“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7, all Scripture quotations NLT)
God did not give us a spirit of timidity—but we sure seem to have picked it up somewhere along the way! Many of us have become tentative in our faith, and especially in our willingness to share it with others. Perhaps we’ve bought into the cultural value that religious convictions are best kept to ourselves; that what we believe is a private matter; that it would be presumptuous to tell someone else that they should believe what we believe.
A key value of society today is tolerance, which has come to mean not only accepting the person with a different point of view, but also accepting that point of view as being equally valid to our own. We’re told we must avoid imposing our viewpoints on somebody else and that we should never try to proselytize another person into our religion.
We’ve been affected by the seething, spreading disease of relativism—one that tells us we’ve got our truth and others have their truth. What matters most is that we’re all sincere, and that we find a way simply to coexist.
Further, we’re made to feel that it would be arrogant to suppose that we’re right and someone else is wrong. And we should not even hint at the idea that God would ever hold people accountable for disobeying His commands. The idea of hell went out with a previous century, didn’t it?
It’s no wonder, given these cultural realities, that many of our churches have let the value of “reaching our world for Christ” quietly be replaced with “serving our world in the name of Christ.” Both are important, but the pendulum has swung and many churches have embraced “social justice” (equitable access to rights and resources) to the neglect of what we might call “redemptive justice” (the opportunity for all people to hear and respond to the gospel of Christ).
Dogma. It is interesting that just a generation ago the commonly accepted term for the study of Christian doctrine was dogmatics. It was natural for Christians to teach emphatically what they regarded as “God’s truth”—without apology. The Bible was unequivocally referred to as “the Word of God,” sin was called “sin,” and Jesus was boldly proclaimed to be “the only way to the Father.”
Juxtapose all of that with current understandings of the word dogmatic:1 “Adjective: ‘your being so dogmatic does not attract me to your religious philosophy’: opinionated, peremptory, assertive, insistent, emphatic, adamant, doctrinaire, authoritarian, imperious, dictatorial, uncompromising, unyielding, inflexible, rigid.” Needless to say, most of us would not like to be labeled with many of those descriptors today. In some places they could even lead to accusations of hate speech or criminal intolerance.
Yet there’s also something refreshing about speaking boldly without nuancing our meaning or tiptoeing around its implications. So how can we recapture this sense of surety, but without the sometimes arrogant or inflexible overtones associated with the word “dogmatic”? I would suggest what I refer to as confident faith.
Confident Faith. Confident faith encompasses a healthy trust in Christ and a firm assurance that the Christian worldview is true. This confidence should be tempered by a humble awareness of our own limitations and a respect for those with whom we disagree.
So what can we do to develop a confident faith—one we will want to communicate to others? Here are four practical areas that will help us, even if we have a personality that tends toward timidity:
1. Knowing God’s Word Builds a Confident Faith. Let these words of Jesus, from John 8:32, soak in: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He didn’t say, “You will develop Christian ideas,” but rather, “You shall know the truth!” Equally bold, Jesus declared in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Notice the definite article; He wasn’t saying He is a way, truth, or life, but the!
The apostle Paul wrote this daring declaration in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” So much for religious relativism!
The apostle Peter added this key exhortation to our storehouse of biblical references to apologetics: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). This passage captures the biblical mix of bold assurance of the truth along with a humble presentation.
2. Logical Thinking Helps Build Confidence. It’s silly for people to condemn us for thinking we are right—because aren’t they simultaneously thinking they are right in saying we are wrong? Or, broadening the point a bit, who in their right mind doesn’t consistently think that they are right? If a sane person thinks he is wrong, doesn’t he immediately change his thinking and begin to believe what he now thinks is actually right? If so, then doesn’t he once again think he is right and that anyone who contradicts his new belief is, by the very nature of logic, wrong? Clearly, we all think that way.
Because the Bible really is inspired by God and therefore reliable in all that it affirms, logical thinking naturally leads us to a point of confidence in our beliefs. As we test various ideas and truth claims and evaluate real-world information and evidence, our confidence is more fully undergirded.
3. Evidence Can Increase the Confidence of Your Faith. Many reasons can be given for believing in the truth of the Christian faith. In my forthcoming book, Confident Faith, I present twenty arguments that form a cumulative case from science, philosophy, history, archaeology, and evidence related to the Bible and experience. Here, in bullet-point form, are what I call “Twenty Arrows of Truth”:2
Arrow 1 → Design in the universe points to an intelligent designer.
Arrow 2 → Fine-tuning in the universe points to an intentional fine-tuner.
Arrow 3 → Information encoded into DNA points to a divine encoder.
Arrow 4 → The beginning of the universe points to a divine originator.
Arrow 5 → The sense of morality throughout the human race points to a moral lawgiver.
Arrow 6 → The Bible shows itself to be a uniquely consistent religious book.
Arrow 7 → The Bible is a uniquely historical religious book.
Arrow 8 → The Bible is a uniquely preserved work of antiquity.
Arrow 9 → Archaeology shows the Bible to be a powerfully verified book.
Arrow 10 → The Bible shows itself to be a uniquely honest religious book.
Arrow 11 → Miracles, performed in the presence of believers and critics alike, point to the prophets, apostles, and Jesus as messengers of God.
Arrow 12 → Fulfilled prophecies point to the Bible as a divinely inspired book and to Jesus as the unique Messiah of God.
Arrow 13 → Jesus’ sinless life backed up His claim to be the Son of God.
Arrow 14 → Jesus’ resurrection powerfully established His credentials as the Son of God.
Arrow 15 → The emergence of the church points to the authenticity of its message.
Arrow 16 → The changed lives of early skeptics affirmed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and the teachings of the church.
Arrow 17 → The willingness of the disciples to die for claims they believed to be true affirms the trustworthiness of their claims.
Arrow 18 → The changed minds of many modern skeptics further support the Christian truth claims.
Arrow 19 → The testimonies of countless believers throughout history attest to the reality of God and the validity of following Jesus.
Arrow 20 → It’s true because Jesus said so—and He has the credentials to speak with authority.
After reviewing that barrage of information (and some of the data that supports it), I’d have to agree with the title of the book: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist!3
4. Knowing God Personally Will Give You a Confident Faith. My friend Marie Little, widow of evangelist and apologist Paul Little, used to remind me, “Mark, keep explaining to people that being a Christian is much more than just accepting a message; it’s getting to know a real person—one whose name is Jesus!”
C. S. Lewis put it like this, “To believe that God—at least this God—exists is to believe that you as a person now stand in the presence of God as a Person….You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence.”4
How does this make us more secure in our faith? It takes us beyond the semiarid world of evidence and information, as important as those can be, and into the warm embrace of the Heavenly Father who made us, loves us, redeemed us, and graciously shares His life with us. It is He who enables our hearts to cry “Abba, Father,” as His Spirit “testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:15–16). When you combine that kind of relational connectedness with the broader supportive data available to us, it’s easy to see how it all comes together to give us an increasingly confident faith—one that will withstand the trials and tests, and that we’ll be excited to share with the people around us
So let me urge you to deepen your knowledge of God’s Word, sharpen your discipline of clear thinking, get well acquainted with the evidence that supports your faith, and do all you can to strengthen your relationship with God. As a result you’ll be a more confident and secure Christian, and you’ll become a much more effective witness for Christ. —Mark Mittelberg
Mark Mittelberg is the best-selling author of The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (Tyndale, 2010), The Reason Why: Faith Makes Sense (Tyndale, 2011), and the forthcoming Confident Faith. He and his family live near Denver.
“Too often in our contemporary culture, theologically informed beliefs are not considered a legitimate claim to knowledge.” — Frank Beckwith