The Story Criteria

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

In a world in which all variables can change at once, no absolute proof of God’s existence can logically be given. This does not mean, however, that we have no evidence of God’s existence or that we should resign ourselves to the “big gulp” theory of faith, in which we simply take everything on faith.

Evidence of God’s Work in the World

The Bible talks extensively about truth. For example, we read:

We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:6-8 ESV)

Here, the Apostle John sees love as the proof of God’s existence and revelation to us. While I find the current pre-occupation with love unhelpful (because of the many false definitions of love), note that John is doing two things in this passage. 

First, John assumes that we can empirically observe the presence of God in people. This implies that, although there is not absolute proof of God’s existence in a logical sense, we still have evidence.

Second, this evidence of God’s existence is relational in nature. Love requires an object; it does not stand alone. In that sense, it is relational.

Wisdom from Modeling

As an economist, I built financial models for highly complex companies. The reason for these models was simple: the companies were too complex and market transactions took place too quickly to manage them by rule of thumb. To manage without a model would spell doom in a fast-paced market. Consequently, the criteria for evaluating any particular model proved simple: did this new model perform better than the previous one?

Criteria for Story Telling

Expanding on John’s relational evidence of God’s existence and our modeling criteria , we can see the importance of story telling in demonstrating the existence of God. In a world where all variables move at the same time, we can tell stories about how this complicated world points to God—or not. The criteria then for faith becomes—is the Christian story about God more credible than alternative stories about how the world works? (Sacks)

This criteria should sound familiar. In the scientific method, we normally test the validity of a primary hypothesis against a secondary hypothesis. Substituting the word, story, for the word, hypothesis, we find that the criteria is already well established in modern period. Hart writes:

 “It may be impossible to provide perfectly irrefutable evidence for one’s conclusions, but it is certainly possible to amass evidence sufficient to confirm them beyond plausible doubt.”(Hart 2009, ix)

From statistical theory, we know that observations (or data) do not themselves explain anything. Drawing inferences from observations requires a theory (or story). Observations can either confirm or reject any particular theory.

Applying the Criteria

Is the Gospel story better than alternative views of the world? 

The usual answer is yes. The Christian story about God is not only the most credible story about how the world works, but it is also the most desirable. If we emulate God both individually and communally as a church, then we become a beacon of light in the world around us. Is it any wonder that the abolishment of slavery and the promotion of women’s rights were nineteenth century Christian initiatives? (Dayton) 

Most of the time when people want to argue that the answer is no, they neglect to consider the entire human condition, from birth to death, and focus on individual autonomy. The acceptability of abortion, for example, focuses on the rights of women, usually professional women, while placing a lower weight on family, intergenerational continuity, and economic growth. Lower birth rates in the United States and Western Europe have contributed to stagnating economies because economic growth requires population growth that is frustrated by the frequent use of abortion.


Dayton, Donald W. 1976. Discovering an Evangelical Heritage. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.

Hart, David Bentley. 2009. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

The Story Criteria

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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