We live in a pluralistic world, religiously speaking. There are many “lords”, many “faiths”, and many “baptisms”. Wikipedia estimates around 4200 different world religions in existence today. Regardless of whether or not this estimate is accurate, in the West the growth of alternate religious beliefs has been exponential. In a context where atheism has sought to eliminate the concept of a divine being and the supernatural, it would seem that it has had the opposite effect. The attack by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens on the Christian faith has not eliminated religious belief, but rather created a vacuum wherein superstition has thrived! Why, then, is religion so difficult to eradicate from the hearts of people?
The Natural Inclination to Believe
Calvin writes that people are naturally inclined to believe in God, “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity… God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.” In other words, human beings cannot but help to worship something because we are naturally inclined to do so. Now this does not mean that all people will accept the notion of God, as we see in the case of Dawkins and Hitchens, and neither that all people will have the same understanding of God, which accounts for the many thousand different religions in the world. However, as Roy Clouser has demonstrated in his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality, all people believe in something which is both eternal and independent, and from which all else has derived its existence. People may call this by different titles: i.e. the universe, God, matter, the One, etc. However, everyone will hold to something which has divine characteristics, and defend their belief in this religiously. The great church father, Augustine of Hippo wrote concerning belief in God, “For when the one supreme God of gods is thought of, even by those who believe that there are other gods, and who call them by that name, and worship them as gods, their thought takes the form of an endeavour to reach the conception of a nature, than which nothing more excellent or more exalted exists. And since men moved by different kinds of pleasures exist, partly by those which pertain to the bodily senses, partly by those which pertain to the intellect and soul, those of them who are in bondage to the sense think that either the heavens, or what appears to be most brilliant in the heavens, or the universe itself, is God of gods.”
The apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-32 had already taught this very point, from whom Augustine, Calvin and Clouser derive their arguments. Paul argued that men suppress the plain truth of God visible to all in the created world, and refuse to honour him or even be thankful toward him for their lives. As a result, “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). However, because they are created for worship, their lives still worship and ended up worshipping “images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (1:23). In other words, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Arguing from Psalm 19:1, which states that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” Paul continues that this glory is exchanged by men for a lie to suit their own needs, desires, or thoughts, and the result of this is the exchange of the worship of the one true God for images and idols made by the figment of human imagination. People, when they have suppressed the truth about God, will attach worship to that which they can see and observe, as Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Grant me, Lord, to know and understand which is first, to call on Thee or to praise Thee… For he that knoweth Thee not may call on Thee as other than Thou art.” The reason for this is because in our very essence, we are created for the worship of God, “Thou awakes us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee”, but in our Fallen state, we end up worshipping what we can observe, rather than allowing what we observe to move us beyond the mere symbol in the created thing to the Creator himself.
Therefore when the person confessing The Apostle’s Creed says, “I believe in God,” he is affirming this basic understanding that there is a being who is both eternal and independent, and from whom all else has derived its existence. Of course, the creed is going to clarify who this God is, that he is the almighty creator of heaven and earth, and that he is also Father, but for now it is important for us to understand that the creed confesses what all people actually believe, though they either suppress this truth by denying the existence of God altogether, or suppress it by calling on things that are not God as god, due to the ignorance of the truth of God.
But can God be known?
The question of God’s knowability has been a great question in both philosophy and theology. However, some Christian theologians have answered, unless God makes himself known, no! For example, Karl Barth wrote, “we have to begin with the admission that of ourselves we do not know what we say when we say ‘God,’ i.e. that all that we think we know when we say ‘God’ does not reach and comprehend Him Who is called ‘God’ in the symbol, but always one of our self-conceived and self-made idols, whether it is ‘spirit’ or ‘nature,’ ‘fate’ or ‘idea’ that we really have in view… Only God’s revelation, not our reason despairing of itself, can carry us over from God’s incomprehensibility.” In other words, because of our fickle nature as a result of the Fall of humanity into sin, all of our self-conceptions of God outside of what he has revealed of himself will always tend toward idolatrous images made up by our own corrupt minds. Even the testimony of God in nature by itself is not sufficient, for it will be perverted by our own Fallen minds, as Calvin writes, “Yet hence it appears that if men were taught only by nature, they would hold to nothing certain or solid or clear-cut, but would be so tied to confused principles as to worship an unknown god.” This being said, Calvin concludes that “all who corrupt pure religion – and this is sure to happen when each is given to his own opinions – separate themselves from the one and only God.” In other words, the knowledge of God is lost in two ways: (1) mankind being left to interpret nature by himself; and (2) the corruption of true religion by the influence of human initiative.
Here we reach the point of necessity that Christians insist on, that God has made himself known in history and this is recorded for us in Holy Scripture. Calvin writes, “Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.” This is why The Apostle’s Creed rests all of its articles firmly upon what is found in Scripture, and imports no other understanding outside of Scripture into its confession. Calvin continues by explaining Scripture's purpose, “For, that they might pass from death to life, it was necessary to recognize God not only as Creator but also as Redeemer, for undoubtedly they arrive at both from the Word.” Calvin continues, “God, the Artificer of the universe, is made manifest to us in Scripture, and that what we ought to think of him is set forth there, lest we seek some uncertain deity by devious paths.” Scripture, therefore, is the pilgrims guide to the knowledge of God, and therefore it is in Scripture alone that the understanding of who God is must be sought.
Can the Bible be trusted?
How can we know, though, that Scripture is a trustworthy guide? There are two arguments given to answer this: (1) the inner-trustworthiness of Scripture as being “breathed-out” by God himself; and (2) the inner witness of God’s Spirit which testifies to the truth about God taught in sacred Scripture within each person.
On the first point, Paul has written that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16), and Peter explains this process by writing, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke of God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). In this sense, though the Biblical authors wrote in their own language, with their own literary style, and in various genres, they were being informed by God himself in order that the testimony of who he is would be an accurate representation of himself. On the second point, the inner witness of the Spirit to the reading or hearing of Scripture affirms to the one reading or hearing that these are truly the words of God, and an accurate representation of who he is. In other words, God himself affirms the words of Scripture to the one reading as he reveals himself through the pages of Scripture to the person in question. Someone, however, may read the Bible for years without any effect, and then one particular day, things seem to make sense. One such person was C.S. Lewis himself, who was a sceptic for a large part of his life, until one day he believed that the God of the Bible is the God who he claims to be. It was then that the Scriptures came alive to Lewis, and he could comment, “God has given to His works His own character of emeth; they are watertight, faithful, reliable, not at all vague or phantasmal.”
Some may call this the fallacy of circular reasoning, or begging the question. “To beg the question is to assume the truth of what one seeks to prove, in the effort to prove it.” On the outset it seems to be so when we state, “How do we know that God exists? Because the Bible testifies to his existence. How do we know that the Bible is an accurate record of his existence? Because God himself testifies to its truth.” But this is not the case when it comes to the question of God as related to Scripture. We can consider the similarity between a letter that a particular person has written. One may study the letter that has been written, and hope to find the fingerprints of the person embedded in the letter. If you knew the person, one could easily detect their own character coming through this letter. And if not, one could appeal to the author, if he were alive, and verify whether or not the letter was his. However, if the author were a popular writer, even not knowing him, one could easily detect his style and personality in his letters, if you were familiar with his writing. In this sense we say that a letter is self-authenticating. This is even true of letters which have been dictated by someone and written through a scribe, which is one of the primary ways of identifying authorship of ancient letters who dictated through scribes. So too with a book that claims to have divine origin. If it is so, then one would expect to find the fingerprints of God throughout the book (or in the case of the Bible, the collection of books).
Now the Bible is unique in that it is written through man, and therefore has dual authorship, if one were to state it as such. It contains different personality styles of particular authors, but it also contains something more. The church has always recognised the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to carry a weight of authority that set it apart from the other writings of its time, which was one of the tests of canonicity. In this sense we say that the Bible carries divine authority, it is self-authenticating. But in another sense, those who have read it from a sceptical point of view, and have finally come to see it as God’s Word to man, such as C.S. Lewis, have been convinced by the inner testimony of the Spirit working in their own hearts that, though the books of the Old and New Testaments were compiled by various authors, they contain in themselves the witness of God about himself. It is this God that the creed affirms when it calls us to confess, “I believe in God…”
In a pluralistic world of “many lords” and “many faiths”, one has to ask the question which lord and which faith is the truth. Atheism’s attempt to eradicate God from the public sphere, especially the Christian God, has only left a vacuum that is being filled by various different kinds of superstitions and beliefs. However, the Christian claim is that we can know God because God has revealed himself in history, and this revelation is recorded for us in Scripture. The God which the creed affirms is the God of the Bible, the God revealed, as we shall see, as Father, Son, and Spirit.
The creed seeks to explain or unpack what it is we believe about this God, and how he relates to us as Christians. In other words, the creed affirms belief in the God of the Bible, the God as understood by Christianity, and the God who is known as both Creator and Redeemer. He is the God who has made himself known, and continues to make himself known wherever the Bible is taught and expounded. This doctrine of God is summarised in The Apostle’s Creed, and seeks to build the faith of the Christian upon the foundation of God as revealed in Scripture, and especially as he is made known through Jesus Christ and illuminated by the Spirit in the hearts of every true believer.
 See Dawkins, R. 2006. The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press, pg. 37, “Unless otherwise stated, I shall have Christianity mostly in mind, but only because it is the version with which I happen to be mostly familiar”; and Hitchens, C. 2007. God Is Not Great. New York: Hatchet Book Group USA, pg. 11, “I now know enough about all religions to know that I would always be an infidel at all times and in all places, but my particular atheism is a Protestant atheism.”
 Calvin, J. 1559. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. I:III:I (transl. Battles, F. ed. McNeill, J.T. 2006. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 43).
 Clouser, R. 2005. The Myth Of Religious Neutrality. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, pg. 23ff.
 Augustine. On Christian Doctrine: I:7.
 Augustine. Confessions. I:1.
 Barth, K. 1936. Credo (transl. J. Strathearn McNab). London: Hodder & Stoughton, pg. 12.
 Calvin, J. Institutes, I:IV:12.
 Ibid, I:IV:13.
 Ibid, I:VI:1.
 Ibid, I: VI:2
 Copi, I. M. & Cohen, C. 1994. Introduction to Logic: 9th Edition. New York: MacMillan Publishing, pg. 126.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church located on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.