Monday, September 30, 2013

The Questions of Life, Part 1

“In sepulchral black and red, the cover of Time magazine dated April 8, 1966—Good Friday—introduced millions of readers to existential anguish with the question Is God Dead? If he was, the likely culprit was science, whose triumph was deemed so complete that ‘what cannot be known [by scientific methods] seems uninteresting, unreal.’ Nobody would write such an article now, in an era of round-the-clock televangelism and official presidential displays of Christian piety. ... What was dying in 1966 was a well-meaning but arid theology born of rationalism: a wavering trumpet call for ethical behavior, a search for meaning in a letter to the editor in favor of civil rights. What would be born in its stead, in a cycle of renewal that has played itself out many times since the Temple of Solomon, was a passion for an immediate, transcendent experience of God.” —journalist Jerry Adler

We live in an odd time. You know something doesn’t add up when a mere click of the television remote separates Pat Robertson, Howard Stern, SpongeBob SquarePants and South Park (now on network TV, of course). In our post-Nipplegate world, secular and non-secular critics alike note a decline in our nation’s morals, while conservative activist groups and concerned parents can be heard louder than ever. At the same time, Internet pornography continues to expand to a multi-billion dollar business, and audiences faithfully flock to the latest $100 million-earning sex comedy or horror flick.

Philosophers have dubbed our era a postmodern one in which relativism reigns supreme. Whatever works for you, man. Whatever floats your boat. (Which I guess explains the moral dichotomies in action.) To a degree, this seems hard to believe given the supposed rise in spiritualism or, as Jerry Adler calls it, the “era of round-the-clock televangelism.” Almost 80 percent of all Americans describe themselves as “spiritual.” The same number believes the universe was created by God. Two-thirds say they pray every day. Eighty-five percent consider themselves Christian.

Yet under the thin surface of religiosity lies a mess—at least when it comes to Christianity. Only 45 percent of those who profess to be Christian attend worship services weekly—only a percentage point different than in 1966, when God was declared dead. Almost 70 percent of evangelicals believe there is more than one way to salvation. The same percentage of incoming freshman at Christian colleges say there are no moral absolutes. And 84 percent of those collegians are unable to explain basic Christian beliefs.

Grabbing a Life Preserver

Clearly, something is wrong. Either we’re not grasping basic biblical truths or we’re redefining what it means to follow Jesus Christ. My hunch is that it’s a little bit of both. Capsized by the cultural wave that says there’s no such thing as absolutes and that ultimate truth is relative, we’re sprawling for anything to get us back on solid ground. The result is that we grab hold of whatever seems to work for the time being and, in the meantime, create a piecemeal version of true Christianity.

This book is an attempt to get you back to land. By answering 10 of the most frequently posed (and most challenging, mind you) objections concerning Christianity, my hope is that you’ll find yourself standing on the newfound, unshakeable ground of a truly biblical faith. But be warned: Doing so will always set you apart from the crowd. Today there is tremendous pressure to buy into the principle that all systems of belief may be true at the same time. It’s reminiscent of a fascinating but disturbing experiment conducted more than 50 years ago by psychologist Solomon Asch.

In the experiment, several people were shown a pair of cards with vertical lines on them. One card had a single line on it; the other had three lines of different lengths. While showing the cards, the experimenter asked each person around the table, one after another, to identify which of the three lines on the second card matched the length of the line on the first. Unknown to the participant who sat in the next-to-last seat, all the other participants were shills—they’d been instructed ahead of time to unanimously give the wrong answer. Each time the pair of cards was shown, they all picked the same wrong line.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t a difficult test. The correct answer was obvious. Yet 74 percent of the time the average subject (the lone real participant) went along with the group and answered incorrectly at least once. What’s more, even when they didn’t conform, subjects were noticeably anguished in their decision-making process. (Photos taken during the experiment document how hard it was to go against the group.)

Today, Christians are much like the subjects in Asch’s experiments. Academically, morally, socially and emotionally, we’re at odds with most of our peers. We know which line is right, but saying so means bucking the status quo. We may be challenged by others on a daily basis in the workplace, on a university campus, during a high school biology class or even while watching our kids play at the playground. And standing up against the societal tidal waves of immorality isn’t easy. In fact, claiming to believe in the absolute truths of God in today’s world is more challenging than anything Asch’s subjects faced. At least in his study the answer was always clear!

Scholar and apologist R.C. Sproul was once asked, “What is the difference between the Christian God and the gods of other religions?” In his simple yet profound answer, Sproul pointed out that the main difference is this: The God of Christianity exists.

A Fight for the Truth

The truth—with a capital T—calls us to contest. Your faith isn’t about being nice and obliging to whatever culture tells us is right. It’s about standing strong, holding fast to a bigger truth. But to do so requires something deeper than head knowledge or tradition. You don’t willingly stand in the face of an oncoming moral tsunami just because your parents said you should, or because it’s the “good” thing to do, or even because that’s what you’ve been taught your whole life. It takes believing in something whole-heartedly to risk that kind of confrontation and persecution. And ultimately, that requires knowing why you believe what you believe.

That’s what this book is all about. Discovering (or maybe just solidifying) the reason behind your faith.

One night not too long ago my wife, Angie, and I went to the opera. I’m not much of a fan of large ladies caked in makeup with wigs singing in a foreign language, but this was different. A friend of ours, Deborah Fields, is a mezzo-soprano from New York and had the lead role in a production called Suzannah. We were there to support her.

“Just settle down and enjoy this,” Angie said, knowing full well that I wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming two hours of high-brow art. I nodded half-heartedly and slouched in my seat like a little kid. Who signed me up for this, anyway?

The truth is, I didn’t fall asleep. In fact, there was even a moment that caused me to sit straight up. Suzannah is the gripping story of a woman falsely accused of murder. Throughout the opera, she defends her innocence and pleads for justice. And as the story reaches a climax, an exasperated Suzannah cries out to the night sky, “The truth sure has to fight hard to get believed!”

That line alone made my trip worth it. I could relate to her exasperation, having attempted to uphold the truth on a daily basis for more than 15 years. The fact is, the truth does have to fight hard these days. It’s being attacked from all sides. It’s regularly assaulted from those claiming it to be mere “religious belief.” Think about it: How many times have you heard someone say, “Well that may be fine for you, but ...”

Here’s where the rubber hits the road. We are defenders of the ultimate truth. If we believe God is who He says He is, then His words are true. They are the truth, not some here-today, gone-tomorrow fad of thought. And that’s exactly why God asks us to be defenders of His Word, the eternal truth. He’s instructed us to be ready to defend our faith, to answer the questions of why we believe what we believe. In short, we’re called to apologetics.


Apologetics is just a fancy word to describe the reasons for what you believe. If you’ve ever witnessed to an unbeliever, you’ve undoubtedly used apologetics to explain your beliefs. Most likely, you’ve also heard a few objections to your message. Maybe one of your listeners argued that the Bible contains errors. Another person might have questioned how a loving God (if He even exists) could allow massive tragedies such as tsunamis, hurricanes or even human genocide to wipe out innocent people. All of these objections pave the way for an explanation of the Christian faith, which is essentially what apologetics is.

By definition, apologetics simply means “a defense.” The word is used several times in the New Testament, often when Paul was defending his beliefs before a challenging crowd. Like Paul, when we “do” apologetics, we are defending what we believe by showing that the content of the gospel is “backed up” by both evidence and sound reasoning.

I mentioned 1 Peter 3:15 before, the verse that encourages believers to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” The NIV translation uses the word answer in place of defense. In the original Greek language, these words, along with reason, imply an “analysis,” a “consideration of one’s position,” and the “defense of a conclusion.” In addition to being used in the context of Paul confronting his critics, the term is repeated in Jude 3 to encourage believers to earnestly “contend” (stand up for) the faith. Whether we’re simply answering someone or staunchly defending ourselves from an aggressive line of accusations, the point is that we’re to be prepared to “back up” our beliefs.

Is Apologetics Really in the Bible?
Apologetics isn’t just a term made up after the Bible was written. The original Greek word from which we get the English term apologetics can be found in the following New Testament verses:

• Acts 22:1; 25:16
• 1 Corinthians 9:3
• 2 Corinthians 7:11
• Philippians 1:7, 16-17
• 2 Timothy 4:16
• 1 Peter 3:15

An Opposing World

This isn’t always easy in a world that openly rejects God. The America of today isn’t the same as it was just a generation or two ago. Despite the so-called rise of “evangelical Christiandom,” we as a society have unmistakably moved away from our Judeo-Christian roots and into a world characterized by relativism and corruption. History says we’ve passed through our infatuation with romanticism and modernism, and since neither could provide solid answers to life’s bigger questions, we’ve turned to postmodernism. So how does postmodernism answer these questions? By simply concluding that no answers exist.

Don’t you wish we could use that line of logic for other things in life? “I wasn’t late to work, boss ... I just decided today that my job really didn’t exist—at least not until 10:30 A.M.” Keep that up and you’ll really find out whether your job exists or not.

According to postmodernists, claiming to have an absolute or right answer is both arrogant and intolerant. As a result, our Western society, which has bought postmodernism hook, line and sinker, is based on constantly shifting standards of right and wrong in which absolute truth is nonexistent. And as for those Christian freaks who have the nerve to say God is absolute and His ways are the ultimate truth? They’re just narrow-minded, intolerant and naive, now aren’t they?

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