As a Christian apologist I am committed to making a case for why people ought to believe Christianity it true. As such I have learned (and continue to learn) to give answer to many objections to the Christians faith and I have learned how to make a very strong positive case for Christianity. I think we can rationally demonstrate that believing in God makes more sense than not, that the Bible has been reliably transmitted throughout the centuries and that the facts it contains have proven themselves reliable and we can make a fantastic evidential case for the resurrection of Jesus. When it comes to demonstrating the truth of the Christian worldview I am convinced we have the goods.
But I have noticed recently an area where I think we as Christians need to do better. A lot better actually. We need to do much better at not only presenting people with what we believe as Christians and why they should believe it too, but also why they should want to believe! Now obviously we can say “You want to believe whatever is true don’t you?” And of course most people will say “Sure I do.” But I think often times part of the reluctance towards accepting Christianity, even after people have been provided with sufficient evidence to believe, is that they see Christianity as boring, restrictive and the end of all fun and joy in life.
To this we need to give as robust of an answer as we do when we present the cosmological argument to an atheist. I am convinced that Christianity is not only true but that it is the worldview that people should adopt if they want the most satisfying and joy filled life this world can offer them (not that it is really a worldly offer, of course). Sometimes people will say things like “Even if Christianity were not true it is still the best way to live.” I think that is essentially true, although I would not advocate following Christianity just because it is pragmatically advantageous. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ has not been raised we are still dead in our sins and if in him only in this life we have hoped then we are above all men to be pitied. We should not live out a worldview merely for pragmatic reasons. But all of that said, I do believe the approach to life that is laid out in the Bible is the best route to human flourishing. In that sense I would agree that even if it were not true the Christian lifestyle would be the most advantageous.
But the good news is that we do not have to create some sort of dichotomy between what is true and what is the best way to live. But many non-Christians think that they do. Many of them feel like accepting Christianity as true means the death of fun, the death of laughter, the death of sex, the death of every other thing that they enjoy. To them its like offering a million dollars but telling them they can’t spend it on anything they like. The fact is we as Christian case-makers need to do better about painting a picture of what we are offering. We are not only offering them the truth, but we are also offering them an abundant life in Christ filled with joy.
The truth of the matter is that so many of the things that non-Christians enjoy are things that they could enjoy even more as Christians. Work, food, friendships, sex, all of these things and more were created by God and he likes them too. God made those things and more for our pleasure because he loves us. Indeed we do tell non-believers that they must repent of their sin and trust in Jesus, which means stopping the way they are currently living life and starting to live the way the Lord has said to live but that does not mean the death of joy but the enhancement of it.*
Has it ever occurred to you what the world would be like if everyone followed Christ and his teachings? There would be no war, no one would be going hungry, there would be no abusive relationships, broken marriages or kids without moms and dads who love them, people would tell the truth and make honest business deals, etc., etc. The world would be a more enjoyable place to live if we did things God’s way. Let’s take one example to really drive home the point the Christianity provides a better way of living life.
Since sex is always a big issue, and because Christians are often labeled as prudish about sex which communicates the idea that to become a Christian is to stop having sex, let’s address this issue to illustrate the superiority of the Christian worldview. Far from telling people that they can’t have sex anymore if they become a Christian we are telling them that they can have sex better than ever. Here are some of the advantages to Christian sexuality:
1. You have the safety and security of never contracting an STD.
2. You do not have to worry about whether you are “performing” as well as their other partners.
3. You can learn over time how to better please your spouse in sex because you get to practice with the same person all the time.
4. The Bible commands both husbands and wives to meet each others needs and partake in sex regularly (neither husband or wife is to be selfish 1 Cor. 7:1-5).
5. You have the security of pregnancy occurring within a context that is prepared to nurture children. (The line “don’t worry baby, if you get pregnant...I’ll take care of you” is actually true.)
6. The Bible has a whole book (Song of Solomon) dedicated to the joy of sex in marriage and encourages married couples not to be prudish or timid about enjoying each others bodies to the fullest.
7. All of this sexuality is expressed within the confines of a covenant relationship, blessed by God, which promises to last until death. Christians sex never leaves you alone the next morning.
Now I do not know about you, but it sounds to me like the Bible is a big fan of sex and that it offers a plan that makes sense about how to really get the most out of it. Far from offering people truth over and against a satisfying sex life we are offering them truth and an ultimately more satisfying sex life. It’s true that Christianity restricts sex to the marriage relationship but it is this very restriction that turns around and provides the safety and security that all people need to have the best sex possible.
But it’s not just sex that Christianity gets right (that just serves as an obvious example). Christianity provides a plan for enjoying all of life at its best. When we realize that all things that are true sources of delight in this world were made by God and made for our enjoyment then we should realize that God, as the Creator of all good things, knows how we might best enjoy them. Christianity celebrates food and drink too, but it also knows we will be happier and healthier if we enjoy them in moderation (Proverbs 23:20-21). Christianity celebrates friendship but it knows that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33) and so we need to be wise about who we spend time with. Christianity sets forward an admirable work ethic by telling us to work as if unto the Lord himself (Colossians 3:23). Pretty much any issue you can think of the Bible provides a framework for making life decisions that result in our thriving.
The fact of the matter is that people pursue so many things in an attempt to make themselves happy and fulfilled but they often end up destroying their lives in the process because they don’t know how to enjoy those pleasures the way they were designed to be enjoyed. Rather than continuing on that path why not realize that God’s way is actually the best way? If you are not a Christian and you are reading this I want to tell you two things. First, Christianity is really and demonstrably true and we can provide answers to your questions if you need help in coming to rationally affirming the Christian worldview. Second, Christianity provides you with a life of thriving rather than striving. Many of the things which God made for your enjoyment will also destroy you if you do them your way but if you submit to the Creator’s design and do them his way it will lead to incredible satisfaction in this life that you will find nowhere else.
* Make no mistake, I am not saying that Christianity does not demand your very life when you come to Christ. The Bible has lots to say in the fashion of “deny yourself” and “carry your cross.” In some parts of the world becoming a Christian means losing your family, home, job and life. I would not dare make light of that. Certainly the gospel is worth your very life, to be connected in a relationship with the God of the universe is worth any price we could pay and the weight of glory of spending eternity in a perfect world of bliss, free of suffering with our creator outweighs any affliction here. We absolutely ought to believe whatever is true even if that truth is costly. But if you are given the chance to know Christ and actually live out a Christian life I promise you will find it to be the superior way to live.
How do we share the gospel with people who say they accept the authority of Scripture?
I see a lot of people ready and willing to go to war over differences of opinion on various doctrinal issues. Some of the classic examples are, of course, Calvinism versus Arminianism, Young Earth Creationism versus Old Earth Creationism, and of course things like whether you can have a beer once in a while or not. There are plenty of issues that divide churches today and some issues are significantly more important than others to be sure. There are truly some issue which ought to cause division to some degree or another but there are other issues which no one ought to divide over. The question is “How do we decide what makes an issue essential versus non-essential?”
I will not be so bold as to claim I have this all figured out and that you who read this should look at this the same way I do but, that said, I thought I would share with you how I see it.
I divide doctrinal issues into three categories. First rank importance would relate to the nature of God and the question of “What is the gospel?” Second rank would relate to issues that would make it difficult ecclesiastically for believers on opposite sides to worship in the same congregation. Third rank doctrinal issues are things which should not divide fellowship in any significant way.
When it comes to the first rank issues I think the nature of God and the nature of the gospel are the two most primary issues in Christian theology. I think that because in my understanding they both relate to the most important being in the universe and who He has revealed Himself to be and how we can have a right relationship with him (salvation). I believe errant doctrines on the nature of God and the nature of the gospel are often damning and therefore, by definition, separate genuine Christians from false Christians. It is for that reason that these are first rank matters and if we are to spend our time dogmatically defending any doctrinal position then the issues of who is God and what is the gospel should rank as all Christians primary concern.*
Secondary issues, then, are much less important than the first rank. It’s not to say that they are not important (they are) or that they don’t bear the worth of contending for one position over another (they do). But they don’t divide the body of Christ salvifically and so they are of dramatically less importance than the first rank issues. Examples of second rank matters might be believers baptism versus infant baptism (Credo vs. Paedo). The fact that I don’t believe we should baptize infants to usher them into the covenant community of God is enough to keep me from worshipping as a member in a Presbyterian church. It would be difficult for me to worship regularly as a member in such a church because I would feel by conviction that I would have to teach my children that what the pastor taught on the matter of Baptism was errant. So any issue that similarly and significantly would affect my ability to worship in a certain denomination or congregation is a secondary issue.
Tertiary issues, then, are even lower in significance. These are matters which one could have some disagreements about with other believers but not feel the need to worship in a separate congregation. Perhaps this would be something like the frequency of partaking in the Lord’s Supper as a church or even one orthodox view of eschatology versus another. Any given congregation will have some minor disagreements among themselves about this or that and Romans 14 speaks to such a matter. We ought to have a firm conviction based upon the Scriptures but be willing to respect and agree to disagree with others whose convictions vary from our own.
Now, admittedly, this is just kind of a rough framework for thinking about how to rank the importance of doctrinal issues but I find it a useful one. Clearly some would disagree about what properly belongs in the third rank versus the second and some of that is understandable. Unfortunately some people don’t even think a third rank exists and they are constantly causing church splits or hopping from church to church to church whenever they disagree with someone. That is sad and certainly not in keeping with what Scripture has to say about this.
Even more sad is that some people don’t even recognize a distinction between first and second rank doctrines. Those who would make mode of baptism, or a particular view of the age of the earth or even the doctrine of inerrancy a first rank issue do damage to the body of Christ and they confuse their own theology (whether they be correct or not) with soteriology (salvation). I thank God that he does not require perfect doctrine for salvation but only trust in a perfect Savior!
Romans 14:5-12 "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then,whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God."
*A right view of God is necessarily tied in with a right view of the gospel. These cannot be separated. Even so, I don't believe a perfect Trinitarian theology is held by most new believers and that God's grace covers error in our theology. What I do think it the case is that born-again believers will always accept the authority of Scripture as they learn more about God and will grow into a fuller understanding of the nature of God. Those who are presented with truth about God's nature from Scripture and who in turn intentionally reject it reveal themselves not to be regenerate because they are not trusting in God as he reveals himself in Scripture and therefore are worshipping a false God.
How does the Bible define faith? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Can a person believe that the gospel is true but still not be a "believer" in the biblical sense? What kind of faith does God want us to have? All of this and more are addressed in this presentation.
*There is about a 20 second period where the video and audio freeze but it pick backs up and nothing crucial is missed.
I was on the internet radio program "Theology Matters" with the Pellews today and here is the recording of the show. I join the show at about 34 minutes in and then get to talk about the life and works of C. S. Lewis, as well as my research on the same, for the following 90 or so minutes of the show. I hope you enjoy it!
Well, everyone is talking about depression and suicide because of the recent passing of Robin Williams. I want to say absolutely nothing about Robin Williams, or at least no more than I have said because his death is a deep loss to his family and those who knew and loved him personally and I think we have no right to analyze his life and hash it out publicly just because he was famous. Let the family grieve in peace. My prayer for them is God will grant them peace in this heartbreaking time.
Now, completely removed from the details of the aforementioned specific case, the incident has sparked widespread discussion on the blogosphere and social media about the relationship of depression and suicide. Many Christians have weighed in with some pretty strong opinions and I guess would like to offer a few thoughts myself.
My first thought is that most of us have no right to be making major medical and psychiatric judgments. I haven’t gone to med school and I don’t know everything there is to know about depression and to what extent it can affect one’s judgment and decision making. So I am just not going to act like I do know all about this and I shall try not to make a definitive judgment about things outside of my area of expertise. With that said here are a couple of thoughts that I think we all ought to consider carefully.
Any time we blame something a person on psychiatric condition and thereby declare them innocent of wrongdoing we need to be very careful. I would not go so far as to say that there are not very real psychiatric conditions that seriously impair a person’s judgment and that lead them to do things they would not do in a more healthy state of mind, I think there is legitimacy to that. My primary concern is that there could easily be a slippery slope if we are not careful in which we absolve all aberrant and immoral behavior by saying “It was not them that did it, it was the disease of mental illness.” You can just imagine the way this could be used to justify all kinds of things and so we need to be careful about saying in a wholesale kind of way “the disease made me/them do it” because the truth is often times that is just an excuse.
Second, some Christians are saying that people who are depressed and commit suicide just needed Jesus in their life and then they would be fine. I think we need to be careful here too. I think it is entirely reasonable to say that this is often true but not always true. We live in a fallen and broken world and that manifests itself both in the behavior of people and also the physical nature of people. That is to say the fall affected both how we behave in our sinful nature and also the physical world and our physical bodies.
This being the case I think it is fair to say that many, many cases of depression (even depression that leads to suicide) is due to the fact that people sought pleasure and meaning in all the wrong things, people and places and found no satisfaction and this caused them great depression. Or, like in my case as a teen, that same thing was true but also exacerbated by external factors like bullies in school who made life hell for me. When I was about fourteen years old I strongly considered killing myself on more than one occasion because I was depressed and miserable because of my own sinful pursuits and because of the sinful people who hounded me as a young teen. In my case when I came to faith in Jesus my whole world changed and I never considered killing myself again. The saving work of Christ radically transformed me and I was set free from a lot of vices in my life. But while I think this is the case for many, maybe even most people who suffer from depression, I don’t dare say that everybody who suffers from depression just needs more Jesus.
It seems entirely plausible to me that depression can be caused by chemical imbalances and things going wrong in the body. Depression can be a true medical condition and not only a moral condition. Undoubtedly there is usually overlap between the two but it seems to me that a person can medically struggle with depression even apart from moral failures. Someone who becomes a Christian and who has a genuine medical condition may still suffer with depression even though they have Jesus and even though they are living a holy and pleasing life before God. If indeed there are medical causes of depression, and I think we are foolish to say there are not, then we need to stop telling people that Jesus will necessarily fix that by coming to him.
This is equivalent to telling people that if they come to Jesus they won’t suffer from Cancer or Diabetes. Some may preach such a message but the Bible certainly does not. The reality is we live in a sinful and broken world and that this is both a moral and physical reality and coming to Christ does not just wipe that away immediately. We look forward to a day when Christ returns and we are given glorified bodies from sickness and disease and where moral impurity is erased from our hearts and minds but for now we have to struggle and fight against those things while trusting in Jesus.
Jesus does not promise you and I a life free from trouble, temptation, sickness or even depression. He promises us eternal life if we will repent and trust in Him to save us from this world and our sinful deeds. I absolutely believe that Jesus can and will help you if you are struggling with depression regardless if the cause is moral or medical, but I refuse to tell you that Jesus will definitely take that thorn from your side if you trust in him. He may, he may not. I don’t know. But the promise of eternal life can be yours by faith in him and that’s an anchor for our soul to cling to no matter how we feel or what we go through.
Romans 7:24-25a “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
1 Corinthians 15:50-57 “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God,who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”