I have a question for those of you who are still Christian, but have come to a kind of epistemic agnosticism. I have come to a state of malaise upon the realization that, while I disagree with the atheistic/ non-Christian stance, I empathize and understand how someone could hold it. My question is how you have avoided the malaise I have been experiencing the past year? I find it difficult to be “evangelical” with one’s faith, while at the same time empathizing with the person rejecting it. After all, how can you evangelize the Truth, when you yourself are unsure it is true? Additionally, I have found deeper explorations into Christian apologetics largely ineffective since reading John Mackie and Graham Oppy. Greg Boyd and Peter Enns have been immensely helpful, along with some books like “The Skeptical Believer”, but would appreciate your additional perspectives. What helped with this insufferable malaise for you?
You have a very valid point, and represent a position most of us pass through, if we are honest. Even the Mother Theresas of the world including Mother Theresa had times when God seemed silent and distant, if there at all. Francis Schaeffer spoke of his period of doubt.
I think for me, community is important, and being actively involved in God’s work, whether it be delivering meals, teaching, or planting a tree. If you limit God to an intellectual exercise, you will struggle.
Few Christians have an evangelical calling like Billy Graham or can write a book like Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life), and so we are awkward (in different ways) about how to explain our faith to non-believers. The best I can do is to relate my experiences in discussing my faith with my colleagues who are (mostly) intelligent agnostics. Phil put it succinctly:
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If you limit God to an intellectual exercise, you will struggle.
After a few years running a family business in Chicago, I returned to Pomona College to work on an NIH research grant with my former mentor, Prof. Corwin Hansch, and we later founded the CADD (computer-aided drug design) business I now run. Corwin was a brilliant chemist and a world renowned pioneer in the use of computers to help in the design of more effective, less toxic pharmaceuticals. He was also a fine human being, but a confirmed agnostic. We both loved research, and almost always came to the lab on Saturday mornings when things were quieter. On some of those mornings, tho, we ended up discussing philosophy and religion. He knew I was a practicing Catholic, and I can remember him asking: Al, how can a person with your intellect believe in all that “miracle stuff” like ‘virgin birth’ and a dead man coming back to life? Can’t you see it is all mythology that ancient people used to ease the pains of their dismal lives?
My response was that I couldn’t convince him that my faith was TRUE for me, in that it gave a purpose to my life that scientific research, as import as it was to me, could not. I could convince him that the result of a lab experiment I just performed was true, because he could go and repeat it and get the same results. But the conclusions that I had reached from my own personal experiences in life–these were exclusively mine, and while I could recount them to him, no accounting of them could take the place of actually living them. He then admitted that he sometimes envied my world view that gave me such an optimistic view of Life, and so perhaps I had made a small positive effect on his, but I certainly did not succeed in evangelizing, nor was that my intent.
Another ‘evangelization story’ was quite different in that it involved my good friend and colleague, Prof. Eric Lien who, to my surprise and amazement, sought me out for advice on how to reconcile his agnosticism with the Christian faith professed by his wife and children. I have previously posted an account of this episode (The Miracle of the Panel Truck) and will not use up space to repeat it here, but, if interested, I can send it to you PM.