The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? – A Real Historical Event

Dr. Pat Zukeran presents strong evidence discounting the most common theories given against a historical resurrection. The biblical account and other evidence clearly discount these attempts to cast doubt on the resurrection. Any strong apologetic argument is anchored on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as an historical event.

Introduction

The most significant event in history is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the strongest evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. This event gives men and women the sure hope of eternal life a hope that not only gives us joy as we look to the future but also provides us with powerful reasons to live today.

Throughout the centuries, however, there have been scholars who have attempted to deny the account of the Resurrection. Our schools are filled with history books which give alternative explanations for the Resurrection or in some cases, fail even to mention this unique event.

In this essay we will take a look at the evidence for the Resurrection and see if this event is historical fact or fiction. But, first, we must establish the fact that Jesus Christ was a historical figure and not a legend. There are several highly accurate historical documents that attest to Jesus. First, let’s look at the four Gospels themselves. The authors Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John recorded very specific facts of the events surrounding the life of Jesus, and archaeology has verified the accuracy of the New Testament. Hundreds of facts such as the names of officials, geographical sites, financial currencies, and times of events have been confirmed. Sir William Ramsay, one of the greatest geographers of the 19th century, became firmly convinced of the accuracy of the New Testament as a result of the overwhelming evidence he discovered during his research. As a result, he completely reversed his antagonism against Christianity.

The textual evidence decisively shows that the Gospels were written and circulated during the lifetime of those who witnessed the events. Since there are so many specific names and places mentioned, eyewitnesses could have easily discredited the writings. The New Testament would have never survived had the facts been inaccurate. These facts indicate that the Gospels are historically reliable and show Jesus to be a historical figure. For more information on the accuracy of the Bible, see the essay from Probe entitled Authority of the Bible.

Another document that supports the historicity of Jesus is the work of Josephus, a potentially hostile Jewish historian. He recorded Antiquities, a history of the Jews, for the Romans during the lifetime of Jesus. He wrote, “Now there was about that time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man.”(1) Josephus goes on to relate other specific details about Jesus’ life and death that correspond with the New Testament. Roman historians such as Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger also refer to Jesus as a historically real individual.

Skeptics often challenge Christians to prove the Resurrection scientifically. We must understand, the scientific method is based on showing that something is fact by repeated observations of the object or event. Therefore, the method is limited to repeatable events or observable objects. Historical events cannot be repeated. For example, can we repeatedly observe the creation of our solar system? The obvious answer is no, but that does not mean the creation of the solar system did not happen.

In proving a historical event like the Resurrection, we must look at the historical evidence. Thus far in our discussion we have shown that belief in the historical Jesus of the New Testament is certainly reasonable and that the scientific method cannot be applied to proving a historical event. For the reminder of this essay, we will examine the historical facts concerning the Resurrection and see what the evidence reveals.

Examining the Evidence

Three facts must be reckoned with when investigating the Resurrection: the empty tomb, the transformation of the Apostles, and the preaching of the Resurrection originating in Jerusalem.

Let us first examine the case of the empty tomb. Jesus was a well-known figure in Israel. His burial site was known by many people. In fact Matthew records the exact location of Jesus’ tomb. He states, “And Joseph of Arimathea took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb” (Matt. 27:59). Mark asserts that Joseph was “a prominent member of the Council” (Mark 15:43).

It would have been destructive for the writers to invent a man of such prominence, name him specifically, and designate the tomb site, since eyewitnesses would have easily discredited the author’s fallacious claims.

Jewish and Roman sources both testify to an empty tomb. Matthew 28:12 13 specifically states that the chief priests invented the story that the disciples stole the body. There would be no need for this fabrication if the tomb had not been empty. Opponents of the Resurrection must account for this. If the tomb had not been empty, the preaching of the Apostles would not have lasted one day. All the Jewish authorities needed to do to put an end to Christianity was to produce the body of Jesus.

Along with the empty tomb is the fact that the corpse of Jesus was never found. Not one historical record from the first or second century is written attacking the factuality of the empty tomb or claiming discovery of the corpse. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association states,

Let’s assume that the written accounts of His appearances to hundreds of people are false. I want to pose a question. With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? . . . The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.(2)

Second, we have the changed lives of the Apostles. It is recorded in the Gospels that while Jesus was on trial, the Apostles deserted Him in fear. Yet 10 out of the 11 Apostles died as martyrs believing Christ rose from the dead. What accounts for their transformation into men willing to die for their message? It must have been a very compelling event to account for this.

Third, the Apostles began preaching the Resurrection in Jerusalem. This is significant since this is the very city in which Jesus was crucified. This was the most hostile city in which to preach. Furthermore, all the evidence was there for everyone to investigate. Legends take root in foreign lands or centuries after the event. Discrediting such legends is difficult since the facts are hard to verify. However, in this case the preaching occurs in the city of the event immediately after it occurred. Every possible fact could have been investigated thoroughly.

Anyone studying the Resurrection must somehow explain these three facts.

Five Common Explanations

Over the years five explanations have been used to argue against the Resurrection. We will examine these explanations to see whether they are valid.

The Wrong Tomb Theory

Proponents of this first argument state that according to the Gospel accounts, the women visited the grave early in the morning while it was dark. Due to their emotional condition and the darkness, they visited the wrong tomb. Overjoyed to see that it was empty, they rushed back to tell the disciples Jesus had risen. The disciples in turn ran into Jerusalem to proclaim the Resurrection.

There are several major flaws with this explanation. First, it is extremely doubtful that the Apostles would not have corrected the women’s error. The Gospel of John gives a very detailed account of them doing just that. Second, the tomb site was known not only by the followers of Christ but also by their opponents. The Gospels make it clear the body was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council. If the body still remained in the tomb while the Apostles began preaching, the authorities simply would have to go to the right tomb, produce the body, and march it down the streets. This would have ended the Christian faith once and for all. Remember, the preaching of the Resurrection began in Jerusalem, fifteen minutes away from the crucifixion site and the tomb. These factors make this theory extremely weak.

The Hallucination Theory

This second theory holds that the Resurrection of Christ just occurred in the minds’ of the disciples. Dr. William McNeil articulates this position in his book, A World History. He writes,

The Roman authorities in Jerusalem arrested and crucified Jesus. . . . But soon afterwards the dispirited Apostles gathered in an upstairs room’ and suddenly felt again the heartwarming presence of their master. This seemed absolutely convincing evidence that Jesus’ death on the cross had not been the end but the beginning. . . . The Apostles bubbled over with excitement and tried to explain to all who would listen all that had happened.(3)

This position is unrealistic for several reasons. In order for hallucinations of this type to occur, psychiatrists agree that several conditions must exist. However, this situation was not conducive for hallucinations. Here are several reasons. Hallucinations generally occur to people who are imaginative and of a nervous make up. However, the appearances of Jesus occurred to a variety of people. Hallucinations are subjective and individual. No two people have the same experience. In this case, over five hundred people (Corinthians 15) have the same account. Hallucinations occur only at particular times and places and are associated with the events. The Resurrection appearances occur in many different environments and at different times. Finally, hallucinations of this nature occur to those who intensely want to believe. However, several such as Thomas and James, the half brother of Jesus were hostile to the news of the Resurrection.

If some continue to argue for this position, they still must account for the empty tomb. If the Apostles dreamed up the Resurrection at their preaching, all the authorities needed to do was produce the body and that would have ended the Apostles’ dream. These facts make these two theories extremely unlikely.

The Swoon Theory

A third theory espouses that Jesus never died on the cross but merely passed out and was mistakenly considered dead. After three days He revived, exited the tomb, and appeared to His disciples who believed He had risen from the dead. This theory was developed in the early nineteenth century, but today it has been completely given up for several reasons.

First, it is a physical impossibility that Jesus could have survived the tortures of the crucifixion. Second, the soldiers who crucified Jesus were experts in executing this type of death penalty. Furthermore, they took several precautions to make sure He was actually dead. They thrust a spear in His side. When blood and water come out separately, this indicates the blood cells had begun to separate from the plasma which will only happen when the blood stops circulating. Upon deciding to break the legs of the criminals (in order to speed up the process of dying), they carefully examined the body of Jesus and found that He was already dead.

After being taken down from the cross, Jesus was covered with eighty pounds of spices and embalmed. It is unreasonable to believe that after three days with no food or water, Jesus would revive. Even harder to believe is that Jesus could roll a two-ton stone up an incline, overpower the guards, and then walk several miles to Emmaeus. Even if Jesus had done this, His appearing to the disciples half-dead and desperately in need of medical attention would not have prompted their worship of Him as God.

In the 19th century, David F. Strauss, an opponent of Christianity, put an end to any hope in this theory. Although he did not believe in the Resurrection, he concluded this to be a very outlandish theory. He stated,

It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life, an impression that would lay at the bottom of their future ministry.(4)

The Stolen Body Theory

This fourth argument holds that Jewish and Roman authorities stole the body or moved it for safekeeping. It is inconceivable to think this a possibility. If they had the body, why did they need to accuse the disciples of stealing it? (Matt. 28:11 15). In Acts 4, the Jewish authorities were angered and did everything they could to prevent the spread of Christianity. Why would the disciples deceive their own people into believing in a false Messiah when they knew that this deception would mean the deaths of hundreds of their believing friends? If they really knew where the body was, they could have exposed it and ended the faith that caused them so much trouble and embarrassment. Throughout the preaching of the Apostles, the authorities never attempted to refute the Resurrection by producing a body. This theory has little merit.

The Soldiers Fell Asleep Theory

Thus far we have been studying the evidence for the Resurrection. We examined four theories used in attempts to invalidate this miracle. Careful analysis revealed the theories were inadequate to refute the Resurrection. The fifth and most popular theory has existed since the day of the Resurrection and is still believed by many opponents of Christianity. Matthew 28:12 13 articulates this position.

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money telling them, “You are to say, his disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’”

Many have wondered why Matthew records this and then does not refute it. Perhaps it is because this explanation was so preposterous, he did not see the need to do so.

This explanation remains an impossibility for several reasons. First, if the soldiers were sleeping, how did they know it was the disciples who stole the body? Second, it seems physically impossible for the disciples to sneak past the soldiers and then move a two-ton stone up an incline in absolute silence. Certainly the guards would have heard something.

Third, the tomb was secured with a Roman seal. Anyone who moved the stone would break the seal, an offense punishable by death. The depression and cowardice of the disciples makes it difficult to believe that they would suddenly become so brave as to face a detachment of soldiers, steal the body, and then lie about the Resurrection when the would ultimately face a life of suffering and death for their contrived message.

Fourth, Roman guards were not likely to fall asleep with such an important duty. There were penalties for doing so. The disciples would have needed to overpower them. A very unlikely scenario.

Finally, in the Gospel of John the grave clothes were found “lying there as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself separate from the linen” (20:6 7). There was not enough time for the disciples to sneak past the guards, roll away the stone, unwrap the body, rewrap it in their wrappings, and fold the head piece neatly next to the linen. In a robbery, the men would have flung the garments down in disorder and fled in fear of detection.

Conclusion: Monumental Implications

These five theories inadequately account for the empty tomb, the transformation of the Apostles, and the birth of Christianity in the city of the crucifixion. The conclusion we must seriously consider is that Jesus rose from the grave. The implications of this are monumental.

First, if Jesus rose from the dead, then what He said about Himself is true. He stated, “I am the Resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies” (John 11:25). He also stated, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the father , but through me” (John 14:6). Eternal life is found through Jesus Christ alone. Any religious belief that contradicts this must be false. Every religious leader has been buried in a grave. Their tombs have become places of worship. The location of Jesus’ tomb is unknown because it was empty; his body is not there. There was no need to enshrine an empty tomb.

Second, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:54, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Physical death is not the end; eternal life with our Lord awaits all who trust in Him because Jesus has conquered death.

Notes

1. Josephus, Antiquities xviii. 33. (Early second Century).

2. Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernadino, Calif.: Here’s Life Publishers, 1981), p. 66.

3. William McNeil, A World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 163.

4. David Strauss, The Life of Jesus for the People , vol. 1, 2nd edition (London: Williams and Norgate, 1879), p. 412.

For Further Reading

Craig, William Lane. Apologetics: An Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.

Geisler, Norman. When Skeptics Ask. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Press, 1989.

Greenleaf, Simon. The Testimony of the Evangelists; The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence. Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1995.

Little, Paul. Know Why You Believe. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. San Bernadino, Calif.: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979.

____.The Resurrection Factor. San Bernardino, Calif.: Here’s Life Publishers, 1981.

McNeill, William. A World History, Third Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Montgomery, John, ed. Evidence for Faith. Dallas: Probe Books, 1991.

Morison, Frank. Who Moved the Stone? Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1958.

Strauss, David. The Life of Jesus for the People. Volume 1, Second Edition. London: Williams and Norgate, 1879.

©1997 Probe Ministries.


Lessons from Camp Quest

In August of this year, the North Texas Church of Freethought (NTCOF) hosted Camp Quest Texas on a farm outside of Dallas. This eight–hour event for children of atheists, agnostics and other “free thinkers” included nearly 40 children between the ages of five and 15. According to a published report{1} , the day began with an exercise in making up creation myths based on the Apache story of fire before leading into activities with exotic animals, fossils and staged UFO sightings. The primary purposes of the event were twofold:

• Encourage the children to have open minds and embrace scientific skepticism

• Provide a fun experience for the children where they could make friends among the community of non-believers. This objective was partially motivated by a desire to counter negative experiences some of the children had experienced with schoolmates who believed in God.

Let me begin by stating that I applaud the organizers and parents for taking positive steps to encourage their children to ask good questions and look for good answers. Even though I suspect that the event was slanted towards promoting an atheistic worldview, I believe all parents should assume an obligation to steer their children toward the truth as they see it. At the very least, they should equip their children to see through the illogical arguments of some enthusiastic proponent of a cultic religion (even if they think that I am just such a proponent!).

The newspaper account of this event and an accompanying interview with the executive director of NTCOF can teach us several lessons as we evangelicals take on the task of raising younger generations.

Background

Before looking for takeaway lessons, let’s investigate a little more background. Zachary Moore, the executive director for NTCOF, described their church this way:

“We’re a church of freethinkers, which means that we try to understand the natural world by relying on reason and evidence. Like most people, we enjoy spending time with others who share our values and have similar interests. Forming a church just seemed like the natural thing to do, since many of us thought the only thing wrong with churches were the strange things they told you to believe in.”{2}

At one time, Zachary considered himself a believer in Christianity. At some point, he came to the conclusion that the evidence did not support his belief in God. As he said,

“If Christianity were true, then I would want at least what Doubting Thomas got. If another theistic worldview were true, then I’d need something equivalent. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be able to talk to a deity personally before I’m asked to worship it.”{3}

This question, “If God wants me to believe in Him, why doesn’t He present me personally with overwhelming evidence?” is one of the classic hard questions raised against our faith. The purpose of this article is not to answer this question, but if you want more information you can find it at Probe.org (see related articles).

Zachary and the NTCOF represent a point of view that is heavily in the minority among Americans, but is growing move vocal as it grows numerically. Recent Pew Institute surveys indicate that the number of atheists, agnostics and others who claim no faith is less than 10% of the population. However, a 2007 Barna survey provides a revealing look inside that statistic.

The table below shows the number of people with “no faith” in each age demographic based on surveys taken in 1992 and 2007. The data reveals two important trends. First, the number of people claiming no faith in God in 2007 grows markedly higher with each younger generation, more than tripling from the 6% for those over 61 to 19% for those from 18–22. Second, the percentages for each generation have not changed significantly in the last fifteen years. We don’t see more people turning to faith as they grow older. It appears that the skeptics remain skeptics as each generation ages.

Percent of Americans who are atheist or agnostic{4}:

Generation Ages in 2007 1992 Survey 2007 Survey
Adult Mosaics 18-22 19%
Boomers 23-41 16% 14%
Busters 42-60 8% 9%
Elders 61+ 4% 6%

 

Could it be that our secular schools, culture and public square are creating their expected result—generations that are becoming more and more secular? It also appears that on average, once people reach the age of 18, their belief in God is pretty much set for life.

How should we respond to this trend of succeeding generations turning away from God? I believe the report on Camp Quest reveals some lessons we can take away and apply to this question. I want to consider three possible lessons:

• Respect those who express doubts

• Understand that the Truth is not afraid of skepticism (or scientific inquiry)

• Don’t be intimidated by an unfriendly world.

Respect Those Who Express Doubts

Many of the children attending Camp Quest felt like they are living in a culture where it is taboo to ask the question, “Why should I believe in God?”

One fourteen year old boy “was at camp hoping to meet some nonbelievers his age. All his friends in Allen believe in God, he said, and he tries to keep his atheism a secret from them. ‘They’d probably avoid me if they knew,’ he said.”{5}

“Another boy, 14, whose stepfather requested his anonymity, started home-schooling this year after enduring years of bullying for his open atheism.”{6}

In my opinion, looking at the experience of the Quest campers gives startling insight into the issue of teenagers from Christian homes turning away from the church in their college years.

Consider a teenager from a Christian family who has questions about the God they learned about in Sunday school. Where can they get some answers to the tough questions? They look around and see how their peers and parents react to other children who question the party line. They realize they may risk status with their peers if they ask these questions. So, at a time when they are around Christian adults on a regular basis who could help them deal with the tough questions and the evidence for God, they are intimidated into keeping silent. Once they leave the home for college or other vocations, they enter an environment where the primary people that claim to have answers to these questions are belittling Christianity as a crutch for people who believe in myths.

In other words, if the children of atheists are afraid to bring up their doubts in public, how much more do many children from Christian families feel forced to go through the motions while hiding their major doubts and concerns?

If we teach our children to respect those with genuine questions about God, we receive a double benefit:

• Our children will be more willing to bring up questions that cause them to struggle.

• Our children will have opportunities to hear the questions of others who need to know Christ. If we model for our children a gentle and respectful response to peoples’ questions/beliefs, their friends are more likely to be willing to share their questions with them.

Understand That the Truth Is Not Afraid of Skepticism (or Scientific Inquiry)

Most parents at Camp Quest indicated that they did not want to dictate their children’s beliefs, but clearly they wanted to impact the thought process. As one mother stated:

“Our job isn’t to tell children what to think,” she said. “It’s about opening up their minds and learning how to ask good questions.”{7}

Just as we hope that the children at Camp Quest will ultimately ask the right questions about the purpose of life and their eternal destinies, we should encourage our children to examine the truth claims of Christianity. After all, Jesus told Pilate:

‘For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” John 18:37-38 (NASU or New American Standard Updated.)

Lies and hoaxes are afraid of skeptics. The Truth welcomes skeptics because it shines in the light of examination. If we are willing to examine the truth with our children, it will build their confidence in their faith.

Many teenagers in Sunday School and youth meetings learn the things that Christians do (and don’t do) and some things that Christians believe, but never learn about why we believe that the evidence for Christianity is strong and a biblical worldview answers the hard questions better than any other worldview. I suspect that many teenagers get the impression that their pastors and teachers are afraid of hard questions and want to avoid them. Perhaps in too many cases this suspicion is reality.

This reinforces what we have stated in prior articles on the subject of youth retention (see The Last Christian Generation, related articles). We need to:

• Encourage students to ask tough questions and respect them for doing so.

• Equip parents and student leaders with solid answers for the tough questions.

• Take the initiative and address these topics in Sunday school and youth meetings even before the students ask the questions.

• Point them to resources like Probe for those that want to go deeper into these topics.

• Expose them to Christian adults who are living out a mature biblical worldview

Don’t Be Intimidated By An Unfriendly World.

How many of us can identify with the following statement:

Just as evangelical adults need social support from their church, our children need it even more. Many of our kids are ostracized at school because their parents are evangelicals, or because they’re sharing their own faith at school. It can also be challenging to be an evangelical parent when most people assume that you’re intolerant and ignorant if you teach your children to believe in hell and in Jesus as the only way to heaven. Christian camps provide a valuable resource for parents, plus they are full of fun activities for kids that reinforce our values–—faith in Christ, love for God and our neighbors, good morals, and a desire for others to receive eternal life.

It rings true, doesn’t it? It is interesting to consider that the statement above is a slight modification of a statement made by Zachary Moore:

Just as freethinking adults need social support from groups like the NTCOF, our children need it even more. Many of our kids are ostracized at school or in their neighborhoods because their parents are freethinkers, or because they’re developing their own freethinking perspective. It can also be challenging to be a freethinking parent when most people assume that you’re immoral if you don’t teach your children to believe in a god. Camp Quest Texas provides a valuable resource for parents, plus it’s full of fun activities for kids that reinforce our freethinking values – science, critical thinking, ethics and religious tolerance.{8}

American society as a whole does not have a high regard for atheism. However, in many ways, our public sector and public schools are more supportive of the NTCOF than they are of evangelicals. This is the reality our children will become adults within. We need to encourage them through a community of like–minded believers while at them same time preparing them to stand up in an unsympathetic and sometimes hostile public square.

Youth groups and Christian camps are not refugee camps to protect our children from the world. They need to focus on equipping them and encouraging them to stand for the Truth in whatever cultural setting they encounter.

You may not be excited about the prospect of a Church of Freethought. However, their experience and reactions may help expose some our inadequacies in preparing our children to stand firm in their faith in this world. Let’s make sure that our children know that we are open to their hard questions and are prepared with real answers.

“For he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” Heb 11:6-7 (NASU).

Notes

1. Avi Selk, “Secular kids’ camp in Collin County aims to provide questions, not answers,” Dallas Morning News, August 31, 2009.

2. Rod Dreher, “A church for skeptics,” Dallas Morning News, August 31, 2009.

3. Ibid.

4. Barna Group, “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians”, June 11, 2007, www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/102-atheists-and-agnostics-take-aim-at-christians.

5. Selk.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Dreher.

© 2009 Probe Ministries

 

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Advocacy Apologetics: Finding Common Ground as a Way to the Gospel

As you examine your life, can you think of any lessons you wish you had learned earlier than you did?

I’m really glad I learned this lesson very early in my career as a Christian communicator. It’s made a world of difference.

God has graciously sent me presenting Christ and biblical truth on six continents before university students and professors, on mainstream TV and radio talk shows, with executives, diplomats and professional athletes.

He’s put me speaking in university classrooms and auditoriums, in embassies, boardrooms, and locker rooms. He’s had me writing for mainstream newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet about controversial subjects like sex, abortion, the afterlife, and reasons for faith.

As you might imagine, I’ve encountered many skeptics and objections to faith. I’ve learned much from my critics, the unpaid guardians of my soul.

But if I hadn’t learned this crucial lesson at the outset, would all those outreach doors have opened?

The Lesson

I learned it on an island in a river in Seoul, Korea. Over a million believers were gathered for Explo 74. One speaker that day was a prominent church leader from India who discussed how to best communicate the message of Jesus to the types of Buddhists in India. Here’s my paraphrase of his advice.

We could use two methods, he said. One was to begin by stressing the differences between Buddhism and Christianity. But that often gets people mad and turns them off.

A second way involved agreeing with the Buddhist where we could. We could say something like this: “I know that you as a Buddhist believe in Four Noble Truths.” (This is foundational to many strains of Buddhism.) “First you believe suffering is universal. As a follower of Jesus, I also believe suffering is everywhere. It needs a solution.

Second, you believe that suffering is caused by evil desire or craving. I believe something very similar; I call this evil desire sin.”

Third, you believe that the way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate craving. I feel selfishness needs to be eliminated, too. And fourth, you feel we eliminate craving by following the Eightfold Path: right understanding, right aspiration, right behavior, etc.

Here’s where I would suggest an alternative. For many years I, too, tried to eliminate my selfishness by seeking to think and do the right thing. But you know what happened? I became very frustrated because I lacked the power to do it. I realized that if I relied on God, He could give me the inner power I needed.”

Do you see the contrast between those two methods of approaching someone who differs with you? The first emphasizes differences and has the emotional effect of holding up your hands as if to say “Stop!” or “Go away!” The second begins by agreeing where you can. Your emotional hands are extended as if to welcome your listeners. If you were the listener, which approach would you prefer?

Start by Agreeing where You Can

In communicating with skeptics, start by agreeing where you can. You’ll get many more to listen.

I call this approach Advocacy Apologetics. You’re approaching the person as an advocate rather than an adversary. You believe in some of the same things they do. Expressing agreement can penetrate emotional barriers and communicate that you are for that person rather than against them. It can make them more willing to consider areas of disagreement.

Don’t compromise biblical truth; but agree at the start where you can.

Paul used this approach. He wrote (1 Corinthians. 9:19-23 NLT, emphasis mine):

I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Gentiles who do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can.

 

Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ. I do all this to spread the Good News.

Here’s an experiment: The next time you encounter someone who differs with you, take a deep breath. Pray. Ask God to help you identify three areas of agreement. Can’t find three? How about one? Discuss that first. Become an advocate for them. Maybe you’ll oil some stuck emotional and intellectual gears and nudge someone in His direction.


7 Questions Skeptics Ask – Radio Transcript

Rusty Wright considers some common questions skeptics ask about our belief in Christianity.  He shows us how to answer these questions from an informed biblical worldview.

Questions of Faith

Picture the scene. You’re discussing your faith with a coworker or neighbor, perhaps over lunch or coffee. You explain your beliefs but your friend has questions:

How could a loving God allow evil and suffering? The Bible is full of contradictions. What about people who’ve never heard of Jesus?

How do you feel about these questions and objections? Anxious? Confused? Defensive? Combative?

Sensitively and appropriately answering questions that skeptics ask you can be an important part of helping them to consider Jesus. Peter told us, “In your hearts set apart 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.”{1} This series looks at seven common questions skeptics ask and gives you some pointers on how to respond. Consider first a story.

As the flight from Chicago to Dallas climbed in the sky, I became engrossed in conversation with the passenger to my left. “Aimee,” a French businesswoman, asked me about my work. On learning I was a Christian communicator, she related that a professing Christian had signed a contract with her, attempted to lead her to Christ, then later deceitfully undercut her. “How could a Christian do such a thing?” she asked.

I told her that Christians weren’t perfect, that some fail miserably, that many are honest and caring, but that it is Jesus we ultimately trust. Aimee asked question after question: How can you believe the Bible? Why do Christians say there is only one way to God? How does one become a Christian?

I tried to answer her concerns tactfully and explained the message of grace as clearly as I could. Stories I told of personal pain seemed to open her up to consider God’s love for her. She did not come to Christ in that encounter, but she seemed to leave it with a new understanding.

Hurting people everywhere need God. Many are open to considering Him, but they often have questions they want answered before they are willing to accept Christ. As Christian communicators seek to blend grace with truth,{2} an increasing number of skeptics may give an ear and become seekers or believers.

As you interact with skeptics, compliment them where you can. Jesus complimented the skeptical Nathanael for his pursuit of truth.{3} Listen to their concerns. Your listening ear speaks volumes. It may surprise you to learn that your attitude can be just as important as what you know.

Dealing with Objections

How do you deal with questions and objections to faith that your friends may pose?

When I was a skeptical student, my sometimes-relentless questions gave my Campus Crusade for Christ friends at Duke University plenty of practice! I wanted to know if Christianity was true. After trusting Christ as Savior, I still had questions.

Bob Prall, the local Campus Crusade director, took interest in me. At first his answers irritated me, but as I thought them through they began to make sense. For two years I followed him around campus, watching him interact. Today, as I am privileged to encounter inquisitive people around the globe, much of my speech and manner derive from my mentor.

Consider some guidelines. Pray for wisdom, for His love for inquirers{4} and for your questioner’s heart. If appropriate, briefly share the gospel first. The Holy Spirit may draw your friends to Christ. Don’t push, though. It may be best to answer their questions first.

Some questions may be intellectual smokescreens. Once a Georgia Tech philosophy professor peppered me with questions, which I answered as best I could.

Then I asked him, If I could answer all your questions to your satisfaction, would you put your life in Jesus’ hands? His reply: “[Expletive deleted] no!”

Okay. This first objection is one you might have heard:

1. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

I once gave a speech arguing for this proposition. Later, I reconsidered. In the 1960s, many women took the drug thalidomide seeking easier pregnancies. Often they delivered deformed babies. Sincerely swallowing two white pills may cure your headache if the pills are aspirin. If they are roach poison, results may differ.

After discussing this point, a widely respected psychologist told me, “I guess a person could be sincere in what he or she believed, but be sincerely wrong.” Ultimately faith is only as valid as its object. Jesus demonstrated by His life, death and resurrection that He is a worthy object for faith.{5}

Focus on Jesus. Bob Prall taught me to say, “I don’t have answers to every question. But if my conclusion about Jesus is wrong, I have a bigger problem. What do I do with the evidence for His resurrection, His deity and the prophecies He fulfilled? And what do I do with changed lives, including my own?”

I don’t have complete answers to every concern you will encounter, but in what follows I’ll outline some short responses that might be useful.

The second question is:

2. Why is there evil and suffering?

Sigmund Freud called religion an illusion that humans invent to satisfy their security needs. To him, a benevolent, all-powerful God seemed incongruent with natural disasters and human evil.

God, though sovereign, gave us freedom to follow Him or to disobey Him. Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis estimated that eighty percent of human suffering stems from human choice. Lewis called pain “God’s megaphone” that alerts us to our need for Him.{6} This response does not answer all concerns (because God sometimes does intervene to thwart evil) but it suggests that the problem of evil is not as great an intellectual obstacle to belief as some imagine.

Pain’s emotional barrier to belief, however, remains formidable. When I see God, items on my long list of questions for Him will include a painful and unwanted divorce, betrayal by trusted coworkers, and all sorts of disappointing human behavior and natural disasters. Yet in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection{7} I have seen enough to trust Him when He says He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.”{8}

3. What about those who never hear of Jesus?

Moses said, “The secret things belong to the LORD.{9} Some issues may remain mysteries. Gods perfect love and justice far exceed our own. Whatever He decides will be loving and fair. One can make a case that God will make the necessary information available to someone who wants to know Him. An example: Cornelius, a devout military official. The New Testament records that God assigned Peter to tell him about Jesus.{10}

A friend once told me that many asking this question seek a personal loophole, a way so they wont need to believe in Christ. That statement angered me, but it also described me. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote, “If you are worried about the people outside [of faith in Christ], the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself.”{11} If Christianity is true, the most logical behavior for someone concerned about those without Christ’s message would be to trust Christ and go tell them about Him.

Here’s a tip: When someone asks you a difficult question, if you don’t know the answer, admit it. Many skeptics appreciate honesty. Don’t bluff. It’s dishonest and often detectable.

4. What about all the contradictions in the Bible?

Ask your questioner for specific examples of contradictions. Often people have none, but rely on hearsay. If there is a specific example, consider these guidelines as you respond.

Omission does not necessarily create contradiction. Luke, for example, writes of two angels at Jesus’ tomb after the Resurrection.{12} Matthew mentions “an angel.”{13} Is this a contradiction? If Matthew stated that only one angel was present, the accounts would be dissonant. As it stands, they can be harmonized.

Differing accounts aren’t necessarily contradictory. Matthew and Luke, for example, differ in their accounts of Jesus’ birth. Luke records Joseph and Mary starting in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem (Jesus’ birthplace), and returning to Nazareth.{14} Matthew starts with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, relates the family’s journey to Egypt to escape King Herod’s rage, and recounts their travel to Nazareth after Herod’s death.{15} The Gospels never claim to be exhaustive records. Biographers must be selective. The accounts seem complementary, not contradictory.

Time precludes more complex examples here. But time and again, supposed biblical problems fade in light of logic, history, and archaeology. The Bible’s track record under scrutiny argues for its trustworthiness.

5. Isn’t Christianity just a psychological crutch?

My mentor Bob Prall has often said, “If Christianity is a psychological crutch, then Jesus Christ came because there was an epidemic of broken legs.” Christianity claims to meet real human needs such as those for forgiveness, love, identity and self-acceptance. We might describe Jesus not as a crutch but an iron lung, essential for life itself.

Christian faith and its benefits can be described in psychological terms but that does not negate its validity. “Does it work?” is not the same question as, “Is it true?” Evidence supports Christianity’s truthfulness, so we would expect it to work in individual lives, as millions attest.

A caution as you answer questions: Don’t offer “proof” but rather evidences for faith. “Proof” can imply an airtight case, which you don’t have. Aim for certainty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” just as an attorney might in court.

Don’t quarrel. Lovingly and intelligently present evidence to willing listeners, not to win arguments but to share good news. Be kind and gentle.{16} Your life and friendship can communicate powerfully.

6. How can Jesus be the only way to God?

When I was in secondary school, a recent alumnus visited, saying he had found Christ at Harvard. I respected his character and tact and listened intently. But I could not stomach Jesus’ claim that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”{17} That seemed way too narrow.

Two years later, my spiritual and intellectual journey had changed my view. The logic that drew me (reluctantly) to his position involves three questions:

If God exists, could there be only one way to reach Him? To be open-minded, I had to admit this possibility.

Why consider Jesus as a candidate for that possible one way? He claimed it. His plan of rescuing humans “by grace…through faith… not…works”{18} was distinct from those requiring works, as many other religions do. These two kinds of systems were mutually exclusive. Both could be false or either could be true, but both could not be true.

Was Jesus’ plan true? Historical evidence for His resurrection, fulfilled prophecy{19} and deity, and for the reliability of the New Testament{20} convinced me I could trust His words.

One more common objection:

7. I could never take the blind leap of faith that believing in Christ requires.

We exercise faith every day. Few of us comprehend everything about electricity or aerodynamics, but we have evidence of their validity. Whenever we use electric lights or airplanes, we exercise faith not blind faith, but faith based on evidence. Christians act similarly. The evidence for Jesus is compelling, so one can trust Him on that basis.

As you respond to inquirers, realize that many barriers to faith are emotional rather than merely intellectual.

As a teenager, I nearly was expelled from secondary school for some problems I helped create. In my pain and anger I wondered, “Why would God allow this to happen?” I was mad at God! In retrospect, I realize I was blaming Him for my own bad choices. My personal anguish at the time kept me from seeing that.

Your questioners may be turned off because Christians haven’t acted like Jesus. Maybe they’re angry at God because of personal illness, a broken relationship, a loved one’s death, or personal pain. Ask God for patience and love as you seek to blend grace with truth. He may use you to help skeptics become seekers and seekers become His children. I hope He does.

Notes

1. 1 Peter 3:15 NIV.

2. John 1:14.

3. John 1:45-47.

4. Romans 9:1-3; 10:1.

5. For useful discussions of evidences regarding Jesus, visit www.WhoIsJesus-Really.com.

6. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1974), 89-103 ff. The Problem of Pain was first published in 1940.

7. A short summary of Resurrection evidences is at Rusty Wright and Linda Raney Wright, “Who’s Got the Body?” 1976, www.probe.org/whos-got-the-body/.

8. Romans 8:28 NASB.

For more complete treatment of this subject, see Rick Rood, “The Problem of Evil,” 1996, www.probe.org/the-problem-of-evil/ ; Dr. Ray Bohlin, “Where Was God on September 11?” 2002, www.probe.org/where-was-god-on-sept-11-the-problem-of-evil/.

9. Deuteronomy 29:29 NASB.

10. Acts 10.

11. C.S. Lewis, “The Case for Christianity,” reprinted from Mere Christianity; in The Best of C.S. Lewis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), 449. The Case for Christianity is copyright 1947 by The Macmillan Company.

12. Luke 24:1-9.

13. Matthew 28:1-8.

14. Luke 1:26-2:40.

15. Matthew 1:18-2:23.

16. 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

17. John 14:6 NASB.

18. Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB.

19. A summary of some of the prophesies Jesus fulfilled is at Rusty Wright, “Are You Listening? Do You Hear What I Hear?” 2004, www.probe.org/are-you-listening-do-you-hear-what-i-hear/.

20. A summary of evidences for New Testament reliability is at Rusty Wright and Linda Raney Wright, “The New Testament: Can I Trust It?” 1976, www.probe.org/the-new-testament-can-i-trust-it/.

Adapted from Rusty Wright, “7 Questions Skeptics Ask,” Moody Magazine, March/April 2002. Copyright 2002 Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2005 Probe Ministries


“Help Me Know That God is Really There”

I read your article Evidence for God’s Existence. I have always believed in God until recently when I read some articles by James Randi known to most people as “The Amazing Randi.” He seems to be able to disprove the divine power of people who claim to be able to talk to the dead and move objects with their minds with scientific proof that they are merely just cheap parlor tricks. I believe he is correct not only because he says so but because the bible tells us that Jesus was the last person on earth who could do such things as tell the future or perform miracles etc. But what if Jesus knew these parlor tricks which are as old as the hills? I saw Siegfried and Roy make an elephant disappear right before my very eyes in front of a thousand people and admit to trickery. Who is to say that Jesus didn’t know how to fool the average person in the same way thousands of years ago? Please understand that I am not being a wise guy. I truly have issues with this because I was such a firm believer in God and Jesus Christ. If God doesn’t exist, then I am truly alone and have wasted many hours and prayers on things that would or wouldn’t happen anyway with or without my prayers.

Also, I have been talking to myself all these years and I must be crazy. I realize the consequences of my decision not to believe in God if I am wrong. Somehow that seems trivial while I am still alive. I still go to church every Sunday with my wife. I don’t let on that my faith has been diminished because my wife is such a good God-fearing woman and I don’t want to impose my beliefs on her or anyone else. Especially if I am wrong. What it boils down to is if science can prove that the existence of God is only something that exists in my mind, and the voice I hear inside myself is my own self, then I am guilty of being a fool. For he who teaches himself has a fool for a master. True the earth is a miracle in itself and surely no parlor trick. I can’t explain how it all began if there is no God. But we as just mankind can’t even begin to explain any theory with our limited knowledge of the universe. If Siegfried and Roy can make an elephant disappear in front of all those people and admit it is a trick, yet nobody can figure out how it was done, than it is understandable that the beginning of the world which must be a far greater “trick” and is something that we as ordinary individuals can never figure out. Bad things happen in this world that I feel shouldn’t. I love my family and my pets. I don’t want to see them die. But they must die just as I must die. What if there isn’t anything after death and you just lie there in the ground. That beautiful gift of life has been destroyed. I can’t accept that a loving God would take these things away from me or anyone who hold them so near and dear to their heart. Could it be that God is for the weak minded who need direction and discipline to get through life without going off course for their own good? Is life just a crap shoot anyway where what ever happens, happens whether you pray or not? Please forgive me if I have offended you with my talk of disbelief but I thought if anyone could answer my questions, you could. I don’t mean any disrespect. I need to know that God is really there to hear my prayers and help me to make decisions. I need to know that I am not on my own in this world and my prayers are heard and answered according to his word not just my imagination or wishful thinking.

Dear _______,

Bless your heart! Thank you you SO MUCH for sharing your deep thoughts and fears with me. I have two things to say in response.

1. The best thing Jesus ever did to prove that what He did was true miracles and not tricks was to rise from the dead. How do you counterfeit THAT? The resurrection is the strongest evidence for the truth of Christianity that we have. Consider that the disciples, who had been so disheartened by His death (even though He had promised several times to rise from the dead), were so turned around by seeing Him alive again that they changed the world and were willing to die for their belief in a risen Savior. If it were only a trick, no one would have died for a lie. May I suggest you get a hold of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ and shore up your faith? I think that book will really help. (Consider also other people–like Strobel the former skeptic–who set out to prove the resurrection false, like Frank Morison, and were so overwhelmed by the evidence that they became believers and wrote books like Who Moved the Stone?)

2. I believe that the doubts that assail you are nothing more than spiritual warfare. I think you are being attacked by the spiritual forces of darkness, and I gently suggest you read Ephesians 6 and put on the armor of faith to fight these horrible attacks. I have also been impressed by Kay Arthur’s book Lord, Is It Warfare? to help deal with spiritual warfare in the form of attacking doubts.

_______, I am completely convinced that this period of doubts in your life is like being outside on a bright sunny day when the sun disappears because it is obscured by a cloud. . . temporarily. You are not alone–you would not BELIEVE how many e-mails I get just like yours. You have put your faith in an eternal truth, not in lie. I promise.

Cheerily in Jesus,

Sue Bohlin
Probe Ministries


7 Questions Skeptics Ask About the Validity of Christianity

Written by Rusty Wright

Rusty Wright considers some common questions skeptics ask about our belief in Christianity. He shows us how to answer these questions from an informed biblical worldview.

Questions of Faith

Picture the scene. You’re discussing your faith with a coworker or neighbor, perhaps over lunch or coffee. You explain your beliefs but your friend questions:

How could a loving God allow evil and suffering? The Bible is full of contradictions. What about people who’ve never heard of Jesus?

How do you feel about these questions and objections? Anxious? Confused? Defensive? Combative?

Sensitively and appropriately answering questions that skeptics ask you can be an important part of helping them to consider Jesus. Peter told us, “In your hearts set apart 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.”{1} This series looks at seven common questions skeptics ask and gives you some pointers on how to respond. Consider first a story.

As the flight from Chicago to Dallas climbed in the sky, I became engrossed in conversation with the passenger to my left. “Aimee,” a French businesswoman, asked me about my work. On learning I was a Christian communicator, she related that a professing Christian had signed a contract with her, attempted to lead her to Christ, then later deceitfully undercut her. “How could a Christian do such a thing?” she asked.

I told her that Christians weren’t perfect, that some fail miserably, that many are honest and caring, but that it is Jesus we ultimately trust. Aimee asked question after question: “How can you believe the Bible?” “Why do Christians say there is only one way to God?” “How does one become a Christian?”

I tried to answer her concerns tactfully and explained the message of grace as clearly as I could. Stories I told of personal pain seemed to open her up to consider God’s love for her. She did not come to Christ in that encounter, but she seemed to leave it with a new understanding.

Hurting people everywhere need God. Many are open to considering Him, but they often have questions they want answered before they are willing to accept Christ. As Christian communicators seek to blend grace with truth,{2} an increasing number of skeptics may give an ear and become seekers or believers.

As you interact with skeptics, compliment them where you can. Jesus complimented the skeptical Nathanael for his pursuit of truth.{3} Listen to their concerns. Your listening ear speaks volumes. It may surprise you to learn that your attitude can be just as important as what you know.

Dealing with Objections

How do you deal with questions and objections to faith that your friends may pose?

When I was a skeptical student, my sometimes-relentless questions gave my Campus Crusade for Christ friends at Duke University plenty of practice! I wanted to know if Christianity was true. After trusting Christ as Savior, I still had questions.

Bob Prall, the local Campus Crusade director, took interest in me. At first his answers irritated me, but as I thought them through they began to make sense. For two years I followed him around campus, watching him interact. Today, as I am privileged to encounter inquisitive people around the globe, much of my speech and manner derive from my mentor.

Consider some guidelines. Pray for wisdom, for His love for inquirers{4} and for your questioner’s heart. If appropriate, briefly share the gospel first. The Holy Spirit may draw your friends to Christ. Don’t push, though. It may be best to answer their questions first.

Some questions may be intellectual smokescreens. Once a Georgia Tech philosophy professor peppered me with questions, which I answered as best I could.

Then I asked him, “If I could answer all your questions to your satisfaction, would you put your life in Jesus’ hands?” His reply: “[Expletive deleted] no!”

Okay. This first objection is one you might have heard:

1. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

I once gave a speech arguing for this proposition. Later, I reconsidered. In the 1960s, many women took the drug thalidomide seeking easier pregnancies. Often they delivered deformed babies. Sincerely swallowing two white pills may cure your headache if the pills are aspirin. If they are roach poison, results may differ.

After discussing this point, a widely respected psychologist told me, “I guess a person could be sincere in what he or she believed, but be sincerely wrong.” Ultimately faith is only as valid as its object. Jesus demonstrated by His life, death and resurrection that He is a worthy object for faith.{5}

Focus on Jesus. Bob Prall taught me to say, “I don’t have answers to every question. But if my conclusion about Jesus is wrong, I have a bigger problem. What do I do with the evidence for His resurrection, His deity and the prophecies He fulfilled? And what do I do with changed lives, including my own?”

I don’t have complete answers to every concern you will encounter, but in what follows I’ll outline some short responses that might be useful.

The second question is:

2. Why is there evil and suffering?

Sigmund Freud called religion an illusion that humans invent to satisfy their security needs. To him, a benevolent, all-powerful God seemed incongruent with natural disasters and human evil.

God, though sovereign, gave us freedom to follow Him or to disobey Him. Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis estimated that eighty percent of human suffering stems from human choice. Lewis called pain “God’s megaphone” that alerts us to our need for Him.{6} This response does not answer all concerns (because God sometimes does intervene to thwart evil) but it suggests that the problem of evil is not as great an intellectual obstacle to belief as some imagine.

Pain’s emotional barrier to belief, however, remains formidable. When I see God, items on my long list of questions for Him will include a painful and unwanted divorce, betrayal by trusted coworkers, and all sorts of disappointing human behavior and natural disasters. Yet in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection{7} I have seen enough to trust Him when He says He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.”{8}

3. What about those who never hear of Jesus?

Moses said, “The secret things belong to the LORD.”{9} Some issues may remain mysteries. God’s perfect love and justice far exceed our own. Whatever He decides will be loving and fair. One can make a case that God will make the necessary information available to someone who wants to know Him. An example: Cornelius, a devout military official. The New Testament records that God assigned Peter to tell him about Jesus.{10}

A friend once told me that many asking this question seek a personal loophole, a way so they won’t need to believe in Christ. That statement angered me, but it also described me. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote, “If you are worried about the people outside [of faith in Christ], the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself.”{11} If Christianity is true, the most logical behavior for someone concerned about those without Christ’s message would be to trust Christ and go tell them about Him.

Here’s a tip: When someone asks you a difficult question, if you don’t know the answer, admit it. Many skeptics appreciate honesty. Don’t bluff. It’s dishonest and often detectable.

4. What about all the contradictions in the Bible?

Ask your questioner for specific examples of contradictions. Often people have none, but rely on hearsay. If there is a specific example, consider these guidelines as you respond.

Omission does not necessarily create contradiction. Luke, for example, writes of two angels at Jesus’ tomb after the Resurrection.{12} Matthew mentions “an angel.”{13} Is this a contradiction? If Matthew stated that only one angel was present, the accounts would be dissonant. As it stands, they can be harmonized.

Differing accounts aren’t necessarily contradictory. Matthew and Luke, for example, differ in their accounts of Jesus’ birth. Luke records Joseph and Mary starting in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem (Jesus’ birthplace), and returning to Nazareth.{14} Matthew starts with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, relates the family’s journey to Egypt to escape King Herod’s rage, and recounts their travel to Nazareth after Herod’s death.{15} The Gospels never claim to be exhaustive records. Biographers must be selective. The accounts seem complementary, not contradictory.

Time precludes more complex examples here. But time and again, supposed biblical problems fade in light of logic, history, and archaeology. The Bible’s track record under scrutiny argues for its trustworthiness.

5. Isn’t Christianity just a psychological crutch?

My mentor Bob Prall has often said, “If Christianity is a psychological crutch, then Jesus Christ came because there was an epidemic of broken legs.” Christianity claims to meet real human needs such as those for forgiveness, love, identity and self-acceptance. We might describe Jesus not as a crutch but an iron lung, essential for life itself.

Christian faith and its benefits can be described in psychological terms but that does not negate its validity. “Does it work?” is not the same question as, “Is it true?” Evidence supports Christianity’s truthfulness, so we would expect it to work in individual lives, as millions attest.

A caution as you answer questions: Don’t offer “proof” but rather evidences for faith. “Proof” can imply an airtight case, which you don’t have. Aim for certainty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” just as an attorney might in court.

Don’t quarrel. Lovingly and intelligently present evidence to willing listeners, not to win arguments but to share good news. Be kind and gentle.{16} Your life and friendship can communicate powerfully.

6. How can Jesus be the only way to God?

When I was in secondary school, a recent alumnus visited, saying he had found Christ at Harvard. I respected his character and tact and listened intently. But I could not stomach Jesus’ claim that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”{17} That seemed way too narrow.

Two years later, my spiritual and intellectual journey had changed my view. The logic that drew me (reluctantly) to his position involves three questions:

If God exists, could there be only one way to reach Him? To be open-minded, I had to admit this possibility.

Why consider Jesus as a candidate for that possible one way? He claimed it. His plan of rescuing humans – “by grace…through faith…not…works”{18} was distinct from those requiring works, as many other religions do. These two kinds of systems were mutually exclusive. Both could be false or either could be true, but both could not be true.

Was Jesus’ plan true? Historical evidence for His resurrection, fulfilled prophecy{19} and deity, and for the reliability of the New Testament{20} convinced me I could trust His words.

One more common objection:

7. I could never take the blind leap of faith that believing in Christ requires.

We exercise faith every day. Few of us comprehend everything about electricity or aerodynamics, but we have evidence of their validity. Whenever we use electric lights or airplanes, we exercise faith – not blind faith, but faith based on evidence. Christians act similarly. The evidence for Jesus is compelling, so one can trust Him on that basis.

As you respond to inquirers, realize that many barriers to faith are emotional rather than merely intellectual.

As a teenager, I nearly was expelled from secondary school for some problems I helped create. In my pain and anger I wondered, “Why would God allow this to happen?” I was mad at God! In retrospect, I realize I was blaming Him for my own bad choices. My personal anguish at the time kept me from seeing that.

Your questioners may be turned off because Christians haven’t acted like Jesus. Maybe they’re angry at God because of personal illness, a broken relationship, a loved one’s death, or personal pain. Ask God for patience and love as you seek to blend grace with truth. He may use you to help skeptics become seekers and seekers become His children. I hope He does.

Notes
1. 1 Peter 3:15 NIV.
2. John 1:14.
3. John 1:45-47.
4. Romans 9:1-3; 10:1.
5. For useful discussions of evidences regarding Jesus, visit www.WhoIsJesus-Really.com.
6. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1974), 89-103 ff. The Problem of Pain was first published in 1940.
7. A short summary of Resurrection evidences is at Rusty Wright and Linda Raney Wright, “Who’s Got the Body?” 1976, www.probe.org/whos-got-the-body/.
8. Romans 8:28 NASB.
For more complete treatment of this subject, see Rick Rood, “The Problem of Evil,” 1996, www.probe.org/the-problem-of-evil/; Dr. Ray Bohlin, “Where Was God on September 11?” 2002, www.probe.org/where-was-god-on-sept-11-the-problem-of-evil/ .
9. Deuteronomy 29:29 NASB.
10. Acts 10.
11. C.S. Lewis, “The Case for Christianity,” reprinted from Mere Christianity; in The Best of C.S. Lewis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), 449. The Case for Christianity is copyright 1947 by The Macmillan Company.
12. Luke 24:1-9.
13. Matthew 28:1-8.
14. Luke 1:26-2:40.
15. Matthew 1:18-2:23.
16. 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
17. John 14:6 NASB.
18. Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB.
19. A summary of some of the prophesies Jesus fulfilled is at Rusty Wright, “Are You Listening? Do You Hear What I Hear?” 2004, www.probe.org/are-you-listening-do-you-hear-what-i-hear/ .
20. A summary of evidences for New Testament reliability is at Rusty Wright and Linda Raney Wright, “The New Testament: Can I Trust It?” 1976, www.probe.org/the-new-testament-can-i-trust-it/ .

Adapted from Rusty Wright, “7 Questions Skeptics Ask,” Moody Magazine, March/April 2002. Copyright© 2002 Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2005 Probe Ministries


“The Creation/Evolution Controversy is Keeping Me From Believing”

Dear Ray Bohlin,

I read your article Christian Views of Science and Earth History, and at the end it said about how you have been researching about this for twenty years, but still haven’t come to a conclusion about it. If (macro)evolution isn’t proved true, then why would people involved in science treat it as a fact? Two people who come to my mind are Michael Behe and Phillip Johnson. I guess Behe believes in macroevolution and Johnson doesn’t, but they still both support Intelligent Design theory. Does Johnson just not know enough about science, or is Behe perhaps wrong? Maybe I’ve just become way too skeptical. I don’t like being like this, but it’s hard not to be! How can I not let this controversy about evolution keep me from believing? How do you do it? Maybe you just have more faith than I do. I don’t know.

Basically, my only question is concerning the age of the earth and universe. I do not consider this the critical issue so I am willing to live with a certain amount of tension here. There are many good Christians, both theologians and scientists who disagree on the time frame of Genesis, so you are not alone.

Macroevolution is treated as fact primarily because it is necessary for a naturalistic world view. If there is no God then some form of evolution must be true. This is why so many evolutionists are not troubled by evolution’s problems. They are firmly convinced that some form of evolution has occurred and the problems will be solved some day. Here their faith is in their world view and not necessarily science. Phil Johnson does a good job of talking about this in his first two books, Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance.

Being skeptical is OK. If Christianity is really true, then it can stand up to the scrutiny. I encourage you to continue to ask your questions and seek for answers. I have never been disappointed when I have felt the need to dig a little deper. The Lord won’t disappoint you either.

An excellent book you may want to pick up is by Lee Strobel called The Case for Faith (Harper Collins/Zondervan). It’s a series of interviews with top Christian scholars looking for answers to the toughest challenges to faith. One of the interviews is with Dr. Walter Bradley from Texas A & M about evolution and the origin of life. Because each chapter is a retelling of an interview it’s not overly technical but extremely helpful and honest.

I certainly don’t feel I have all the answers about the evolution question either. I am convinced however, that evolution certainly doesn’t have all the answers and some of the missing answers are to the most crucial questions such as a workable and observable mechanism of change.

In the past when I was feeling threatened as you are I would frequently need to return to the basics which I knew were true. The facts of Jesus historical existence, the reliability of the New Testament, the historical reliability of his resurrection, and God’s clear direction and presence in my life. Then I would combine this with Jesus own confirmation of the historicity of Genesis (see Matt. 19:3-6, Matt. 23: 29-37, and Matt. 24:37-39 and “Why We Believe in Creation”) and Paul’s clear statement of the creation exhibiting his character in Romans 1:18-20 and it was obvious that something was very wrong with evolution and somehow God’s creative fingerprints are evident in the natural world. That would keep me going. Now the more I have studied and probed, the more bankrupt evolution has become and the reasonableness and scientific integrity of design becomes more and more self-evident.

Hope this helps.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin

Probe Ministries


“Help! My Doubts Scare Me!”

Dear Sue Bohlin,

Hello. My name is __________. I e-mailed Ray earlier too. Anyways, I was reading an e-mail discussion you had with somebody, who didn’t believe in God. You said something in it about how it’s not an intellect issue, but a heart issue. This is hard for me to accept. I’m ashamed admitting this, but oh gosh its hard for me to admit. Maybe I won’t. I could say that I don’t believe in God, but that just sounds way too harsh. Have you heard of anybody who was a Christian, but then they began to have doubts and became agnostic? That’s how I feel. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was younger (I’m 18 now), but for a long time I’ve just been so skeptical. I guess I’m not a Christian, because a Christian knows that he or she is one, and I don’t. I don’t know how to express what I’ve been going through lately. Everyday I think about my doubt and it depresses me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get rid of it and that scares me. I desire to believe in God so much, but it’s hard. I have so many questions. I wonder why God doesn’t show himself to me so I know for sure that He is there. I don’t know. Maybe He has but it’s just not enough. Maybe I don’t have enough faith.

Another thing that really doesn’t help me is some of the stuff that I have read on the internet. Different books that I’ve read about have caused me to have even more doubt. Have you heard of The Bible Unearthed…, or The Jesus Puzzle…? I haven’t read any of them, but read reviews. Anyways, the second one I think denies that Jesus was a historical person. That really bothers me. Earlier today I was reading something on the web where this person was being critical of Lee Strobel (who wrote The Case for Christ). I really like that book (not done with it yet), but after what I read on the internet about it, I wonder if it really shows that Jesus was a historical person. I don’t know. Maybe I just let other people’s conflicting views on Christianity get to me too much, but after reading these things, I start to wonder if maybe they are correct on what they are arguing.

Anyways, to me, my problem doesn’t seem to be a heart issue because I really would like to believe in God. I desire to believe in Him and live for Him, but it’s hard. Is there something that I lack? Do I just not have enough faith? I don’t know, maybe I don’t. Well I think I’ve made this long enough. If there’s any advice you could give me I would appreciate it. Maybe you could pray for me. Thanks a lot.

I know you don’t know me, but I REALLY wish I could reach through this computer screen and put my arms around you and give you a big hug and tell you IT’S GOING TO BE OK!!!!! It is so OK to have doubts, to wonder about where you stand spiritually, because, at 18, you are at the point you need to be—deciding for yourself what you should keep and what you should jettison of what you have been taught. You are an adult now but you probably don’t feel that you have enough information to make an informed, committed adult choice about something as important as eternal destiny and one’s relationship with God!

Good news—lots of other people are also in your shoes. But they don’t ask for help, and bless you, you did, and there IS help for you!! There are good answers, and you’ll be stronger and more confident for having voiced your doubts and questions, once you’re on the other side of this spiritual crisis. It’s OK, __________. . . .God is walking through it with you.

I guess I’m not a Christian, because a Christian knows that he or she is one, and I don’t.

Well, no, actually that’s not true. Many Christians have assurance that we are Christians, and many Christians fervently hope they are but they’re not sure. That’s an important issue all by itself: can we know we’re saved and going to heaven? Can we lose our salvation? Our founder and first president, Jimmy Williams, addressed this issue in one of his e-mails.

I don’t know how to express what I’ve been going through lately. Everyday I think about my doubt and it depresses me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get rid of it and that scares me.

I wish you could see God’s heart as He watches you wrestle with your doubts and fears. He loves you so much (man, I feel like Monica on Touched by an Angel here!) and is very tender toward you as you experience these strong and scary emotions. I understand your fear that you’ll never get rid of the doubt. But doubt is like darkness—you don’t overcome it by pushing it away, you make it go away by bringing in light. As you seek light and truth and to know what is really true and real, God will show you the light. I am so grateful that you came to us at Probe instead of some New Age “all religions are the same” website!

I desire to believe in God so much, but it’s hard. I have so many questions. I wonder why God doesn’t show himself to me so I know for sure that He is there. I don’t know. Maybe He has but it’s just not enough. Maybe I don’t have enough faith.

What’s important isn’t the amount or strength of our faith, but the object of our faith. God is strong enough to handle your doubts and to show you, in ways so intimate you will know it’s HIM, that He is real and He loves you very much.

Another thing that really doesn’t help me is some of the stuff that i have read on the internet. Different books that I’ve read about have caused me to have even more doubt. Have you heard of The Bible Unearthed…, or The Jesus Puzzle…? I haven’t read any of them, but read reviews. Anyways, the second one I think denies that Jesus was a historical person. That really bothers me.

With good reason. Some of the best Christian apologetics books started out with the author’s intention to disprove Christianity, and the facts overwhelmed the skeptics into belief. The entire world was affected by the life of Jesus Christ, in one way or another, but He didn’t exist? Now THAT takes a lot of faith!

Earlier today I was reading something on the web where this person was being critical of Lee Strobel (who wrote The Case for Christ). I really like that book (not done with it yet), but after what I read on the internet about it, I wonder if it really shows that Jesus was a historical person.

Did you know Lee Strobel started out as an atheist? I’m glad you’re reading it; it was a wise choice. So is his second book, The Case for Faith. I found this statement from him in an interview online: “I have found that the testimony of history points compellingly toward Jesus Christ having returned from the dead in the ultimate authentication of His claim to be God. To me faith in Jesus is not blind or irrational. I have so much independent evidence that the New Testament writings are reliable that I would be swimming upstream against the evidence if I were to follow the teachings of the Koran or the Book of Mormon. The more I subject the New Testament to analysis, the more I pepper it with questions, the more I walk away utterly convinced of its trustworthiness.”

I don’t know. Maybe I just let other people’s conflicting views on Christianity get to me too much, but after reading these things, I start to wonder if maybe they are correct on what they are arguing.

Just about every truth, especially those of eternal importance, will be countered with something counterfeit, because we’re in a very real battle for our minds and souls. It’s unfortunate that the counter-arguments can appear so compelling, but the issue is ultimate truth. Right now, you’re on the right track in seeking truth and desiring to sort through the clamoring voices that attack it.

Anyways, to me, my problem doesn’t seem to be a heart issue because I really would like to believe in God. I desire to believe in Him and live for Him, but its hard. Is there something that I lack? Do I just not have enough faith? I don’t know, maybe I don’t.

It’s been said that the Christian life isn’t hard, it’s IMPOSSIBLE. You can’t live for God in your own strength—not for any length of time, anyway, without burning out and getting majorly discouraged. The secret is to allow Jesus to live His life through you by yielding to Him. That, by the way, is one of the things that sets Christianity apart from every other religion: God inside us, offering to live His life through us, without any loss of our own individuality. But right now, the big issue is what to do with your head/heart conflict. Fortunately, there is a PERFECT book that I believe will make all the difference in the world to you.

It’s called Making Your Faith Your Own: A Guidebook for Believers With Questions by Teresa Vining. I was privileged to read Teresa’s manuscript and LOVED her book. One of its strengths is that she was in the exact place you are now, and she takes you through the questions AND the answers, and suggests you keep a journal as you work through the book so you can decide what you believe and commit to, and what you’re not willing to. It is a terrific book on apologetics, and she is very respectful of the person with questions and doubts. I think you will love this book too.

Well I think I’ve made this long enough. If there’s any advice you could give me I would appreciate it. Maybe you could pray for me.

I’d like to pray for you right now!

Father, I lift up __________ to You and I thank You for her intellect and her honesty in facing her doubts and questions. Thank You that You are not in the least bit troubled by them because You know You are real and true and able to take her through this time to a point where she will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that YOU ARE. I ask You to send her little intimate glimpses of You and open her eyes so she’ll know it’s You saying “Hi.” I ask that You give her a peace when she’s pursuing truth and give her an uncomfortable restlessness when she’s moving toward the darkness and deception that would seek to draw her away from You. Lord, I thank You for Your hand on __________’s life and on her heart and on her mind, and by faith I thank You for taking her to the place where she will joyfully serve You with all three. Lord, make her feel loved and protected and cherished by You.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

Hope this helps, dear one!

Sue


Churches That Equip

I STILL REMEMBER THE SINKING FEELING IN THE PIT OF MY STOMACH. I was a university student, a young believer, and my faith in Christ seemed like a house of cards that had just crumbled. For awhile, the Christian life that had been so exciting and joyful became a myth. I felt rootless, adrift, and confused.

One of my fraternity brothers had just asked me some questions about Christianity that I couldn’t answer. This bothered me deeply until Bob Prall, a pastor and campus Christian worker, answered them for me. “Always remember,” he advised as he finished, “just because you don’t know the answer, doesn’t mean there is no answer.”

For the next two years I followed him around, watching as he shared Christ with skeptics, listening to his speeches, and observing how he dealt with non-Christians. Bob’s loving, learned example and teaching helped me sink my spiritual roots deeply into God’s truth and provided a foundation for three decades of interaction with unbelievers. I shall always be grateful to him for equipping me in this way.

Just as Bob helped me, a number of churches across North America are helping equip their members to answer effectively questions that non-Christians ask. Maybe their stories will encourage you.

Conversation and Cuisine

Dennis McCallum pastors Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus, Ohio. He is keenly interested in reaching “postmoderns” for Christ, and Xenos members have developed some successful methods of equipping members for outreach. In his book, The Death of Truth, McCallum outlines a practical plan using dinner-party discussion groups. “It’s not impossible to communicate with postmodern culture,” he claims, “it’s just more difficult.” Just as missionaries need to learn the language and customs and build relationships with those they seek to reach, so we must understand and befriend today’s postmoderns.

Xenos’ “Conversation and Cuisine” gathers Christians in a home with non-Christian friends for food and discussion. Guests are assured it’s not a church service and that all opinions are welcome. Topics include “To judge or not to judge,” “Forgiveness in relationships,” “Views of the afterlife,” and current events.

After dinner the facilitator presents several scenarios for discussion. For instance, in a session on judging, he might describe a situation of racism in the workplace and ask participants to decide “OK” or “bad.” Next the facilitator tells of a mother who chooses to leave her husband and children for another man. The participants also vote. The point is to create a bit of confusion and help participants realize that—in contrast to today’s “tolerate all viewpoints” mindset—they themselves sometimes make judgments that they feel are entirely appropriate.

This dialogue can lead to discussions of, for instance, Hitler’s Germany. Was killing Jews merely a cultural tradition that should be respected?

The aim is not to preach, but gently to lead non-Christians to rethink their presuppositions. Sessions don’t always include a gospel presentation. They may be “pre-evangelistic”—helping unbelievers reconsider their own relativism, appreciate that some universal or absolute truths might be necessary, and realize that Christians may have some answers. Church members can then continue the relationships and share Christ as appropriate. “Once people’s thinking has been thawed—or even shocked—out of their totalistic postmodern pattern,” claims McCallum, “they will have a new receptiveness to the gospel.”

Xenos is also committed to grounding youth in God’s Word. Its curriculum uses age-appropriate games, stories, and study to help grade-school through university students understand and explain God’s truth. High school home meetings designed for secular audiences involve adult-student team teaching: kids reaching kids. Campus Bible studies reach Ohio State students.

Kellie Carter’s New Age background could not save her mom from breast cancer. Disillusioned with God after her mother’s death, Kellie sought answers in crystal healing, astrology, and meditation. Then a friend invited her to a Xenos campus Bible study, where she debated Christianity with attendees.

“The amazing thing here was that I was getting answers,” Kellie recalls. “These people knew what they believed and why. I wanted that.” Scientific and historical evidences for Christianity prompted her to trust Christ as Savior.

Kellie later invited Jeremy (“Germ”) Gedert to a Xenos meeting about anger, a problem he recognized he had. Subsequent Bible studies on fulfilled prophecy pointed Germ to faith in Christ. Now Germ claims God has given him “great relationships, controlled temper, and a real vision for my life with Christ” plus “an awesome wife (named Kellie Gedert).” Equipped students are reaching students.

Xenos offers courses, conferences, papers, and books to help Christians understand and communicate the gospel in modern culture. For information visit their web site at www.xenos.org.

Spreading the Passion

When George Haraksin became a Christian while studying at California State University Fullerton, he switched his major to comparative religions so he could investigate Christianity’s truth claims. Through his involvement in New Song Church in nearby San Dimas, he found his biblical and apologetic knowledge strengthened and was able to teach classes on New Age thinking. Study in philosophy and ethics at Talbot Seminary fanned his passion for communicating biblical truth, which Haraksin now spreads as New Song’s Pastor of Teaching and Equipping.

“Ephesians tells us to equip the church,” he notes. “People learn on three levels: a classroom level, a relational level, and at home.” He and his co-workers seek to use all three levels to help prepare members to be ready to answer questions non-Christians ask.

New Song’s leaders integrate equipping the saints into their regular gatherings. Some sermons handle apologetic themes. Weeknight classes cover such topics as “Evangelism and the Postmodern Mindset.” Monthly men’s breakfasts may deal with “Evidences for the Resurrection” or “Is Jesus the Only Way?” New Song has also invited faculty from the International School of Theology to teach courses on “Developing a Christian World View” and other theological topics.

“I’m trying to find people within the church who have that sort of passion (for apologetics) and gifts for teaching,” Haraksin explains. “As I identify them, I’m trying to come alongside them, develop that passion, and develop them as leaders.”

If people have questions about science and Christianity, he wants to be able to refer them to a member with that specialty who can help them. He’s setting up an apologetics network at the local church level.

New Song member Jeff Lampman received a phone call and letter from a cousin with unusual perspectives on the Bible. “I had no idea how to respond to him,” Jeff recalls. He showed the letter to Haraksin, who recognized Jehovah’s Witness doctrines. When two Jehovah’s Witness members showed up at Jeff’s door, he invited them to meet with him and Haraksin. “I was very uncomfortable at first,” Jeff explains, but he grew in his knowledge of the Bible as he watched Haraksin in action over the next six months.

The experience “taught me why I believe what I believe,” Jeff remembers. “Before, if somebody asked me why I believe what I do, I wouldn’t have a clue as to how to respond to them. Now I do. George [Haraksin] was a tremendous help. I feel a lot more confident now and know where to go to get resources to defend the faith effectively.” He continues to apply what he’s learned as he interacts with skeptical co-workers and helps equip and encourage other Christians to learn.

Not everyone at New Song is interested in apologetics. Haraksin estimates that about 10 to 20 percent are thirsty enough to attend weekly meetings if personally encouraged to do so. Others want answers on a more spontaneous basis when they encounter a skeptic. Still others have little or no interest.

“There is still an anti-intellectualism in the church,” Haraksin notes. People want to know “Why can’t I just love God? Why do I need to know all this other stuff?” Society is on information overload, and some “people don’t want to take the time to read and study,” which can be frustrating to a pastor with a burning desire to see people learn.

Haraksin tells of a woman who questioned Jesus’ deity. At another church she had been told not to ask questions but to spend time in personal devotions. Haraksin answered some of her concerns individually and encouraged her to enroll in New Song’s “Jesus Under Fire” class, which she did. She could ask questions without fear of causing offense. Soon she became a solid Christian, committed to the church.

“We’re relational people in a relational culture,” Haraksin notes. We’re still learning.” This product of his own church’s equipping ministry is helping to light some fires.

Issues and Answers

Barry Smith is Pastor of Discipleship Ministries at Kendall Presbyterian Church in Miami. He has a keen desire to see adults and youth understand Christianity’s truth. Sunday schools have featured quarters on apologetics and on Christian ethics. The heart of Kendall’s apologetics emphasis is “Issues and Answers,” monthly dinner discussions relating faith to the secular world.

The meetings arose out of conversations between Smith and hospital chaplain Phil Binie, who had served on the staff of L’Abri in Switzerland and Holland. (L’Abri is a network of Christian study centers founded by the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer.) The core group is composed of Kendall members—both men and women—who are professionals in the community. Leaders include a Miami Herald editor, a federal judge, a medical professional, University of Miami professors, an attorney, and a musician.

Core members invite friends and colleagues to join them. Families, including children, gather at a home and enjoy mealtime conversation. After the 45-minute dinner, youth workers spend time with the children while a group member guides an hour-long presentation for the adults. Smith led one on the problem of evil: “If God is good, where did evil come from?”

Journalistic ethics dominated another discussion. A judge handled the separation of church and state. An English professor covered “deconstructionism” and literary analysis as they apply to the Bible, a somewhat perplexing but highly relevant theme. (Deconstructionism includes a tendency to seek a text’s meaning not in what the original author likely intended, but in what readers today want it to say.)

Smith says that at least one person has professed faith in Christ through a personal search that attending the group prompted. All of the non-clergy members at first felt uncomfortable sharing their faith outside the church; now all feel more at ease. Smith especially notes one couple (a psychology professor and an attorney) who began the program as young Christians and have experienced dramatic growth as they have understood how Christianity makes sense in their work settings.

Smith emphasizes that the “Issues and Answers” format is easy to replicate and need not involve professional clergy leadership. It started informally and at first was not even an official church ministry. “The idea,” he explains, “was simply to find people trying to contextualize their Christianity in the marketplace who could share with us how they do that.”

Scheduling seems the biggest obstacle; professionals’ crowded calendars can be hard to mesh. But Smith is encouraged by what the program has accomplished in its two years. He sees a revival of interest in the works of Francis Schaeffer and enthusiastically recommends them to both believers and seekers.

The apostle Peter told believers, “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” (1 Peter 3:15). Paul wrote that God gives spiritual leaders to the church “to prepare God’s people for works of service” (Eph. 4:12). Xenos, New Song, and Kendall churches are taking those admonitions seriously and are seeing fruit for God’s kingdom.

This article first appeared in the March/April 1999 issue of Moody Magazine.

©1999 Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.