Many are doubtful of Christian claims. Christianity is viewed as just another religion – along with all the rest – Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism…etc. The doubts are usually legitimate. That is, folks wrestle with Christian theology and its implications (creation, sin, redemption, hell, new creation, Jesus…etc). Others are skeptical for philosophical reasons. We’re steeped in relativism (no absolutes), subjectivity (my perspective), and pluralism (all religions are valid). How do we navigate all this as Christians?
These doubts are real, and the thinking (the culture) behind them is influential. All of it is worthy of our attention and respect. How do we lend an empathetic ear while maintaining our own convictions? Forcing Christian beliefs, true as they may be, upon someone, doesn’t work. Throwing passages of scripture around as if to say, “look, it’s right there in black and white,” doesn’t work on folks who are deeply skeptical to begin with. We need to back up.
Think of it this way, If I got home from work two hours late, my wife would be really upset. After all she’s been with the kids all day, and she needs a break. If I tell her coldly that traffic is sometimes tough and that’s just the reality, and then start quoting traffic reports, that’s doesn’t get us very far. In fact, it drives a huge wedge between us. What does she need?
She needs to be heard. She needs to know that I value her feelings as real – and they are – despite the hard facts of the traffic jam. If I empathize with her, and recognize her legitimate struggle, we can then move forward together, as a team. “Honey, I’m so sorry I’m late. I know how long your day is, and you certainly didn’t need another thing thrown on top. What can I do to help?”
Folks who are struggling with Christianity need our patient help and understanding, not our condemnation, judgment, or dismissal. Even when they’re angry about it, we need to step in with grace, love, compassion, and empathy.
To put all this in context, here are some high-level struggles that folks have. While the answers are often quite simple to many of these concerns, I’m purposely not going to offer an apologetic, but rather let the struggle of non-believers help us all appreciate and understand where many folks are at spiritually. Feeling their pain is a critical step to moving forward.
Christians: Christians don’t always live worthy of their calling. As John Dickson puts it (paraphrasing), “Christians have been given a great symphony, but they don’t play it very well. It’s not the music that’s the problem. The musicians keep hitting the wrong notes.” If our behavior as Christians isn’t attractive, or worse – bigoted and self-righteous – we can see how some might raise an eye brow and be a tad skeptical of the faith.
The Bible: The Bible says a lot of hard stuff. It’s confusing, strange, and its context is so different than ours. Old Testament, New Testament, Letters, Songs, Poems, Narrative, Covenant – it’s all very foreign. And the Bible is filled with metaphor, hyperbole, parallelisms, and other literary devices that require thoughtful interpretation. Even Christians argue vehemently over interpretive issues. This is not to suggest that the Bible is flawed, or that it can’t be grasped start to finish. Rather, we can appreciate folks struggle with God’s Word.
Church: Similar to an individual’s distaste for a particular “over-the-top” Christian, the public has grown skeptical of the Church. Its days of influence are gone. In the media, we hear more about abortion, gun rights, and homosexuals than the Kingdom of God. The Body of Christ is ill, failing to take its own gospel medication. Though still the hope of the world and doing wonderful things for the glory of God, we must admit that it’s been missing the mark far too long in many areas (e.g., discipleship). It’s easy to see how folks might be turned off by it.
Jesus: He was just a teacher wandering around telling people to be good, right? Kind of like Buddha? These are the teachings that are being exposed by top tier institutions around the world. Jesus, the Savior of the world, (the King of kings) is marginalized to a great sage. Why would anyone bow the knee to such a figure?
God: We live in a culture that teaches Darwin as fact, and God as belief. Doubt (skepticism) is being systematically taught in our institutions and our media outlets. People today assume they’re gobbling up facts. They’re being armed with a bow built under the framework of science and reason, and then given a quiver full of skepticism. How we got here on planet earth has been answered by the experts – evolution. Why we’re here, well, that’s up to us. Man, not God, is central. Why would anyone want to listen to you and your religious beliefs? Upon what authority do you teach such things? God? Ha!
Worldview: We live in a might is right culture. It’s found in sports, business, politics, education, government, and more. The strong eat the weak – it’s just nature – just evolution. So we build our lives, striving for what we want, when we want it, in a generation that promotes and celebrates an “all about me” attitude. Most wouldn’t voice such things so blatantly, or in this selfish light. Rather, it’s justified as the American dream, prosperity, my right (no longer God-given). Jesus’ worldview of God’s Kingdom, where meek is right, and humility, love, compassion, and self sacrifice are dominant, are merely nice-to-haves. They don’t trump our cultural worldview. Appreciating this cultural chasm will help us see more clearly.
These are just a few thoughts off the cuff. Again, we have people who have deep concerns and questions about the Christian faith and its theology. Along side this is an influential and dominant scientific worldview with faith assumptions that wield incredible influence.
These are real concerns from real people – many of whom are seeking deeper truths. They need answers, understanding, empathy, and to see us reflect the love of Jesus Christ.
What would you add to this list that folks struggle with?
Thanks for reading,