciled with the horrors that occur daily? If there is a God, he must be either all-powerful but not good enough to want an end to evil and suffering, or he's all-good but not powerful enough to bring an end to evil and suffering. Either way the God of the Bible couldn't exist. For many people, this is not only an intellectual conundrum but also an intensely personal problem. Their own personal lives are marred by tragedy, abuse, and injustice.

Brief response: If God himself has suffered our suffering isn't senseless. First, if you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn't stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have to (at the same moment) have a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can't know. (You can't have it both ways.) Second, though we don't know the reasons why he allows it to continue, he can't be indifferent or un-caring, because the Christian God (unlike the gods of all the other religions) takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he is willing to get involved with it himself. On the cross, Jesus suffered with us.

Read the rest of the defeater beliefs here.

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