Logically speaking, the outward behavior of Christian people should be irrelevant to the truth of Jesus Christ. Even true believers who know the gospel are prone to fail once in a while. What matters is what the Bible actually teaches, which is far from what the world sees in Christians.
Still, this objection is still very real to a lot of people, so it deserves to be addressed.
*Taking off the robot hat.
As a human being, it’s easy to discredit a belief system or religion if you see its adherents acting in unflattering ways. It’s just a natural response. In fact, Jesus was well aware of this natural tendency of human beings and instructed Christians to be like salt or a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16), meaning we’re supposed to set a good example and positively influence the world around us. Salt is meant to represent something that not only brings out full goodness (flavor), but also to preserve and keep things from rotting. We are to be holy and uphold morality in a world that naturally degenerates toward sin. A light, obviously, shines and counters the darkness, showing the right path.
Unfortunately, Christians seem to be failing in great measure (though to be fair, some succeed). Instead of drawing people toward Christ, many of us are turning off the world to the message. As Ghandi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
So what exactly is the problem? Let’s start with the root of the problem…
Most “Christians” are not actually saved.
This part should come as no surprise to some people, especially considering my deluge of posts about this topic recently. Sadly, many modern churchgoers—especially in America—believe themselves to be Christian, but are really participating in just another religion. A true relationship with Christ and the changing power of the Holy Spirit cannot be found in them.
Some people estimate that perhaps only 5–10% of so-called Christians in America are actually true followers. This means that the vast majority of people are living by their own flesh, and therefore are just as likely as the rest of the world to succumb to temptations and fall to sin. The problem is, if an atheist person committed some morally questionable act, no one would flinch. But if a “Christian” does it, it sets off alarms and people cry “hypocrite!”
What is it exactly that we do that offends the secular world?
1. An average situation…
Imagine a scenario where a churchgoer is on a business trip with a few of his work buddies. Let’s call him Jim. His buddies decide one night, after a hard day of negotiations, to hit up the local strip club and down a few beers. What is the right response for Jim? Admittedly, he’s in a rough spot.
On the one hand, he could succumb to peer pressure and decide to go along. After all, he doesn’t want to offend them or come across as a Jesus freak, would he? But the problem is, he has just undermined the gospel and any possible platform he might have to share the message in the future. If a month from now, Jim is alone with one of his work friends and brings Jesus up, that friend might be thinking about Jim’s behavior that night at the strip club. His friends might think to themselves, “There’s no difference between Christians and us except we get to save our time and money on Sundays.”
On the other hand, if Jim declines the invitation, he might face added pressure. “Why not, come on man!” This is where he needs a lot of discernment and tact. Jim has to communicate that he doesn’t agree morally to such activities without coming across as pious or overly judgmental. This is an extremely hard line to walk, and most will fail miserably. (It’s probably a lose-lose anyway, practically speaking.) If he condemns the activity too hard, he adds to the stereotype that Christians are condescending and judgmental. If he’s too soft, he’s not standing up for his beliefs and is perhaps being ashamed of the gospel.
As 1 Peter 3:15 says: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
This might mean that Jim will become less popular and that he won’t get invited to future events. They might label him as a party-pooper. So be it. At least he stood up for the truth without compromising and committing the sin of pride and condescension.
From that simple example, what I was trying to illustrate is that Christians either fail by going along with the world or by going against it with pride and spiritual piety.
2. Priests and pastors…
First off, I’ll share this rant by Christopher Hitchens, the militant anti-religious atheist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOamsF5r3TE.
I have to say, this is one of those rare times when I actually agree with a lot of what he says. The church has a lot to be sorry for, especially (historically) the Catholic church. Priests molesting young boys who are entrusted to their care and instruction is abominable. A history of anti-Semitism is not only abhorrent, but it’s strikingly UNbiblical and simple-minded. This kind of twisted behavior can only come about when we take something meant for good—the church—and turn it into a man-made institution, sullied by power grabbing and the substitution of earnest faith with rituals and rites. It’s no wonder so much has gone wrong over the past centuries.
But the Protestant church is not without blemish, either. You have pastors who are more interested in rubbing shoulders with the Washingtonian elite rather than being set apart from this world. There are people like Ted Haggard who embarrass the name of Christ by engaging in an active lifestyle of sexual sin and betrayal. Countless thieves, like Benny Hinn, use the name of God to fatten their wallets by deceiving the naive and trusting.
So what is going on?
It’s simple: they forgot—or never really knew—the Bible. They left the Holy Spirit out of their lives and they carried on alone, puffed up in their own pride and accomplishments (and congregation size).
Catholic priests mistakenly were taught that celibacy was holier than married life, and they chose a lifestyle that so precious few are actually called to. Think about it: Paul in the New Testament lived a celibate life, but he spent every waking minute preaching and arguing for God’s Word. When he wasn’t doing that, he was locked up in prisons and suffering. Do you think he had time to be a husband? Meanwhile, you have modern priests who interact with their parish members time to time and preach, but are left living a fairly comfortable life otherwise. With their weak flesh and idle time, it’s no wonder so many priests fall. Celibacy isn’t the way to go for most people.
Protestant pastors see their churches growing and they think, “Wow, I must be a good preacher!” They don’t spend every day in their Bibles, nor do they guard against the enemy. Pride or complacency (or straight-up being a fraud) opens the door and lets temptation come right in, besetting their lives with sin.
If only people would stay true to God’s word instead of their own insights and willpower. Man-made institutions and systems will always fail.
3. The bizarre and newsworthy…
You hear about it on the news all the time. The “Christian” mother who killed her kids because she thought God told her to (more like a demon). The “Christian” who opens fire on a Jewish crowd, thinking he’s fighting for some righteous cause (nevermind that Jesus was a Jew and that they are still God’s original chosen people).
Side note: Please stop calling Hitler a Christian and using him as an example. It’s ignorant and ridiculous. He was not a Christian, pure and simple. A person might call himself one for political purposes, but when your actions go against the Bible and you even plan on replacing scripture with your own book (Mein Kampf) in every classroom, that is not the work of a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It’s obvious as night and day.
Or how about the parents who beat their adopted children to death because they read from the Bible not to spare the rod? I guess they missed the part about being careful to discipline them. Perhaps they read Proverbs 23:13, which says: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” Common sense (and the countless other times in the Bible that refer to death as the opposite of salvation) would tell a normal person that the “he will not die” part refers to moral and spiritual death. By lovingly disciplining a child and correcting him, the parent is saving him from a future life of debauchery, corruption, and self-destruction. Heck, reading the very next verse should have made it obvious: “Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”
Again, this is just a result of bad biblical interpretation, twisting words to fit our own sinful agendas, or plain and utter stupidity. A wicked person can easily open up the Bible and find a way to justify his or her actions, but this blatant misuse doesn’t demean the actual word of God one bit.
So what can Christians do to fix this?
First, much of the criticism is justified, so we as a body of believers need to take responsibility and do better. Granted, we are judged more harshly than the rest of the world, that’s hard to deny. We could do the same things as a nonbeliever, but be impugned or labeled as a hypocrite for it. Is it a fair standard? Yes and no. Yes, because as true believers, we ARE supposed to be in a process of sanctification, so we simply cannot continue to live as the rest of the world. But no, it might not be completely fair because it’s still a process; none of us ever achieve perfection in our flesh.
Second, so-called “Christians” either need to give their lives over to God or stop calling themselves Christians. The word itself means “followers of Christ,” which entails actually following Christ’s way. They can attend church and call themselves seekers if they want, but they need to get it out of their heads that they’re set because of their false flu-shot salvation.
Third, we all need to bring the real Bible back to the church. Let’s ditch the man-made stuff that distracts from the true gospel—all the unbiblical rules, rites, rituals, and other things that supposedly make you holy. These things give people a false assurance and complacency that is dangerous in light of constant spiritual attack. If people were more biblical, they couldn’t possibly live their embarrassingly immoral lives and cast mud on the name of Jesus to the world.
Ultimately, the goal is not to be liked or to fit in. The Bible tells us straight up that the true gospel will probably bring hate upon us or persecution. But what we can’t do is undermine God’s glory by being poor representatives on earth. We can be hated for standing up for the truth, but we shouldn’t be hated for being hypocrites, thieves, and perverts.
1 Peter 2:11-12 tells us: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Our good deeds might not make an impact now, and in fact, standing up for the truth may bring persecution upon us. But it will bring further glory to God in the end. May we let the Holy Spirit guide us always.
Update, 08/17/11: I’m actually getting a head start on some of my seminary reading (starts Monday the 22nd) and what do you know? The first essay we’re assigned to read and analyze talks about the age of the world and creation. There are definitely some theories and concepts I was unaware of, so I’m going to have to update this entry with these new findings shortly.
Ah, the good ol’ age-of-the-world problem. This is a very common objection to Christianity: the claim that science has already proved wrong the creation account found in Genesis 1. Scientific methods have dated the universe to about 14 billion years, and the earth is probably around 4.5 billion years old by their estimations. The traditional view found in Genesis seems to suggest that the world is only about 6,000-10,000 years old. Obviously, something is amiss.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area by any means. I’m only about to share what I’ve looked into so far and what others have found. Honestly, I think this is a subject we can never be sure about, and our conclusions are probably going to change a few more times over the years. But I hope you’ll agree with me that the issue isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, and that there is room for flexibility.
So without further ado, let’s move onto some observations.
The evidence seems to point toward an old-earth theory.
By current dating methods, scientists are able to conclude on a fairly consistent basis that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Geology looks at rock strata, estimates the time in between each layer, and can pretty much count up the number of years. They know that such formations are slow and take a long time, making the young-earth view implausible.
There is also the method of carbon or radiometric dating, by which scientists can calculate the age of various fossils and other substances they find. They do this by knowing the half-life of a certain element, such as carbon-14, and judging by how much is remaining, they calculate how much has decayed and how long it took to get there.
Finally, an argument for the old-earth theory is that evolution could not have taken place to form the wide variety of complex organisms we see today in mere thousands of years. (They have enough trouble as it is trying to figure out how it could have happened to this degree in billions of years without divine intervention.) **Big side note: Do I believe fully in evolution? Well, it depends on how you’re defining it. But that’s a whole can of worms I won’t open quite yet!
That is the dumbest, quickest, crudest explanation of old-earth dating you will ever see.
Does the Bible contradict what science has shown us?
The answer is no. You’ve all probably heard the popular answer to this, which is the day-age theory: the Hebrew word “yom” in Genesis can be interpreted in numerous ways. It literally means a 12-hour period OR a 24-hour period OR a long, indeterminate amount of time. How do we know which one to use? Beats me, but I think comparing the usage of “yom” in other books of the Bible is ill-advised here since the creation account is a different animal altogether. Needless to say, we need to be flexible on its usage.
So if the duration of one “day” (“yom”) to another is indefinite, what can we glean from the scriptures that is actually useful in the context of comparing to science? The order by which things are formed. It is here that we find striking congruity between the Bible and what modern science has found. Tellingly, the Bible happens to be the only “holy book” in the world that got it right, even thousands of years before such knowledge was known by the scholars of the day.
(Click here for a fairly detailed breakdown: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/day-age.html.)
Again, I won’t go into too much detail or regurgitate too much, but one important point to note is that in Genesis 1:1-2, it is clear that certain things were created BEFORE the first yom. What were those things? Well, it just happened to be the “heavens and the earth” (“heavens” obviously means space and the rest of the universe, as it is separate from earth, which contains our notion of “sky”). Not only that, but there were waters over which the Holy Spirit was hovering. All this before the first creation day.
Going back to cosmology for a second, we know that the very first instant of time is when the big bang occurred. It is when time, space, and matter literally came into being. Before this happened, there was no such thing as time, only a singularity, so it makes sense to call this moment of creation “in the beginning.”
Obviously, if God is eternal, there was no beginning for Him. So Genesis 1:1 is starting from the instant of the big bang.
This kind of consistency with modern science is definitely a plus, though perhaps not a must (as science is fallible and is prone to correction from generation to generation). Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, shares this in his testimony:
I found the Bible noticeably different. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed at the quantity of historical and scientific (i.e., testable) material it included and at the detail of this material. The first page of the Bible caught my attention. Not only did its author correctly describe the major events in the creation of life on earth, but he placed those events in the scientifically correct order and properly identified the earth’s initial conditions.
(Also read a detailed breakdown of why old-earth creationism may be the more accurate biblical view, not just scientific: http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/animal-death-before-adam/introduction-creation-date-debate.)
Some may wonder at this point, well what took God so long? Remember that God doesn’t operate on our timetable, and he is a being who can exist outside of time. Plus, God seems to like putting systems and natural laws in place and letting things take their course. Why wouldn’t he? He is the author of all things. One example of this would be after Noah’s flood where it took 150 days for the waters to finally subside. Could God have made the water disappear instantly? Sure. But why not let “nature,” His created system, handle things naturally?
What about Adam and Eve? Were they literal?
In my opinion, Christians must believe that Adam and Eve were literal human beings. Why? Because Jesus Christ himself spoke about them as if they were literal, and to my knowledge, everything rises and falls with the perfect knowledge and divinity of Christ.
How does this gel with the old-earth view? Well, quite simply, Adam and Eve were probably the first human beings according to God’s definition. They were the first ones created in God’s image, and therefore were the first soul-bearing creatures. There may have been human-like creatures before this, possibly walking erect and resembling us, but this is where the spiritual element of man was born. To God, this is where the story gets interesting.
Remember that the Bible does not include every superfluous detail, nor is it meant to explain science to us. It is simply to point us toward God and to teach us about things that are spiritually relevant.
Isn’t this day-age/old-earth theory just a modern retreat in light of science?
Fair question, but the answer seems to be no. Even Saint Augustine, in the 5th century, postulated that the word “yom” could mean something other than literal days. This was well before the world had any concept of an old earth. If you read the Genesis 1 account carefully, there are certain events that clearly seem to take longer than a regular 24-hour day.
Are young-earth (6,000–10,000 years) creationists crazy?
Well, perhaps. Organizations like Answers in Genesis don’t seem to have a ton of street cred in the scientific community. But I’m going to admit right now that there are times when I’m tempted with this view.
I know that it goes against my usual philosophy of “going where the evidence points,” but I sometimes can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that the age of the world is one of those “earth is flat” type of things. One day, maybe we’ll look back and laugh, saying, “I can’t believe we used to think the earth was 4.5 billion years old!” I know, I’m destroying any credibility I have with each sentence I write here.
What possible support could there be for the young-earth view? Well, first there is the “simple” reading of the Bible. True, “yom” can literally mean both a regular 24-hour day or a long era—nothing figurative about it. But perhaps it’s just my conception of God and his timetable. This is a completely unreliable way to think, by the way, as the Bible clearly states that to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (meaning time is not felt by God in the same way as people).
But second, I also find a lot of little curiosities that individually, don’t amount to anything, but together are striking (to me anyway). We don’t have any written, recorded history before about 2,500 BC. Everything we know of seems to have happened in an amazingly minuscule amount of time. Think about it: from the earliest recorded history to today, only thousands of years have elapsed…yet we have gone from using primitive tools and walking in the dirt to flying jets and broadband internet. If the 4.5 billion year age of the earth is correct, we’ve gone from primitive to very advanced in literally one-millionth (1/1,000,000) of the time the world has existed. There are a lot of little things that nag at me like this. Then again, perhaps it is because humans—as image bearers of God—have only existed for thousands of years, and it has nothing to do with the age of everything else.
I also think that dating procedures could be prone to unseen error. I know I’m going out of my element here, but what if the half-lives of certain elements were not always at equilibrium? What if 6,000 years ago, the half-life of carbon-14 was totally different, changing a constant in the equation and affecting the outcome drastically? So anything we found that is actually 7,000 years old might be calculated completely wrong?
The biggest unknown variable in all of this, to me, is Noah’s flood. If it literally happened, which I believe wholeheartedly, there is no way to anticipate the way it could affect our dating methods. This wasn’t a simple rainstorm or flood as we know it today. This was a worldwide, biblical, supernatural event where the mountaintops were covered in water. The flood waters actually come from above AND below from within the earth, and who knows what minerals came up with it? How can we possibly attempt to simulate the effect this kind of catastrophic event would have on the earth and it’s rock layers? Is this perhaps why we have so many fossils preserved where animals seem to have suddenly died? (Why aren’t we forming fossils today, but instead, animal carcasses and bones simply decay into the earth?)
Finally, I think that it’s possible (though maybe not probable) that in creating the universe, God stretched and placed things in such a way that life could be supported. Perhaps this process gives everything the appearance of age, if we’re measuring by distances and such. To me, this is a big fat “who knows?”
I’m not saying I’m a young-earth creationist or that it’s even preferable in any way. Believe what you want; theologically, it makes little difference. But I think it’s prudent to at least acknowledge different possibilities, especially when we’re dealing in an area that can’t be fully confirmed in a laboratory.
If I were a betting man, I’d probably go with old-earth, but I don’t feel qualified to take a firm stand either way.
In the last 100 years, archaeology has uncovered a multitude of artifacts and writings, verifying the truth of what the Bible says. Science itself, with the Big Bang theory showing a definite starting point for our universe, has strengthened the argument for God.
This isn’t enough to necessarily lead people to faith, but it certainly helps to have some support for the Bible’s claims. In fact, many former skeptics (such as Sir William Ramsey, or more recently, Lee Strobel) have made it their mission in the past to disprove or scrutinize the Bible, only to become more convinced of its veracity. To them, the world’s evidence pushed them strongly in the direction of Christian faith. These stories are numerous and uplifting.
However, we must be careful not to place evidence and arguments as central pillars of our faith. Once we receive the Holy Spirit—in a genuine conversion experience—he is stand-alone, sufficient evidence to convict us of the Bible’s truth. The rest is extra support for something that is sturdy enough to stand the test of time anyway. For the true believer, additional worldly evidence can cause us to rejoice, possibly increase our zeal, and allow us to more effectively share with nonbelievers. But for our own faith, it is ultimately extraneous.
This is why William Lane Craig states in his book, Reasonable Faith, that even if arguments and evidence would fail to support Christianity (which they certainly do not), he would still wholeheartedly be a believer. This statement, found early in his book, has brought mockery and condescension upon him from his atheist opponents. I can see why, as it seems to demonstrate that yet another Christian seems to be wholly irrational in his beliefs and immune to reason and persuasion—even a top-flight philosopher, debater, and logical thinker such as Dr. Craig. But as Dr. Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame has written in his work, belief in Christ can be just as “properly basic” as our belief in the external world, which we experience with the five senses. The Holy Spirit is that compelling.
I am not trying to say that we should all stop trying to seek the truth or welcome new evidence into the arena of debate. This post is more for the already-converted believers out there. The world’s evidence is subject to the truth of the Bible, not the other way around. The main point of this post is this: Evidence can help lead us to faith, but it shouldn’t be what’s keeping us in it.
What happens when the evidence turns against us?
This is really the heart of the issue. Ask yourself, as a believer, what you would do if there were some discovery tomorrow that seemed to directly disprove some part of the Bible. What if there were a dry spell where no able and well-informed apologists could successfully hold the skeptics at bay? Would you cease to follow Christ? Would you exalt human reasoning and deem Christianity as fool’s gold?
While this would seem the “rational” response to such developments, consider the following thoughts.
– The scientific community as a whole believed that the world was eternal, with no beginning, until the Big Bang theory became widely accepted.
– People have doubted the age of biblical books for centuries, which cast doubt on chronology and fulfilled prophecies. Only in 1947 (until 1956) were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered, putting to rest many of those doubts.
– Most of ancient history—whether religious or not—is lost forever, and early Christianity was only a small movement at that time within the world. The fact that we have as much as we do today is purely by the grace of God.
Depending on when people lived and died, there is a chance they may have had insufficient worldly evidence to buttress their faith in Christ. I pity the man—if he existed—who read Isaiah or Daniel and thought the proof of prophecy of Jesus’ life and death was strong, but then was dissuaded in 1946 by some scholar who claimed, “No one knows for sure when those books were written anyway. The Christians probably went back and altered the text of those OT books to fit the details of Jesus’ life.”
I believe much has been discovered so recently because God saw our dwindling faith, our “enlightened” minds refusing to believe apart from evidence, and he graciously offered us some. There is no guarantee He will continue to do so. (It is also a theory of mine that in His divine foreknowledge, He might withhold some evidence from those that would reject him regardless of the circumstances. This is done in order to spare these people some of his wrath. Ignorance may mitigate the severity of punishment, according to Luke 12:47-48.)
Right now, in 2011, I believe the arguments and evidence favor Christianity. But my advice is to not get too cozy in this, and to strengthen your faith with the Holy Spirit as your foundation. My guess is, if this world goes for another 100+ years, people will seriously start to question the human existence of Jesus Christ altogether. Science will come up with some novel, clever way of describing the beginning of the universe apart from God…until a better theory arises later.
Timothy Keller, in Reason for God, offers up strong arguments for God and some deep insights. I highly recommend his book for people of all spiritual walks. But in an honest way that I respect, he also admits that it is possible to reason your way out of any argument. There is no airtight proof.
Attending law school and completing the moot court requirement taught me that this is true. I remember, for the first go-around, we had to take either the side of the prosecution or that of the defense. We not only found ways to support our position, but we grew invested in it, fully convinced we were on the right side. The next semester/round, we swapped. It was amazing (and alarming) to me how easy it was to switch and find convincing evidence to support whatever we put our minds to.
Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Job 5:13: “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.”
We simply cannot rely on such fickle things when it comes to our eternal destiny. The world’s knowledge is subject to constant change and revision. If there is an absolute, unchanging truth out there—such as the Bible—there are going to be periods of history where the world and the word of God butt heads. It’s up to you to place your faith in the unchanging truth of God.
I really like this candid interview with Dr. Craig. He says it better than I can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-fDyPU3wlQ.
This video with Francis Chan, while not entirely on topic with this post, is also helpful (especially the first couple of minutes where he talks about the potter and the clay): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnrJVTSYLr8.
I leave you with some more scripture to mull over:
1 Corinthians 3:19: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.'”
Psalms 81:11-12: ““But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
Proverbs 21:30: “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”
Isaiah 44:18: “They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.”
Isaiah 65:2: “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations–”
1 Corinthians 1:20: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher (NASB: “debater”) of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
May 21 came and went, and now some loyal followers of Harold Camping have to pick up the pieces of their lives and regroup. Hopefully, not too many gave up all their possessions and assets, but I know some did.
To be fair, it seems like these people were genuinely convinced Rapture was going to happen. From all appearances, it seems like it wasn’t just a scam to get people’s money. But really, when you’re trying to make these kinds of predictions that fly in the face of the Bible, I don’t know what you can expect to happen as a believer. It just goes to confirm my belief that we shouldn’t try to read between the lines unnecessarily or add things in loosely to fit our whims.
Hopefully, they will move on with their lives and anchor their faith on solid ground…not high-flying conspiracy theories or the claims of a flawed human man.
For more reading:
– http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/feed-mind-nourish-soul/2011/may/24/harold-campings-spiritual-rapture/ (pretty much sums up what I feel)
Some Christians are obsessed with Rapture. They focus on the end of the world rather than the present day, as if learning about God and his word weren’t engrossing enough. One such group, led by Harold Camping, believes that Rapture is coming tomorrow: May 21, 2011. That’s right, in one day, millions of genuine believers will be whisked away into Heaven, leaving behind billions who will wonder what happened to their neighbors.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t fully mock their beliefs. I can’t be sure that it won’t happen tomorrow, any more than someone could know for sure whether they’ll get into a car accident. It could happen tomorrow, but then again, it could happen in decades. Who knows?
What strikes me as odd is that this fringe group of Christians is sure it’s happening tomorrow, based on some calculations and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. I find this claim odd in light of the fact that the Bible mentions on multiple occasions that no man will know the hour of Jesus’ return, and that he will come like a thief in the night (unexpected). Do Mr. Camping and followers like Mr. Hernandez really think they would be told when Rapture is coming, then allowed to freely share it with the world so that the information is available through many major media outlets? Doesn’t sound like a “thief in the night” scenario to me.
I mean, I get it. I understand that conspiracy theories are exciting and charge the individuals “in the know” with a sense of power and privilege. But some of us have seen it a million times before, and excuse us if we’re jaded and cynical. I might sound like an atheist right now, but I’m the kind of person who likes proof, not wild claims and exciting leaps of logic. The Bible has proved to me innumerable times in the past that it can be trusted as the greatest source of truth. Science and philosophy in the world are also, for the most part, trustworthy…or at least we can sort through the chaff with clear-headed thinking.
Conspiracy websites and many YouTube clips do not qualify as reliable, nor do the highly publicized claims of a man or group seeking followers to their cause. I don’t know you, Mr. Camping and Mr. Hernandez, but I know that the Bible seems to contradict your confidence in the prediction for tomorrow.
I could be wrong, and if I am, I will simply hope that those remaining here resist the mainstream pressures with their full strength. (Those who succumb and wear the mark of the beast will probably be subject to far worse judgment than all other nonbelievers.) But yea, we’ve heard this tune before. “The end of the world is nigh!”
The boy who cried wolf is losing his voice.
(Check out some theologians’ responses to Mr. Camping’s prediction here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/theologian-harold-camping-lost-the-gospel-christ-50348/.)
Please don’t be offended by the title of this post. This is not to boast or to bash, but to take a practical look at what I believe sets Christianity apart from the other major world religions. I am going to try to leave the substantive merits of each religion’s theology out of the picture. For the sake of discussion, I will assume (rather than try to prove) the following two things:
a) God probably does exist.
b) Based on the fact that God created us and endowed us with the ability/inclination to ponder His existence and character, the truth about God has probably been revealed to us in some form.
Now let’s compare Christianity to its alternatives. I’ll break it down into three very basic categories:
1. A living, perfect founder vs. dead, imperfect founders
2. Christianity’s success is difficult to explain if it were not true
3. Christianity opens itself up to scientific and historical scrutiny in ways other religions cannot
I could discuss more or break it down further into more specific areas, but I think these three summarize some of the practical differences well. By the end, I hope it will become clear why thinking Christians believe their religion to the best candidate for God’s revelation to mankind, even apart from the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
1. A living, perfect founder vs. dead, imperfect founders
All other major religions have a founder who is now dead and in the grave. Muhammad enjoyed some success in his lifetime, but then he passed away. Buddha and Confucius left their mark then succumbed to death. Hinduism doesn’t really have a founder, but rather centers on worshiping a huge multitude of unseen and unmet deities. Joseph Smith died while firing a gun that had been smuggled into prison.
Christianity claims to have a founder who is the savior God, and with Jesus Christ, there was no dead body left behind to rot and decay. Christians claim that Jesus moved about with us, died, then rose again…only to continue revealing himself for some further time to over 500 people. Then, He ascended to heaven in plain view of many followers, leaving nothing behind to bury. We believe that our founder was God in the flesh, not a mere man or even a messenger.
This means that Jesus, as God, is the only founder of a major religion that claimed to be perfect and sinless. Buddha never made such a claim, and even Muhammad admitted he was in need of forgiveness (in addition to the obvious faults he had). Joseph Smith? Don’t get me started. With regard to Jesus, other than heresy, there were no charges levied against him throughout his lifetime. Of course, if Jesus really was God, then even the heresy charge is false. Now, would you trust the teachings of God, or an imperfect man who has shortcomings, ulterior motives, or both?
(Of course, this is all dependent on the credibility of the founder himself, but we’ll get to that later.)
No other religion would dare make these bold claims of a perfect, living founder. Why not? Because there’s no way such radical claims would survive long enough to not get laughed out of the courtroom of public opinion. Honestly, I’d love to see another religion try. Ancient religions and modern cults alike have not dared to do the impossible by tricking people with such obvious lies.
The words we live by were given to us by a perfect, living being who defeated death, thereby setting an example of what’s to come for us as well. While other religions may have been started by an imperfect and mortal man, we believe ours was started by an eternal person of the Trinity. This is a risky thing if Christianity is false, and uniquely powerful if it’s true.
2. Christianity’s success is difficult to explain if it were not true
I’ll start out by saying that the popularity of a view (or in this case, religion) does not necessarily make it true. I’m not going to argue that. What I’m going to show is that the wide popularity of Christianity—and the rapid rate at which it initially spread—is very difficult to explain practically unless it were true.
Consider Islam for a minute, the second-most popular religion and the fastest-growing. How did it get so popular? Well, first of all, it piggy-backed off of Christianity and took credit for all of its teachings and people. Abraham? A Muslim. Jesus Christ? An overrated Muslim prophet. Even Adam—that’s right, THAT Adam—was a Muslim, by their definition. This is how Muslims claim that their religion is the oldest in the world, when really it began about 600 years after Christianity. The foundation—largely based on Christianity/Judaism—was already in place, so there is a ring of truth to it.
Furthermore, Islam is characterized by a lot of violence and threats. Yes, there are peaceful parts of the Qur’an, but much of it speaks about killing infidels who will not proclaim Allah as the true God and Muhammad as His messenger. Early Islam was not spread with reason and love, but rather with military conquest and a “believe or die” approach. It’s not hard to see why early Muslims believed Muhammad was chosen by God, and therefore his words were truth. He was winning battles, and they figured that God wouldn’t allow this to happen if he were a fraud. But really, this is shabby proof for truth. Anyone can win military battles, religious or not. If anything, it’s a powerful motivational tool to teach that fearlessly dying for Allah will earn you 72 virgins in the afterlife.
Consider this criticism from a 13th century Jewish philosopher: “That is why, to this day we never see anyone converting to Islam unless in terror, or in quest of power, or to avoid heavy taxation, or to escape humiliation, or if taken prisoner, or because of infatuation with a Muslim woman, or for some similar reason. Nor do we see a respected, wealthy, and pious non-Muslim well versed in both his faith and that of Islam, going over to the Islamic faith without some of the aforementioned or similar motives.”
In modern societies, my subjective view is that some groups of people around the world are already closed to the idea of accepting the so-called “white man’s religion”: Christianity. (This is kind of odd because Christianity didn’t originate in America or Europe anyway.) So they will naturally gravitate toward Islam. To be fair, I think that’s also why a lot of Americans have a bias against Islam. They are repelled from a religion that led to horrors like the September 11 terrorist attacks. In the same way, a huge chunk of the world is decidedly anti-American or anti-white, based on some of the evils perpetrated in the past, such as the atomic bomb. Islam is the much-welcomed alternative among the available flavors of religion.
What about something like Mormonism? Well, again, the piggy-back charge comes into play. The smart thing is, Joseph Smith knew that there were real flaws in the Christian church and perceived weaknesses in the Bible. So he used those chinks in the armor to convince people that there had to be a better truth out there, which incidentally, was revealed to him alone through golden plates. Simple people who were dissatisfied with what Christianity had to offer them assumed that this new guy knew what he was talking about since he shared some of their same complaints. The inerrancy of the Bible is still a hotly debated topic today, and it’s easy to see why doubt in its inerrancy would make some people gravitate toward new ideas or cults.
Christianity, however, sticks out like a sore thumb compared to these other religions. Here, you have a founder who appeared to be a mere carpenter—and not an especially attractive one at that. He didn’t win any military battles, and he was even mocked, beaten, and crucified. Jesus had nothing to gain if he was lying and even knew he was expediting his own death. His ministry only lasted three years. Most of the early proponents of the church were commoners without any position of authority from which to coerce. Paul—perhaps the greatest evangelist/missionary ever and the original apologist—spread the Word by logic, reason, and argumentation.
Early Christianity flourished in spite of severe persecution, martyrdom, and heavy Jewish bias against Christian teachings. In fact, Christianity flew in the face of many established norms of the time. Its teachings were not the kind that would easily resonate with people hearing them. I’d imagine it’s much harder to convince a wide group of people that you ARE God, rather than just hearing from Him!
There must have been a compelling reason to believe and to force change upon centuries of ingrained customs and ideas. Jews were expecting a conquering king, not a crucified savior. Teachings like “turn the other cheek” instead of exacting revenge were considered offensive or cowardly. Yet Christianity somehow spread at an unprecedented rate with this most unlikely of styles. Something about Jesus was undeniable…
3. Christianity opens itself up to scientific and historical scrutiny in ways other religions cannot
There is almost a universal pattern for creating and spreading world religions. Someone claims to have a vision, shares it with others in a convincing fashion, it sounds good enough to believe, then others follow suit. Even Hinduism, which doesn’t have an identified founder, probably came up with stories about their 300,000 gods from various people’s dreams, which have been passed down. Especially in ancient times, there was a tendency by people to misinterpret dreams as divine revelation. (I’m not ruling out supernatural dreams completely, but in the vast majority of cases, they are probably just our uninhibited imaginations running wild. I admit I am highly skeptical of dreams as visions, even when they come from Christians.)
Think about this for a moment. How can you disprove a person’s exclusive vision or dream? If I put my head under a bucket, shook around a little bit, then came out wide-eyed claiming to have seen the “truth,” how could you really prove me wrong?
Atheists always like to say, “The mark of a good argument is that it is falsifiable.” What we have in most religions are unfalsifiable stories and claimed truths. The main proof people are going to have for their faith, then, is that it feels right and makes sense to them. This is almost entirely subjective.
But what about Christianity? Well, our holy book happens to come with writings of real historical events that were being circulated within the lifetimes of the actual people involved. And these historical events are not merely peripheral issues that place things within some known context to give it the air of veracity…the MAIN EVENT is told as a historical event. Namely, a man named Jesus Christ walked upon this earth during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at specific times and places and died under Roman law, leaving behind an empty tomb.
I think people who look into the issue themselves will agree with John Dickson when he says, “the beliefs and texts of Christianity become uniquely open to public scrutiny. It is as if Christianity places its neck on the chopping block of academic scrutiny and invites anyone who wishes to come and take a swing.” (Please see this excellent excerpt: http://www.rzim.org/justthinkingfv/tabid/602/articleid/10746/cbmoduleid/881/default.aspx.)
In 2,000 years, NO ONE has been able to disprove the empty tomb, and only recently is there some effort by Christ-mythers to claim that Jesus never existed at all. (I’ve looked into these…move along people, there really is nothing of worth there.) There are a number of alternative theories bandied about, like the disciples stole the body, but they are woefully full of holes. Maybe I’ll address them in a later post.
Think about this: what could be the ultimate sign that Jesus was God in the flesh? Miracles? Sure, he did some of those. But then again, miracles have been recorded in other instances as well. Rising from the dead is the ultimate sign, and it just happens to be one the Roman government could not deny. They had every reason to parade Jesus’ body around town and squash Christianity immediately…but they couldn’t do it. Jesus really was gone and ascended.
By contrast, Muhammad won military battles, but so have countless other men who did not claim to have divine revelation from God. Muslims actually need to believe that Jesus was never crucified at all, but ascended beforehand (even they cannot deny that Jesus is not dead or buried). In other words, they need to deny one of the most obvious facts of ancient history, the crucifixion, to maintain their beliefs. Christianity, on the other hand, is completely in line with recorded history.
Buddha and Confucius may have been wise and thoughtful, but really, they’re just limited men trying to do their best. Joseph Smith? Even if he really did believe what he was preaching, there is no way to verify the truth of anything he said. In fact, there is ample reason not to trust him, considering his hypocrisy (he would fight, smoke, and drink, despite telling others not to do so).
Jesus can be trusted because of what he showed us: a perfect life without sin, power over the natural world, and even power over death. This person could not have been a mere wise teacher. It’s like C.S. Lewis famously said, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
So historically, Christianity stands up to the test better than any other religion. What about science?
Well, again, I may need to address this further in a separate post. But very briefly, I’d say that for an ancient book (that was never intended to be about science), it shows itself to be surprisingly accurate. Don’t believe the hype about Genesis 1 contradicting modern science.
There are numerous prominent scientists who are Bible-believing Christians today. Some figures suggest the number is growing, as our knowledge expands. Consider this account of Dr. Hugh Ross, a man who started with no religious leanings whatsoever and actually came to be a Christian based on science:
Not all of Hugh’s discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and “holy books” and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious “ground zero” and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking evidence.
Now, this isn’t to say that visions or spiritual experiences are all invalid. In fact, the most important factor that leads most people to faith is the witness of the Holy Spirit, not proof or logic. But during the dry times and when our sin muffles the voice of the Holy Spirit, I’m thankful that we have history, science, and reasoning to back up our faith.