My wife was having a discussion with some friends online on how to go about proving the existence of God. One person was playing the devil’s advocate atheist to challenge the others. Many of the first replies were predominately accounts of people’s own life experiences and how they came to faith. The challenger complained that these were all completely subjective and therefore irrelevant. My contribution goes something like this:
I think faith has objective and subjective components. So, because others can’t actually relate to our own experiences (the holy spirit moving in us, Jesus appearing to us in a vision, “burning in the bosom” (the classic Mormon phrase), etc.), then apologetics is limited in it’s ability to turn people’s heart toward the Lord. Maybe you can describe these things in a way that is helpful, or can relate your personal experience to them in a way that is moving, but it’s 1/2 of the mystery of faith that can’t really transfer to the next person so well.
However, I think much of our faith, (the other 1/2 if you will, though it’s not a math problem), actually can be treated objectively. These things appeal to our rationality, logical intellect, and our God-given ability to think things through. So on THAT front, there is much that can be done. Articulating these things can be difficult though, even for people who are strong Christians. People who have had very strong subjective experiences, often don’t feel so much need for their faith to be reinforced (so to speak), but systematic arguments for the existence of God. Or other theology for that matter.
Romans 1:20 is a really good place to start with and one of the key verses here:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
There are a few different ways to approach this to the secular unbeliever. C.S. Lewis goes from the angle of morality. Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Well, it had to come from somewhere. It’s built in. God built it in. And so on.
N.T. Wright, in his newer apologetic Simply Christian cuts a wider swath and in addition to morality (the longing for justice), brings up questions of relationships (there is something deep inside us that makes us not want to be alone), and also the desire for beauty (there is something that makes music, art, sunsets, etc. stir something deep within us.) These are “echoes of a voice” – the voice of our creator.
In both cases, the apologists don’t even bring up the idea of Christianity or Jesus until way later in the discussion. We are just trying to establish the possibility that a generic “god” is out there. And not just out there, but actually might care about the race of man on earth.
-1. I think it’s very hard intellectually to be a pure atheist. It’s an exercise in faith against what is hard-wired in our minds.
0. I think most people who “don’t believe in god” are actually agnostic. That’s a lot easier. There maybe is a god, but we can’t possibly figure it out, so it doesn’t matter.
1. The next step up is deism, which believe there probably was some higher power that made everything, but he’s distance and doesn’t actually interact in the affairs of man. He wound up the universe, and maybe it has some kind of purpose, but we can’t do much more than make up stories about what that might be. So again, it doesn’t matter.
2. After that, you start to wonder if this creator actually IS more involved in the actual lives of his creation. And there you have most religions. (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hindu, tribal religions, etc.)
3, 4, 5…Only after all that do you take the step of saying God cared about his creation, and specially about a group of people called the Jews, and that he was directly involved in their history for hundreds of years, eventually incarnating himself in the person of Jesus do you get to Christianity. Whew!
There are a lot of steps of stuff to believe in between agnosticism and that. Good thing we have the Holy Spirit and that subjective experience to jump-start people. Arguing through all that stuff would be tiring!