The last chapter I’m going to look at in this series on the Atheism and the Goodness of God, is Mark Mittelberg’s ‘Why Faith in Jesus Matters’ which forms chapter 14 of God is Good, God is Great: why believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible.
This chapter reads like an evangelistic sermon, exhorting a response from the reader.
He begins with the often overlooked point that everybody – Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, agnostic and atheist – has faith in something, even if it faith in ourselves or faith that it doesn’t matter what we believe and how we live.
The Christian believes that it really matters that we have faith in Jesus.
His main two points revolve around two questions:
1. But why trust in Jesus?
For faith to be worth having it needs to be true and good and so ‘faithworthy’. Faith in Jesus depends on his identity being worthy of faith. So Mittelberg gives an apologia for the ‘greatness and goodness of Jesus.
Power: Jesus demonstrated his miracle working power over nature and over death itself.
Knowledge: he knows people’s thoughts before they speak.
Eternity: Jesus claims to be equal with God and never corrects people’s impressions that they are blaspheming
Love and Grace; Jesus consistently shows risky, barrier-breaking love and grace to those who are marginalised, ostracised and alienated.
2. Why is faith in Jesus important?
Mittelberg’s basic point is a very familiar one – that we are deeply flawed, we don’t have all the answers, we ‘deserve punishment for our sins and failings’ and that God, in infinite love, has made a way for us through Jesus.
And to talk hold of this hope, we need to step out in faith, to respond, to believe and receive (Jn 1:12) and so have the life that is available for us in Jesus (Jn 10:10).
While this is a very familiar way of presenting the good news, I thought this was a disappointing chapter. The reasons to believe in Jesus did not go beyond general proof texts. He says for example that Jesus repeatedly goes around saying he was the Son of God, ‘meaning he uniquely shared in the Father’s divine nature.’ This is not accurate. The meaning of the term can’t be reduced to equalling deity as Mittelberg suggests.
In general the discussion, contrary to much of the book, is written with no engagement with objections and arguments from an agnostic or atheist perspective. It all reads very ‘in house’.
This all raises questions: how best is the good news communicated to a sceptical post-Christendom culture? How do you try to ‘get over’ the ‘over-familiarity’ that many in Ireland have towards Christianity so the good news can be ‘heard’ afresh?