Sometimes people ask us questions about Christianity that stump us or even leave us questioning what we thought we knew–how are we supposed to respond in situations like this?
“What Not To Do”
Okay, so let’s start with the obvious: when asked a tough question, do everything you can to not get defensive
I know, news and sports at 11, what a challenging thought!
But seriously, everyone has talked with someone who has gotten defensive, and it is not a pleasant experience
Defensive people get irrational and overly upset when asked questions they can’t answer or when someone challenges what they think, and who wants to talk to someone like that?
Also, I don’t think many people are open to hearing a message that speaks of a loving God when someone is yelling at them in response to their Bible questions
“Hey dummy, God loves you, stop questioning it and just accept the blood of Jesus, it is the right thing to do!”
Make Sure You Know What Type Of Question You Are Answering Before You Respond
When talking about Christianity, make sure you understand the nature of the question being asked before answering
Okay, like duh, right?
Well, maybe not…
For example, someone might ask a sincere question about Christianity out of curiosity or genuine interest, and you may know that the person is probably not going to attack you if they don’t like what is said
But, then there are the times someone asks a question with the intent of trapping you into saying something that would make you look bad or they know the question is really difficult to answer in the first place
Not just atheists do this, sometimes people from other religions do it, as well as Christians who are questioning what they believe
Depending on which type of situation you find yourself in, be careful about your answer as you may need to respond with gentle patience or you may need to shut someone down who is challenging you in the hope that you stumble publicly or personally
An Important Lesson From The Master: Know When To Be Patient And When To Punch
When I think about theological and philosophical discussions about Christianity, or religion in general, I consider how Jesus spoke with people not only in the gentle, patient scenarios, but also in the aggressive, confrontational situations as well
Jesus is well known for speaking to people with kindness, honesty, and patience, but he also faced some of the most aggressive debates known to man
Think about it like this, Jesus knew that the people he was having heated discussions with wanted to kill him, and that the words he spoke caused riots they were so controversial, but he didn’t hold back when speaking God’s wisdom, and he didn’t pull punches when responding to people that challenged him
(So how is it that we get nervous or scared when talking about God with our best friends?)
At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”
Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”
At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t caused a riot lately!
Not All Questions Have “Answers”
To be fair, even though Jesus had an answer for everyone, he didn’t always respond with Bible verses he memorized at Sunday school
The simple reason is, some questions just don’t have simple answers, and a lot of questions don’t have answers a non-Christian will understand or accept if we use the Bible as a way of proving our case
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
You have to admire his style right?
I mean honestly, how could we answer questions like these by quoting Bible verses?
“Well, John 3:16 says…”
If Jesus didn’t use , there is definitely a lesson to be learned here
So just remember, when people are trying to trap us, we have to think creatively while under pressure and use every tool at our disposal, don’t just think “oh no!” and panic
When You Don’t Have An Answer, Don’t Beat Yourself Up, Be Humble And Learn
While visiting a friend’s church, I was introduced to the idea of Calvinism which was founded by a man (John Calvin) who believed that praying in tongues was contrived and useless for spiritual growth, and the people also believed that the Holy Spirit is not at work any more, that there is no such thing as prophecy, tongues, or any gifts of the spirit now that we have the “perfect” Bible–but best of all, they said anyone who believed differently were deceived and not among the elect
Oh, and did I mention they did not believe in miracles any more either
All in all, a pretty boring, “safe” version of Christianity that lacked both power and a relationship with God–what kind of God would he be if he just sat there passively watching us all day?
However, when I was sitting there with these people, being personally yelled at by their pastor because I did not believe what they did, I was overwhelmed with humility because I had no idea how to refute their theology because I didn’t know enough about the Bible
In total anguish, and professional embarrassment as I thought I had studied, that I had no answers, I turned inward and cried out saying:
“God, answer these people!”
In that moment when I was expecting to be filled with inspiration, God totally stunned me by saying:
“These people have no relationship with me”
Not the answer I was looking for, but God’s word at that moment made it clear that I didn’t know enough theology, and that these people needed prayer as they believed God existed, but didn’t actually know him–incorrectly thinking you have salvation, or a relationship with God, is worse than not knowing God at all
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth
The experience with the Calvinists was one that God used to push me into further into studying the Bible as it was the first time I could see that accurate theology is not important to just “win” arguments, but it is important for the sake of someone’s soul and to help coach their walk with God
Getting hit in the face was definitely a wake up call, and one that I still learn from even just talking about it now
We Always Control How We Respond
When someone puts us in a corner, and it will eventually happen, whether through an innocent question or one that is meant to aggressively challenge our relationship with God or Christianity itself, the key thing is to not get upset or flustered, just stay calm, and don’t say or do anything to make the conversation go in a negative direction
An easy thing to say, but a much harder thing to do!
1 Peter 3:15-16
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander
Man, those are great points. Apologetics, the formal study and practice of giving reasoned defenses of the faith, is almost unknown to modern Christians. We’ve gotten fat and lazy, spiritually speaking, spoiled by the riches of being raised in a Christian context, where theological disputes are more about premillenialism vs. postmillenialism, or just how many loaves and fishes there really were–quite ignorant that to some people, to whom the Bible is not an authority but rather just literature, we sound like hippies in the sixties arguing over just how collectivized the farms of the future will be.
And sadly, not being prepared to rationally debate and defend the faith with outsiders makes it go pretty lax in ourselves, too. Bill Maher actually makes good points in ‘Religulous’, highlighting how many people believe for totally insipid or unreflective reasons. Christ the Good Shepherd is a metaphor, people, we aren’t supposed to be sheep.
I’m reminded of the wordonfire.com ministry of Father Barron here–he was one of the guys who really helped me to take the last step into full Christian faith. He talks about the New Atheism, and how fatuous and philosophically shallow it is, and compares that to the very deep and searching atheists of the past, like Voltaire or Sartre or Nietzche. And he noted that all of them came after towering theologians and thinkers, like Pascal.
So, he had to glumly conclude, if Christopher Hitchens is the best argument against us these days, that says something disheartening about how tepid we’ve been to generate such opposition.
Of course, it isn’t hard to disprove the ‘God’ that most of today’s youth believe in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moralistic_therapeutic_deism Voltaire said that the only prayer he ever said was asking God to make his enemies ridiculous, and his prayer was answered. If our theology is insipid, our faith tepid, our actions hypocritical, our reasoning shallow, and our passion misdirected, then we have nothing worth defending. Lions-1, Christians-0.
I love debating!
I am not sure where it started, but I have always been raised in a home where theology was one of the main topics of discussion, and discussed with open minds
So when I meet people who have differing opinions I have a lot of fun speaking with them as I never know if they are going to say something really interesting and fun to pass back and forth
I saw Religulous, but I thought the people he chose to speak with were not that interesting in the sense that none of them struck me as spirit-filled, intellectual or theological heavyweights. I think documentaries like that are great though, as it shows what the face of Christianity is outside of personal reality
Christopher Hitchens was touted by one of my friends as being the smartest atheist, but when I got to watch him, a lot of his arguments were just outright, non-intellectual insults that played to the crowds he was speaking to. I was watching a debate between Hitchens and a really famous rabbi, and I got bored thinking: “Neither one of these people know God”
One thing that I think has been a big obstacle in modern Christianity is the fact that people are exposed to lukewarm Christianity when they are young, and then turn away from it when they are old enough to question it or be on their own
This is the saddest thing as people are turning away from something they never really knew in the first place, and may never return–to your point, who would want to engage in something boring and completely dead?
I mean, I like eighteenth century hymns and all, but…
Christianity should be fun, exciting, and completely reflective in our lives
Peter said that we should have an answer for when people ask about the hope in our lives, this means that we should be living a life that shows everyone around us we have a higher calling than to fall inside of a brand’s CPM model in between YouTube clips
1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have
Yeah. Of course, it’s also hard to get excited when our generation’s entitlement complex applies to salvation as well. I still remember a video from some missionaries working in an African village. They’d been teaching and preaching for quite a while there, laying the groundwork, explaining about God, the life of Christ, and so on. The people actually wept when they learned that Jesus was crucified. I mean, it was a day-long funeral.
But the really stellar part is when they found out the aftermath. When the village chose to accept Him as their Savior, and learned that their sins were forgiven and they had salvation? It caused a borderline riot of jubilation. For two solid hours, people were just losing their minds. It looked like they’d won the Super Bowl, seen the birth of their first child, and gotten a gold medal at the Olympics, all in the same day, multiplied by awesome.
Whereas us? We associate God with Santa. We’re *told* he watches us when we sleep, and when we’re awake, and will only reward us if we’re good… but we always get the presents anyway. And sooner or later, we figure out that Santa’s just a myth. I think it’s a dangerous precedent, incidentally, to lie so much to kids, as it damages our credibility when they figure out what a hypocrite is.
But similarly, you can see that pattern applied to Christianity. The post-60’s generation infused (some might say diffused) the message with their own “I’m okay, you’re okay” brand of ‘tolerance’, and now all of a sudden Christianity is neutered. Who needs or wants or *appreciates* a savior, when they don’t believe in sin? When they think of God as a fluffy marshmallow who lurrrves them no matter what? Why bother with discipline, or prayer, or deepening your understanding of God, when you’re told you’ll get the presents anyway, good, bad, or indifferent?
I sometimes speculate that there’s a special corner of Hell reserved for those who only displayed outward virtue for fear of winding up in Hell. I wonder what lies in wait for people whose belief in God is predicated on an image of him as some sort of pandering socialist machine who just vends blessings and salvation as long as you aren’t “too bad.”
Someone I spoke to recently was talking about how the church has become rotten, and he’d left because of that. I think oppositely. Look at how many of Paul’s letters are to churches that lost their way, or needed guidance. Jesus didn’t say to reject the world, he wasn’t afraid of the world. He *overcame* the world. And if the world is in the church, so much the better for an apologist/missionary. You’ll have converts aplenty right there at home, and won’t need to ask the Lord for airfare to do his work.
Entitlement is one of the oddest afflictions within Christianity, I never understood this one, but it is as if it is written somewhere in the Bible that our lives will turn out exactly how we want
The weirdest part about this, and it is worse than how people perceive Santa Claus, is that Christians seem to think that their lives should be amazing no matter how they behave!
In North America, we are beyond spoiled in every way, and most people have no idea what real hardship means, even if they consider themselves to be “without”
We are raised to not respect much in our culture, and the idea that we worship the same God who struck people dead for much less than we do in our personal lives is a really hard to understand concept
Oh and yes, most of the letters in the NT from Paul, Peter, and Jesus when addressing the churches in Revelation, were about how these churches had lost their way and deviated from the truth
Can you imagine what these same authors would write to the church now?
Um, I don’t think people’s fragile constitution could take it
“What…? Are you j-j-judging me?”
1 Corinthians 5:12
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?
Your point about working to “save” those within the church is a huge part of why I started writing as I love pushing people to think!
So many of my friends who have been exposed to Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism, etc… have walked away because they never knew the truth of what was available to them, and they generally think anyone religious is blind
The sad truth is, a lot of people “believe” but they don’t know, which is Christianity’s worst downfall: people most often do not know the God they worship
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
That’s definitely not what I know of Calvinism. Five Points of Calvinism:
1) Total Depravity: Fallenness of man.
2) Unconditional Election: God chose people to be merciful to out of eternity.
3) Limited Atonement: Only his people get saved from their fallenness.
4) Irresistible Grace: People who were destined to be saved will be saved.
5) Perserverence of Saints: People who came to him and fell away are either going to come back to him or never did.
Personally I’m not much for subscribing to some other guy’s sorta-extra-biblical theory and calling it the absolute truth, but in the defense of Calvinism, there is nothing there that says “no miracles, no holy spirit, no tongues, no miracles.”
I owe you a t-shirt, that was awesome, thank you for saying hello!
Calvin’s main points are straightforward, but to provide more detail on his stance regarding tongues, check out this article he wrote where he expresses open opposition:
Referencing the first generation of Christians, who were the first to believe in Jesus, Calvin said that tongues were only good “at that time”, and that anyone speaking them after that was only moving their lips and making sound
I love reading your “article”. Every morning when I am in the bus I just need to read and my day will go with what I read. Please don’t stop the site ! Ever ! I feel really close to God now. Thank you Nathan.
It is very nice to meet you, thank you for saying hello
It is such a blessing knowing these articles are helping you grow, that is the best reward!