5

In a debate between John Lennox and Peter Atkins on the topic "Can science explain everything?", at minute 44:47 John Lennox claims:

Lennox: "And the major reason why I believe that Christianity is true is because--and here comes science again as a base--because Christianity is testable."

Atkins: "Oh nonsense. How can it be tested?"

Lennox: "Well, Peter, let me face that head-on. Christ said that if a person considered the evidence and came to believe that he was God incarnate who was dying on a cross to give forgiveness and bring peace with God, well we can test that! I've tested it! And I've seen hundreds of people test it. I mean, take an example. I was lecturing at Harvard a while ago to a couple of thousands of people, and when I'd finished, a young Chinese student stood up and he said 'look at me!'. So we we looked at him. And I said why should we look at you? And he was absolutely beaming. He said 'you should look at me because six months ago I came to a lecture you gave at Penn State University. I was at the end. My life was in a complete mess. And something you said triggered a search. And I started to read the New Testament for myself and I became a Christian. And just look at me now.' Now ladies and gentlemen, I've seen that happen not once, not twice, dozens of times. And when you see addiction to drugs transformed at the foot of the table, when you see broken relationships mended, and you ask people what happened to you, and they say variously 'I became a Christian', 'I had an encounter with Christ', you begin to put two and two together and make four! And I wouldn't sit here for a nanosecond if I didn't believe these promises that Jesus made actually can be fulfilled in a person's life today. And that's immensely important to me, the testability of Christian relationship with God."

He makes similar claims in a short 5 min long video titled Is Christianity testable? | John Lennox at Texas A&M.

What is the biblical basis for John Lennox's view? Is this a common view?


EDIT: for those interested in a philosophical counterpart to this question, consider visiting Is Christianity testable? Philosophy Stack Exchange

4
  • 2
    The two words "test" and "taste": seems to be related somewhat. If so, we have Psalms 34:8 "Taste and see that the LORD is good". Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 6:52
  • bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Testing
    – 007
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 13:30
  • 1
    And then we have this in Mal 3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 22:48
  • 2
    Testable Here Mr. Lennox advances the idea of "Testimonials" as proof of the claims of Christianity to transform lives. But the ability to transform lives deals with only one aspect of Christianity. Other questions that perplex the human mind such as the Existence of God, the Problem of Evil, the Deity of Christ, etc. are not best proven by "testimonials." Other religions and cults (as well as commercials) present them as well. Lennox's other books provide those "proofs." (q.v.,) So we need to recognize the limitation of application here. Testimonials prove only part of Christianity.
    – ray grant
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 23:09

5 Answers 5

4

The ultimate test of Christianity is a very personal one. A person may be deeply impressed and attracted by another's transformed character; may even be moved to "joining" with a particular denomination based upon their culture of love, humility, and service and yet, to place the ultimate test of whether God is true in the outward behavior of others is shaky ground indeed.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:1-2

Until a person gives themselves to God in Christ for the crucifixion of their sinful flesh and gives themselves wholly over to receive the life of the Son of God that person can never know. The personally testable claim of Christianity is that when one receives Christ Jesus as Lord something actually happens:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. - John 1:12-13

The world is filled with billions of professing Christians but how many have received him and, believing on his name, have been given the power to become sons of God? God knows those who are His. There are churches whose entire culture is centered around behavior modification producing the appearance of godliness but lack any power. There are false Christs and watered down Christs. There are churches set upon building up their memberships and churches that are mere social clubs, having departed from the gospel altogether.

This is the test: Do you have the Son or do you have a religion? Receive the Word who was God and who was made flesh, was crucified, died, and was buried for our sin and rose again for our justification, and ascended to intercede until He comes again and you will cross over from death to life.

Any Christ who is not God manifest in flesh cannot, when tested, deliver the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit; that power to become the sons of God:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. - John 14:15-18

1
  • 1
    Pertinent Bible quotations, especially John 1:12-13.
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 8:33
3

Dr. John Lennox is an esteemed Mathematician, Fellow in the Philosophy of Science, and much more besides. A year after his book "God's Undertaker: has science buried God?" came out, he answered a list of questions on such matters, as published in the book "God, The Big Bang & bunsen-burning issues", along with 14 other professional people. Here are his answers to questions that relate directly to this one.

Q - Where, as a man of science and faith, do you find evidence for God?

A - ...Thirdly, DNA. Inside every one of the body's ten trillion cells there is a digital database, encoded in some 3.1 billion letters of DNA. As a mathematician, I do not find it convincing to believe that the language-like structure of DNA has come about merely through random unguided processes. The very existence of this database is totally consistent with the biblical view that says: 'In the beginning was the Word... Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made' - the very opposite of materialism. [This is where he links in to the 'testableness' of Christianity via the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.]

Fourthly, I am a Christian because I believe there is evidence that Jesus Christ is God incarnate - that God has encoded himself in human life in the person of Jesus. The key evidence for that is that Jesus rose from the dead as a matter of history. The three facts of the empty tomb, Christ's subsequent appearances and the meteoric rise of the Christian Church from a bunch of dispirited people whose leader had been crucified to a vigorous worldwide movement can together be explained only by the resurrection.

Fifthly, I'd point to the desire to know - whether that's expressed through science or faith - as evidence that humankind is made in the image of God. To me, it means we have been made with the capacity to have a relationship with our Creator. God revealed himself to humankind as a person - Jesus Christ. God is creative; we are creative. God looks for relationship; we have the capacity for relationships... Nor did the singularities stop at creation. The virgin conception of Jesus, his incarnation and resurrection were singularities with immense implications which are the foundations of the Christian faith." God, the Big Bang, edited by Nigel Bovey, pp.53-55, Authentic, 2008

This means that the biblical basis for Dr. John Lennox's claim that Christianity is testable is John chapter 1, verses 1 to 3. Put the person of Jesus Christ "to the test" and see how he holds up! His view here is applauded and supported by millions of Christians the world over, irrespective of denominations (apart from those denying the incarnation of the Word of God as the man, Jesus Christ.)

14
  • 1
    Thanks Anne for your answer. Could you please elaborate more on how John 1:1-3 can be tested? I fail to see any testable predictions made in those verses. Is there a specific methodology you have in mind to test those 3 verses?
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 12:24
  • 1
    @Mark The first 3 verses go on to say how various people lived alongside this Jesus, beholding his glory, receiving from him power to become sons of God (see chapter3). They were eye witnesses to Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. In any court of law, eye-witness testimony is vital. There were some 500 of them we are told, in the written testimonies of some of them (in the New Testament.) We read their testimonies and their experiences of Jesus. Millions have put their claims to the test and discovered the reality of such Christian claims for themselves.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 13:33
  • 1
    @User14 No, I don't mean James 1:1-3. Re. Jn.1:1-3 and more in his gospel, millions of people don't see what trinitarian Christians see in those verses. I didn't either, until I opened my mind to the possibility that I might not be understanding them the way the Holy Spirit enlightens seekers to grasp. Recall Peter having God reveal to him just who Jesus really is (in Mat.16:15-17)? That sort of thing. But I will not discuss that in comments. It's a matter of personal revealing.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 13:21
  • 1
    @User14 No, I did NOT mean 1 John 1-3, any more than James 1-3. I meant John 1:1-3. It is certainly true that 1 John 1:1-7 fits in beautifully with John 1:1-3 (and other verses in that first gospel chapter.) By combining both those writings of John people should be helped to understand what he was getting at in his gospel, but for the purpose of this answer, how Dr Lennox quoted "In the beginning was the Word... Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made", he himself used John 1:1-3. Do re-read the quote I inserted at 'Thirdly' and before the bold bit.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 5:50
  • 1
    @User14 - For what it's worth, before I became a Christian I didn't understand what the Apostle John meant in the first three verses of chapter 1 in his Gospel. I was a staunch anti-trinitarian. Then I became a Christian and later, as I studied the Bible, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes, spiritually speaking, and I finally understood who the pre-mortal Jesus REALLY was. Trust me, Christians who have come out of the spiritual darkness into the spiritual light understand the Word of God, who came to earth to dwell with us, is the life and light of the world. But the world has not understood.
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 17:53
2

General Principles

Jesus outlined one of the most essential tests His followers would need in the Sermon on the Mount:

Ye shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16)

His apostle Paul elaborated on the concept of fruit:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance...(Galatians 5:22-23)

(contrast this with the fruit of the flesh, including immorality, anger, and selfishness, which Paul discusses in the preceding 3 verses)

Fruit is what a plant produces, and because fruit bears seeds, fruit determines what a plant leaves behind long after it is gone.

This can be tested--does actually following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth lead to the positive attributes described by Paul? When people sincerely devote their lives to applying the words of Jesus of Nazareth, what kind of people do they become?

--

Personal Application

When the Savior invites people to put Him to the test, He's not merely suggesting a statistical study on the how His teachings have affected other people. While He does invite us to learn from those outcomes, He has something more in mind: He asks us to personally apply His teachings and learn of His character for ourselves.

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

He taught the principle of coming to the know the truth through living it:

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)

Who comes to know the doctrine? The man who applied it.

But the test Jesus has in mind here is not superficial--He expects people to be all in:

47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like:

48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. (Luke 6:47-48)

Jesus doesn't just ask for whatever time & energy we have leftover after attending to other priorities -- He wants our whole souls. He promises, among other things, that this course of action will lead to:

  • Positive fruit
  • Rest to our souls
  • Burdens being lightened (note that a yoke doesn't reduce the weight of the load; it empowers an animal to move a load it otherwise couldn't)
  • Knowledge of the truth
  • Staying upright & anchored in the storms of opposition and temptation

These are testable Biblical claims--but tests that are not to be undertaken lightly.

--

Conclusion

The testability Lennox appears to have in mind is the predictable and repeatable effect that living Christ's teachings has on human nature. As the terms suggest, changing human nature does not happen naturally. He is claiming that sincere Christianity transforms people's natures and that he has seen it happen.

Re "staying anchored" it is worth observing that if it isn't already there yet, the world is fast approaching moral freefall. Here too we have a testable principle. As the world continuously twists the ideas of right & wrong to fit the fashions of the moment, those who remain committed to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth can stay anchored despite all of the moral collapse around them.

In a world where people are regularly called upon to reject something that was socially acceptable 20 minutes ago, faithful Christians stand by sermons given 20 centuries ago, because Jesus is a rock that can weather the storm. Those anchored to Him will not be moved when the world sees its moral principles helplessly carried away at the whims of the wind and the waves. This is a testable claim.

3
  • 1
    I really liked this answer, +1. If you would like to say something about the philosophical legitimacy of this test, I have posted a counterpart question on PhilosophySE.
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 7:12
  • 1
    " He is claiming that sincere Christianity transforms people's natures and that he has seen it happen." +1 Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 13:32
  • Jesus did say that his yolk is kindly. And his load is light
    – 007
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 13:34
1

I would not personally use the word 'testable' as it sounds as though someone is putting their toe in the water to 'test' whether they want to enter the water.

Whereas my own experience of the way of the Lord is that one must, by faith, plunge into the waters bodily to ensure that one fully engages in the way of salvation.

But some words come to mind that, I suppose, would to some extent support the concept which is being expressed in the question :

But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. [Hebrews 10:39 KJV]

But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. [Romans 13:14 KJV]

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: [2 Peter 1:10]

Following Jesus of Nazareth is a matter of personal engagement and a matter of personal faith leading to one's own personal experience.

1

OP: What is the biblical basis for John Lennox's view [the testability of Christian relationship with God."]? Is this a common view?

Lennox, like many others throughout history, believe that a person may encounter Christ and this leads to change in the person. He cites an example in the OP.

The Biblical basis would be the provable change in the apostles and disciples after encountering the resurrected Christ and hearing the message of grace. After all, these things still happen over the last 2,000 years.

Changed Ability

Now when they [Sadducees] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? Acts 2:8

Changed Life

But by the grace of God I [Paul] am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 1 Cor 15:10

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Phil 2:13

Changed Outcome

Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 1 Cor 15:19

Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. Acts 15:12

Changed Understanding

Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, Luke 24:45

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Cor 4:6

Conclusion

Scripture is replete with examples of change from darkness to light, from ignorance to understanding, from depravity to freedom. One may test those changes and find the answer is Christ Jesus.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .