Ever been bombarded by objections to your Christian faith? Greg Koukl gives 3 easy steps on how to deal with such a situation. It turns out that you do not owe everyone a response. You have to know when to walk away.
There are some people who think they are better than everyone. These people will sometimes reply to Christians interested in apologetics with “You can’t argue someone into the kingdom.” Really? Wow, Jeff, you’re so holy, good job. This is a dumb reply and Stephen J. Bedard shows why in this article.
The majority opinion in New Testament studies is that the four biographies written about Jesus–the Gospels–and the Book of Acts were written after 70 C.E. Mark was written first, then Matthew and Luke, and John was written in the 90s. Acts would have been written some time after Luke, obviously. The arguments put forward for this “later date,” I would argue, are quite weak.
The main argument is based on Jesus’ predictive prophecy about the destruction of the Temple (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21), which we know happened in 70 C.E. We also “know” that Jesus wasn’t really divine and so could not make such a prediction. Therefore, it is more likely that the Gospel writers were looking backward, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., and putting these words into Jesus’ mouth for the purpose of giving him greater authority.
This all sounds plausible until you examine the passages in question, which I have done here. I encourage you to read the full article, but let me summarize why this is not a good way to date the Gospels.
- All the details in Jesus’ prediction can be traced back to Old Testament passages about the destruction of the first Temple.
- Even if Jesus was not divine, he could still make a prediction. People do this all the time. We know, through Josephus, other people were prophesying the destruction of the Temple before 70 C.E. as well.
- If the Gospel writers were writing in retrospect, they would have mentioned that Jesus’ prophecy had come true, as they do in other places about other prophecies (Luke does this in Acts and Matthew records Old Testament prophecy fulfillment all the time).
In the end, I agree with notable New Testament scholar, E.P. Sanders, who says “there is no material in Mark which must be dated after 70.” I would say the same for Matthew, Luke, and Acts as well. In fact, I would argue that there are some data in the Gospels and Acts that must be dated before 70 C.E., if they are to make sense at all.
1. No Description of the Temple Destruction
Now, before accusing me of an argument from silence, let me explain. We clearly have a prophecy made by Jesus in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21. However, we are never told in the Gospels or in Acts what happens to the Temple. Was Jesus’ prediction right? In fact, if you read the Gospels and Acts all the way through, you would have no reason to suspect that the Temple was not still standing.
The reason this is not an argument from silence is two fold. First, we know that the Gospel writers liked to prove when a prophecy had come true. We know that if Jesus had made a prediction that came true, they would want to point that out. So, if Jesus predicted the Temple destruction and it later came true, we have positive reasons to believe they would have pointed this out. However they did not, and so this stands in want of an explanation.
Secondly, the Book of Acts is a book about the events of the early church in and around Judea in the first century. A book that details many historical and political events fails to mention the single most important political event at that time. This would be like a history of the United States that failed to mention the Revolutionary War. Not quite analogous, but you get the point. For positive reasons, we know the author would include this event, if it had happened.
What best explains these curious facts? The easiest explanation is that the Temple had not been destroyed yet, which would give these books a dating before 70 C.E.
2. No Description of the Deaths of Peter, Paul, or James the Brother of Jesus
Likewise, we should explain that this is not an argument from silence either. We have positive reasons to expect these events if they had indeed occurred by the time of the writing of the Book of Acts.
The Book of Acts has two main characters: Peter in the first half, and Paul in the second half. James the brother of Jesus was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem in the early Church. He was so well known that even Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions his death in 62 CE.
The Book of Acts details the deaths and martyrdoms of Stephen and James the Son of Zebedee (minor characters with respect to the book).
Therefore, if the main characters of the book (Peter and Paul) and one of the most well known Christians of the time (James) had been killed or martyred, we would expect the author of Acts to record this. However, there is no mention of the death of Peter, Paul, or James the brother of Jesus, all three of which happened before 70 C.E. Surely, at least one of them would have been mentioned.
The easiest explanation is that Paul, Peter, and James were still alive at the time of the writing of the Book of Acts which would give it a date before 70 C.E. Now, remember that Acts was Luke’s second volume, following the Gospel of Luke. This means Luke’s Gospel was written even earlier, which would mean Matthew was written even earlier because Luke and Matthew share material, which would mean Mark was written even earlier than Matthew because scholars believe Mark wrote first. This would push us quite a ways back.
3. The Temple Tax
In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus (and subsequently Matthew) approves of paying the double drachma Temple tax. We know from Josephus and Suetonius that after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., this tax was shifted to the temple of Jupiter. Would Jesus, and subsequently Matthew, really persuade disciples of Jesus to pay tax to a pagan temple? Not to mention, the passage would demand that the disciples be identified as “sons” of Jupiter. This is hardly believable. The most likely understanding is that Jesus, and subsequently Matthew, were teaching early Christians to continue paying the Temple tax because the Temple was still standing. Hence, a date prior to 70 C.E. is demanded.
4. Temple Swearing
In Matthew 23:16-22, the author records Jesus chastising the Pharisees for swearing by the Temple. Whatever the purpose and application of this text, why would the author of Matthew use an antiquated example to make his point? In other words, if he is trying to make a point to an audience post-Temple, why use this illustration of “swearing by the Temple” to make it? The easiest explanation is that the Temple was still standing and therefore a useful tool to make the point. You cannot swear by a Temple that does not exist.
5. The Altar
But there’s more. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says, “Therefore if you present your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and first go be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your gift.”
There would be no reason to make this point to an audience post-Temple. This pericope has no direct application to someone that will not present a gift at the altar because the altar no longer exists. The easiest explanation is that Matthew included this pericope for an audience that would immediately understand and apply its meaning to their lives. Hence, they would be familiar with the altar because it still existed in the Temple which still existed.
6. Overall Attitude Toward Jewish and Roman Authorities
Many have noted the negative attitude of the Gospel authors toward Jewish authorities and also the positive attitude toward Roman authorities.
The antagonists of the Gospel stories are Jewish authorities, not Roman. In fact, the Gospels portray Roman authorities in a positive light at times. Multiple centurions are mentioned in a positive light both in the Gospels and Acts. Paul appeals to Roman authorities for help. Pontius Pilate finds no fault in Jesus. We could go on.
After 70 C.E., or after Nero’s persecution of the early church in the 60’s C.E., this would be highly unlikely. Likewise, if the negative attitude toward the Jewish leaders reflects in any way the relationship between the early church and Jewish leaders at the time of the writing of the Gospels, the easiest explanation is that the Jewish leaders were in fact still leaders and had authority. Something that was not true after the destruction of the Temple.
If some New Testament scholars, like Richard Bauckham, are correct that the author of Mark is intentionally keeping some people unnamed in his Gospel for fear that the Jewish authorities would persecute them, then this also would lend a hand for a date prior to 70 C.E.
Not only do we have good reason to reject the main argument for a late date, but we have good reason to believe the Gospels were written early, at the very least in the early 60’s.
This places many stories of Jesus and the early church only 30 years removed from Jesus’ death. This means the first recordings of Jesus and the early church would certainly be within “living memory.” Many eyewitnesses would have still been alive, which is a slam dunk when it comes to historiography.
Mark Galli, Editor in Chief for the popular news publication, Christianity Today, wrote an article just over a week ago about why Donald Trump should be removed from office. I found this article and everything that followed quite interesting.
It is no secret that evangelicals are split on Trump. Many are his strongest allies. Many view him as an abomination. Many voted for him simply because they did not like their other options.
The article written by Mark Galli begins by reminding the reader why Christianity Today (CT) was founded. It was founded by none other than Billy Graham to help evangelicals interpret the news in light of their Christian faith.
The article then justifies to the reader why they are straying from their “typical approach.” The typical approach is to “stay above the fray” and not pick sides, basically. The typical approach is to not pick a candidate explicitly, or become partisan. Although, naturally a Christian evangelical publication is going to lean right and conservative.
Now, if you have read my blog for long enough, you know my stance on “bias.” We all have bias and there is no reason in hiding yours, or pretending to be objective. You are not objective. You should be as objective in your methodology for finding truth as possible, but don’t pretend to be the bastion of objectivity. You are not.
So, I don’t pretend that CT rarely comes out and “takes a stand” on certain issues that it feels it must. CT, like everyone, is biased and has an agenda. There is nothing wrong with that. But for Pete’s sake, don’t pretend you don’t.
For example, I am a conservative Christian evangelical that will most likely vote for Trump in 2020. Is he my favorite guy in the world? No, but I’m not voting for the rest of them. False dichotomy? Maybe. Anyway, there’s my bias out in the open.
So what has made CT, or Mark Galli in particular, come out of its hole of objectivity and take a stand? Mark Galli states that the facts in this matter are “unambiguous”:
“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
This supposed abuse of power is supposed to be the main reason Galli came out from behind his desk of subtlety to take his heroic stand. However, rather than defend this “unambiguous” interpretation of the facts, he quickly moved on to an emotional tirade about Trump’s tweets and past affairs with women.
He did return to the subject briefly when he said, “We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath.”
Again, another assertion. Perhaps, this time he will back it up with some defense. Just kidding, why do that when you can make a comparison to Bill Clinton? Twice now, Galli has asserted that Trump has abused his power as President for personal gain without once appealing to any evidence. All he has done is assert that the facts are “unambiguous” and “absolutely clear.” They are so clear that he has no need to reveal them, apparently.
What’s interesting about the last Galli quote is the use of the plural “we”. Galli is unmistakably speaking on behalf of CT, which was obvious anyway, but there it is explicitly.
What I find most appalling about the article is how it paints evangelicals that voted for Trump, or continue to support Trump. Check out this loaded statement: “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.” Supporting Trump’s removal is now about loyalty to the God of the Bible.
Galli could not have picked a more perfect word, loyalty. The word loyalty is a good English translation of the Greek word in the New Testament usually translated as “faith.” When you read “faith” in the New Testament, you’re better off thinking “loyalty” than you are “blind belief,” which is how it is commonly used today.
So, does Galli really believe that if one votes, or supports Trump, that one is not loyal to God? If pressed, surely he would not make salvation conditioned on support, or non-support, of a president. Even if we tone down the language to that of obedience, surely this is an overreach.
Nonetheless, it is clear that Galli, and CT, are excluding evangelicals who support Trump from the table of “genuine Christians.” This is nothing new. Many Christians have been saying this about evangelical Trump supporters since the 2016 election. Galli is doing nothing more than pitching his tent in this camp. Good for him.
He then goes on in prophetic fashion to “remind” evangelical Trump supporters of where their loyalty lies, whom they serve, and what is at stake. What is at stake, by the way? Our witness, he says. Who will take us serious? This really seems to be the main concern. And this is a recurring theme from those conservative evangelicals who chastise other conservative evangelicals for supporting Trump.
What about our witness? Who will take us seriously? How will they ever take the gospel message seriously, if we support Trump? Let me give a few reasons why this is a bogus line of argumentation:
- The truth of the Gospel message is not dependent upon the character of the Gospel messenger.
- The effectiveness of the Gospel message is not dependent upon the character of the Gospel messenger.
- If a person will only accept the Gospel message on the condition that I publicly denounce Trump, that person does not understand the message.
- A vote for Trump is not a justification of all of his actions and words. I repeat: a vote for Trump is not a justification of all of his actions and words.
What’s true is true, no matter how it is received. How people interpret a vote for Donald Trump is irrelevant to whether or not such a vote is justified. This is so blatantly obvious that it boggles the mind that some don’t see it. Does Galli really believe that people are voting for Trump because they have justified his immoral actions and words? If so, one wonders if he is paying attention at all. I’m quite sure he does not and this is nothing more than moral posturing. He is repeating what so many others have already mistakenly said. His words are nothing more than the tag-lines of a group that he desperately wants to be included in.
Here is another question that Galli puts forward to shame evangelical Trump supporters that I want to answer directly:
“Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?”
Literally no one is saying “the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end.” What we are saying, with respect to abortion, is that if we don’t vote for the conservative candidate that has the best chance at winning, we are more likely to get a president who will make our efforts toward ending abortion that much more difficult. That person right now is Donald Trump. Are we correct? That’s up for debate, but these intentional mischaracterizations will never tell us.
These false dichotomies that people raise against the pro-life position are embarrassing, especially coming from someone like Galli who is pro-life. We can support the candidate that is most pro-life “friendly” while at the same time calling-out his moral failures. This isn’t difficult. It also does not mean that we must withhold support from him.
We are not in a “political poker game” as Galli suggests. Evangelical Trump supporters want to see the abomination that is abortion come crashing down, and part of the strategy for doing so is to win judicial seats. In order to win those seats, we must have a President who will appoint pro-life justices. This isn’t because we want power, or whatever gross misrepresentation Galli wants to make, it is because innocent human beings made in the image of God are being slaughtered in their mothers’ wombs. Is there more to being pro-life? Yes, but there certainly isn’t less and the abortion issue rightly takes precedence over all other issues. That isn’t to say that other issues do not matter, but no other issue is resulting in the slaughtering of innocent lives at the rate abortion is producing.
Some evangelicals are willing to be viewed negatively by others for the sake of ending this genocide. Galli has made it clear that he is not. He is more concerned with his “witness,” as he has made clear. At the risk of going too far, let me ask, what is God more concerned with? The way other people view you, or the genocide of millions of innocent lives? The question is really: Are you willing to support a president with a less than perfect moral life for the sake of ending abortion, or not?
Some will say it is a false dichotomy. To them I say: show me the pro-life candidate with a perfect moral life that actually has a chance at winning. Right now, a third-party vote is a wasted vote. We all know this. This option is for those who want to maintain their pro-life credibility and also maintain, with Galli, their “witness” before the eyes of their peers. Frankly, I don’t care how others view me. Whatever option you take, far be it from me to question your “loyalty” to God as Galli has done.
Now, on to the response to this article. Nearly 200 evangelical leaders wrote a scathing letter to the President of CT in response to Galli’s article. They called him out for questioning their loyalty and integrity toward God.
They also complained about Galli’s description of evangelical Trump supporters in Still Evangelical? as “evangelicals [who] often haven’t finished college, and if they have jobs (and apparently most of them don’t), they are blue collar jobs or entry level work.” The inference is clear: dumb, lazy, and poor. In the same essay, Galli described himself as belonging to an “elite” class of evangelicals. Ooo, elite.
The letter against CT also raises what I view as the most important response: So, who are you going to support? Surely, none of the pro-abortion Democrat candidates. It is not enough to tell your readers who they most certainly cannot support. You have to give them a positive position to take. What is it? Should they support a pro-abortion candidate? Should they vote third party? Should they withhold their vote?
CT most likely does not want to say any of these things and I would be surprised if they did. Most likely, they won’t give an answer, at least not as explicitly as they have denounced Trump. Denouncing Trump explicitly is easy. Supporting another position just as explicitly would be quite difficult, with respect to their base.
However, I would like to make a prediction. The “witness” that Galli and CT are so concerned with, will not be satisfied until they do support a Democratic candidate. Let’s not kid ourselves. The people that Galli and CT are concerned about maintaining a witness before are on “the Left.” And “the Left” have made it clear that denouncing Trump will not suffice, you will have to continue down their path even further before you will be welcomed. If Galli and CT do this, they will lose their long-standing base. Partial loyalty to “the Left” is never sufficient. It is always all or nothing. Ask the many evangelicals who have tried.
Franklin Graham, a person always brought up in the conversation about Trump and evangelicals, weighed in on CT’s invoking his father’s name:
“Yes, my father Billy Graham founded Christianity Today; but no, he would not agree with their opinion piece. In fact, he would be very disappointed. I have not previously shared who my father voted for in the past election, but because of this article, I feel it is necessary to share it now. My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.”
Obviously, such statements cannot be verified, nor do they really matter. Who Billy Graham would support is irrelevant.
One of the best commentaries on this article that I found was that of Julie Roys who claims to have been calling for evangelicals to speak out against the immoral actions of leaders “for the past two years.” She says she wanted to cheer at Galli’s article, but found his outrage quite selective.
“Here were Galli and CT—an editor and magazine, which have not only consistently failed to confront corrupt leaders but have actually aided and abetted them—lecturing other evangelicals about supporting Trump. The hypocrisy was so blatant, I stared at my screen with my jaw on my chest as I read Galli’s entire op-ed.”
The hypocrisy of which she speaks is a an op-ed published at CT by James MacDonald titled “Why Suing is Sometimes the Biblical Choice” in which a justification was made for “MacDonald’s unbiblical and morally repugnant lawsuit against [Roys], two bloggers, and their wives. Their wives!”
The article was released after MacDonald was introduced to CT Global Director Jeremy Weber by CT contributing editor, Ed Stetzer, who had received a $13,000 VW as a gift from MacDonald. Stetzer later repaid the money when he found out it was bought by Harvest Bible Chapel. Clearly a moral lapse, was brushed off by Galli.
Roys says it gets worse. This introduction of MacDonald to Weber was captured on a hot mic.
“Galli and CT also apparently didn’t see a story when I revealed that the person on the “hot mic” recording joking with James MacDonald about putting child porn on the computer of former CT CEO Harold Smith was PR guru, Johnnie Moore. Moore also is heard coaching MacDonald on how to manipulate CT into giving MacDonald favorable coverage for his abysmal lawsuit.”
Roys also calls attention to the sexting scandal that Ravi Zacharias found himself in. Zacharias pre-emptively sued his alleger and the woman signed a non-disparagement agreement. Once she was unable to speak, CT released Zacharias’ full statement against her. Roys says that after reading Steve Baughman’s book, Cover-up in the Kingdom, she is convinced that there is more to the story.
The list goes on.
Galli and CT seem to have a “selective outrage” when it comes to the morality of leaders, says Roys. But why the selectivity?
“I suspect the reason for this hypocrisy is that CT depends on the evangelical industrial complex to survive. It needs its evangelical advertisers and relationships with top Christian celebrities and thought leaders to remain in business. But CT doesn’t need Trump.”
It is convenient to criticize Trump who is not “one of our own.” How convenient? “As Galli told CNBC, three times as many people have subscribed to CT than have unsubscribed since his op-ed went viral.” I’m sure that is just a coincidence.
“Mark Galli and CT made a brilliant move, which has enlarged their progressive base and will allow the magazine to go precisely where it’s been straining to go the past decade. And Galli’s op-ed will likely launch him beautifully into a “retirement” replete with speaking invitations and opportunities to freelance for secular publications.”
Are Galli and CT seriously concerned with the moral short-comings of Donald Trump? Maybe, but clearly they overlook others’ short-comings when it is convenient. It seems much more likely that Roys’ assessment is closer to the truth.
It occurs to me that something is glaring in the background: what is the truth? What seems to matter most here is: Did Donald Trump abuse his power for personal gain? It is not as if we cannot know. Galli is right, the matter is “unambiguous.” Just not in the way he wants it to be. Remember that he did not provide a single line of evidence. He simply made the statement and moved on to Trump’s personal moral failures.
We have the transcript of Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian President, who has explicitly denied any quid-pro-quo. Read the transcript. You tell me, did Trump abuse his power for personal gain over Joe Biden? I see no evidence of that, but make your own judgment.
As for Galli and Christianity Today? It comes as no surprise what they are really up to: kowtowing to “the Left” and more liberal evangelicals to broaden their base and grow their support. How do they justify such a move? The don’t want to “harm their witness” as Christians. For the reasons stated above, I don’t buy it. This is simply Christianese for “we want to be liked.” It’s time to call a spade a spade, Galli.
“Trump Should Be Removed from Office” Mark Galli: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html
“Nearly 200 evangelical leaders slam Christianity Today for questioning their Christian witness” Melissa Barnhart: https://www.christianpost.com/news/nearly-200-evangelical-leaders-slam-christianity-today-for-questioning-their-christian-witness.html
“The selective outrage of Mark Galli & Christianity Today” Julie Roys: https://www.christianpost.com/voice/the-selective-outrage-of-mark-galli-christianity-today.html
Trump and Ukrainian President Phone Transcript: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Unclassified09.2019.pdf
Friend of the podcast and cold case detective, J. Warner Wallace, writes about the Gospel of Philip. Why is it that we find the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reliable, but not Philip?
Why Shouldn’t We Trust the Gospel of Philip?
Andrew Menkis writes a good article on how Jesus’ brief time on the cross could pay for an eternity of sin. When someone objects that Jesus couldn’t have paid the price for your sins unless he goes to hell forever, ask them why. Why must Jesus go to hell forever in order to have paid my price? Why does the passage of time matter so much? The objection doesn’t even make sense, but Menkis writes a good response.
Tom Gilson, editor at The Stream, writes about what it is like for God to exist outside of time and space. There are things about God that are beyond our comprehension, but if God exists, we should expect this to be the case.
Dr. Michael J. Kruger, a friend of the podcast, writes about the Apocryphal Gospels and why they are so popular among the media. He also gives a quick answer as to why the Apocryphal are not in the Bible. And no, it isn’t because of someone with arbitrary power.
Featured Image Credit: Kanye West Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella
It is not uncommon for a celebrity in our culture to have a “road to Damascus experience” and place their faith in Jesus. Plenty of examples come to mind, but as of late, none is more prominent than Kanye West.
I do not keep up much with pop culture, Kanye West, or the Kardashians for that matter. A family member told me that Kanye had always been a Christian and mentioned his faith in other albums. Whether he is experiencing revival or conversion, it is obvious that something has happened in Kanye’s life.
I listened to his new album “Jesus is King” and was pleasantly surprised by what sounded like the sincerity and passion of a believer. I don’t know why this was a “pleasant surprise.” I suppose I viewed Kanye based on the words of his previous music, which by his own admission, would be anything but Christ-exalting.
Also, I watched some of his recent interviews in which he publicly proclaims his faith. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the words he was speaking were biblically faithful. I’m used to seeing high-profile religious people tout religious cliches and bend toward the cultural climate of the day. However, in Kanye’s words, I couldn’t help but hear a biblical orthodoxy.
Call me naive, but I believed (and do believe) that Kanye is sincere. Could I know with absolute certainty? I do not know anyone’s motives with absolute certainty. I can only judge one’s motives based on one’s words and actions. And of course with Kanye, my knowledge is limited to only what is publicized by himself and others.
However, I do know what God’s word says. I find in the story of the prodigal son a lesson for us all. And the lesson might not be the one you are familiar with. Usually when you hear the prodigal son, you think of the love of a father, and how no one is too far beyond redemption. However, I would submit to you that this is not the main point of the parable. The main point, I would say, is directly applicable to how we view the conversions of others.
I’m sure you have heard it, but the parable basically goes like this: A father had two sons. The youngest son comes to the father and asks for his inheritance in advance. Pause. At the time and place in which Jesus was telling the parable, this would have been like saying to your father, “You are no used to me alive, I wish you were dead, just give me your money.” As if the money were owed to the son.
The father obliges and gives the money to the son. The length that parents will go for their children’s happiness. The son takes the money and squanders it on loose living. Imagine him going to Las Vegas or something and blowing it on strippers, drugs, and gambling.
When the well has run dry, the son is left with nothing. What is he to do? He ends up selling himself as a hired hand to a farmer. Starving, he resorts to eating with the pigs. Face down in whatever pigs eat, he comes to his senses. He decides to return home and beg his father’s forgiveness.
Before he can even reach the house, his father runs out to greet him and welcomes him home in a loving embrace. Once again, we see the unconditional love of a parent for a child. Not only this, but the father orders the fatted-calf killed and plans a large dinner party for the son’s return.
What a story. What a great story about God’s love for sinners, right? There’s only one problem: I’ve left out the most important part.
Context is Key
A wiseman once said that a text without a context is just a pretext. The context of Jesus’ parable is this: Jesus’ enemies, the Pharisees (religious leaders of the day), were complaining that a righteous man like Jesus would hangout with notorious sinners all the day long. How could he defile himself in such a way?! The Pharisees were far too “holy” to do such things. Didn’t Jesus know any better?
This complaining of the Pharisees launched Jesus into a series of parables which included the prodigal son narrative. In each parable, something is lost that is found, and an invitation is given to rejoice in the finding of the thing lost. Keyword: rejoice.
At the end of the prodigal son parable we find the eldest son, who did not leave or squander his inheritance, grumbling at the return of his brother. He is indignant that his father would praise his younger brother after what he did. Not only that, but his father was hosting a party for this scoundrel, something he had never done for him despite his undying loyalty.
Does the elder son sound like anyone else? The Pharisees. Given the context in which Jesus was telling this parable, it becomes clear that the story is actually about the oldest brother more so than the youngest, or the father for that matter. The whole point was that the inheritance is the father’s to give, who was the oldest son to complain about the grace shown to the youngest son? The correct response was to rejoice, for what had been lost was now found.
Rejoicing with Kanye
It is not for us to decide if Kanye is sincere in his faith. Is there a chance that he has an ulterior motive? I guess, but that does not concern me. What concerns me is my own motives. I do not wish to be caught as a Pharisee as God rains out his love, mercy, and grace on sinners. I want to rejoice with those who publicly declare, “Jesus is King!”
I hope you will do the same.
Talking with someone who is objecting to your Christian beliefs can be intimidating. We fear that we won’t be able to adequately answer the person’s objections and will look like a fool.
The intimidation and fear that a Christian feels is not unique. It is not as if Christians alone feel this way. Anyone whose beliefs (about any subject) are objected to will naturally feel this way.
In my (limited) experience, and having read books on the subject, I have found some useful tips for how to deal with such situations. I flatter myself as someone who knows a bit on the subject of Christian apologetics, but even if you don’t, I believe these tips will help you adequately deal with encountering objectors to your faith.
1) You are not Superman
Nobody knows everything, not even your objector. You should not feel obligated to know how to answer every objection. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to know as much as possible, but even if you spent every waking moment reading scholarly books and journal articles, there simply isn’t enough time to learn everything you would need to know in order to respond to every objection.
Likewise, remember that the success of Christendom does not rest on your shoulders. In some way, feeling as if it does is narcissistic. Christianity has lasted the trials of 2,000 years and will continue to do so if you blunder one conversation, even if that conversation is publicized. So, relax.
2) Ask the First Question
The first question you should ask any objector to your Christian faith is this: If Christianity were true and you could know it with 100% certainty, would you become a Christian?
Seems silly, right? Surely, any level-minded person would follow the truth wherever it leads. Not so. I was in dialogue with a well-known YouTube atheist recently and I asked him this very question. His response was, “If Christianity were true, I would have to reject it.”
In fairness he said this because he does not want to live forever. He would rather be annihilated than live eternally with God. He said if an eternal hell were his only other option that he might have to become a follower of Jesus.
The point is this: you may have lost the conversation before it ever began. Not all skeptics are rejecting Christianity because they find it hard to believe, though many do. And even if they became convinced in their minds, their hearts would not necessarily follow. Sometimes, all we can really do is share the gospel and pray. After all, it is God who saves, not us.
If someone answers the way that my skeptical friend did, there just simply isn’t much we can offer them. What could I say? If he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t want it. There are plenty of people who do want it and we should focus our efforts there. That may sound harsh, but time is precious and we cannot waste our efforts.
3) Ask More Questions
I’ve come to believe that a lot of times you don’t even have to have answers. You just have to have questions. That may sound strange, but consider that most people have not given much thought to why they believe what they believe, including non-religious people.
I recently spoke with author Greg Koukl about this. He has seen much fruit in his ministry simply by asking pointed questions. There are two important questions that you should ask repeatedly: (1) What do you mean by that? and (2) How do you know that?
The first question is about defining terms. Often times we speak past each other, getting nowhere in our conversations, because we are not talking about the same thing even if we are using the same words. The problem is that we do not agree on the definitions of the words we are using. Think about the word “fetus” in the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. One side sees a human child and the other sees a clump of cells. This difference must be settled before the conversation can go anywhere.
The second question is about evidence and reason. If some one says “In this scientific age, we know miracles don’t happen,” I want to know how science has shown that. What scientific experiment has shown miracles to be impossible, or even improbable? I also want to know what the person means by “miracle,” how do they define the word?
By asking questions, you are shifting the burden. Now, it is on your objector to give a reason for what they believe and why they believe it. Take the stress off of yourself and just ask questions.
4) Don’t Get Sidetracked
It is not uncommon to be asked questions by skeptics like “Do you really think God flooded the whole earth and Noah survived on a boat?” “Aren’t there numerous errors and contradictions in the Bible?” And of course, everyone’s favorite, “What about dinosaurs?”
Here’s a thought: Who cares? What do the majority of these silly questions have to do with anything? Nothing. They are red herrings that distract from what really matters. What really matters? With respect to our skeptical friends, God’s existence and the Resurrection. If God exists and Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. Everything else can be worked out. Everything else is secondary. If the objection does not directly relate to these two subjects, feel free to disregard it, or even cede the point.
I do this with the “The Bible has contradictions” objection. I believe in the innerancy of Scripture, but even if it were true that the Bible contained contradictions, that wouldn’t mean that God does not exist, or that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Not even close.
5) Be humble
The last thing we need is another pretentious know-it-all apologist. We are not called to win arguments in a spirit of superiority. We are called to win people to Christ in a spirit of love and truth. Our character matters just as much as (if not more than) our argumentation. In fact, sometimes a humble life lived in servitude to Jesus is the strongest apologetic we can give.
Talking with objectors to your faith can be intimidating, especially for an introvert. However, there is nothing to be afraid of. Remember: the fate of Christianity does not rest on your shoulders, try to ask as many questions as possible, don’t get sidetracked, and stay humble. I think you will find your conversations less stressful.