Christianity is the only major faith built entirely around a single historical claim. It is, however, a claim quite unlike any other ever made, as any perceptive and scrupulous historian must recognize. Certainly it bears no resemblance to the vague fantasies of witless enthusiasts or to the cunning machinations of opportunistic charlatans. It is the report of men and women who had suffered the devastating defeat of their beloved master’s death, but who in a very short time were proclaiming an immediate experience of his living presence beyond the tomb, and who were, it seems, willing to suffer privation, imprisonment, torture, and death, rather than deny that experience.
David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale University Press, 2009), 11.
Just as many Christians are unaware of the Hindu origins of yoga (namaste means “the god within me bows to the god within you”), many are unaware of how popular Buddhist practices are infiltrating our vocabulary.
“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms, but go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.
You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become…Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”
C S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
A common response among Christians who encounter atheists or skeptics is to ask, “I wonder who hurt them that they would reject God?” This thought reveals a basic assumption that only trauma could possibly be the cause of unbelief. And certainly, some people who have experienced trauma have forsaken belief in God because they felt abandoned by God, or could not reconcile their suffering with an all-powerful, all-loving God.
The root cause of atheism and skepticism, however, is rebellion, not hurt. Romans 1:18 reminds us that the unbeliever knows God’s holiness and his own guilt, and in response chooses to suppress the truth of God he knows. Trauma may play a part in rejection of God, but it also drives many people to God, not away.
Many people, having encountered signifiant trauma, have sought explanations for what they have experienced. They try to make sense of the evil or pain they have experienced, and find in Jesus Christ one who was innocent, yet voluntarily suffered the greatest evil and suffered the righteous wrath of God against sin on our behalf. They find in Christ one who can comfort them in their suffering, and who gives them hope of restoration of all that has been broken.
Those who turn to God in suffering often intuitively know that if God does not exist there can be no meaning in their suffering, there will be no justice brought to evildoers, and sorting out their lives in light of the suffering is entirely up to them. What a hopeless state!
When encountering skeptics and atheists, therefore, ask questions to discover how she is suppressing truth, not why. The why has been explained for us in Scripture as rebellion–not wanting God to be real, Christianity to be true, their sin to render them guilty, Christ to be the only way, and future judgment just around the corner. The how happens in a thousand ways and is the key to challenging them with the truths of the gospel.
If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power and hatred…That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 94-5.
God does not call us to a life of shame but to a life of freedom as we move from awareness of our sinfulness to confession and repentance, to redemption and healing, to ministry and sanctification. Shame only offers the lie of worthlessness, and a sense of worthlessness creates fertile soil for the continued exercising of sexual brokenness.
William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (IVP, 2009),
Let us see what the religion of the present with its more realistic conception of life has to say about salvation. I have written in the book as follows: “Only that soul is saved which is worth saving, and the being worth saving is its salvation. Salvation is no magical hocus-pocus external to the reach and timbre of a man; it is the loyal union of a man with those values of life which have come within his ken.”
Whatever mixture of magic, fear, ritual, and adoration religion may have been in man’s early days upon this earth, it is now increasingly, and henceforth must be, that which concerns his contact with the duties and possibilities of life. Such salvation is an achievement which has personal and social conditions. It is not a label nor a lucky number for admission into another world, but something bought and paid for by effort. It is like character and education, for these are but special instances of it.
Philosopher Roy Sellars, The Next Step in Religion, 1918
G. K Chesterton:
The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again on trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of these orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, and a new sea.
“A Defense of Baby-Worship” in The Defendant (NY: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1902), 116.
Most skeptics I talk to think they operate completely without bias in their skepticism and agnosticism. They often demonstrate a startling lack of self-awareness of their assumptions. One hundred years ago, the British essayist G. K. Chesterton noted the frustrating contradiction of the skeptics arguments:
“I remember once arguing with an honest young atheist, who was very much shocked at my disputing some of the assumptions which were absolute sanctities to him (such as the quite unproved proposition of the independence of matter and the quite improbable proposition of its power to originate mind), and he at length fell back upon this question, which he delivered with an honourable heat of defiance and indignation: “Well, can you tell me any man of intellect, great in science or philosophy, who accepted the miraculous?” I said, “With pleasure. Descartes, Dr. Johnson, Newton, Faraday, Newman, Gladstone, Pasteur, Browning, Brunetiere—as many more as you please.” To which that quite admirable and idealistic young man made this astonishing reply—’Oh, but of course they had to say that; they were Christians.’
“First he challenged me to find a black swan, and then he ruled out all my swans because they were black. The fact that all these great intellects had come to the Christian view was somehow or other a proof either that they were not great intellects or that they had not really come to that view. The argument thus stood in a charmingly convenient form: ‘All men that count have come to my conclusion; for if they come to your conclusion they do not count.’“