Why We Need Jesus
Several years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a couple days with noted philosopher Richard Rorty. He repeated his claim that religion is a conversation stopper in public arguments, since it rests on private opinion. I asked him if shifting from philosophical and moral claims to a historical one—namely, that Jesus rose from the dead—would make a difference. After hearing me sketch that claim, he replied, "Yes, aside from the merit of the case itself, that would place Christian faith out in the open, exposed to public criticism."
"And," I interrupted, "public faith."
"Yes, of course," he conceded. "Public arguments of any kind can go either way," he added. "But that's not the kind of argument I often hear." Rorty didn't profess faith in Christ after our conversation. In fact, he argued that "truth" is a social construction. But he admitted that staking Christian discourse on historical claims was different from basing it on private sentiments.
We live in a world that assumes reason is unbiased, when in fact our reason itself is enslaved to naturalism: a denial of the world's dependence on God for its creation and preservation, much less redemption. Any valid argument or evidence that suggests otherwise must have a naturalistic explanation, even if that explanation is the least reasonable. To be a rational person is to be a practical atheist, whatever spiritual hobbies one takes up on the weekends. Reason rests on public facts; faith, on private values. When it comes to faith, you can believe whatever you want, as long as you don't think it's true for everyone else. You can have faith in whatever makes you happy, as long as you don't presume to evaluate my faith. After all, it's mine: deeply personal and not open to public inspection. And reducing the gospel to "Jesus in my heart" is going to fit in perfectly on the island of subjective individualism to which our age has relegated faith.
This leaves us paralyzed, unable to understand the faith as more than childish whim, personal therapy, or a leap in the dark. We feel compelled to make faith adhere to naturalism, which our culture calls reason. We may downplay the biblical miracles, or describe prayer as "practicing silence," or think of the kingdom of God primarily as a manifesto for social reform and of Jesus as a great teacher. Reason opens its gate to mundane good advice, not to miraculous good news; deeds are authorized, but creeds are dangerous. The pressure to conform our faith to the rules of naturalism is powerful.
And if we share the gospel with others, we're accused of "proselytizing," which is code for pushing private beliefs on others. Thus, for many, evangelism is antiquated, replaced by good works that show the love of Jesus. No doubt we should show the love of Jesus in deed. But if Paul is right, people will come to know Christ only through our public testimony—the one thing our culture precludes, except when the likeminded meet as a voluntary association (Rom. 10).
The question for Christians, and anyone seeking to know God, is: On what basis can we know and trust God? And how can we trust that we know God, and have a knowledge that emboldens us to speak the gospel in our culture and live in a way that befits it?