City Church Retreat 2008 - Talk #1 “What Are Defeater Beliefs And Why Should We Care?” Rev. Kevin Twit (based on the work of Tim Keller and Jeremy Jones) I. What Are Defeater Beliefs? • A basic definition: “Every culture hostile to Christianity holds to a set of 'common-sense' consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people. These are what philosophers call "defeater beliefs". A defeater belief is Belief-A that, if true, means Belief-B can't be true.” (Tim Keller) Example: If I told you I saw a fire-breathing dragon in my back yard yesterday, no one is going to ask me what color it was. It’s not even worth asking questions about it because it can’t possible be true. Why? Because we all have a “defeater belief” that says dragons don’t exist. • Every culture has them. We must realize that these defeater beliefs are just “in the air we breathe” in a particular culture. Often they have not been thought through as much as adopted in sound-bite sorts of ways. “Each culture has its own set of culturally-based doubt-generators which people call 'objections' or 'problems' with Christianity. When a culture develops a combination of many, widely held defeater beliefs it becomes a cultural 'implausibility-structure.' In these societies, most people don't feel they have to give Christianity a good hearing – they don't feel that kind of energy is warranted. They know it just can't be true. That is what makes evangelism in hostile cultures so much more difficult and complex than it was under Christendom.” (Keller) • Ironically, one culture’s defeater beliefs often contradict another culture’s defeaters. The classic expression of this point is by G.K. Chesterton in his book “Orthodoxy” from his chapter on the paradoxes of Christianity. “As I read and re-read all the great non-Christian or anti-Christian accounts of the faith… a slow and awful impression grew gradually but graphically upon my mind – Christianity must be a most extraordinary thing… It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west. No sooner had had my indignation died down at its angular and aggressive squareness than I was called up again to notice and condemn its enervating and sensual roundness… They did prove to me in chapter 1 (to my complete satisfaction) that Christianity was too pessimistic; and then, in chapter II, they began to prove to me that it was a great deal too optimistic” (pg. 84-85) I simply deduced that Christianity must be something even weirder and wickeder than they made out… And then in a quiet hour a strange thought struck me like a still thunderbolt… Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation… would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall… Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the center. Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad – in various ways.” (pg. 90) The defeater beliefs of a Western secularist are quite different from someone from a more traditional culture. “Skeptics ought to realize, then, that the objections they have to the Christian faith are culturally relative!” (Keller) • Defeater beliefs affect both Christians and those who are not Christians. This is because we all live in the culture. If defeater beliefs are not dealt with then believers will still have many unbiblical presuppositions. • Most people did not come to them by a process of systematic study and reasoned thought, they came to them as a mix of ideas picked up from the culture and the experiences they have had in their lives. In other words, most people did not come to them through reasoned argument and thus they can’t be dealt with simply through reasoned argument. • There is a personal aspect to every defeater belief. The reason many people in our culture find Christianity not worth even considering is both a combination of certain beliefs and the bad experiences they have had with Christians and the church. And (as Tim Keller says) they are partly right! They are right to be offended by the behavior they have experienced but often wrong about the belief they think is behind it. • To deal with defeater beliefs, and help both Christians and those who are not Christians understand Christianity, we must deal with both the theoretical aspect and the personal aspect. II. Why Should We Care About Defeater Beliefs? Here are a few suggestions to start with: • Because we need to see what we are really up against in seeking to help our friends and neighbors understand and embrace the gospel. This transforms the typical Christian view of evangelism and helps us understand the difference between a church with a missions program and a missional church! o It is fine to give your testimony, but do you understand the defeater beliefs that are coloring how people hear it? If people have a defeater belief that everyone needs to find their own truth then they hear your testimony as interesting but not as compelling. o We must recover the art of persuasion. We must be willing to listen and consider what other people believe. We must be able to speak to their real issues rather than offering a “canned” approach. We must learn to speak to people as a give-and-take improvisation rather than a declaration. o We must understand that most people come to embrace the gospel as a series of “mini-decisions” (as Keller puts it.) see handout by Jeremy Jones on “mini-decisions “People become Christians over time through a process of persuasion. People become Christians over time through relationships with Christians: both individually and corporately. People become Christians over time through multiple exposures to the gospel (from a lot of different angles, means, etc.)” (Keller) [Note that if you grew up in an evangelical church this is probably not the model you were taught – rather you were probably taught the “big event” model where a professional evangelist (or preacher) preached an “evangelistic” message and invited people to come forward and commit their lives to Christ then and there in a “crisis” kind of experience.] o We must understand that people generally aren’t interested in hearing your arguments for why you believe Christianity is true until they are attracted to its beauty and want it to be true. Then when you deal with defeater beliefs you are on the same side so to speak. You are then in a position of helping them work through barriers to belief that they want to be able to overcome. • Because understanding defeater beliefs impresses upon us again the importance of love and personal relationships to helping our friends understand and embrace the gospel. Of course this is much more difficult than just being the answer man or woman or giving people a book or bringing them to church so that the pastor can convert them. • Because understanding the defeaters helps us to understand and deal with our own doubts. The defeaters affect everybody in our culture and many of our own doubts are connected to the defeater beliefs in our culture. We are naïve if we think we can grow and flourish in the Christian life and ignore the defeater beliefs in our own lives. If we try to just push our doubts away without dealing with them they will come back to bite us – often in times of trials or temptation. In times of trials the defeater beliefs can make the trial a real crisis of faith and in times of temptation we can use the defeater beliefs to justify living the way we want rather than living as God has called is. Next time: What are the defeater beliefs in the culture/cultures City Church desires to reach?