Answering Tough Questions

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Building Bridges to Modern Culture
John Studebaker, Jr.

Are you reaching people for Christ in the 1990s? Of course, only the Holy Spirit is able to convert non-believers to Christ; but now, as you live your life in this so-called "Post-Christian America," are you able to give intelligent answers to the tough questions non-believers are now asking?

Francis Schaeffer said that our problem is not that we don't know the right theological answers, but that we don't know the questions!(1) The church of the 1950s and 60s rarely experienced obstacles when doing evangelism because most people believed in God and the Bible. But today if you tell many Americans that "God loves them," they're likely to respond, "Which God are you talking about?"

Francis Schaeffer said that our problem is not that we don't know the right theological answers, but that we don't know the questions! (1)

According to Richard Durant of Campus Crusade for Christ, "Today it is harder to get a hearing." Why? According to Durant, "Within the last 15 years, (evangelism) has been wrestling with the effects of the modern philosophies (of our culture). The results are less decisions for Christ and less people being discipled in the faith."(2)

So today, Christians must understand modern culture and modern philosophies if they hope to build bridges to that culture with the good news of Jesus Christ. Let's look together at five philosophies that reflect modern American culture - Atheism, Skepticism, Secularism, Postmodernism, and Religious Pluralism - and then at some of the key questions being asked by their adherents.

Questions from Atheists
The atheist holds that the physical universe is all that ever has or ever will exist. There is no such thing as God or a spiritual dimension. What questions might a modern atheist ask when confronted by a Christian?

"How can a rational person believe in miracles?"

This argument was made popular by 18th century philosopher David Hume, who held that the rational man should always believe what is most probable. And since miracles by definition are counter to probability, a rational man should never believe them!

You'd be surprised how many of your friends think this way. But there's an error in the assumption that probability is always the best test for truth. For example, what if your friend were to win the lottery? According to this argument, it would be irrational for you to believe your friend! See, believing in evidence is sometimes more rational than believing in probabilityþand in this case, that evidence is money in your friend's wallet!

"How can I believe in a God I cannot see?"

I used to ask this one myself! "Seeing is believing," right? This one, though, is not hard to answer. Ask your friend if he has seen everything! Does he possess all knowledge? When he says no, ask "What percent of all knowledge do you possess?" Perhaps he will say, "Less than 1 percent." Then ask, "Is it possible that the knowledge of God lies outside of your limited knowledge?"

Missionaries to Ecuador, for example, have been laughed at when attempting to explain the concept of "cubes of water" to the tribal people. This ridicule, of course, does not jeopardize the existence of ice. Likewise, the presupposition that one can actually know that God doesn't exist needs to be challenged. By doing so, you can usually convert an atheist into a skeptic.
Questions from Skeptics
Is your brain being controlled by an evil scientist? How do you know?

Skepticism was popularized by Rene Descartes in the 1700s and reasserted by Hilary Putnam in the 1980s. "Imagine," she said, "that you have been subjected to an operation by an evil scientist. Your brain has been removed from your body...and the nerve endings connected to a super-scientific computer which causes you to have the illusion that everything is perfectly normal."(3)

We laugh at such a scenario, but Putnam holds that since it is logically possible that you are now in such a predicament, you are not totally justified in believing that your thoughts are really your own! Therefore, ALL knowledge is under question.

Today we usually hear skepticism in everyday questions.

"How can you PROVE that Christianity is true?"

Here we are dealing with issues of "epistemology," which is the study of knowledge and our sources of knowledge. The skeptic only allows for one source of knowledgeþthat of "pure reason," or "100% proof." But this narrow approach itself is unreasonable! Why? The skeptic has left out other sources of knowledge, such as evidence.

For example, we do not have 100% certainty we'll get across the street alive. So why do we ever cross the street? Because the evidence seems very good that we can safely cross when there's no traffic. And the Christian holds that the evidence for God's existence is overwhelming!

"How can you know that the Bible is really true?"

Many "Christians" today have serious doubts that the Bible is the Word of God, but I think the root of their doubt also lies in skepticism. They hold that, since the Scriptures were written by other fallible men, we, therefore, cannot prove with 100% certainty that errors have not entered into the Bible. So, the Bible is not fully trustworthy.

A religious skeptic, though, needs to be taken back to the existence and character of God. Obviously man is fallibleþbut God, by definition, is infallible! Therefore the real question is thisþwho was ultimately guiding the inscription of the Bible? If it was God, would He not produce a Bible which corresponds to His infallible nature? Could He not do so while even allowing for the individual personality of the writers to come forth?

Once again we are dealing with epistemology. Are we only going to accept one source of knowledge when we think about God - that of human reason alone? What is so illogical about accepting Divine authority as another source? Or, could it be that we simply do not like submitting to His authority?
Questions from Secularists
Skepticism has been on the rise because the church has retreated from the battle for the American mind. We seem to have forgotten Peter's instructions in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always (be) ready to make a defense...for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, has described the results of our non-involvement, "At one time, when people had a question, they went to their pastor. That's no longer true. This is a culture that no longer even looks to Christianity for an answer."(4)

The church today needs to prepare herself again to face the intellectual battles of our culture. Perhaps the greatest battle we face is not with atheism or skepticism, but with the cultural outworkings of these philosophies into the most widespread philosophy of all: secularism.

The word "secular" originally meant "this present world or age." Even though God may exist, secular people live and think according to the here and now, not according to another world or dimension. (Another word for secularism is "modernism.") Secularism is probably the easiest philosophy for a Christian to buy into. We "live for the moment." We easily forget that "we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places" (Eph. 2:6).

Instead of buying in, we need to train our minds to recognize secularism and the tough questions it poses for Christians.

"Why do we even need God now that we have modern science?"

To answer this, realize that this is the voice of secular humanism. Secular humanists hold that man can solve all of his problems right now. There's no need to wait for a solution from God or theology because science and education will eventually solve all of man's problems. So if God even exists, He is irrelevant to our situation today. Because of this, humanists view religion as subjective (as a psychological crutch) and science as objective (or as the final authority for truth). Religion is something for highly emotional or insecure peopleþcertainly not for intelligent people. Science, though, is concrete, based on fact.

If we examine their argument, we see that just the opposite is true. Science itself is often a very subjective discipline. The interpretation of scientific data is almost always based upon one's own philosophy of life. One scientist examines the structure of the DNA molecule and concludes that only God could have created such a complex design, while another concludes that evolution is a wonderful thing!

Christianity, on the other hand, is ultimately based on a historical eventþthe resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is one of the most well-attested facts in history. Not only does the Bible record 500 people witnessing a resurrected Jesus, but the event was never even challenged by the Roman authorities.

So the only way to disprove Christianity would be by refuting the resurrection, but labelling Christianity as "subjective" is a misunderstanding of the central claim of the faithþthat Jesus actually rose from the dead at a particular time in history.

"Won't science eventually solve all of man's problems?"

The secular humanist holds that man will discover all truth through scientific testing. But wait and think about this "truth" itself. It cannot be proven through scientific testing!
Questions from Postmodernists
Who says there is such a thing as "truth" anyway? That seems to be the question of the 90s. Morals and values seem to be changing faster than the images on the MTV screen. Why is this?

To answer that, we need to examine the culprit behind this constant change: postmodernism. Here we have a new way of thinking for America, one that rejects all notions of truth. While secularists or "modernists" rejected God and trusted in man and science, postmodernists throw them all out. Now we are asked to make up our own realities, to follow the popular slogan "Choose your own lifestyle!"

Popularized in the "radical" 1960s, postmodernism is suddenly permeating all of society. Higher education has promoted postmodernism by instructing students to be more "open minded" to all sorts of ideasþexcept to the idea of absolute truth. Modern rock music portrays a world of random chaos. The group REM, for example, has a song entitled "I believe," which states, "I believe in coyotes. I believe my shirt is wearing thin. Change is what I believe in....I believe that my throat hurts...that practice make perfect, that perfect is a fault, and that faultlines change."(5)

If you are a Christian, a postmodernist might say to you, "Hey, since you choose a Christian lifestyle, why can't I choose the lifestyle that's right for me?" What would you say to that?

My postmodernist friends believe that any lifestyle will do because, in their minds, there are no absolutes truths. But that's their problemþthey DO believe in ONE absolute truthþnamely that there are no absolute truths! Now if you point this out to the postmodernist, they may try to find an escape route, probably by saying that there are only localized absolute truths, only cultural norms.

That's what a Ph.D. psychology student told me when we spoke recently. "Cultures or countries," he said, "have laws for their people that do not transcend their borders." I asked him if "Thou shall not murder" should be a universal law that everyone abide by. He said no, some cultures have justified murder for various reasons.

I asked him on what basis he could ever criticize the actions of Hitler. He got my point! Actually every culture has believed murder is wrong, some have just defined murder differently than others. In Hitler's case, he reclassified Jews as non-humans. In America, we reclassify the unborn as "fetal tissue."

Now if you're talking about Christianity, a postmodernist might come right out and ask, "What's in it for me?"

The postmodernist believes that personal power is the critical issue in life. This is why America and much of American Christianity is now about "empowerment." Non-believers are seeking power through special interest groups, and many Christians are seeking power through experience, rather than through the cross of Christ.

The answer to a "what's in it for me?" mindset is found in the unchanging love and truth of Jesus Christ. The development of postmodernism in America is really a symptom of a deeper problem - that Americans in general have lost their sense of personal identity. Jesus tells them that, in Him, they can get their selves back. As He said in Matthew 10:39, "he who loses his life for My sake shall find it."
Questions from Religious Pluralists
So why should a contemporary Christian in business or medicine be concerned with the philosophies of our culture? Simply because the battlegrounds have changed. The sort of intense philosophical battles once reserved for the intellectual elite have now spread to the homes and hospitals and bars and break-rooms of our nation.

Some of the toughest questions Christians face today actually come from their own church-attending friends. Many churches today have adopted a philosophy of religious pluralism, which simply says that "all roads lead to God," that the superficial differences between religions are greatly overshadowed by their similarities. I've found that religious pluralists more often than not have serious questions about Jesus Christ Himself. Perhaps the most common is:

"How can you say that Jesus is the ONLY way to God?"

This question seems to assume that it is always wrong to exclude other religions. But exclusivity really has nothing to do with right or wrong. For example, to say 2+2=4 is a very exclusivist statement! 2+2 does not equal 5.

Jesus Himself made several exclusive statements. One is found in John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me." The exclusivity of this statement, though, tells us nothing about its validity.

Actually, all of the various world religions make exclusive claims, in that they contradict other religionsþparticularly in their views of God. Christianity, for example, is trinitarian. Jews and Muslims are unitarians. Some Hindus are pantheists (all is God); others are polytheists (there are many gods). Buddhists are either polytheistic, pantheistic, or atheistic.

Simple logic tells us that all of these religions cannot be true. Which leads us to another common question asked by religious pluralists:

"Wasn't Jesus just a great moral teacher?"

Calling Jesus a great moral teacher is not an option He left open to us. In John 10:30þ32, Jesus says, "I and the Father are One." The Pharisees, who opposed Jesus at every turn, interpreted His statement as blasphemy. "You, being a man," they shouted, "make yourself out to be God!"

Jesus Christ claimed to be Godþeven his enemies knew that. Knowing that Jesus made this claim leaves us with only three options. The first option is that Jesus' claim was false, and that He knew it. Of course, this makes Jesus one of the greatest liars the world has ever seen, and a deceiver, in that He asked people to give up their lives for His lie.

The second option is that His claim was false, but He didn't know it. In other words, Jesus was sincerely deluded. Actually, He would have to have been either psychotic or possessed by a demon - on the same level as a David Koresh or a street-bum who claims divinity.

Obviously both of these options are ridiculous. The third option is that Jesus Christ told the truth, that He really is God and Lord of the Universe.

Religious pluralists are often willing to deny common logic to stand by their view. Only the character and attractiveness of Jesus Christ can penetrate that sort of shield. That is because the toughest question of our day is this: "Does Christianity really work today?" And in that light, the most important response to all of these questions of is a life that demonstrates the love and
integrity of Jesus Christ Himself. What an incredible privilege to represent His life and His truth in the world today!
Endnotes

1. Francis Schaeffer, _The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer_, vol. 1(Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1982) , p. 279.

2. Richard Durant, _Every Student Every Year: The Use of Media to Increase Evangelism in Campus Ministry_ (M.A. Thesis, International School of Theology), 1988.

3. Hilary Putnam, _Reason, Truth and History_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 5-6.

4. Doug LeBlanc, "Living in a Post-Christian Culture," _Moody Monthly_, June 1994, pp. 11-17.

5. "I Believe," _The Best of R.E.M._

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