The only question I have remaining is the following:
Let us imagine that a Muslim had given me as good an answer to my theological questions about Islam. That is he had convinced me of the internal consistency of what he was discussing.
I am now faced with two internally consistent belief systems. How do I go beyond this to the point of actually believing? How do I move beyond this acknowledgment of two sensible "meta-stories" into an acceptance of the truth of one of them?
Is this component faith? How do I justify this faith? And how do I know which one I should have faith in?
I realise that I may be asking unanswerable questions or asking questions which require you to write a personal theological guide for me. If so, don't worry about it.
It wouldn't be possible for me to write a personal theological guide given that God's dealing with each person (w.r.t. salvation and according to 'my' theology) deals with the individuality of personhood. Each persons path to him is tailor-made. Unique. That said, it is possible, I think, to provide satisfactory answers to your questions by outlining the global sequence of events in salvation w.r.t. recognition of the theology of God as true. That sequence would be common in (I think) all cases - even if the detail of each persons case is unique.
I acknowledge the dilemma posed. You would indeed arrive at a dead end in the quest for truth via the route of an internally consistant theology - assuming you could afford the time and study required to safely conclude internal consistancy in as few as even two cases. Fortunately, in 'my' theology, the route to salvation - and subsequent arrival at the Truth - doesn't depend on your correctly evaluating competing theologies. Indeed, it doesn't depend upon your efforts at all. Rather, the general sequence of events involved in your arriving at the truth of God's theology is such that you would be;
a) firstly saved by God - quite aside from what you know or don't about his theology.
b) then you would have revealed to you, by God, the existance of God - resulting in your believing IN God. Thereafter, but not at all critical to your salvation, is your embarking down the path of discovering the theology of God (aided in your travels by God). This latter task with a view to building you up in faith and equipping you for the work God has in mind for you.
A few things arise immediately from this in relation to your questions:
quote:I am now faced with two internally consistent belief systems. How do I go beyond this to the point of actually believing? How do I move beyond this acknowledgment of two sensible "meta-stories" into an acceptance of the truth of one of them?
You don't. You are first saved - apart from such considerations, then you believe the truth of Christianity and the falsity of Islam because it is revealed to you that that is the case.
quote:Is this component faith? How do I justify this faith? And how do I know which one I should have faith in?
Apart from the sequence above, the only faith that would be possible to express at this point would be blind, subjective faith. But according to the sequence above your faith is post-salvation, sighted, evidenced, objective - because God is doing the self-revealing and the pointing to the truth* of Christianity and falsehood of eg: Islam.
It should be clear than there is no necessity that you be exposed to the theology of God in order that you be saved. This permits the salvation of those who have never and will never hear of God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, etc.
There is the Dawkins & Co definition of faith (blind, unevidenced). And there is the biblical definition of faith. Hebrews 11:1 describes biblical faith as being synonymous with evidence.
"Faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen".
*It is important to note that whilst God does reveal his existance to the saved and that the Bible is his message/guide/instruction/explanation/theology, it is possible to navigate a myriad of paths through the Bible. That I may have a different interpretation than say jaywill doesn't preclude myself and jaywill recognising ourselves as brothers in Christ.