"I know God exists because He lives in my heart". Ever heard those words before? More and more Christians of my generation are becoming excited about apologetics. We've invested time, money, and sometimes even our entire careers into learning objective reasons for how we can know Christianity is true. We don't believe just because it's what we've been told to believe (in fact, in many cases, it's not what we grew up with); we believe because the evidence screams out: Christianity is true. Yet, there's still very many Christians who haven't had the time or the resources to really dig deep into the world of apologetics - and so will make statements like the one at the beginning of this article. Because of their personal experience, they believe they have good reason to be Christians.
So, here's the question: are they right?
Before I answer that question, let me make something abundantly clear: I love apologetics. In fact, one of the primary purposes of this website is to provide you with apologetics resources. With that being said, I would like to propose today that apologetics actually isn't necessary to be an intellectually honest Christian. You heard that right! You don't have to know apologetics to be an honest Christian! For some of you, that's a relief; for others, you're loading your muskets to shoot me for heresy! Just hang with me for a second...
I believe that for the Christian, it's absolutely reasonable to base your belief in the God of the Bible simply because you have a personal relationship with Him. Why? Because I believe that God is Properly Basic. - and I'll explain what that means in a minute. But before I do, just a heads up: this article is about to go really in-depth. It may be a bit overwhelming for you, especially if you're new to philosophy. If that's you, my advice is for you to grab a cup of coffee and find a good armchair before you continue reading. If you've already taken philosophy, this shouldn't be too difficult for you. With that out of the way, let’s get started…
PART I: Understanding Properly Basic Beliefs To understand this argument, we first need to get a basic understanding of philosophy. In this field, there are two basic ways people have approached life’s biggest questions. The first way is called “Pre-Modernism” and the second way is called “Modernism”.
In pre-modernism, philosophers start with certain basic facts about the world, then look to explain them using reason & our senses, and from there draw out application for the way we’re supposed to live. In philosophical terms, this is how it looks:
In Modernism, philosophers start out with reason and the senses to figure out what’s real, and from there, draw out application for the way we’re supposed to live (notice the key difference there). In philosophical terms, this is how Modernism looks:
Most people today approach life the second way, as Modernists - even if they wouldn’t use the fancy philosophical terms. We almost always use reason and our senses (epistemology) to figure out what’s really real (metaphysics) which in turn helps us to figure out the way we’re supposed to live (ethics). After all, why assume something is true from the beginning, when you can just use reason and your senses to figure out what’s true? This approach is pretty common sense, right? Actually, not as much as you might think.
The problem with starting with epistemology (reason & senses) is that with no starting point, we can’t actually figure out anything. Think about it. How can we use logic if we don’t first start with the assumption that logic exists and is reliable? How can we use our senses if we don’t first start with the assumption that our senses exist, and are reliable? How can we apply what we deduce to everyone, unless we assume that we all live in the same world? To be sure about anything, we have to start with at least some assumptions about what’s really real (metaphysics).
That’s why the first way (Pre-Modernism) is a better way to approach life’s hardest questions. But following that chart to the letter also runs into its own problems! After all, our beliefs about what’s real can’t all be assumptions, right? If we want to be accurate, we need to base most of our beliefs about what’s real on our reason and senses; we just can’t base all of our beliefs on them.
A hybrid system is the best way to go - where we start with some basic assumptions that give us the foundation we need to reliably use our reason & senses. In philosophy, we call those basic assumptions “Properly Basic” beliefs. Let’s define what these are:
Properly Basic Belief (n.): A belief that’s reasonable to assume because it’s grounded in clear experience and is in the absence of a sufficient defeater.
I know that’s kinda a mouthful but read through it a couple times and I think it’ll click. If not, a simple way to put it could be “those things we can assume are true unless we have really good reason to believe they’re not”. I’ll explain what defeaters are in a moment! But for now, some examples of properly basic beliefs are:
- The belief that we, ourselves, exist. - The belief that the world around us exits. - The belief that history really happened. - The belief that the laws of logic exist.
So, if we start with properly basic truths, base our reason and senses off of them, then go on to figuring out what else is real - then we have a reliable foundation for figuring out how we’re supposed to live. Here is a chart for this hybrid approach:
Now… what’s a defeater? A defeater is basically just “overwhelming evidence that your properly basic belief is wrong”. With that, let’s put the pieces together: Just because a belief is “properly basic” doesn’t mean it’s always right. It just means you’re not crazy to assume it’s right, unless it’s proven otherwise.
For example, in the 1999 movie “The Matrix”, a man by the name of Thomas Anderson is going about his day when he encounters a bald man with cool sunglasses who goes by the name “Morpheus”. Morpheus tells him that his world is an illusion and then proceeds to offer him a choice between retaining this knowledge or forgetting all about it. In this movie, Thomas started with a properly basic belief that his world was real - but upon the new evidence provided by Morpheus, he was then faced with a sufficient defeater. Make sense? Just because something is properly basic doesn’t mean its immune to being disproven. But, in the absence of defeaters, it is reasonable to hold to something that’s properly basic.
PART II: Is Belief in God Properly Basic? So… here is the big question: is belief in God properly basic? I would say for the true Christian, it is. Why? Because it’s grounded in the experience of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. In other words, just like all people experience the outside world, the Christian experiences God speaking to them, personally. That's what the Christian is getting at, when he says "
For the true Christian, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is unmistakable for anything else. The true Christian has the experiential belief that God is truly speaking to them. And while yes, on rare occasions they may emotionally doubt it at times (like some of the more worrisome of us have even doubted our own existence at times), emotions don’t change experiential reality. So, in the absence of a sufficient defeater, the Christian is reasonable to conclude that God exits.
Why is this important? Simply this: if the atheist wants to convince the Christian of Atheism, the burden of proof lies with the atheist to provide a defeater against the Christian’s properly basic belief in God. This doesn’t mean that the Christian’s experience requires the atheist to believe him; it just means that it’s reasonable for someone to go with their experience in the absence of a sufficient defeater.
Some truths are not only properly basic, but are also so clear that that they themselves are “intrinsically undefeatable”. This means that it’s not actually possible for legitimate defeaters to exist for them. An example of this can be seen in the circumstances of the person framed for murder. Even if all the evidence points to their conviction, they have the intrinsically undefeatable belief that they are not the murderer. The person who’s being framed may not be able to provide enough evidence for their innocence but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly unreasonable for them to believe that they’re innocent!
Some Christians believe (myself included) that belief in God is not only properly basic, but is also intrinsically undefeatable. Why? Because for the person who has the Holy Spirit, God gives them assurance that their belief is true, even when faced with objections they don’t know how to answer. Let that sink in for a minute.
For example, many Christians don’t know how to answer the question of “the problem of evil”; but even still, they’re not unreasonable to remain Christians! Why? Because their experience of God speaking to them is sufficient to reassure them that their belief is accurate.
“Now, wait!” you might object, “That sounds suspiciously like a cult leader telling people to just ignore the truth and blindly believe everything he says! That’s not very reasonable – that’s brainwashing!” But remember, God is no human leader. The reason why cults are formed is not because trust itself is bad - but because the object of their trust is bad. If God really does exist, then he is trustworthy - and so has the right to assure people of truth, even without providing them with answers to all their questions. This doesn't mean there are no answers (that's part of the reason why apologetics is so helpful!), but it does mean we don't need them to be reasonable Christians.
“But what about Muslims & Mormons?” you might respond, “Don’t they also have reassurance that what they believe is true, even if they don’t have evidence for it?” Remember, though, that the existence of the counterfeit doesn’t invalidate the original. To the person who truly has the witness of the Holy Spirit, it is unmistakable for a psychological delusion. For evidence that this statement is true, ask any former Muslim or former Mormon who has since converted to genuine Christianity. Each one can tell you that there’s a difference between the true voice of God and the psychological delusion they once believed was from God. The true voice of God is sufficient to reassure anyone of right truth claims. Delusions are not, though they can be used as excuses to hide from the truth.
Conclusion So... is "Jesus lives in my heart" a good reason to believe Christianity is true? Surprisingly to some, yes! This will come as a huge relief for the Christian with no time to provide in-depth refutations to atheistic claims.
So, where does apologetics come in then? As a ministry tool. Having good objective reasons for Christianity is an excellent way to encourage the doubting Christian or to witness to the skeptic.