Many people come to faith by putting their trust in what religious leaders tell them. They live praiseworthy lives without ever asking questions about, or experiencing for themselves, the Ultimate source of what they have been told.
Others come to faith the same way, but they grow in it differently.
For them, too, faith begins by giving credence to others’ testimony rather than on the basis of their own experiences. Soon, though, they begin to weigh carefully what they have heard, in the light of everything else they hope and believe is true about the Sacred.
Once this process begins, there is no telling what its outcome will be on the faith which motivates it.
What steadies the first road to faith is the maintaining of loyalties. What steadies the second is the seeking of understanding. Most religious institutions present the first as the straighter and easier road to the spiritual life, even if the narrower one.
The second road is wide, winding, and sometimes dangerous. But for more than a few faith-seekers, it is the only road that will get them where they know they need to go.
In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts there is a fascinating story about a group of people who most certainly were finding their way on this less traveled road.
Working in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica, Paul becomes besieged by frighteningly hostile responses to his teaching about Jesus. With the threats increasing, he and his disciple Silas are whisked away under cover of darkness to a safer place, a town then called Berea.
Luke refers to Paul’s audience at Berea as “fair-minded” Jews who listened to his message eagerly. But, and this is what makes the story so interesting, they tested what they heard daily in the light of their own scriptures “to see whether it was true.”
The clear implication of this little story is that those who became followers of Paul — Jews and non-Jews alike — were followers of evidence first.
What made them Paul’s followers was the consistency they found between ancient Jewish prophecies about a Savior’s coming and Paul’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry. To be sure, this is not the kind of evidence that can help modern-day Christianity much in making its case to the world.
But an openness to every kind evidence both for and against it just might.