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Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. 49 The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. [John 4:48-50 KJV]

The nobleman, as recorded by John, expressed his need when Jesus said to him 'Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe'. His importunity responded to the test, the trial, that Jesus makes upon the man.

'Go thy way ; thy son liveth.' And he believed.

Without seeing anything, the man responded, out of importunity, and he believed the word that Jesus spoke.

... without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. [Hebrews 11:6 KJV]

The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that one must first have faith before coming to God. And not only faith in his existence, his being, but faith in that God will respond, and God will reward one's seeking after him.

Therefore the 'proof' of God's existence and the 'proof' of real Christianity (the having a relationship with God by the mediatorial work and ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ) is available to faith and to faith alone.

And more so, for the gospels teach the necessity of repentance, a baptism of repentance without which none can come to Christ. A pentinence that precedes faith.

What does Trinitarian Protestantism teach regarding the possibility of 'proving' anything about Christianity without repentance, first, and genuine faith ?

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    +1 Perhaps a distinction is to be drawn between evidence (Psalm 19) and proof (John3:33)? For instance, unless you are born again you cannot see (or enter) the kingdom of God and this was said to Nicodemus who certainly knew there was (at least supposed to be) a kingdom of God. Sep 4 at 12:11
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Paraphrasing your question

I think it is instructive to clarify the meaning of "proof". Your question already distinguished two meanings related to two different faculties of the human soul, which if I may rephrase:

  • faculty of the mind: the proof of God's existence, which I assume you meant something like Aquinas's Cosmological argument or St. Anselm's Ontological argument
  • faculty of the new life: proof (obtained through the virtue of faith) of the fullness of God mediated by Jesus Christ (testified by the Holy Spirit)

Are there proofs of other kinds of truths that the human soul can arrive at without being born again? I think that's another way of asking your question.

My short answer is: Yes there are, but not enough for conversion. Protestantism (especially the Anglican variety) welcomes proofs but still requires faith to convince a person to become a Christian. Once converted, Christians can then re-enlist their grace-repaired reason to give additional proof from within the spiritual life and to grow stronger in faith. @Anne's answer beautifully contrasts the "proof from outside" versus the "proof from within".

Introduction: faith and reason versus faith or reason

The preeminent modern Protestant apologist who places a high value on rationality is of course C.S. Lewis, who famously said:

"I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it." (from his book Mere Christianity, Book 3 Chapter 11 - Faith Paragraph 4).

What could he mean by that? Did he mean reasoning with or without faith? On the other hand, the famous existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard believes that God's Existence Cannot Be Proved. How do we reconcile this with C.S. Lewis? With St. Aquinas and St. Anselm?

Once again, we need to be careful what exactly we want to prove, which we need to associate with a particular discipline (such as history, science, philosophy, psychology, mythology, literature, etc.), each with its own canon of method. For example, historical proof will look very different than philosophical proof, different not only by the method but by the kind of truths that can be produced.

We also need to be careful to distinguish which faculty of our soul is involved and to NOT disregard the stamp of God's image that is still there despite of the Fall, such as our conscience which according to Romans 1:18-32 is still operating, even though it is impaired.

Cumulative proofs as preparatory to and supportive of faith

To answer your question about "the possibility of 'proving' anything about Christianity without repentance, first, and genuine faith", I would answer that by combining different disciplines we will obtain cumulatively more "proofs" that will satisfy our reason, but not enough to make it a life-saving proof because the Protestant doctrine of sola fide teaches that we still need faith given through grace, although faith does NOT contradict reason. All these cumulative and variegated proofs are preparatory. Different kinds of preparatory proofs will suit different temperaments. The one that works for C.S. Lewis himself is what is now famously called the argument from desire.

These proofs are also useful post conversion to provide a safety net from our falling back into unbelief. So I believe reason and faith reinforces one another instead of competing. Professor Alister McGrath's 2015 lecture Faith, Proof and Evidence: What's right to think? (transcript here) makes the same point.

First two paragraphs of the lecture:

The whole issue of making sense of reality is deeply embedded within both the natural sciences and the Christian faith. In my own case, one factor that led me decisively away from my youthful atheism to Christianity was my growing realization that the Christian faith made far more sense of what I saw around me and experienced within me than its atheist alternatives. I gladly endorse C. S. Lewis's statement, now inscribed on his memorial stone in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Yet there is more to Christianity than making sense of things. We can hardly overlook its emphasis on the existentially transformative nature of salvation, nor the rich experience of beauty and awe which is so often evoked in Christian worship. Yet the fact remains the intellectual capaciousness of faith cannot be overlooked. As the Harvard psychologist William James suggested many years ago, religious faith is basically 'faith in the existence of an unseen order of some kind in which the riddles of the natural order may be found and explained.

The lecture then describes the following arguments that affirm how "part of its rich heritage Christians have always held that their faith makes sense in itself, and makes sense of the enigmas and riddles of our experience. The gospel is like an illuminating radiance that lights up the landscape of reality, allowing us to see things as they really are.":

  • C.S. Lewis & G.K. Chesterton: "I am an empirical theist. I arrived at God by induction." and then discusses how their view counters Richard Dawkins who argues that inductive evidence from science has nothing to do with faith
  • Michael Polanyi's view to counter Darwin
  • Cosmological Argument
  • Kalam Argument: William Lane Craig vs. Hume
  • Teleological Argument: Aquinas and William Paley
  • C.S. Lewis's argument from desire

The lecture ends with a note that those arguments

actually proves nothing. It affirms the consistency of the ideas, but does not compel assent.

Conclusion

Thus, if what you are trying to prove is the experienced reality of Christ's coming down from heaven to meet us in our impotent sinfulness and then giving us an empowering new life to start our ascent in union with Him back to what our life should have been, then those arguments are not sufficient. But our reason can at least help us to be more disposed to allow Christ to come to our living room (but not yet to the entire house) when He knocks on our heart's door. Then once Christ explains to us that we can be the adopted sons and daughters of God but that on earth we need to accept the way of the cross and the cost of discipleship, reason (healed with the grace of regeneration or if you're an Arminian, with prevenient grace) can also assist faith to battle the immediate violence and the unrelenting power of our old life which try to create doubts and to make us enslaved back to our former lord, the devil.

I believe in this way we can reconcile C.S. Lewis's defense of rational faith and Kierkegaard's insistence (along with the Protestant tradition) that reason is not enough. But both faith and reason are necessary if we see reason as preparatory to and supportive of faith. Christians should welcome all legitimate proofs to aid our faith and to clear the obstacles to the gospel that the lord of the world has erected to muddy the clear water through false philosophies, scientism, culture of death, false messiahs (such as Marxist socialism like in China), New Age movements, prosperity gospel, etc.

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I'm glad you defined what it is that is being asked to be proved - "real Christianity (the having a relationship with God by the mediatorial work and ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ)".

The difficulty of proving a relationship (in any sphere of life) is that claims may be backed up with evidence, but evidence, in itself, is not proof. I may claim to relate personally to my husband, signing myself as "Mrs. So-and-So", flashing my wedding ring to doubters, and waving my marriage certificate in front of deniers. Three strands of evidence that are in agreement certainly, but then if someone pointed out that I also have a certificate of death of my husband (which I failed to mention in my attempts to prove I was married), then my previous evidence would not count. I could only claim to have HAD a relationship with the man who once was my husband. That would also apply if I had a certificate of divorce from him. It may then look as if I had not been able to come to terms with no longer having a relationship with him, pretending to myself and others that I still related to him.

Now, if that's a complex situation with regard to proving a relationship with a husband, it is far more complex trying to prove one has a relationship with God! For a start, it assumes the existence of a God whom a sinful human can enter into relationship with. So, I assume your question does not ask about that. We can take the reality of God's existence as understood. And as you state that it is by the mediatorial work and ministry of God's Son, Jesus Christ, that we experience this relationship, then it becomes clear that belief in God's Son being the man who mediated for sinners on a cross is also taken as understood. Those things must, of necessity, be the foundation of any claimed relationship with God.

This means that anybody not believing in either or both of those foundational points can never believe another person's claim to truly relate to God. And it would be a monumental waste of time trying to convince that non-believer with logical proofs. It is only faith that counters a debate about Christianity by bringing the doubter into a living, experienced reality.

Those two foundational points for being in relationship with God require faith on the part of the person making that claim. It is impossible to relate to God without having faith in God's existence, and faith in what his Son did to open up the way to please God, personally. Nothing of that can be understood by a person not having true Christian faith. Even if they see a Christian living a transformed life and appearing to be all that a Christian should be, that will not constitute proof, for the doubter would say non-Christians can live transformed lives and be admirable people. And even if a Christian should present logical evidences for the existence of God and Christ, the denier will dismiss all of that because they have no idea what saving faith is.

All the Trinitarian Protestants I know would understand everything I've explained, and largely concur with it. Unfortunately, there are others who may agree with all the theology of Trinitarian Protestantism yet not have that personal relationship with God through Christ which we speak of, because it's just an intellectual assent and not putting faith in God and Christ. Maybe a bit like being happy to live in the same house as one you admire, but not being legally 'married', not having taken the step of commitment?

Anyway, here is a quote from a Trinitarian Protestant book on what saving faith is. It begins that section by saying:

"The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts... the principal acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life... Christ is both the author and finisher of our faith."

"Faith denotes that aspect of change whereby the soul turns to Christ and experiences supreme attachment to him." (The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, G.I. Williamson, pp 96-97)

The book then goes on to use an illustration to explain why some who claim to be Christians, relating to God through Christ, are not yet in that relationship, never having actually turned from death in sin to life in Christ:

"We might call this 'spectator' religion. Christianity is, to them, like a great stage drama - they know the lines by heart - and it moves them deeply every time they see it - but they never become 'part of the act.' This is not conversion. And it leads only to sorrow and death." (Ibid. p 98)

I hope this explains why proving Christianity to be a relationship with God through faith of Christ cannot be done until a person tastes and sees that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). And, "Kiss the Son... Blessed are all they that put their trust in him" (Psalm 2:12). Or, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating", to put it in lay terms.

But it takes faith to reach out to the Son, to kiss him, spiritually speaking, to put their trust in him. Until a person does that, it's all just talk and argument, the words wafting away in the wind.

Therefore (as you say), "...the 'proof' of God's existence and the 'proof' of real Christianity (the having a relationship with God by the mediatorial work and ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ) is available to faith and to faith alone."

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