Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Seven Honest Questions Regarding Christianity: A Challenge

Recently I challenged my friends and acquaintances, those who are skeptics, agnostics, non-religious and so on to raise their best questions regarding the Christian faith. I asked them to raise honest questions, questions that if answered would possibly clear the road for them to believe.

I indicated that I would attempt to the best of my ability to answer those questions from the Christian worldview. These are the questions raised, and the answers provided by this one Christian. Don't expect perfection, I don't know everything, but I've done my best to provide answers that will be intellectually satisfying and philosophically meaningful.

I'd like to thank everyone that participated. I was very pleased with the thoughtful questions given.

Question One:
If God made us who made God?
Question raised by Mark W.

This is an age old question, debated by skeptics, theologians and philosophers. Everything has a cause. Everything we know of, seems to have been made by something else. I was born because of my parents. A tree grows because an acorn falls from another tree, digs into the dirt, and begins to grow up. But the answer to this question is simple: There has to be something at the very beginning of time, space, and reality without a cause. Or whose cause is within itself. Many scientists hoped and believed that perhaps the universe itself could be the past-eternal uncaused reality. But scientists have since discovered that the universe most certainly did begin to exist in the finite past (the big bang theory.)

A Christian would say "God is the eternal first cause." That is not an intellectually satisfying answer it seems. But the truth is, that isn't an answer off the top of anybody's head. It's been in the Bible for over two thousand years. Even before man had considered the necessity of a single infinite eternal first cause, the Bible had already said that God was the eternal first cause. "He is from everlasting to everlasting" (Psalm 90:2).

Are we willing to admit that something like eternity is beyond our full ability to comprehend? We must certainly admit that there are some things in life that will be beyond us.

Ultimately, the question "Who made God?" is a fallacy, because it assumes God could have a cause. If God could be caused by something else, say a greater god, or a greater force, then God wouldn't be God. God is by definition, timeless, omnipotent, and eternal.

In conclusion, I would simply say that we cannot have an infinite regression regarding a first cause. There must be a single, uncaused first cause, and it will either be God or the universe. Since science has shown that the universe is finite in the past, having come into existence at the moment of the big bang, this shows that the most likely uncaused first cause is God. I hope that helps.

Additional Responses by leading Christian Apologists:

Question Two:
I was a Christian my whole life until about 3 years ago. I got more and more into science which made me question faith. One question I can't figure out is why people pray? If God has a master plan for everyone, what good is praying for someone as that would only seem to be trying to change God's mind regarding his divine plan?
Question raised by Paul S.

Science and faith is an interesting topic. Though many modern scientists like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Lawrence Krauss tend to be more atheistic, it's interesting that many great scientists from the history of the discipline were actually Christians. Or at least deists (believe in some sort of God). Some of the notable believers include Galileo, Newton, Pascal, Bacon, Einstein, and today people like Francis Collins and Michael Behe. Or as Francis Bacon said, the first sip of the glass of science may lead to atheism, but at the bottom of the cup God is waiting for you. The more scientists study earth, nature, and the universe the more they discover the grand order and design behind it all. This order and design tends to lend evidence toward an intelligent designer, and diminish the possibility of random evolutionary processes, given the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy).

As far as the question of prayer; it's a good question. Given the fact that God foreordains the future, and he knows and plans all of reality, why should prayer be necessary? Why pray about anything when God has already foreordained all things?

I think the answer to that question is choice. From my perspective, God may have set up the rules and regulations of the system, but he gives us the freedom to choose. I tend to believe that God foreknows my future free actions (an Armenian perspective) while some would say that God foreordains all future actions, and therefore there is no choice (a Calvinist perspective). I think that freedom and choice are taught constantly in the scripture. God asks us to choose now whom we will serve and what we will do. God may foreknow my future actions. But that doesn't really matter. Ultimately I still make the choice whether I'm going to pray or not. And if I pray, God responds in the now. Even if God already knew that He would in the future respond to my prayer, and perhaps that was already part of his plan, from my perspective, I've made the free choice to pray and in the now, He has answered (or not answered.) Ultimately my prayers do matter then. Maybe God knew I would pray. But it doesn't really matter from my perspective. From my perspective, I prayed, and God answered. From my view it looks like he changed his sovereign plan to accommodate my prayer. But maybe from His view, he knew what I would do. Either way, my prayer has made a real difference.

Additional Responses by leading Christian Apologists:

Question Three:
How is it (Christianity) any different than the myths before?
Question raised by Chris H.

That is an excellent question. Before I became a Christian, especially during my upbringing as a rebellious Catholic I argued with my priest at the time making this very case. How is Christianity any different than ancient Greek gods? How is it any different than ancient Norse religions or native american beliefs? Why shouldn't we simply reject Christianity as a bygone mythos?

Well I would say that Christianity is fundamentally different than Greek myths, pagan gods, or other ancient myths. Why? For three reasons: The Bible is a historically reliable book. Meaning, the Bible matches with historical records. The Bible says there was a nation called Babylon, historians discovered that was true. The Bible says the Roman empire controlled Israel during the time of Jesus, and that's also true. The Bible talks about philistines, Greece, Macedonia, Persia, Media, Asia minor, and all these regions and civilizations that historians have discovered did exist. In addition, the Bible has constantly been supported by archaeological discoveries. Just to name a few examples, Pontius Pilate the Bible says was in charge of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, archaeologists found evidence of this. The emperor at that time, Augustus, mentioned in the Bible, archaeologists found a bust of him in the sea. I have a book at home called Lost Treasures of the Bible that cites hundreds of archaeological finds that correlate to the biblical narrative. In addition, we know that Jesus Christ certainly existed. He was no myth. People argue whether he was God, but he certainly existed. In fact the Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition devotes 20,000 words to the life and works of Jesus Christ and never once suggests that he didn't exist.

Past myths have died out because they were just that, myths. The Bible and Christian faith are fundamentally different, which is why they endure to this day, and the Bible is the single top selling book in human history, and secondly, the Pilgrim's Progress a book about living the Christian life. I firmly believe all this skepticism is thrown up at the Bible because it challenges us as humans to live radically differently from how we desire. Yet the Bible has stood the test of time and logical inquiry. I hope that helps!

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Question Four:
Every Christian must accept Jesus' sacrifice on the cross in order to go to heaven. What about those people who have never heard of Jesus?
Question raised by Denise H.

This is a very, very good question. In fact it's one I've pondered about a great deal. I know of two responses given by two sides of a theological debate (Armenian-leaning and Calvinist) The Calvinist would say that if someone never hears of Jesus, the fundamental issue is still sin. They aren't judged because they never of Jesus, but because of their sin. But they would also probably add, that if there are people out there in tribes in the wilderness, who would be able to believe in Jesus, then somehow a missionary, or a Bible would find their way into that persons hands and heart. Essentially, if there are people out there who can believe in Jesus, and would choose to, then God would find a way to reach them. More Armenian leaning theologians would say that it's most likely that if someone never hears the gospel and is never offered the chance of salvation, then after they did, there would be an intermediate moment where Jesus would come to them, after death, and offer them eternal salvation through him. So a post-death interview of sorts with Jesus, to see if they want salvation (of course they would still have the option of rejecting that gift).

But it's interesting that in the middle-east right now there is a sort of revolution taking place. In many of those Muslim-majority countries, the gospel can't get in, Bibles are banned, and what you see happening more and more is these Muslims have dreams where they see Jesus, and Jesus tells them to go to a certain place, and be there at a certain time. And when they arrive, a Christian meets them there. I'm not making that up, this is being documented more and more. Google it.

So the best answer I can give is, that God finds a way. But I think another good answer is this, when Ted Cruz's father came to a pastor and argued with him and asked him "What about those in tribes in the jungle who never heard about Jesus?" And the pastor wisely responded: "I don't know about the tribal person in the jungles, but you've heard about Jesus. What's your excuse?" We have heard. What will we do?

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Question Five:
What about those dinosaurs? Seems to me that it would take a pretty sick sense of humor to stick a bunch of animal bones into the ground that "never existed."

Why can't science and Christianity coincide? Isn't it possible that human error occurred in the writing of, rewriting of or translation of the original texts when speaking of creation and the age of the world? Religion has always had political affiliations so isn't it possible in the rewritings that the original message had been perverted or changed entirely to suit the needs of that government?
Question rasied by Holly N.

Very good questions. I would simply submit that I don’t know any Christians that think dinosaurs didn’t exist. The Bible doesn’t specifically mention dinosaurs. But it doesn’t mention, many insects, plants, or animals. It’s not a book of science, but a historical, prophetical book regarding God’s plan of salvation and redemption for humanity.

I think science and Christianity do coincide quite well. The media and secular world tends to push this narrative of “science vs. religion.” But I think it’s a false dichotomy. Science and religion walk hand in hand. Science helps us analyze the physical world, religion helps us understand the spiritual world. The physical world requires a spiritual world. The spiritual world requires a physical world. They function quite well together. In fact the first scientists were Christians, Galileo, Newton, and Bacon to name a few. Einstein believed in a deistic god. Only in the last fifty years have many scientists turned to atheism. Though even today many scientists are Christians, like Dr. Francis Collins.

Your next question had to do with the possible rewriting of the scriptures, that they may have been changed. And you asked about the age of the earth and creation, and the idea that the word could’ve been changed due to political affiliations. Well there is a lot there to answer. But I’d begin by saying that originally the Bible, the Old Testament and New Testament were recorded in Hebrew (OT) and ancient Greek (NT). Hebrew was the language of Israel, Greek the language of the middle-east region during the time of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. We have OT and NT documents dated all the way back to within 50 years of the actual events. And we have documents recorded and re-recorded throughout human history of the Bible. How we know that the biblical manuscripts haven’t been changed is that we compare the ancient documents to one another, the original copies, to the later copies, to the recordings of the church fathers, and on the recordings of the bishops during the Roman empire, on and on, to know that the documents have not been changed. An incredible discovery also was that of the dead sea scrolls recently. They contained biblical documents from the ancient era, and historians compared those dead sea scrolls, untouched for thousands of years, to the documents we have today, and they matched.

As far as the age of the earth, there is a debate within modern Christianity about the age of the Earth. People like William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, John Lennox, and Hugh Ross would defend the common view today that the Earth is about 4.543 billion years old. They would suggest that God perhaps created the lower lifeforms at the event scientists called “the Cambrian explosion.” Or they might suggest that God used evolutionary processes to bring about the human form (guided evolution.) Others like Ken Ham, Albert Mohler, David DeWitt, and Henry Morris would say that the scientific evidence supports a young earth view. They would defend the view of the age of the Earth being about 6,000 years old. Either way, I think there is good evidence for both positions. Both positions rely on presuppositions, one on uniformitarianism and the other on catastrophism. There really isn’t any way to know which view of earth history is correct. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters too much. But it’s certainly quite fascinating.

And finally, your question that couldn’t political affiliations caused the original documents to be changed. Well it is true that after 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity within the Roman empire and became the official state religion. This led to a great deal of corruption with the bishops and eventually the popes.

But what’s interesting as far as what happened was this: Your exactly right, the message was corrupted for government means and more so, for means of enriching the popes and pontiffs. But we have to ask ourselves how did they do that? They made it illegal for common people to read the Bible! And they wrote up all these doctrines and teachings that were not supported by the Bible. At the height of this practice the Roman catholic church would sell “indulgences” to the people and in return the people would pay for these indulgences and have their sins and the sins of their dead relatives paid for! What a disturbing practice! But the thing is, that isn’t in the Bible.

And what happened was eventually one man came along named Martin Luther. He was struggling monk, who couldn’t understand God’s love and forgiveness. But then he actually read the Bible. And he did something terrible to the prevailing leaders. He translated the Bible into German! And he nailed the 95 Theses to the church doors in Wittenberg. Essentially Martin Luther was saying that indulgences were wrong, there is no purgatory, and the Bible should be the only means of understanding God’s word, not the doctrines and teachings of men and popes. This caused a massive reformation, which spawned the protestant movement worldwide. I’m a protestant today. Today there are Catholics and Protestants. Catholics still require today that their church members may not read the Bible. Protestants constantly encourage their members to read the word, and so be saved.

In conclusion I think we can trust the original biblical documents because for the first 300 years of their distribution in the Roman empire they were illegal. Christians were persecuted and martyred in the Roman empire for many years. Many of us have heard of Emperor Nero, fiddling as Rome burned, and then blaming it on the Christians. The original biblical documents were a revolutionary, counter-cultural movement that made governments angry. But the danger is always there for a government or entity to pervert the Bible and use it for personal gain or to control people. But what’s interesting today is that as often as people suggest that the Bible is the “opiate of the masses” there are actually about 50 countries where it is illegal to possess a Bible. I hope that helps. But read the Bible for yourself, trust it, and test the words of others, preachers included, against the word of God!

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Question Six:
Why are some Christians hypocrites? They claim to go by Jesus's saying "Judge not, Lest you be Judged" but then they turn around and start judging and condemning people like homosexuals saying they're going to hell and all that stuff. I don't agree with homosexuality, but I don't like those "hypocritical Christians" telling me not to associate with them. I'm not gay but I have a lot of gay friends and I don't want to give up their friendship.
Question raised by Michaela R.

The short answer to this question is that you should continue to befriend and have relationship with non-believers, including those who practice homosexuality. I would simply caution you to be careful to not slip into temptation as well. Jesus Christ did indeed teach us not to judge and condemn our neighbors. But we are called to discern and use wisdom to understand the times.

I believe that the Bible teaches that the practice of homosexuality is sinful. That is a fundamental, basic teaching of the Bible (Romans 1:26-27, 1st Corinthians 6:9, Leviticus 18:22). But I can still love the person who practices it. I can still be friends with a person who practices it. I can still support and encourage someone who practices it. I’ve had and do have friends who are homosexual. They know I don’t support the practice. But I still love them. We can disagree, and still love one another.

So in conclusion, don’t give up those friendships. But be wise in where you go and what you do. Use wisdom to discern the times, but don’t condemn others. Relationship and friendship is vital. Many would repent and turn to Christ if we would simply love them and support them. I participated in a church that had a storefront right next to a gay bar. It was awesome, on Saturday nights the people from the gay bar would come over and have coffee, and we would talk to them and love them. Many of them ended up joining the church and giving up homosexuality all together. It was a blessing. As far as Christians being hypocrites, there will always be hypocrites in the church. God allows the wheat and the weeds to grow together for now (Matthew 13:24-30). We shouldn’t try to uproot the weeds, because we may also accidently uproot the wheat. The wheat are the true Christians, the weeds are the false. I’d encourage you to always look to Jesus Christ. He is the only perfect one. The church is a hospital for sinners not a club for saints. If you look to other Christians you’ll be disappointed, if you look to Jesus you’ll be filled with joy. Thank you, great question.

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Question Seven:
How do you deal with hypocrisy within Christianity itself without becoming disillusioned or cynical?
Question raised by Janet H.

Excellent question. I’ve personally struggled with this issue myself. When I first got saved and joined the churches in my area I was expecting to find an army of saints marching into the community serving those in need and carrying the gospel. What I found was quite different. There were some who did just that, but it seemed like so many other struggled with sin, judged and condemned others, didn’t really believe the message, and others outright just pretended to be Christians but were really just serving themselves. To make matters worse I turned on television to see preachers preaching prosperity gospel, other preachers marching around stage hitting people with jackets, and still others bubbling from the mouth and wreathing on the ground “smitten by the spirit” or some such nonsense. I saw many dead churches. I saw youth groups full of sexual sin. I saw people not practicing what they preached. I saw arrogance and conceit in the pulpit and by worship leaders. I saw many “Christian rock” bands which seemed to be all about vague, corny songs and seemed to be all about making money, not Jesus. I saw conferences, but not much disciplemaking, I saw flawed people, and I saw burn out on a mass scale. It was so tough at first.

Honestly today I see myself as a man on a mission. I had to make up my mind to ignore the failings of others, and walk my mission of carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t look to other Christians or Christian leaders for perfection anymore. I know they are redeemed sinners just like me. When I get discouraged, I turn to the Bible, and I look to the life of Jesus Christ. I look to God, not other people. But it’s still tough to see so many who are getting wrong, and abusing the message. Part of you wants to grab them by the scruff of the neck and shake them until they repent. But we all know that wouldn’t do any good. People have free choices to make, and so do I. Honestly, I make mistakes all the time. I’m sure some have looked to me and seen hypocrisy. Very early on as a Christian I still smoked cigarettes! Can you imagine seeing a guy professing to be a Christian puffing on smokes in his car before the bible study? But you know what, early on in my first year I was recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction. So I took it one thing at a time. But a year later, I quit smoking too. Others might’ve seen me and been discouraged, but God knew that he was orchestrating a mighty victory in my life, one step at a time. So we shouldn’t try to judge or condemn others Christians. We can discern what they’re doing, and lead people to the true message. But the Christian message has always been a message coming from the outskirts, from the rejects, from the least of these, today in America we have to be the John the Baptist’s proclaiming the true message in the wild. When other Christians fall short, look to Jesus.

And even in ministry, where I serve, I was hoping for something so grand in my life, seeing hundreds of lives changed, seeing great awakenings and revivals. But that hasn’t been my story so far. And I let that discourage me at times. But the truth is we serve where God wants us, and we leave the results to him. And the truth is many of the greats had to prove themselves, that they could serve for years in small communities before they had the opportunity to cause wide-scale changes. Billy Graham started in one small church. And honestly, even if I never do huge, great things, or lead great revivals, it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m trustworthy and continue to do ministry, to preach the gospel through my whole life, then I’ve done what’s been asked of me. So I look to Jesus, not others, recognize my own shortcomings, keep my hope in God’s eternity, serve in and out of season, and leave the results to God’s Spirit. I hope that helps, thanks!

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Final Words:
In closing I would like to encourage everyone to keep asking the hard questions. But also recognize that no one person is going to have all the answers. But I really do believe that there are good answers to the questions we raise. I would encourage those reading to continue to explore resources, books, Youtube sermons and college speakers.

I know I was discouraged from asking questions by those in ministry. Well from one who is in ministry now, I encourage you: Keep asking questions! Keep seeking this mysterious God! Keep inquiring. I encourage you to continue in your search and journey with these topics. Here are some great organizations to check out further:

Related Posts:
1. How do I become a Christian?
2. What is the Gospel?
3. Does man need God in Western Civilization
4. Seven Objections to the Bible and Seven Reasonable Responses
5. 10 Answers to Common Questions Raised by Skeptics
6. Secular Views vs. Christian Truth
7. The Power of Love in Western Culture
8. Outlook for a Revived American Christianity
9. Questions on Salvation and God
10. Processing the Past and Being Restored