Are Christians arrogant for claiming to know the truth about God?
One of the most common complaints about Christians is that they’re so certain. It takes a lot of hubris to say that they’re right about God and everyone else is wrong. Shoot, it takes a lot of arrogance to say that the truth about God can even be known in the first place. Isn’t it more humble to say that we can’t know for sure?
I’m going to say something that might be a little shocking. In one sense, the critics can be right. Christians indeed can be very arrogant in the way that they handle “being right.” But claiming to know the truth doesn’t necessarily make somebody arrogant.
There are more than a handful of Christians who act as if they’ve attained their knowledge of God by sheer grit and their own special intellectual abilities. They act as if non-believers would just use their brains in the same way they have, they’d stop being so stupid and convert already.
This is arrogant.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that we all have knowledge. But knowledge has a tendency to puff up — to cause us to be proud of ourselves. Paul goes on to say that love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1–3) Paul goes onto say that we can have all knowledge and know every mystery, but if we don’t have love we’re useless nobodies. (1 Cor 13:2)
As someone who’s taken a special interest in apologetics, I’ve seen this ugliness in myself at times. Many times Christians will act as if we memorize and say all the right arguments, people will believe. And if they don’t, they’re just being irrational. But when we carry the truth in an arrogant fashion, why should the skeptic find this truth believable when it’s done so little to change our lives? This is why Paul says not to just speak the truth, but speak the truth in love. (Eph 4:15)
That being said, it’s not necessarily arrogant to claim to have certainty when it comes to knowing God. It’s just how you acknowledge where this knowledge comes from. To quote the apostle Paul again, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”. (1 Cor. 4:7) Here Paul is reminding the Corinthians that everything that they know about God is a gift. It’s freely given by grace, not because of their own intellectual superiority. Earlier he wrote:
“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:28–31
We need to remember where we came from when God chose us. Without his grace, we wouldn’t have enough sense to get out of the proverbial rain. Our boast should be in him, not in our own mental prowess. A knowledge that is dependent on God leads to gratefulness, not pride. This should affect how we share this knowledge with others.
Skepticism: Much More Arrogant
Moving back to the skeptic, when it comes to the claims of arrogance for the Christian exclusivist, we need to show them that they too are exclusive about other truth claims. As the famous Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga points out, it’s not arrogant to hold onto moral views that you can’t convince others of. Consider our views on abortion, environmentalism, or sexual morality. Are others being arrogant towards us because they hold to different moral beliefs that we lack, even if they can’t convince you that you’re wrong?
Worse, by their own standard, the skeptic is actually being more arrogant than the Christian. Think about it for a second. Many skeptics either say there is no God, or that such a claim can’t be demonstrated, but yet Christians are wrong for being certain about the matter. And they’ve come to this knowledge by their own intellectual acumen. It’s as if we were as enlightened as they were, we’d denounce Christianity. But this is just as much a claim of certainty, and by their own logic, this would make them just as arrogant, if not more so.
Furthermore, Christians don’t believe that every religion is 100% wrong in their beliefs. As CS Lewis wrote in his chapter ‘Rival Conceptions of God’:
If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic-there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.
Mere Christianity, Kindle Location 526
So who is being more arrogant and less humble here, the Christian or the person who claims Christians are so prideful? I’ll let you decide.
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
Originally published at https://isjesusalive.com on September 14, 2019.