Sunday, December 6, 2020

Racism and the Cross

“You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things.”

Seeking a path to peace

Pastor John Piper started his stirring “Don’t Waste Your Life” sermon, which was delivered to thousands of college students at the Passion Conference in 2000, with these powerful words. This challenging address had a profound impact on the lives of many young Christians, including my own, and I think the opening lines continue to be relevant in the current day. As people survey the current landscape of our country, I believe that there are many who want to make a difference in the world and help bring forth a more just, peaceful, and equitable nation and world. Regarding the topic of racism, I believe that there are many people who want to work towards a world free of racial inequality, injustice and animosity.

This series has been exploring the topic of racism from a Christian perspective, first unpacking the extensive Biblical teachings that undermine both personal and systemic forms of racism and then considering how an understanding of the gospel should cut the root of defensiveness and lead towards the freedom of being able to confess and repent when we have fallen short in the area of racism both individually and corporately. However, this series would not be complete if it did not offer a solution and a way forward.

I humbly admit that I do not know “a lot of things” when it comes to the topic of racism. Although I have lived, worked, and traveled in multicultural settings for over a decade, there are many things that I don’t know both intellectually and experientially. I certainly don’t pretend to know what it is like to be a racial minority in America, nor do I know the ins-and-outs of every policy or institution that might be relevant to this discussion. However, I do know one “great thing” that I believe has the power to address the problem of racism at its core – the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is “the gospel”?

A clarification of the definition of “the gospel” is needed before we dive in. The word gospel simply means “good news”, but like many words, I think that it is important to be specific and define our terms. Relevant to the discussion of racism, people may mean different things by words such as injustice, oppression, white supremacy and even the word racism, itself. Similarly, people might mean different things when they refer to “the gospel.” Some may refer to a general sense in which God is loving, gracious and accepting towards all people. Others may point to Jesus’ death as primarily a demonstration of sacrificial love meant to expose the dangers of political power and claims of absolute truth. Although this description is admittedly brief, my explanation of the gospel from a post on the Christian worldview hopefully gives clarity to how I am using the term.

God’s plan of salvation, which is foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, was accomplished through Jesus’ death by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. This good news, or gospel, forms the foundation of the Christian worldview. Entire books have been written to expand upon the depths of the gospel, but in short, the good news is the answer to the following question: How can sinful people have fellowship with a holy, just God? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and the just punishment for these transgressions is eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23). Yet, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). As a result, God demonstrates his justice in punishing sin through Christ’s atoning sacrifice and his mercy in forgiving sinners through faith (Romans 3:25-26). This free gift of salvation is available to all who “declare with [their] mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in [their] heart that God raised him from the dead.” (Romans 10:9). The Christian worldview is built upon the foundation of this good news.

Examining two paths forward

I want to be clear that racism is evil. Although we may not all agree on its definition, pervasiveness and various forms, there is general agreement across our nation that racism is a great moral plight. Yet, there is a whirlwind of voices leading the way forward, resulting in confusion about the role of the church in response to racial tension and injustice. I believe the church’s response must be rooted in proclaiming the hope and redemption that is found in the gospel. There are other voices providing different solutions and approaches. I believe that these perspectives largely come from a place of good intentions, seeking to address real problems, however, I believe that they lead to vastly different outcomes than a gospel-focused approach. For the sake of clarity, I will juxtapose the solution offered by the gospel against the general message being offered by the world (though I recognize that it is impossible to fully represent the range of different perspectives and solutions).

Two views of the problem

To understand a proposed solution, we must first understand the nature of the problem being addressed. I admit that I do not understand every aspect of racism and have not experienced racism as a minority, but I believe that racism in both personal and systemic forms is a symptom of a deeper-rooted disease: sin.

We must first understand that sin is fundamentally rebellion against God. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). We were created to love God with all of our hearts and to glorify him, but our nature, which we inherit from Adam (Romans 5:12), is to follow our passions and desires and to seek our own glory. This leads to vices such as hostility, strife, jealousy, rivalries, dissensions, and division (Galatians 5:20), which, when practiced on the basis of race, provide a pretty good definition of racism. That we do not do the good that we know we should do, but instead do that which we know we should not do (Romans 7:19), is a universal part of the human experience, even by those who would not label it as sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Our conscience reminds us of this reality. We all desperately need a savior.

There are competing ideologies that identify a different fundamental issue. The main problem is not the oppressive nature of our own sinful nature and rebellion against God, but the pervasive and persistent oppression of marginalized identity groups by dominant identity groups. This way of thinking divides people based on an array of different identities according to gender, sexual orientation, gender preference, physical ability, and of course, race. The oppressors in the dominant group will by nature oppress the marginalized group, not necessarily by committing unjust or cruel acts, but by wielding hegemonic power, or the ability to shape the cultural norms and values of society. With regards to racism, white Americans are the dominant group and whiteness is the ultimate disease that has plagued our country since its inception.

Two views of the solution

As in medicine, it is important that we correctly identify the underlying cause of an illness and not merely its symptoms. Worldly ideologies may make some correct observations about outward symptoms, such as racial hierarchies and power structures being used to justify the atrocities of slavery and Jim Crow, but if they do not correctly identify the underlying disease of sin, then they will not be able to offer a path that leads to lasting peace and reconciliation.

However, if we recognize that the foundational problem is the sinful and wicked heart of man, then we can point to the sufficient solution of the redemption, forgiveness, and transformation that comes through faith in Christ. God’s plan of salvations was prophesied centuries in advance. In the 7th century B.C, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). The Apostle Paul explains, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our initial healing is in our relationship with God. Though we were rebels and enemies of God, Christ died for us so that we might be cleansed from our sin and clothed with his righteousness, able to enjoy fellowship with a holy God. It is essential to understand that in order to be reconciled with each other, we must first be reconciled with our Creator.

Being reconciled to God through Christ transforms our heart and desires. Believers are encouraged to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24). Our right relationship with God enables us to pursue reconciliation with others and to put the needs of others above our own. We are to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [ourselves]” and to “look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).

This is not just an abstract, theological theory. The transformative power of the gospel led to reconciliation between groups of people who experienced ethnic tension that equaled if not surpassed that found between blacks and whites in America. Writing to a diverse church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote, “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off (Gentiles) have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both (Jews and Gentiles) one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” (Ephesians 2:13-15). In other words, Christ made a bridge between two hostile groups. Through a shared identity in Christ, there can be unity between drastically different people. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Having been reconciled first with God, we are able to pursue lasting peace and reconciliation with others that is built on the foundation of our shared identity as children of God and members of the body of Christ.

The solutions being offered by the world are much different, and I fear they will only lead to constant and increasing division, dissension and unrelenting guilt, as will be explained in a couple of paragraphs. In vague terms, the solution is to dismantle the power of the oppressor group and the scourge of white supremacy, which doesn’t necessarily mean confronting people in white hoods carrying Confederate flags, but can also mean de-normalizing “white values” such as “objective, rational linear thinking” or the belief that “hard work is the key to success”. I must admit that I am confused about how this practically looks in the real world, but there have been calls to action, such as movements to defund the police or to decolonize school curriculums. It seems that there has been much more focus on tearing down existing institutions and cultural norms, so I remain confused about the vision for the rebuilding effort.

This is not to say that we should not give a critical evaluation when certain racial groups are being inequitably served by public institutions or when there are disparities in education, health, housing, etc. For example, the achievement gap among racial groups in America has been pervasive and should lead to changes in educational funding and policy. However, I fear the current path of focusing on racial identity will only lead to a revolving struggle for innocence and an endless supply of guilt. The following passage from Kevin DeYoung’s article Thinking Theologically About Racial Tensions: Sin and Guilt articulately illustrates my concerns.

“I’m reminded of something I read in Shelby Steele’s remarkable book The Content of Our Character: ‘I think the racial struggle in America has always been primarily a struggle for innocence’ (5). According to Steele, one of America’s most honest and trenchant voices on these matters, both races understand that to lose innocence is to lose power, and given the way the racial debate has been fostered in this country, one’s innocence depends on the other’s guilt. Consequently, racial difference has become the currency of power. To maintain their innocence, ‘blacks sting whites with guilt, remind them of their racial past, accuse them of new and more subtle forms of racism.’ And in return whites try to retrieve their innocence by discrediting blacks and denying their difficulties, ‘for in this denial is the denial of their own guilt’ (145).

For whites, it can feel like redemption is always out of reach. If you don’t have animus in your heart, you have implicit bias that you can’t see. If you haven’t personally done anything against black people, other whites have, and you bear their shame. If you speak out, you should have listened. If you stay quiet, your silence is violence. If you do nothing tangible to counter injustice, that’s sinful indifference. Try to take the lead in fixing things, you may want to check your privilege. Your institution shouldn’t be all white, but it shouldn’t engage in tokenism. You should celebrate diversity, but without cultural appropriation. And any disagreement with the fundamental contours of this one-way conversation is just another manifestation of white fragility.

In other words: guilty, guilty, guilty.

And for blacks, it must feel like even the barest recognition of the ongoing effects of racism is a bridge too far for most whites. Because whites are often preoccupied with their search for innocence, they fail to muster even meager sympathy or understanding for black pain. If you want to talk about policing in America, we will bring up black homicide rates in Chicago. If you want to talk about criminal justice reform, we will mention the black abortion rate. And if that doesn’t adequately move the guilt from our shoulders to yours, we can always talk about our black friends, insist that we are color blind, or weaponize pull quotes from Thomas Sowell.

In other words: guilty, guilty, guilty.”

A few closing thoughts

Obviously, it would be foolish to deny that whites have caused far greater harm to blacks in America’s history. Yet, despite often good intentions to address real issues, I struggle to see how the current path of increasingly focusing in identity differences, not only racially but in a host of other areas, leads to lasting peace and reconciliation. How does it lead to freedom from guilt? How does it cut the rope in the tug-of-war for innocence? How does it abolish the finger-pointing and self-justification, and instead lead to unity around a shared identity? I don’t see positive answers to these questions.

However, the power of the gospel accomplishes all these things. As I said in the introduction, I don’t pretend to know everything (or even a lot of things) about racism, but I do claim to know one great thing: Jesus died for sinners that they might be reconciled to God, freed from the chains of sin, and able to pursue reconciliation with others. The gospel ends the struggle for innocence, because through the gospel we realize that we are ultimately in the same boat – sinners in need of a savior. There is no need to defend our own innocence because we recognize that our righteousness does not come from ourselves or our good deeds, but from Christ. Having experienced the sacrificial love of Christ and received a transformed heart, we are able to sacrificially love others, even those who are greatly different from us or who have caused us great harm. Even those who otherwise would be our enemies. This is a way forward. This is a path to peace.

How does this path look practically in the real world? For the church, it means that being gospel focused should be a core value and primary mission. It might seem like a given, but I fear that it is not in all churches or the lives of all Christians. This is not to say that every sermon, song, book or conversation needs to be directly focused on the gospel, but the gospel should be the center of both our corporate fellowship and private devotions. Christians never outgrow the gospel. We need to be continually reminded that God first loved us and sent his Son to die for us, that we have been greatly forgiven based on no merit of our own, and that our righteousness does not rest in secondary identities or in our performance, but in the free gift of grace that we receive through Christ. This frees us to sacrificially love others as God has sacrificially loved us.

It also means that we recognize that what the world needs most is not structural change or the dismantling of oppressive identity groups, but inner transformation that comes through the gospel and the experience of the love of God. This does not mean that non-Christians cannot make valuable observations or contributions toward overcoming racism. It does not mean that we ignore racial minorities’ felt needs or physical realities. Yet, it does mean that what the world needs most is to be reconciled with God and freed from the guilt of sin, enabling lasting peace and reconciliation with others.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Racism, Confession and Repentance

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:2)

Defensiveness is one of the branches that God has needed to prune in my life. Despite growth in this area, it is a persistent little vine that keeps trying to rear its ugly little head and choke out the fruitfulness of the branch. Partly, this is because I am human. I think being defensive is a natural response of our human flesh and something that we all struggle with to some degree. Without completely psychoanalyzing myself, I think that my disposition and life experience make me particularly prone to this sinful attitude, without the work of God’s spirit in my life. By the grace of God, I have mostly learned to control my tongue and typing in this area, but it is an area where I need sustained grace and strength from God.

In the first post of this series, I provided a systematic exploration of how the Bible addresses the topic of racism. Throughout scripture, we see that God’s plan of redemption is for people from all tribes, tongues, and nations and leaves no room for either personal prejudice or institutionalized systems of racism. Of course, as is always the case, sinful humanity falls short of God’s plans, desires and intentions. This includes both individual Christians and the corporate church. 

The topic of racism has been at the forefront of the national conversation this year. While I have observed many instances of honest self-reflection and confession of past failures of commission or omission, I have also witnessed examples of defensiveness at both the individual and corporate level. The purpose of this post is not to provide a mea culpa of all the ways in which Christians and the church have fallen short of the vision of racial reconciliation, integration, and peace that God sets forth in scripture. Nor is to condemn individuals or the church as being pervasively and inherently racist, as some voices in the conversation are doing. Instead, the purpose is to cut the root of the vine of defensiveness, which I think is a prerequisite to pursuing the shalom peace of God.

At the individual level, the good news of the cross of Christ should be a death blow to the attitude of defensiveness. Embedded in the central message of Christianity is the truth that “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12). None will be justified by their good works because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but through repentance and faith in Christ, “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28). No one will be able to provide a defense before God. Our only defense is to place our trust in the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us through faith in him.

Even after turning from sin and trusting in Christ, we will battle against sin during this life. Writing to believers, the Apostle John writes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10). This verse does not give the Christian freedom to continue to live in unrepentant sin nor does it provide grounds for living a life that is void of spiritual growth and sanctification. We should strive to grow in godliness and Christlike character in this life, with the realization that we will still fall short and that our hope is not in our moral perfection, but in his atoning sacrifice for us. When that sinks deep into our souls, it should eliminate the crutch of defensiveness.

For the Christian, this should apply to all areas of our lives, including racism. We should not defend ourselves by claiming that we are color-blind or that we don’t have a racist bone in our body. To put it bluntly, I find that people who make such claims are often people who have chosen to live in places where they only interact with people who look and sound just like them. If we are honest with ourselves and look deep within ourselves, I think that we will see that our thoughts and the attitudes of our hearts condemn us. As Jesus teaches through multiple examples in the Sermon on the Mount, following God’s law is not merely about conforming to external standards, but is about the internal condition of our hearts.

A few years ago, there was an unfortunate incident in which a teacher in the school system where I teach was caught on video yelling at students and using the N-word in her tirade. She was rightfully fired. There is no defense for her words and the school system absolutely made the correct decision. There was no other way forward. However, it saddened me to see the vitriolic response to her in the comments section of articles reporting on the incident. Since we had a mutual friend, I wrote an email to express that, while I fully supported her termination, I did not demonize her and that I understood how a person who entered an urban school system with good intentions could be led to dark thoughts, and eventually harmful words, through a discouraging and defeating teaching experience in a cross-cultural setting. I am thankful that some of my inner thoughts have not been broadcast for the whole world to hear, as her words were. I believe that honest reflection would lead everyone, regardless of race, to the same conclusion.

Thus, when engaged in conversations on race, such a realization, along with the fact that we are only righteous through Christ, should cut off defensiveness. When white Christians are told to acknowledge our privilege or to abandon our fragility, the first response should not be defensiveness. That does not mean that we have to accept every charge that is brought against us or that there is not room to oppose certain views and philosophies, but it does mean that we should not enter conversations with the goal of defending our own righteousness. We live in a racialized society. Humans have the natural ability to recognize patterns. To some extent, all people of all races, even Christians, are going to struggle with personal prejudice. I think there is freedom in acknowledging this, asking the Holy Spirit to help us grow in this area, and ultimately clinging to God’s mercy and promise for our righteousness and justification.  

While I have reached a point where I don’t take offense at a personal level, I do feel more defensive when charges of racism are brought against the church. I feel an immediate impulse to say, “Well, what about the abolition movement? What about Christian civil rights leaders? What about all the schools, hospitals, charities, and relief organizations that have been built by Christians?” Partly, I interpret these allegations as being threats to the truthfulness of the gospel and the Christian worldview. While it is true that some do reject Christianity due to the failings of either individual Christians or the church, my fears are misplaced and I think that these are not good reasons to reject Christianity. To determine whether Christianity is true, we should not look to the conduct of the church, but answer the objective question whether Jesus rose from the dead. Yes, the church should shine as a city on a hill, but as discussed previously, it will also be full of redeemed sinners, not to mention those who may claim the name of Christ but do not actually follow Christ. As with the Christian, we should not expect perfection from the church.

Still, the impulse to defend the church remains. Over the past few months, I have frequently heard Christians refer to the Biblical principle that each individual is responsible for their own sins, not the sins of their ancestors.

The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. (Ezekiel 18:20)

One does not have to deny this principle to also recognize many instances in which leaders of high character led corporate confession of current sin or confessed the sins of their ancestors. Daniel, who would rather face the lion’s den than fail to honor God in prayer, confessed the following after realizing from Jeremiah’s prophecies that the Jews would be exiled from Jerusalem for seventy years due to the sins of their fathers:

Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws...Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us...Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name. (Daniel 9:4-19) 

Similarly, after hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were still in ruin, Nehemiah offered the following lament while still in exile in Persia:

Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:5-7).

From examples such as these, we can pull out two principles that are important in the present day. First, while we may not have directly committed certain sins in the past, we are not free from the consequences of those actions or inaction. Yes, we were not directly involved in slavery and there were certainly Christians and churches that fought against slavery, but there were others that used the Bible to justify this treacherous institution and to claim that blacks were less than fully human. To think that we are free from the consequences of those grievous sins is naive. Likewise, we may not have stayed silent during the Jim Crow years or while neighborhoods were redlined and intentionally segregated, but we would be foolish to think that we are free of the consequences of those eras.

Second, we are not as innocent as we think. Both Daniel and Nehemiah include themselves and their current generation in their confession. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day built tombs to honor prophets that had been mistreated and sometimes even killed by their ancestors, yet they were the generation that would kill the Messiah. I think that we often think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We assume, “If I had been alive in the 1800’s, I would have been an abolitionist. If I had been alive in Nazi Germany, I would have hidden the Jews and plotted against Hitler. If I had been alive as America expanded westward, I would have fought for the rights of Native Americans.” And some of us would have. Many would not. It is easy to point a finger at the sins of the past, yet fail to miss the failures of the present. At the very least, as the body of Christ, we should be able to admit that we have been too indifferent to the racial inequality that exists in our country. The fact that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated times of the week testifies that we have not taken racial reconciliation as seriously as we should.

Both individually and corporately we should be able to throw off the chains of defensiveness without putting on the shackles of shame. We should be able to say that we are children of God who are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, yet we still struggle with the sin of personal prejudice. Our hope is not in our own perfection, but in that of Christ. As a church we should be able to confess that in the past and the present, whether by action or inaction, we have not sought racial peace, justice, and reconciliation as we ought. Still, the church is a city on a hill, the body of Christ, a force for good in the world, and the herald of the gospel.

By throwing off the weight of defensiveness, we should be able to listen with a genuine desire to learn, understand and grow. Yet, we should not be ashamed of the message with which we have been entrusted. I believe that the church boldly sharing and living out the gospel is the only hope for cultural transformation and lasting peace and reconciliation. That is the subject of my next post.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

What Does the Bible Teach About racism?

I think that most people have a general sense that Christians should oppose racism and that the Bible must condemn racism. God is love and you’re supposed to love your neighbor as yourself, right? While this intuition is good and correct, I wonder if most Christians would be able to give a thorough explanation of how the Bible addresses racism. The purpose of this post is to provide a detailed survey of Biblical teachings that are relevant to the current discussion around race and racism. While the church has sadly often fallen short of the teachings and standards laid out in scripture, I thought it would be helpful for Christians and non-Christians alike to understand what the Bible actually says about racism in the first place.

First, I need to clarify that the term “racism” doesn’t appear in the Bible and our modern day understanding of race is a later development. Webster’s Dictionary defines race as “a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits” and, in America, the trait that we predominantly use to categorize people is skin color. This does not mean that there was not enmity or conflict between different groups of people in the Bible. Far from it. However, people were likely divided more by ethnicity, which classifies “large groups of people...according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that people didn’t notice physical differences and use those differences to categorize people, but that grouping didn’t have the heavy emphasis on skin color that we see in America. Regardless of how we define race and ethnicity, the important point is that the Bible definitely is written in a context and addresses issues in which people were divided into groups based on a variety of different factors. 

With those preliminaries aside, the best place to start is in the beginning. Regardless of the framework that is used to interpret the creation account in Genesis, God created “man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). This verse provides the basis for the Christian doctrine of the Imago Dei, that every human being is an image bearer of God, created with intrinsic worth and value. Being created in God’s image doesn’t mean that humans are themselves gods, but that humans are the only animals that possess some of the qualities of God’s nature, such as the ability to enjoy beauty, create works of art, think rationally, and desire justice. The doctrine of the Imago Dei not only establishes the worth of each human being, but also establishes that there is really only one human race, all created in the image of God, which is supported by modern science.1

Moving on in the Old Testament, it is clear that God’s plan of redemption has always included people from all nations. When God called Abraham to follow him, he promised, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3). Though God would work specifically through the nation of Israel and they would be his chosen people, his plan has always been to bless people from all corners of the earth. 

Furthermore, prophecies of God’s deliverance through the Messiah clarify that God created and cares for all peoples of the earth and planned to bring light and freedom not only to the nation of Israel, but also to the Gentiles (i.e. non-Israelites). 

“This is what God the Lord says - the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all the springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the Lord, have called you (the Messiah) in righteousness; I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:5-7). 

It is too small a thing for you (the Messiah) to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob (the nation of Israel) and to bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

Not only did God’s ultimate plan of salvation include people from all nations, but the Old Testament law gave specific protections for foreigners or aliens who came to reside in Israel. The following are just a few of many references showing God’s care for non-Israelites.

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

“Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 24:17-19)

Although God did have a special purpose for Israel as his chosen people, foreigners and aliens were welcome to become followers of the Lord. When Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in the land of Egypt, “many other people went up with them” (Exodus 12:38) and were given the right to partake in the Passover meal, provided that they became circumcised as a sign of their new commitment to God (Exodus 12:48). Rahab the prostitute joined the nation of Israel after providing refuge for Hebrew spies during the conquest of Jerhico. When she promised to follow her widowed mother-in-law back to Israel, Ruth the Moabitess declared that “your people will be my people and God my God,” (Ruth 1:16). Both of these women ended up marrying Jewish men and becoming ancestors of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

As we move to the New Testament, both God’s plan of salvation and his love for all people of the earth reaches greater clarity. During his earthly ministry, Jesus primarily focused on serving the nation of Israel, but also healed and blessed Gentiles, including driving out a demon from the daughter of a Canaanite woman (Mark 7:24-30, Matthew 15:21-28), healing the paralyzed servant of a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10), and bringing physical and spiritual freedom to a demon-possessed man in the region of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39). 

More striking, though, is Jesus’ interactions with and presentation of the Samaritans, who were despised by the Jews. The Samaritans lived in the area of the former northern kingdom of Israel and were considered by Jews to be half-breeds and apostate worshippers of the Lord. In fact, when travelling Jews would make a point to avoid walking through Samaria. This context makes Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman by the well in Sychar even more remarkable. When he asks her for a drink of water, she is taken by surprise because he was a Jew and she was a Samaritan and Jews did not associate with Samaritans (John 4:9). Not only did Jesus reach across ethnic and cultural divides to treat the woman with dignity and respect, but he goes on to offer her living water that will become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). As a result of her life-changing interaction with the Messiah, many Samaritans came to believe that Jesus was the Christ (John 4:39-42). God’s salvation clearly extended beyond the borders of Judea.

Another shocking example of Jesus’ view of this despised group is his choice to feature a Samaritan as the hero in the parable of the Good Samaritan. A teacher of the law wanted to justify his prejudicial selection of which neighbors he chose to love as he loved himself by asking Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus goes on to tell the now famous story of a Jewish man who was nearly beaten to death by robbers on his way to Jericho. After being ignored by two Jewish religious leaders, a Samaritan had compassion for him, brought him to a hotel, cared for his immediate needs, and financed his full recovery. When questioned by Jesus about who had acted as a neighbor, the teacher of the law couldn’t even bring himself to say that it was the Samaritan, but only acknowledged that it was “the one who had mercy on him.” (Luke 10:37).

In life, Jesus showed compassion and love towards Gentiles and Samaritans, but in his death and resurrection he extended salvation to all peoples of the Earth. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus commissioned his followers to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) and to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Jesus affirms the messianic prophecies that salvation through faith in Christ is not only for the Jews, but for people from all nations.

However, the early church needed a little bit of divine prodding to accomplish God’s plan of taking the gospel to all people. An excellent example of God using all things for his glory and the good of those who love him comes in the book of Acts, where persecution against the Christians breaks out, but this actually causes them to disperse throughout Judea and Samaria, preaching the gospel as they went and fulfilling Jesus’ charge to be his witnesses in these areas (Acts 8:1-4). More prodding comes when God gives Peter a vision in which he shows him that he should “not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15). Immediately after this vision, Peter receives a call to share the gospel with the friends and family of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Upon hearing the gospel, Cornelious and his kin believed the message, received the Holy Spirit, and were baptized, leading the early church to conclude that “even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18).

In the coming years, the gospel would be preached around the Roman empire and many Gentiles believed the message and decided to follow Christ. The Apostle Paul was God’s “chosen instrument to proclaim [his] name to the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15) and was used by God, along with others, to plant churches across the Roman world. The Christian church, which started as a Jewish sect, became multicultural and multiethnic as the gospel broke down the “dividing wall of hostility” not just between man and God, but between Jew and Gentile. The hostility between these two groups was likely greater than the hostility between racial groups in present-day America, yet the gospel brought peace where there was once enmity. Listen to these words of radical reconciliation:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:13-20)

Even though the gospel brought transformation and reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, early Christians still had to battle against the sinful nature and lived in a fallen world, as do Christians in the present day. As a result, it is not surprising that they would still need to correct unjust systems and battle against personal prejudice. In the early years of the church, a dispute arose that Greek widows were being neglected in the distribution of bread. As a response, seven faithful men were selected as the first diaconate to ensure that both Jewish and Greek widows received a fair distribution of financial assistance from the church (Acts 6:1-6). 

Later, another dispute arose after large numbers of Gentiles came to faith in Christ. Some Jewish Christians had gone to these new believers and told them that they needed to be circumcised and follow the customs of Moses in order to be saved. A council was convened in Jerusalem and it was determined that the Gentiles were saved by grace in the same manner as the Jews. As a result it was decreed that Gentile Christians should not be impeded from receiving salvation through grace by the construction of cultural barriers.

Despite these systemic corrections, early Christians still needed to guard against personal prejudice, which is a good reminder for us today. Peter was the rock of the early church and had directly received from God the message that Gentiles were not impure, but recipients of eternal life through faith in the gospel. Yet, when he was visiting the church in Antioch, he abandoned his custom of eating with Gentile believers when this act was witnessed by members of the circumcision party, who believed circumcision was necessary for salvation. His hypocrisy led other Jews, including Barnabas, into error and prejudice. The Apostle Paul rebuked Peter because his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” (Galatians 2:14). Just as we do today, early Christians needed to be reminded that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.” (Romans 10:12). 

Which leads us to the ultimate end of God’s salvation story. While exiled on the island of Patmos, the Apostle John received a vision in which he saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10). People from all nations, languages, tribes, races, ethnicities, and cultures will be joined together in heaven in glorious worship of God. I have received a taste of this by worshipping with people from every continent on Earth and can’t wait until God’s plan of salvation of people from all the Earth is realized.

To summarize in a paragraph, all people are created in God’s image with intrinsic value and worth. God’s plan of salvation has always included people from all nations and God’s law provided specific protections and requirements for justice for foreigners and aliens. Jesus, the Messiah, demonstrated culturally radical love and concern for Gentiles and Samaritans and commissioned his followers to bring the gospel to all people and all nations. The early church, while not perfect, corrected examples of both unjust systems and personal prejudice, and reconciled Jews and Gentiles through the breaking down of walls of hostility. Finally, God will achieve his ultimate plan of salvation by drawing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to receive grace and eternal life through faith in Christ and to be united in worship before his throne. 

So, yes, the Bible definitively and thoroughly condemns racism. Sadly, as sinners living in a fallen world, Christians and the church have not always lived up to the high standards detailed in scripture. That will be the topic of my next post.


Kolbert, Elizabeth. “There is no Scientific Basis for Race - It’s a Made Up Label. National Geographic. March 12, 2018.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Faith and Evidence: Why I Don't Use a Presuppositional Approach (Most of the Time)

Alright, this post is going to be geared more towards apologetics nerds, a rare breed most likely, but I will try to make this informative and enjoyable for everyone. You may not have known that there are actually different schools of apologetics, including classical, evidential, and presuppositional. In this series, I have been arguing for an evidential approach and my series on evidence for the resurrection would also fall under that category, though I would say that overall I follow more of a classical approach. One does not have to strictly adhere to only one approach and different conversations will require different tactics. However, as the title of this post explains, I generally do not use a presuppositional approach, though I will explain the ways in which I draw from its toolbox.

So what is presuppositional apologetics? As the name suggests, presuppositional apologetics presupposes the existence of the triune God divinely revealed through the Bible and claims that this presupposition alone allows one to acquire knowledge and make sense of reality. Presuppositionalists point out that everyone makes presuppositions when adopting a worldview and other presuppositions, such as materialism, lead to an incoherent universe where knowledge is not possible. For example, if one accepts the materialistic framework, one can not appeal to non-material things like laws of logic inorder to investigate or describe the physical universe. When one adopts materialistic presuppositions and a worldview that depends on empirical experimentation, they have no basis to assume the uniformity of natural law on which their empiricism depends. The renowned skeptic and philosopher David Hume concedes that circular reasoning is required to assume the uniformity of natural law from a naturalistic worldview.

In summary, the presuppositional apologist is trying to prove that Christianity is true because any presupposition outside of the Christian worldview leads to an incoherent universe. It is a reductio ad absurdum, or attempt to reduce the opposition to holding an absurd and self-contradictory position. A universe in which laws of logic, reason, and the uniformity of nature exist is only possible if one presupposes the existence of the triune God revealed in scripture.

While I do think that the presuppositional approach makes important contributions, I tend more to the evidentialist side of the spectrum. I think that the different schools of apologetics can work in harmony and an effective apologist will utilize different approaches depending upon the specific context and flow of a conversation. However, I have found that some presuppositional apologists claim that their approach is the only Biblical method of apologetics and that evidential and classical apologists put man in the judge’s seat and God on trial. Most presuppositional apologists that I have read or listened to will only use the presuppositional method, refusing to engage in conversations or debates around evidence. While I see value in what the presuppositional approach brings to the apologetics discussion, I have decided not to adopt a strict reliance on presuppositional apologetics for the following reasons.

  1. An evidential approach is clearly seen in both the Old and New Testaments

I am not going to completely rehash my previous arguments, but I wrote two full blog posts on the connection between faith and evidence in both the Old Testament and New Testament. In the Old Testament, there was a culture of remembrance in which the Israelites would construct monuments as evidence for future generations of what God had already done on their behalf. The prophet Elijah did not challenge the presuppositions of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, but engaged in an evidentiary test to determine who was the true God, Baal or Yahweh. Jesus repeatedly pointed to his miracles and Old Testament prophecy as evidence of his identity and lordship. This approach was also followed by the early church as the apostles appealed to eyewitness testimony of the resurrection, miracles, and prophecy to argue and reason that Jesus was the expected Messiah. Since an evidential approach is clearly used throughout scripture, I think that modern day apologists and evangelists should also appeal to different forms of evidence supporting the truth of the Christian worldview.

  1. A varied approach can be used to be “all things for all people”

As with anything, there is variety within presuppositional apologetics, with different tactics and points of emphasis. Some, such as Greg Bahnsen, brilliantly argue in a manner that highlights the absurd and self-contradictory claims of atheism. An excellent example of this can be seen in his 1985 debate with author and skeptic, Dr. Gordon Stein. Others rely on texts such as Romans 1:18 to argue that unbelievers already know that God exists, but are suppressing this truth in order to follow their own passions and desires. They also point out that the “fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1), which is further proof that they are foolishly suppressing the truth of God’s existence.

While I agree with the presuppositional apologists’ interpretation of these verses, I have observed that their use in apologetics and evangelism often fails to present a defense for Christianity with “gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15). There certainly are times to use these verses when sharing the gospel or defending the faith, but I have watched encounters where this approach seems to completely miss the heart and mind of the other person, only causing anger and resentment. It seems that a varied approach, which draws from classical, evidential, and presuppositional methods, would be better at meeting the intellectual, psychological, and emotional needs of each person. I think that flexibility in approach enables apologists to be like the Apostle Paul and “become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, [they] might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

  1. A presuppositional approach cuts out some of the strongest arguments for the truth of Christianity

Not only does Romans 1 teach that unbelievers suppress the truth that God exists, it also argues that God’s eternal power and divine nature are “clearly seen [and] understood from what has been made.” (Romans 1:20). Despite arguments from the new atheists that science has disproved the existence of God, modern cosmology actually provides some of the strongest arguments for the existence of God. The cosmological argument states that if our universe had a beginning, as is strongly suggested by scientific evidence, then there must have been an incredibly powerful first cause outside of time, matter, and space - namely God. The fine-tuning argument points to the intricate fine-tuning of the universe, in which the initial conditions of the universe and the natural laws which govern its interactions are so exquisitely fine-tuned that even miniscule changes in various ratios and physical constants would have resulted in a universe that would have no possibility of supporting complex life. Such data led atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle to concede, “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”1

Furthermore, a robust historical argument can be made to support the truthfulness of Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. I wrote an entire series on this evidence and would encourage believers to equip themselves with this powerful defense of the Christian faith and nonbelievers to consider this evidence with an open-mind. A presuppositional approach cuts out all of these powerful lines of reasoning that support the truthfulness of Christianity.

Yet, as the title suggests, I do see value in the presuppositional approach and do utilize it from time to time. I think that the presuppositional approach is an excellent strategy for exposing contradictions and absurdities in foundational worldviews. This is particularly relevant to our current day. For example, my Facebook feed has been filled the last few months with calls for justice and protection of the dignity and worth of all people. These calls are rightly made, but I do think it is worth asking whether our underlying worldview supports the manner in which we live and the future that we hope to realize.

I wrote a Facebook post with a similar theme, and despite my best efforts to anticipate the disconnect, I was misunderstood on a key point. So, I want to state it here as clearly as possible. I am not saying that atheists, agnostics, or non-Christians in general can not act morally or can not have a strongly held system of morality. What I am saying is that the underlying atheistic worldviews of naturalism and materialism do not support the desire for justice or the claim that human lives have intrinsic dignity, value, and worth. A presuppositional approach causes us to examine the foundational assumptions of a worldview to see whether they support the superstructure of the worldview.

Richard Dawkins, renowned evolutionary biologist and author of the best-selling book “The God Delusion”, writes the following in River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life - “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and gene replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor JUSTICE. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, NO EVIL, NO GOOD, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”2

The atheistic worldview is built on the foundational assumption that humans are nothing more than matter in motion. How can we define good and evil when the only realities are matter, energy, time and chance? How can we call for justice in a world of blind forces with no design, no purpose, and ultimately nothing that we can truly say is good and evil? 

Presuppositional apologetics points out the absurdity to stand behind one podium to call for justice and the protection of the value and dignity of all human beings and then jump behind another podium to claim that there is no ultimate purpose and design in the universe; the cosmos is solely governed by matter, energy, time and chance; and that humans are simply the accidental byproduct of highly evolved colonies of bacteria. Yet, there is no contradiction or absurdity to call for justice and to value the intrinsic worth of all human beings when the universe was created with design and purpose, which includes absolute moral standards of goodness and justice, and all humans were created as image bearers of God. 

Not only is the Christan worldview supported by evidence, but it provides a foundation from which we can coherently seek the justice and peace that we experientially desire. The presuppositional approach has the potential to lead people to this realization and should be part of any apologists' toolkit, though not to be used exclusively. As I said earlier, by wisely integrating evidential and presuppositional approaches, I think that we can present a respectful and generous defense of the Christian faith, while at the same time meeting the needs of each individual person that will enable us to “become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, [we] might save some.”


1) Hoyle, Fred. "The Universe: Past and Present Reflections." Engineering and Science, November, 1981. 8–12.

2) Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. Science Masters Series, 1996.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Faith and Evidence: What if I Don't Need Evidence to Believe?

In the first three parts of this series on faith and evidence, I thoroughly examined Old Testament and New Testament scriptures to demonstrate that Biblical faith is not “belief without evidence", but instead is a confident trust and hope based upon the evidence that God has revealed about his nature and his ability to protect and care for his people. Yet, some Christians may be thinking, “But I don’t need evidence to believe in God. I just have faith.” Even more, some Christians may believe that the desire or pursuit of evidence reveals unbelief. The purpose of this post is to address those concerns.
First, whether they are aware of it or not, I would claim that every Christian has at least three pieces of evidence that support their faith: the conviction of the Holy Spirit, personal experiences with God, and general revelation of God’s power and design through nature. The evidence of God’s invisible attributes through nature is something that we may not recognize overtly but is something that we absorb unconsciously from a very early age (See Romans 1:19-20). It has been demonstrated that young children, even children with secular parents and no exposure to religion, believe that the design seen in nature requires a creator.1 It appears that we have to outgrow this natural intuition to reject belief in God.
All Christians also have personal experiences that they can share about how Christ has transformed their life, brought them peace and freedom from guilt, or worked in providential or even miraculous ways in their life. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit ministers to every Christian, confirming the truth of the Christian worldview in their hearts. Jesus promised his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13). So, while I agree that Christians can have a sincere and genuine faith without any knowledge of apologetic arguments for the Christian worldview, all Christians do have some evidence for their faith.
However, I would also argue that two of these types of evidence, personal experience and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, are insufficient in demonstrating the truth of the Christian worldview to non-Christians. Some apologists have noted that there is a difference between “showing and knowing.” Through personal experience and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I might have a very strong personal conviction or knowledge of the truth of Christianity, but it is difficult to use these experiences to show that truth to others.
Furthermore, followers of other religions also point to personal and spiritual experiences to support their beliefs. During a lonely season in college, I met with Mormon missionaries for a few sessions. In one of the very first meetings, they quoted the following verses: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:5-7). The message was that the Holy Spirit would confirm the truth of Mormonism to me if I asked God and did not doubt that he would answer my request. I ended up breaking off the meetings, but a few years later, when I was more established in my Christian faith, a friend and I met with Mormon missionaries to try to engage them in reverse evangelism. Predictably, the missionaries used the exact same verse to challenge us to ask God to reveal the truth of Mormonism in our hearts. My friend responded, “I did ask the Holy Spirit, and he told me that you’re wrong.”
Admittedly, our discussion with the Mormon missionaries was not very productive for either side, but the question remains, how do we discern truth when people from different religions claim to have personal and spiritual experiences that confirm their worldview? This is where additional evidence is beneficial. Let’s say a Christian, a Mormon, a Muslim, and a Hindu all claim to have personal and spiritual experiences that confirm their religious beliefs yet are open to examining their worldview. I think the best thing would be for each person to acknowledge that their experiences are real, but that personal and spiritual experiences can also be deceptive. The human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9), so we need to be aware that our emotions and experiences can sometimes mislead us.
I also think each person should acknowledge that it is impossible for each person’s worldview to be true, since they make contradictory claims about the nature of reality. They could all be false, but they can’t all be true. Then, I would encourage the group to openly and honestly evaluate the historical, literary, archaeological, and scientific evidence supporting each worldview. In my opinion, the Christian worldview clearly comes out on top in this approach. The group would discover that there is no archaeological evidence confirming the accounts in the Book of Mormon, but there is substantial archaeological evidence confirming elements of the Old and New Testaments. They would discover that there is a robust historical case supporting the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, events that the Christian worldview affirms but that Islam denies. Scientific evidence indicates that the universe had a beginning, approximately 13.7 billion years ago, an event that points to an all-powerful, infinitely intelligent, personal creator outside of time, space, and matter. Such a description fits the description of God in theistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but does not fit pantheistic religions such as Hinduism or new-age movements, where the divine is found within creation itself. I think that such an investigation would lead the group to conclude that the spiritual experiences of the Christian are leading to truth whereas the other spiritual experiences are leading to deception. Such a conclusion would fit with the Biblical description of the spiritual realm, one in which the Holy Spirit leads to truth, but false spirits also seek to lead people into error.
In addition to guiding such discussions, evidence is also useful in answering the questions and doubts of people within the church, often youth. Survey data indicates that young people are leaving the church at an alarming rate. While sometimes they leave the church for emotional or experiential reasons, such as hypocrisy amongst believers or abuse within the church, often they leave because no one was able to answer their intellectual doubts.
In 2015, the Pew Research Center conducted a study of religious “nones” who were raised as members of a particular religion before shedding their faith in adulthood. Fifty percent of respondents said “lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mentioned ‘science’ as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said ‘I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.’ Others reference ‘common sense,’ ‘logic’ or a ‘lack of evidence’ – or simply say they do not believe in God.”2
Consider, the following anecdotes atheists who formerly considered themselves to be Christians and were asked to explain why they no longer believed in God:
“I think I was around 9 or 10. I was reading the Bible…I didn’t read the whole thing, but the first 30-40 pages. I had a lot of questions in those few pages. A majority of the questions were answered with "you just need to have faith." If you cannot explain to me why things are the way they are, I do not believe what you say. Even as a kid, I could not chalk anything up to faith. There were also a lot of things I didn't agree with.
“In my teens I started questioning. I would ask questions like "Why would God create a person that he knows will be evil and will go to hell?" I really enjoyed when the religion teachers had no answers. Still, fear made me stick with it. Eventually intelligence won out. I simply couldn't get religion to make any sense. Letting go of it was very freeing.
“Every time I asked a question like where is a god or if he was real, why can't we see him? And the answers that I got back were, " He works in mysterious ways", just doesn't make any sense.”3
I want to say respectfully, yet boldly, that the responses of the Christians in these persons’ lives were not good enough. If your child, a friend, a family member, or a young person in the church comes to you with similar questions, you must be prepared to give a more substantial response than, “Well, you just need to have faith.” This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to major in apologetics, but I think that all believers should have an introductory level knowledge of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, evidence for the reliability of scripture, answers to the problem of evil and suffering, and scientific evidence for the theistic worldview.
When you don’t know an answer to someone’s question, it is okay to do some research and get back to that person later (but not too much later) or to direct them to another person in the church who is equipped to answer their questions. There are many great resources that Christians can access to build a foundational understanding of apologetics. A couple book recommendations are Talking with Your Kids about God or God’s Crime Scene. I have picked up a lot of knowledge listening to YouTube while I wash the dishes. I recommend checking out the following channels: Mike Winger, Capturing Christianity, Inspiring Philosophy, or Trinity Radio (though I recommend watching videos that feature Braxton Hunter. I find his occasional co-host to be a little bit too snarky).
While I think that each individual believer has the responsibility of pursuing basic apologetic knowledge, I also challenge the church to better equip the flock. In my opinion, pastors should regularly incorporate apologetic teachings into their sermons. Churches should make apologetics workshops and classes available to their members. Youth groups should not only teach their students evidence for the Christian worldview but should also equip them to share this information with their friends and in environments that are hostile to the Christian worldview. In this video, apologist J. Warner Wallace makes the point that instead of merely teaching our students, we need to train our students to defend the truth of the Christian worldview.
This post in no way minimizes the role of the Holy Spirit in leading people to faith in Christ. Ultimately, no amount of evidence is going to lead to saving faith unless the Holy Spirit convicts a person of their sin and their need of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is the power of the gospel that leads to salvation, not the power of apologetic evidence, though God often uses evidence to overcome people’s intellectual objections to Christianity. It may be that you do not feel a strong need for apologetic evidence to bolster your faith in Christ. We are all wired differently, and many people are led to Christ through the sacrificial love shown by a Christian friend or personal experiences of God’s providential protection and provision. Yet, others are either led to Christ or prevented from leaving the church in part through evidential arguments and survey trends suggest that the American church is failing to answer the intellectual doubts and questions of our children. By investing in learning the robust apologetic evidence for the Christian faith, believers will be equipping themselves to “become all things to all people, that by all means [they] might save some.” (1 Corithians 9:22).
1)              Barrett, Justin. Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Beliefs. Atria Books, 2012. 
2)              Wallace, J. Warner. “Are Young People Really Leaving Christianity?” Cold-Case Christianity. January 12, 2019. Retrieved from
3)              “Atheists of Reddit, What Made You Leave Your Religion?” Reddit. Retrieved from