Why We Need to Labor to Keep Christianity Falsifiable
At the time of publication of this article the Jacksonville Jaguars sit with a 1-12 record. Dead last in the AFC South. Absolutely zero chance of making the playoffs.
Do a little thought experiment with me, here. Imagine that you’re a die hard Jags fan. You’ve put time, money, and emotional effort into this thing. You were so confident in the team during the offseason that you made a hefty wager that they’d be Super Bowl champions.
Your wager isn’t looking so good these days. But I have great news for you. I had a dream last night and I visited with the Lord of glory. And He told me that it was written in heaven, it was an absolute certainty, that the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to be the Super Bowl champions.
What do you do with this claim that I’ve made? On first glance it appears that Christianity is made of this stuff. The angel Gabriel telling the old man Zechariah that he was about to be a daddy sounds even more implausible than the Jags winning the Super Bowl this year. Both were mathematically eliminated.
Zechariah was rebuked for not believing the angel. His response is intentionally contrasted with Mary’s response. His was a “show me and I’ll believe”. Her response was “I believe, can you show me?”
So would it be right for your spiritual leaders to rebuke you for not believing this dream? Imagine that I, as a pastor, encouraged my entire congregation (because this was part of my dream) to pool together our money and place a massive bet on Jacksonville to win the Super Bowl. We’ll give all the money to missions, of course. Is it proper for me to rebuke you for asking for some evidence before you donate? Is Christianity the stuff of unverified claims and defaulting to believing those who had dreams and visions of the impossible?
Falsifiable With Consequences
I would argue that even though the Bible is filled with individual (and unfalsifiable) encounters with the Lord, these encounters are accompanied by something which is historically verifiable. Prophecy was grounded in that which could be proven or disproven historically. And there are sharp consequences if what you claimed did not come true. If you do not have both in your context, then you’re more cultish than Christian.
Consider Abraham. He had a private encounter with God. But the promises were historically verifiable. If Abraham doesn’t have a child with his barren wife, Sarah, then his claims are bunk. Just as my dream about the Jaguars winning the Super Bowl. If they don’t win the Super Bowl then even though I might have had a dream it wasn’t something from our always truth-telling Lord.
And there are sharp consequences all throughout the Scriptures for false prophecy. False prophets were put to death. I believe the reason for this is because we ought to default to belief of a prophetic word**. It is to be tested, yes, but the foundation of discernment is hope. But this is impossible if there are no guards upon false prophecy.
If I share that God has told me the Jaguars will win the Super Bowl, and encourage others to take action upon this prophecy, and when some other team (the Browns?) win in 2020, I should never be allowed to pastor again until deep repentance has happened.
The Difference Between Cults and Christ
Christianity remains the most falsifiable religion. And I believe we have evidence in the New Testament that this was an important distinctive of the Christian faith. There is a reason why Paul did not make his trip to heaven a defining point of his gospel message. As I’ve said before:
Christianity is a put-it-under-the-microscope type of faith. Notice what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:6, “…but I refrain from [boasting about my trip to heaven], so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.” Do you see what Paul is doing? He is saying, “I’m only going to boast in what you see Christ doing in my life (verifiable) or the gospel I preach (verifiable)”.
The Spirit loves the light. He loves truth. The gospel isn’t afraid of the microscope. If the foundation of your faith isn’t something verifiable (falsifiable) then it’s something different than what Paul preached….
This is why I say if there is not a culture of this in your context, it is more cultish than Christian. Cults major on making unfalsifiable claims the foundation of their faith. Their culture is inundated with these types of claims.
I say this because I’m hearing all sorts of claims these days related to politics by those claiming the name of Christ. And I urge you to consider whether these claims are falsifiable and if there is a context of consequence related to these claims. I am concerned that many folks are being drawn into cultish thinking.
If it’s true it’ll survive a microscope. And if it’s real prophecy the folks making these claims are willing to put their livelihood and even their own blood on the line. There are no take backs with biblical prophecy.
We cannot surrender the claims of Christ so easily and pretend that the absolutely astonishing (and yet falsifiable) claims of a resurrected Messiah are on par with “I don’t care about the evidence I know in my heart that this unverifiable thing happened”.
Cults thrive amidst bloodless claims made in the dark. Whereas Christianity thrives upon the shed blood of witnesses to under-the-microscope and plain for all to see truth. Be careful about which one you’re giving your life to.
**I am speaking here of biblical culture and not intending to debate cessationism or charismatic theology.