Why Do Christians Believe? Reviewing Mittelberg's "Confident Christianity" Part 4

Mark Mittelberg
Mark Mittelberg is a bestselling author, sought-after speaker, and the Executive Director of the Center for Strategic Evangelism, in partnership with Houston Baptist University. He wrote the book Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Belief (2013)—which won the Outreach Magazine's 2014 apologetics book of the year award. Yet, it appears his book has been flying under the atheist radar—so far. I aim to rectify that with a few posts offering my thoughts and criticisms of it. I found Mark’s book recently in a Goodwill store for $1. That was a lucky find. Thank Good...will.

Mittelberg begins his book in Part 1, "Six Paths of Faith", by speaking about approaches, or methods readers adopt to embrace their respective faiths (remember, *cough* he says we all have faith). "This is crucial" he says, "because the method (or methods) you use in deciding what to believe has a huge bearing on what those beliefs will actually be, as well as how confident you'll be in holding on to them." (p. 9) "Most people never consider this" he goes on to say. "They just arbitrarily adopt an approach--or adopt one that's been handed to them--and uncritically employ it to choose a set of beliefs that may or may not really add up." (p. 10)

Most people? All of us have uncritically adopted the approach to religious truth handed to us. Without exception. We didn't even know there were different approaches to religious truth. We didn't even know there were other religions. We trusted our parents to teach us what to believe and how to verify it within our given culture. Period. Mittelberg and other Christian apologists who openly acknowledge this fact (most do not) play lip service to the implications. It sounds educated to admit it. But the implications for religious faith are never seen, must less dealt with honestly, by showing readers how to objectively dig out of the hole of their religious upbringing. I have defended the outsider method for understanding which religion is true, if there is one. This is a brief description right here.

I like the fact Mittelberg tells his conversion story in the book. I told mine in my book, Why I Became an Atheist. I did it so people can see the whole story. I've challenged Christian apologists to do likewise. It can help determine whether they had good reasons to initially believe. My claim is they don't. They lack sound reasons to believe. People don't initially adopt a faith because of reasons, facts and evidence. They are either raised to believe, or they come to faith because of someone they trust who has a evangelistic lifestyle, or they come to believe based on a dramatic experience in life. So even though many of them come to believe due to the perception of good reasons, it's clear to demonstration they don't do so. You can take Mittelberg's own testimony on this point!

He was raised to believe. Later when attending a college philosophy class he was asked questions he couldn't answer. He didn't like the superficial answers he got from church members. So he decided to study his faith out to know whether it was true, "regardless of where I ended up." Taking his cue from Socrates who said "the unexamined life is not worth living", he flips it over saying "the unexamined life...is worth examining!" So he decided to examine his previously unexamined faith. He tells readers this process is important for it might reveal your beliefs are based on faulty reasoning and therefore wrong, "which is certainly worth finding out as soon as you can." (p. 21) It might instead reveal your beliefs are correct but they're not accepted "for the best of reasons." Then comes the confession:
That was my situation in college. My Christian conclusions were, I'm convinced, correct, so I needed to go back and shore up the foundations underlying my faith. (p. 21)
A Freudian slip? He "needed to go back and shore up the foundations underlying my faith." He did not initially believe because of good reasons! He came up with the reasons, following Anselm who said faith seeks knowledge, or reasons, it doesn't make a difference. Faith searches for them just the same.

Mittelberg emphasizes he overcame his religious upbringing to find the truth. So he can say with confidence he just happened to be born into the correct religion, evangelical Christianity. He can do this because he searched and subsequently found the reasons to believe that neither his parents, nor his church members, nor he had! Sounds like the mother of all cognitive biases just hit him, confirmation bias. While he says he pursued the truth regardless of where it would lead him, I can tell by the books he references in this one, the answers he provides to the questions he addresses in it, and by what he failed to include, that he was engaged in the pure self-deceptive act of confirming what he wanted to be true. It's our natural born tendency, to believe and defend that which we want to be true.

I also liked that Mittelberg starts by discussing methodology. I agree. It is crucial. I did so in chapter five of my book How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist. He doesn't emphasize logic and evidence to the exclusion of other paths though, so we differ.

There are five major apologetic methods in defending Christianity, which I categorized by what I consider the best way from my perspective, based on their primary approach in defending Christianity: (1) Apologetics Based on Sufficient Objective Evidence; (2) Apologetics Based on Special Pleading; (3) Apologetics Based on Assuming What Needs to Be Proved; (4) Apologetics Based on Private Subjective Experiences; and (5) Eclectic Pragmatic Apologetics Based on Prior Conclusions. In concluding I say:
Either apologists think the evidence will lead a nonbeliever to Christianity or they don’t. Only one method outlined above says yes, that Christianity stands or falls on the evidence. All of the other methods try to fix the problems with evidentialism because sufficient evidence simply is not there. They cannot sugarcoat this inside the good-oleboys bakery before dishing out their half-baked treats to the hungry crowds. There are roughly five overarching major apologetics methods. If we grant that an equal number of Christian apologists defend these respective approaches, then any given one of them is rejected by 80 percent of all Christian apologists. Since evidentialism is the only method that accepts the need for sufficient evidence, and it only has 20 percent support among apologists, then 80 percent of all Christian apologists do not think there is sufficient objective evidence to believe. If that’s not a crisis then what is? (p.101)
Let him deal with that chapter. My bet is he won't or cannot do it.

Now for Mittelberg's Six Paths of Faith:

1) The Relativistic Path: "Truth is Whatever Works for You"
2) The Traditional Faith Path: "Truth is What You've Always Been Taught"
3) The Authoritarian Faith Path: "Truth Is What You've Always Been Told You Must Believe"
4) The Intuitive Faith Path" "Truth Is What You Feel In Your Heart"
5) The Mystical Faith Path" "Truth Is What You Think God Told You"
6) The Evidential Faith Path: "Truth Is What Logic and Evidence Point To"

To help readers find out which path is dominant in their life he offers a test. They are to mark from 1-5 each statement, with 1 being the least agreement and 5 being the biggest agreement. Then add them up to see which one is the dominant faith path. As I said, this is a used book. Someone had already read and marked it. Here are a few of the pages. For now I'll let people make their own observations.


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