How do we come to a place of mental assent and of faith?


Recently I heard a podcast, where an atheist who is exploring the Christian faith, asked the following question: “Given that we can’t know beyond reasonable doubt that it’s true, can you tell me why I ought to become a Christian?

I found the following response helpful for my own life, in terms of understanding the journey that God has taken me on, to form my heart – my beliefs, assumptions, expectations – in various areas of my life. So I wanted to post it, for others who might find it sheds light on their own journey:

We rarely give assent to things, on the basis of one clinching argument or one deductive demonstration. So, considering the language of “proving beyond any reasonable doubt” – rarely in life, do we assent to anything, because we have that kind of clinching evidence.

Rather it comes from a whole collection of causes: argument or reasoning is one; but then there’s also personal witness, hunch, intuition, friendship (let’s say with a Christian). We take all these elements together, and they move the mind to assent.

But this is true not just of religion, but it every area of life. That’s how the mind comes to assent. So I encourage you to not impose an artificial template on this process – as though you have to find the clinching argument, that’s going to make you say, ‘Yes, this is true.’

Compare it also to a scientific paradigm. Let’s say, Einstein’s theory of relativity, which supplanted an older paradigm – the Newtonian paradigm. Why did people end up saying, ‘Yeah, it’s true?’ Well, it was never, ‘Yeah, that’s the one argument.’ Rather, there was a whole series /set of arguments & intuitions & experiments & hunches, which led people to say, ‘Yeah, this is a more adequate paradigm for understanding the physical world.’

The same is true – it seems to me – with regard to religion. What leads you to say, ‘Yeah, Christianity is true.’ It’s a whole slew of things. That’s what the great Christian apologists seem to do – they bring together this & that; and they draw the various strands together.

Let me just give you one, which I think is especially important about Christianity – the Christian claim, that in Jesus, divinity & humanity meet. Indeed, in the unity of Jesus’ person – divinity & humanity meet. That corresponds indeed, to the deepest longing of the human heart – that’s expressed in every philosophy, every religion, all the literature of the world. That’s what human beings want above all, is to be united with God in the most intense kind of union.
The claim of Christianity is that this has happened. That the Word became flesh; that God has come among us, that we might all become sons and daughters of God in the Son. That through the incarnation, we can be drawn – as St. Peter puts it – to be sharers in the divine nature. I don’t know any offer in any religion of philosophy, more compelling than that – one that corresponds more profoundly, to the longing of my own heart. That, to me, is a powerful indicator, of the truth of Christianity.

Now, does that settle the argument? No. If we had a chance to talk, I’d give you lots of other indicators. But it’s akin to asking, ‘Why do I accept this scientific paradigm?’ It’s rarely one argument. It’s a whole vision of life, that comes from a variety of sources.

C.S.Lewis once said: “I believe in Christianity, as I believe the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.’ That it gives explanatory light, to all these other things we already accept – like the dignity of the human person; the intelligibility of the world; our hunger for justice & righteousness and beauty and truth. Christianity explains all those things better, than any worldview.

It’s like asking, ‘how do you know that map is right? Well, because it worked; it got me where I wanted to go. How do you know that that GPS system is working properly? Well, every time I use it, it gets me to where I want to go. And so, Christianity – that’s Lewis’ point – it sheds light; it gets me where I want to go; it works! As I’m trying to find joy, direction, meaning & purpose, this map works! That’s how I know it’s true.

I would like to leave you with a question for reflection: What are some experiences and indicators in my life, that I need to pay attention to, in my search for God (or my search for truth in a particular area)?

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