Posted by: minnow | January 19, 2009

Witness Matters

As is often the case the Parchment and Pen Blog pushed some of my buttons. But rather than continue to vent over there I thought I’d bring it home. The initial point of the post was summed up in the title: “Christianity Does Not Depend on Your Character Witness”. Mr. Patton repeated the point twice in the body of the post saying, “Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents” and then twice more switching it around just a little by saying, “Christianity is based solely on the person and work of Christ.” Take the ianity out of the first statement and I can heartily agree with Mr. Patton’s point. How good or bad I am does not make who Christ is any more or less true. So what? Where is the conflict? As the comments began to add up I started to realize a couple trends.

The first trend I noticed was that some seemed to be trying to consider the question from the non-believer’s point of view. These folks seemed to think a good Christian witness or the good character of a Christian would cause the non-believer to look more closely at Christianity as a valid belief system. While most agreed that the truth of who Christ is would not be changed one way or the other their comments indicated that for them Christian character played a role in whether or not a non-believer would be influenced for Christ. Clearly for Mr. Patton, a Calvinist, predestination takes care of who is “in” and who is “out” thus it is understandable why a good Christian witness would have much less value.

While I agree completely with Mr. Patton’s position that the truth of who Christ is cannot be changed by the character of His followers, I part company with Mr. Patton when he says rejecting Christianity on the basis of the character of its followers is not a valid reason for doing so. In the first place, part of the claim of Christianity is that Christ is able to dwell in His followers and transform their character. If then his followers do not show transformed lives non-believes have a valid reason to reject the faith. In the end, non-believers are not rejecting Christ so much as they are rejecting those who claim Him. I understand Mr. Patton’s frustration with the notion that Christ is judged false because His followers do not provide a good witness but it is misdirected toward the non-believer. His disappointment should be aimed at Christ’s followers.

The second trend I noticed was that some believe that an intellectual argument for Christ was all that should be necessary. The argument suggests that if all the historical evidence was lined up and the scale for faith in Christ weighs more then the evidence against faith in Christ the non-believer should become a believer. Nothing more is required. Again, Mr. Patton’s Calvinist doctrines support this kind of witness. If the non-believer still rejects faith in Christ after the believer has adequately put forth the arguments supporting Christ then he or she can simply be written off as not one of the “elect”. The believer has fulfilled his or her duty toward the non-believer.

I have a couple problems with claiming an intellectual argument for faith as the only valid or even the most valid route to faith. First, if reason and intellect are all that matter my faith is always subject to change by someone who comes up with a better argument or more evidence then I can counter. In other words, my capacity for intellectual debate determines my faith. Secondly, I believe we are primarily relational beings. When we devalue Christian witness we take away one of our primary reasons to relate with non-Christians. We were created to relate to God. As the body each part relates to the other parts in order to function properly. The Bible tells us the outside world will know we are Christians by how well we relate to one another. Relationship is not, in my experience, primarily an intellectual pursuit. What father would only want an intellectual connection to his children? Certainly not one who claimed to love a sin-filled world so much that He sent His only son to redeem it. Christ witnessed the Father’s love. Surly that is an important clue as to the value of our own witness.


  1. Was reading at Parchment and Pen too. I think Michael Patton lost the battle over that post. 🙂

  2. Thanks for commenting! I am often challenged by P&P but I wonder at times if I’m wasting my breathe (typing fingers).

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