You must be ready for those who will put down your faith and belittle you for your beliefs. People will probably be surprised that you even hold to such beliefs and many may have never heard of what it truly means to be a Christian.
I want to begin giving you some points of contact you can use to in discussing with people who claim there is no God.
First, people have a sense of unsatisfied longing.
Second, human rationality helps us point toward the existence of God.
Third, because there is an order to the world, there must be a designer.
Fourth, human morality leads us to a higher law. There is a sense of “oughtness” in every man.
Fifth, people have a feeling of alienation and anxiety.
Finally in proving the existence of God, there is a finitude and death.
How can a good God (if He exists) allow evil to exist?
God gives us significant freedom that allows us to freely choose good over evil.
God must think our love is worth the risk of us choosing evil over good.
The reason there is so much evil in the world is that people are trying to invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.
Suffering is for our discipline or a test. It is painful but good for us.
Suffering can be for revelation.
Fourth, suffering is for redemptive purposes.
Fifth, it is just a plain mystery.
How can you stand and say that Jesus is the only way? Jesus says that the only way to get to heaven is through Him
A key point for Christians is to place emphasis on the distinctiveness of Christianity. The first distinctive is the incarnation of God in the flesh.
Secondly, we believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
Third, we believe in the atonement of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The atonement of sin is unique and offers the Christian an opportunity to present the hope and joy in the Gospel to the world.
I would recommend that you try and expose the intolerance and the arrogance of pluralism. Pluralists say all religions are NOT the way.
Pluralists are arrogant in their own exclusiveness. Gravity as a truth is not arrogant. I would hope my doctor would be intolerant of other truths in giving me my medical diagnosis. I either have cancer or I do not have cancer. I am either HIV positive or I am HIV negative.
LETTER TO STUDENT LEAVING FOR COLLEGE . . .
September 27, 2012
Congratulations on your acceptance into Harvard. That is such an incredible accomplishment for which all of us are extremely proud of you. You have certainly won the respect and admiration of your church family here and we will hold you close in our prayers. I know you must be excited about beginning anew at Harvard. You have been such a tremendous godly model for all of us here and I want to encourage you to continue growing in your faith. I want to take this opportunity, as you are about to leave, to write down my thoughts and some advice for you if you don’t mind. I personally have never been to Boston nor to Harvard but I do feel I have somewhat of an idea how it might be for you there theologically. It is on this assumption that I write this letter of warning, instruction, and encouragement.
College will afford you tremendous opportunities to expand your mind and to grow as a person like you have never done before. You will learn more about yourself than you ever have and hopefully will become a wiser person for it. You will be around some of the most gifted minds in all the world but unfortunately many of them do not have any concept of Jesus Christ. They have not figured out what life is all about. Paul writes to the church at Rome that “professing to be wise, they become fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man.” (Romans 1:22-23).
You must be ready for those who will put down your faith and belittle you for your beliefs. People will probably be surprised that you even hold to such beliefs and many may have never heard of what it truly means to be a Christian. Peter wrote to Christians in 1 Peter 3:15 to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” I write this letter to share with you some ways you can defend your faith and have an answer for those who want to challenge your beliefs. I am sure you that your faith will be tested far more than ever before. I hope and pray that this letter may be of some assistance to you as you stand as a lighthouse for the Gospel of Christ. I pray that this provides you hope and encouragement as you begin this new phrase in your journey with Christ. Please know that I am only a phone call or email away.
You will encounter people who will challenge the very existence of God. They will say He does not exist and its all just a mere illusion. I want to begin giving you some points of contact you can use to in discussing with people who claim there is no God. Hopefully this might give you an opportunity to lay a foundation for sharing Christ with your unbelieving friends and acquaintances and bring encouragement to you as well.
First, people have a sense of unsatisfied longing. All of us have an inner desire for God that can be compared with one’s desire for food. There is a “divine dissatisfaction” in the human experience that prompts us to ask whether there is anything that may satisfy the desires of the human heart. People will try and fill this void with every pleasure they can imagine but they will still remain unfulfilled. Since you hunger, there must be something that can fill that void. Even if you starve to death, there still must be something that was meant to fill that void. Since there is a desire, there must be something that fills that void. C.S. Lewis says that “A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called ‘falling in love’ occurred in a sexless world.” Same can be said with the void in the human heart, there must be something that can fill it. This is only a beginning but it does seem to point toward our creator, God.
Second, human rationality helps us point toward the existence of God. The fact that there is congruence between human rationality and the rationality—the orderedness—which we observe in the world around us raises a major question: Why? Why does abstract structures of pure mathematics provide such clues to the understanding of the world? Suppose the same master creator fashioned both the world and the human mind. Would one not expect the world would point toward its creator and allow that creation to be capable of understanding the traces of divine order in this world? There is sufficient reason for God’s existence. Everything that exists must have some reasonable explanation for its existence. The world is not static, but dynamic. How then did the world come into motion? Unless there is an infinite number of causes, there must be an ultimate origin or source from which all motion is ultimately derived. We believe that the ultimate source is God. Also, every finite thing we know of is contingent on other things. There are causes that explain why things are. A necessary being is that which exists in its own right. It cannot NOT exist and therefore it has to be eternal. God is a necessary Being. The world as we know it mirrors God.
Third, because there is an order to the world, there must be a designer. There must be a designer to the world because there is an adaptation to an end. One cannot pretend to have a mind that understands reality if everything is by chance. One must either deny that life has meaning or admit they were created by a designer. There is a means to an end relationship. The odds of the universe just randomly coming together to form life, reason, and rationality is unbelievable. The delicate and intricate balance in the structuring of our universe must credit a designer. I will not get into the details of natural sciences but this is at least a beginning point of contact you can use to point toward the existence of God.
Fourth, human morality leads us to a higher law. There is a sense of “oughtness” in every man. There is a sense of moral obligation. Nobody fulfills this responsibility perfectly but everybody knows they ought to. There is a law of human nature just as there are laws of nature. The law of human nature tells what one ought to do and ought not to do. When people disagree about moral issues, they behave as if there is an underlying agreement about what is right and wrong. I would highly recommend you read C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. It is tremendous and he does a great job leading you through some of life’s toughest questions. He says, “if not one set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. . . The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other.” Our conscience is one of our best tools for ministry and reaching the lost. “Oughtness” is not a matter of our own convenience for the behavior we call bad or unfair.
Fifth, people have a feeling of alienation and anxiety. People don’t feel like they belong. Anxiety is an all-pervasive problem which revolves around freedom and fate. To exist means to stand and you and I stand out from the environment. There is a cause and effect to our world and therefore people feel like its all just fate. Humans unlike anything else, exist and are able to think back on themselves. Humans transcend cause and effect. People feel anxiety by a universe that is not friendly. One’s existence is always threatened. Humans have tremendous freedom but people are anxious because one has enormous decisions to make and they are afraid they will make all the wrong decisions. Our answer is that this human sense of anxiety is ultimately grounded in the absence of the presence of God. St. Augustine said (paraphrased) that our hearts are restless because they have yet to find a resting place, yet alone to discover that the only resting place that grants true rest is God Himself.
Finally in proving the existence of God, there is a finitude and death. Everything that we do on this earth comes to an end but the amazing thing is that society rarely talks about it. People use more logic and planning gambling in Las Vegas than they do about death and their plan for all of eternity. They are betting all of eternity without any clue where they are headed. People are infatuated with youth and cheating death. Death is universal but it is made to sound so unnatural. Anxiety over death is a symptom of the emptiness that comes from being separated from God. It is precisely this anxiety that is an intimation of the possibility of fulfillment of our sin-broken being. The sin of fear that assaults human nature may be regarded as God gently knocking at the door of life, reminding us that we are but tenants on a short-term lease. The fear of death leads only to the assurance of eternal life in Christ.
One of the toughest arguments to overcome in regard to the existence of God is the existence of evil in the world. How can a good God (if He exists) allow evil to exist? First, we are believers because Jesus Christ is love, not because of seeing the love of God in this world. God gives us significant freedom that allows us to freely choose good over evil. God must think our love is worth the risk of us choosing evil over good. Free will, though its makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The reason there is so much evil in the world is that people are trying to invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. C.S. Lewis states ” . . . and out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. . . The reason why this can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine.” An engine runs on gasoline while God designed the human machine to run on Himself. Lewis continues, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. That is the key to history.” That is why evil exists and why God has made a provision for it in Christ.
I struggle myself with evil and why we suffer? I know God has a plan, but honestly it is still difficult to grasp. I heard a quote about Mrs. Albert Einstein and how she was once asked if she understood relativity. She simply replied, “No, but I trust Albert.” I don’t fully understand suffering but I trust God. C.S. Lewis (you may noticed that he is a favorite of mine and an expert in defending our faith) said that there are numerous justifications for suffering. One justification is because of punishment and the idea of wrath of God for sin. I believe as Christians we are saved under grace but there are consequences for our actions. Secondly, suffering is for our discipline or a test. It is painful but good for us. Hebrews 12:5-11, 1 Peter 1:6-7, and Deuteronomy 8:1-5 all give us an examples of discipline as a reason for suffering.
Thirdly, suffering can be for revelation. Some truths you can never get to without suffering. Hosea was commanded to marry the prostitute Gomer so he could deliver God’s sovereign message because of his suffering. Romans 8:38-39 carries us through a whole list of trials and in those trials we can know the love of God more fully.
Fourthly, suffering is for redemptive purposes. Jesus suffered for the Church so it might be born. We are His Body and as we suffer the Body of Christ is built up. Some ministries cannot exist without suffering. Martin Luther King suffered in a nonviolent way to redeem the one who was oppressing him.
Fifthly, it is just a plain mystery. Job 38 through 40 (I highly recommend you read these verses and reflect that the God questioning Job is the same God that came in the flesh to be born in a manger) eloquently describes God’s sovereignty and claims that this universe belongs to Him. Therefore we need to submit to His knowledge. Whether we like it or not, its His universe. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding . . .” We can celebrate that the “books” will be balanced, evil will be destroyed and praise God because we know that Jesus is coming again to take back His own.
God has given us a conscience to sense what is right and wrong. He chose a particular people (Israel) and He tried to show them Himself and that He cared about right conduct. Most importantly, He came in the form of a man to experience life with us. God came to share in our hurts, to face our temptations, to experience our trials, and to show us how to live. He told people that their sins are forgiven. Our claim that Jesus is God is a major dividing line between Christians and those who are unbelievers. We will discuss this more later but C.S. Lewis says you can “shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.”
I also want to discuss with you relativity and absolute truth. How can you stand and say that Jesus is the only way? Jesus says that the only way to get to heaven is through Him. That is quite offensive to people nowadays because we live in a world that says, there is no truth and there are no absolutes. “Everybody has a point” and “if its true for you, then good but don’t put your beliefs on me” is the premise that has become so pervasive today. People say that insisting that one’s way is the only way is arrogant.
We need to show Christianity’s incompatibility. It all comes down to who do you say that Jesus is? A key point for Christians is to place emphasis on the distinctiveness of Christianity. The first distinctive is the incarnation of God in the flesh. We claim that God came forth in the form of a man. God came to us while the other major religions claim that we must go to God. Christianity is unique and therefore a choice has to be made, either to be for or against it. Christianity is either a matter of truth or falsehood. Jesus claims to be God and have the power to forgive sins. We must either say He is a liar, lunatic, or Lord. He is either a liar who is no Lord although He rose again. He is either a lunatic who thought He was Lord but died anyway. Or He is Lord and is the person who He claimed to be.
Second, we believe in the resurrection of Jesus. You cannot go and visit the grave of Jesus because there is not one. The empty tomb is something we can use to testify to the divinity of Christ and our uniqueness as a religion. We serve a risen savior who His followers never denied His resurrection. Charles Colson, who was a close aide to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal, said that the cover-up of the President’s involvement only lasted a matter of weeks until one aide could not keep it a secret and revealed it to the world (John Dean). This aide was working for the most powerful man in the world and could not keep a secret for only a few weeks. Soon after Dean leaked the others came forward and most went to prison. If the resurrection was a lie, then most of the disciples were beaten, even tortured, and died for that lie and no one once ever renounced it. I personally would never die for a lie and I cannot imagine ten (legend says that the Apostle John died of natural causes) people (at least) having the fortitude and boldness to die for a lie either. Somewhere along the way they would have “leaked.”
Third, we believe in the atonement of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That He came to die in our place for the sins of man. It is unique in that He presented a solution for the evil and dysfunction in our world. We have an answer to overcoming the power of sin and separation from God. We serve a perfect God who wants us to come into fellowship with Him. We cannot come into fellowship with Him unless we are perfect like Him. Our moral law within us shows that we cannot live up to what we “ought” to do. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. By the atonement, we who believe are seen as perfect in the eyes of God because of the blood of Jesus and can come into fellowship with God. The atonement of sin is unique and offers the Christian an opportunity to present the hope and joy in the Gospel to the world.
Without exception, you will face pluralism in its extreme version that claims there is no truth. I would recommend that you try and expose the intolerance and the arrogance of pluralism. Pluralists say all religions are NOT the way. Pluralists are arrogant in their own exclusiveness. Gravity as a truth is not arrogant. I would hope my doctor would be intolerant of other truths in giving me my medical diagnosis. I either have cancer or I do not have cancer. I am either HIV positive or I am HIV negative. There is no in between or whatever is good for you is, is the truth for you. Pluralists claim that the rejection of religious pluralism entails intolerance or unacceptable claims to exclusivity. In effect, the liberal political agenda dictates that all religions should be treated on an equal footing. Alister E. McGrath in his fine book Intellectuals Don’t Need God & Other Modern Myths (another great book I’d recommend to you) says that religion is often determined by the circumstances of one’s birth. An Indian is likely to be a Hindu; an Arab is likely to be a Muslim. Therefore, it is argued, all religions must be equal paths to the truth. McGrath says that “this makes truth a function of birth.” He compares that with the thought that if one were born into Nazi Germany, would that make Nazism true? If one were born into ancient Rome, one would probably be polytheistic. If one were born into modern Arabia, then one probably would be monotheistic. Then is both polytheism and monotheism true? McGrath inquires, “No other intellectual discipline would accept such a superficial approach to truth. Why accept it here?” The pluralistic logic then would conclude that if different people have different religious views, therefore all religious views are equally valid. That idea is absurd!
One may hear that if they are passionate about their religion and believe it with all their might, then that religion is true for them. “Any view that is held with sincerity may be regarded as true,” people may claim. So if a person passionately believed that the earth is flat, would that be true? McGrath questions that if one would sincerely believe that modern Europe would be a better place if six million Jews were to be placed in gas chambers, would the sincerity of those convictions allow that view to be accepted as true as well? British philosopher of religion John Hick summarizes the absurdity of this view: “To say that whatever is sincerely believed and practiced is, by definition true, would be the end of all critical discrimination, both intellectually and morally.” I could not agree more.
Finally, I want to mention the New Age movement. Unfortunately it is all around us and has crept into almost every facet of our society. Many of the Hollywood types as well as famous names like Oprah Winfrey have gotten involved. New Age or Monism, on a fundamental level, states that everything is one. Much of New Age thinks that physical reality, emotional reality, mental reality in the individual is an expression of existence. The cells in our body all have DNA. Everything needed to create a whole body is in one cell. They believe that if they can change energy like their spirit, they can change reality. Furthermore, it not only changes them, it changes the world. They believe that if they can change their thoughts, they can change their world.
The whole world view of New Age is centered on magic. The idea is that in some way by mental imaging (have you ever heard, “visual world peace”?), the way one talks and the way one acts, one can change one’s reality. There is also a big emphasis on not depending on others. They are against apologizing to others because they feel they are perfect in their own nature and they do not need others. All is one and God is everything is their focus. God is in love, vibration, energy, light, mind, and spirit. God is in all of these. They emphasize on not denying oneself of anything.
The great appeal to New Age is that a person does not have to be afraid because he or she can control his or her own destiny. Its been called a McDonald’s version of Hinduism because one can have it their way. A person becomes God in New Age. Also, one’s background is incorporated into New Age, whether someone has been Muslim or Christian or whatever. New Age simply adds to what one has but gives out a whole new context. Jesus is well respected in New Age because He said He was the Son of God. New Agers believe they too are like Jesus. Jesus in their eyes is a guru because he tapped into this power.
Have you ever seen the movie “Ghost” where Whoopi Goldberg channels other spirits or have you heard of Hillary Clinton having someone channel the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt? Well, both of those are very New Age examples, not to mention considered satanic. Channeling is dealing with entities that are of a higher spiritual level. They have evolved to higher life forms. The only thing, it is not “new” at all. If you turn to Acts 8:9-25 you will see that Philip dealt with Simon the sorcerer who was practicing magic (which is the essence of New Age) and claimed to be someone great. Simon was overwhelmed by seeing the power of the Holy Spirit exhibited through the life of Philip.
Deepak Chopra, a longtime comrade of Hinduism is a leader in the New Age movement. He is pushing a holistic medicine. He focuses on getting in harmony with the universe. Sadly, he is putting people in terrible bondage because he claims it is their fault for their cancer or hurt loved ones, or whatever ails them because he says they are not in harmony with their universe.
So how can we as Christians argue with one who is New Age? Well, it will be quite difficult but here are some suggestions. First, to some degree we can argue about Monism because it recognizes no difference between right and wrong. We must make clear to them that they must choose between Christianity and New Age. We must show them New Age does NOT go with Christianity. We must show the Bible speaks of these powers and they are dangerous (Acts 8:9-24). They are living with powers of the devil who comes to kill, steal, and destroy. We must have power greater than they do like Philip in Acts 8. A verbal argument sometimes just won’t do it. New Agers are looking for something we don’t have too often times. The church is going to have to be the Church and all that entails. It is a shame and a scandal that we as Baptists leave it to the “health and wealth” crowd to focus on healing. We have the power of God within us that can break the chains of darkness on people’s lives.
Tom, I hope this letter may be of assistance and encouragement to you. Know that we are very proud of you and please do not hesitate to call me collect if there is ever anything I can do for you. May God bless you and keep you as you are salt and light in a very dark world.