Make Good People Wish It Were True (Pascal)
by Fred Sanders
After 9 hours of discussing Pascal’s Pensées with juniors in the Torrey Honors Institute this week, I feel (yes, in my heart, which knows many things reason cannot know) that he is a subtle author indeed. His fragmentary apologetic for the Christian religion, though in form it’s really just a pile of notes and mini-essays that he didn’t live to gather up and edit together, is a deeply wise piece of work with great relevance for us now.
The one example I’d offer is from my favorite entry, number 46, in which Pascal sketches out the order in which persuasion ought to happen. I don’t know whether he labelled this entry “order” because it would have dictated the shape of his book, or because it’s simply the order in which a Christian apologetic needs to proceed. But whether the former is true or not, the latter seems to me to be so. Look at the three steps he recommends:
Men despise religion, they hate it and are afraid it might be true. To cure that we have to begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason. That it is worthy of veneration and should be given respect. Next it should be made lovable, should make the good wish it were true. Then show that it is indeed true.
The steps, as I see them are:
1. Show that religion is not contrary to reason; is worth respecting.
2. Show it to be lovable; make good people wish it were true.
3. Show that it is true.
What we normally think of as apologetics is very sharply focused on truth questions, on winning arguments, on bringing forth evidence and presenting proofs. Pascal certainly makes room for such tasks: these three steps are a truth sandwich, beginning with demonstrating the non-irrationality of religion and ending with proof of truth. We even know from the Pensées what sort of proofs Pascal found persuasive: prophecy, miracles, doctrine, figures, and so on.
But in the middle of all that proof and truth sits the central task…
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By Will Sipling
“Then an argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the thoughts of their hearts, had a little child stand beside Him.” Luke 9:47
“But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said, ‘Why do you harbor evil in your hearts?’” Matthew 9:4
Jesus was the supreme apologist for His Kingdom. According to Luke’s account, Jesus knew the thoughts of the disciples, and taught them by using an object lesson. From the verses we read in Matthew, Jesus knew what the scribes were thinking and proved His authority by providing evidence of His divinity.
Jesus was surrounded by people who didn’t understand His teachings for numerous reasons; some, like the apostles, were distracted by their own greatness, and others (like the scribes) seemed to be interested only in trapping people in their words.
It’s true that Jesus had an advantage that we don’t have—the ability to search and see what was in the hearts of people (see also John 2:24). While we don’t have a telescope that can peer into a person’s motivations, biases, or true feelings, we do have a tool in our toolbox that allows us to at least get a glimpse.
To listen is to use this tool. Listening is paying attention, listening is allowing someone to fully speak their mind, listening is focusing on what’s unsaid, listening involves getting to know context, listening involves the asking of good, relevant, and deep questions.
Listening is Evangelism
One of the greatest sermons in the Bible is found in Acts 2. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, makes the case for the Lordship of the risen Savior. The crowd’s response? “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
“What shall we do?” These people just killed the Messiah, the one who was prophesied about, the one whom they themselves were waiting on—they just didn’t know it. This Messiah they killed wasn’t simply a Davidic leader, He was actually Yahweh. It’s impossible to overstate how deeply and completely they messed up.
Peter was listening. They didn’t know how to respond to this indictment. The question, “what shall we do” was a helpless response. Peter’s answer, however, was the answer they needed, even if their question was one of desperation. “Change your ways, and commit to Jesus.”
Their question might have only been a desperate one. It might have been one fueled by their Jewish theology. “How do we atone for our sins?” might have been another way to ask it. But Peter wasn’t listening to answer the initial question that was coming from their mouths, but he was listening to answer the underlying question that is embedded in all hearts: “how do we return to God?”
It’s important that we listen like Peter did. When someone posits a challenge to our faith, what is it that they are truly asking? Is there even a question on the table, or is the question simply an outpouring of rebellion? Maybe this questioner never heard good answers from their church, their pastor, or their study group, and they’re actually hoping that someone proves them wrong. Sometimes, that’s not the case, of course. But it’s important to listen on a deeper level, to have a better understanding of what the real questions are…
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