Should I be scared because I doubt whether Christianity is true?

doubts_fishhookQuestion:  I grew up in a Christian household. My step dad was atheist but my mom and I believed in God. Lately I’ve been having doubts about God and Jesus. I definitely believe that there is some form of high power. But I just don’t know what makes Christianity the right religion and not Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Judaism. I question if Jehovah is the right God. And this really scares me because I do not want to go to hell and I love feeling secure in my faith. Also there are some things about Christianity that just sound weird to me. Are there any scriptures or advice you can give to help me?

Answer:  First I would say, it is proper to deal with doubts the way you are.  We all have them.  I think it is the nature of our fallen world and our fallen natures that we find it hard to trust in anything and of course, there is no 100% fullproof way of knowing all the evidence for or against something.  Fortunately, there have been many who have asked the questions we ask and done some great work in thinking through the issues.  So let me give you some thoughts to work with and some reading to pursue.

When I compare the world’s great religions, Christianity (2.1 billion adherents), Islam (1.6 billion), Hinduism (1 billion), Buddhism (376 million), Sikhism (23 million), and Judaism (14 million) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_populations], I am struck by these facts:

  • Every religion on earth teaches that the way to have a right relationship with God (this does not apply to Buddhism because it is not technically a religion that worships God) is to live according to His moral law to a sufficient degree that He accepts you.  Every religion except Christianity.  Christianity teaches that you are not good enough to live anywhere near a sufficient degree of law-keeping but must be given a right relationship with God as a gift in response to faith.  This means that only Christianity is really available as an answer for anyone, regardless of their ability to be moral or law-keepers.
  • Every religion on earth teaches that God will forgive people for their failures, if they aren’t too wicked, out of the goodness of His heart.  Every religion except Christianity.  Christianity teaches that God cannot forgive us justly unless someone takes the just and fair punishment for our wickedness, which is what Jesus did, of course.  In other words, only Christianity requires a sacrifice for sins, something Judaism used to require but hasn’t since their temple was destroyed.  The sacrifices had to be offered in the temple.
  • Only Christianity views God as one God yet three persons.  This means only Christianity has a God who from all eternity has been in personal relationship, has therefore experienced perfect love (it requires at least three individuals to demonstrate perfect love with no jealousy and equal sharing), and who provides an explanation for why humans need and seek both oneness with a community and yet at the same time an individuality and personal uniqueness that sets them apart as special from the community.  The Trinity is the only sufficient model for this.

All this is to say that these differences between Christianity and all other religions are mutually exclusive.  You cannot hold to Christianity and agree on these points with the other world religions.  They contradict one another.  This doesn’t immediately prove that Christianity is the truth.  Perhaps all the other religions got it right and Christianity stands out alone as missing the boat on these big issues, though it seems to me just the opposite would be the case.  But here is where the work of many defenders of the faith will help us see just how reasonable the Christian faith is.  So let me recommend some very helpful books:

The Reason for God, Tim Keller
The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

God is okay with your having doubts.  He loves you and He made you with a mind to analyze and question.  Ask Him to make Himself known to you as you consider the arguments and to show you the truth.  He wants us to love Him with all our hearts, all our soul and all our mind (Matthew 22:37).  Don’t neglect your mind or put it down for doubting.  Follow it to the truth and I believe you will end up loving God more than you did before as you see just how great He is and how clear His answers are to our questions.

For further reading:

Category Archives: Defense of the Faith (a series of articles I have written touching on defending the faith in my Thimble Full of Theology blog)

Category Archives: Apologetics (Defense of the Faith) from my Ask the Pastors blog

Check out Apologetics 3:15

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Is Jesus Angry If We Do Any Business or Trade at Church?

Question:  The one(?) time that Jesus got angry was when there were merchants selling stuff in the temple. How is that different than the craft fairs or church bazaars where people are selling stuff at the church?

Answer:

There were several times Jesus got angry (check out this article), but the thing that made him angry on this occasion was that as worshipers came to the temple for a proscribed or required festival and had to make sacrifices, it was much easier to buy an animal once you traveled to Jerusalem than to bring one from your town far away.  But the leaders in Jerusalem determined that you could only pay for them with a certain temple coin, so that required making a monetary exchange.  It was not a one-to-one exchange.  I suppose you could say there was a money-changing fee attached, but it ended up being a tax and a hardship on many.  Then, of course, the law of supply and demand caused the prices for animals, etc, there in the temple precinct to be inflated.  Instead of helping people worship God it was making it difficult.

In other words, that is completely different from having a church bazaar or craft fair or a bookstore, for example.  Now if a church were requiring you to buy a craft in order to participate in their worship service, that would make Jesus mad.

Will There Be Winter in the Earthly Kingdom?

Question:  I see many Watchtower articles depicting a lovely summer like landscape with kids playing with lions, tigers and bears and everyone has a gleeful look on their face.  We are experiencing a very cold, snowy winter so far and the outlook seems to be more of the same.  Will there be freezing cold winters in Paradise Earth?
I read: While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Genesis 8:22 KJV)

Answer:  There are three phases to the kingdom:  (1) Jesus is currently ruling as king over his people and we live as subjects of the Crown in anticipation of the kingdom coming to earth, (2) Jesus will come and establish his kingdom on earth for 1,000 years, during which there will be births and deaths and a final rebellion led by Satan (Revelation 20), (3) then finally Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) and earth will be remade with no seas and heaven, God’s abode, will come to earth in the form of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21,22).

The question we must answer is whether the time frame God gives in Genesis includes the millennial kingdom (phase 2) and the eternal kingdom (phase 3).  I am guessing that the millennial kingdom will still have seasons, but that with the remaking of the earth described in Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3:10 there is a case that might be made for this promise having been fulfilled and there no longer being seasons.  Could there still be seasons?  I am sure there could be and there might even be a desire for such for in each season we see something unique and special about God’s handiwork.

phases of the kingdom

For further reading:

How Do You Bring an Atheist to Christ?

Question:  How in the world do you bring an atheist to Christ?  I know you should pray for the right words but just wanted your thoughts on this.

Answer:  Bringing an atheist to Christ is just like bringing anyone to Christ.  I love the book “I Once Was Lost” by Everts and Schaupp.  It is a brilliant work based on a lot of experience in evangelism on college campuses.  Let me summarize.

Everyone must cross 5 thresholds to become a Christian.

First, they must come to trust a Christian.  If the non-Christian is to you simply a notch to put on your belt, you will not be trustworthy.  But if you love that person no matter what decision they make about Christ then they can trust you.

Second, they must be curious about Jesus.  Many non-Christians have some knowledge of Jesus and would like some questions about Him answered.  This is a first step toward genuine seeking.

Third, they must be open to radical life change.  Embracing the message of Jesus will require a complete alteration of one’s life.  When a non-Christian begins to understand the meaning of the gospel they will see how it will require radical life change.

Fourth, they must become genuine seekers of God.  They must really want to know the truth and how it affects them.

Fifth, they must believe.

An atheist claims there is no God.  What is their evidence for this belief?  Being willing to engage them on this would be a first step for you in building a trust relationship.  It will take some time because these lines of evidence are not quickly evaluated and answered.  Perhaps as the atheist sees your genuine love for him or her there will be a curiosity developed about why you are who you are and what role Jesus plays in that.  If the atheist is able to see that his or her view does not answer life’s most basic questions he or she might be open to radical life change.  If they become genuine seekers you might be instrumental in helping them through this process of seeking.  And finally you might help challenge them to get off the fence and believe.

We’re talking about a long term commitment to a person with genuine love and a readiness to engage in difficult discussions.  And yes, it will require prayer for the right words and the right heart toward this person.

Why Are There Different Religions

Question:  Why are there different religions?

Answer:  I suppose the simple answer is that people are sinners.  And because people are sinners they will find any possible permutation of religious elements that make sense to them and that gets them off the hook from worshiping the true God.

In Romans 1:18-26 Paul asserts that the truth about who God is, His eternal power and “godhead”, is known to everyone.  It is made clear through creation so that no one has an excuse to say, “I couldn’t find God.”  However, as Paul points out, we suppress that truth.  We want to live our lives the way we want to, not at the dictation of our Creator, so we bend the truth in order to make religion palatable to us.  We can’t escape that there is this religious reality…God…but we can distort the truth enough to feel less pressure to submit to Him.

Consequently we shape God in our own image and when you do that you have to have a different form in which to pour that image and, viola!, you have a new religion.  It also becomes a pathway for some to power as they define what the religion looks like and what its doctrines are and as they dictate the practice of it.  Eventually as your family and maybe your whole society embraces this it becomes a tradition that you cannot deny and still be viewed as part of your community.

Now, to be fair, we need to distinguish between different religions and different expressions within the same religion.  If you compare Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, for example, you will find that each is mutually exclusive of the other.  You cannot consistently hold to one and hold to the others as well.  But within Christianity there are varieties of expression of the same basic doctrines, and the same is true for Hinduism and Islam.  There is Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy within Christianity but they hold many of the same basic beliefs.  Some of this is tied to differences in personality or culture, some to variations as to which doctrinal beliefs are most important.

The possibility always exists, however, that some version of worship that was compatible within the larger religion can move toward “heresy” and become incompatible with the beliefs and practices of the major religion.  Sometimes they will acknowledge that and declare they are no longer a part of that religion, but sometimes they want to stay in the fold even though they have contradicted its major tenets.

All this to say, there are different religions, religions that depart from the revealed truth about God, because people are sinful and they yet cannot refrain from being religious and salving their conscience by having some form of worship.

 

Is Listening to Secular Music Wrong?

Question:  I would like to know if it is alright for a Christian to listen to secular music. I’m not talking about that rap music or singing that degrades women or uses profanity. I’m talking about artists like Luther Vandross who sang nothing but love ballads. And other artists that are gifted who sing some really wonderful songs outside the gospel arena. My brother believes that if the music isn’t honoring God it’s wrong to listen to it. I totally disagree with that. I love the LORD and I love my brother, and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. But I don’t think he is looking at the big picture. The Bible said every good gift and every perfect gift cometh from the father of lights. So whether that person chooses to honor the good LORD or not it’s still a gift from GOD. Paul said everything is lawful but not everything is expedient. If it’s something that’s going to make my brother fall I’ll take it somewhere else. But to say secular music is wrong, I beg to differ.

Answer:  I am in agreement with you on this.  God has gifted human beings with God-likeness and part of that likeness is creativity in musical expression.  I have heard some beautiful music (lyrically and in quality of music).  I can celebrate God’s greatness as I see it expressed through human giftedness.  Psalm 8 says we were created a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor.  That does not contradict the Biblical message of man’s sinfulness, but rather complements it with a message of man’s glorious nature.

Besides, just because something isn’t explicitly Christian does not mean it is false or evil.  Some music is simply a description of a particular struggle or a particular joy.  Otis Redding was “sittin’ on the dock of bay” wasting time because he was lonely.  He was describing a particularly low point in his life with this song.  No, he didn’t give a Christian answer to the problem, but he accurately described a common problem people suffer.

So, of course, I must be careful to evaluate the message of the music.  Most modern songs, for example, are about love relationships and commonly “teach” that a love relationship with another human being is the answer to life.  That is an ungodly message.  But I can celebrate a loving human relationship in the right way using that song.  Also, listening to the world’s music shows me what people are thinking and gives me an avenue into their thoughts and beliefs and into their lives that might help me share the gospel with them.

Martin Luther created one of his greatest hymns, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, using a tune from a bar song.  The apostle Paul adapted a Greek poet/philosopher’s saying into his sermon (Acts 17:28).  He also wrote using a lot of athletic imagery (for example, Philippians 3:12-14), signalling his familiarity with the Greek games.  Being a part of the human community includes honoring that which is positive about the human community as much as decrying what is evil.  Human beings, even unsaved one, do an incredible amount of good things.  We need to affirm this.

When we try to remain aloof from any and every human endeavor that is not specifically proclaiming the gospel, we will find ourselves very much divorced from the life of our community and also very much divorced from opportunities to proclaim the truth.  Building relationships requires common ground.  Appreciating what is good in the arts is one platform of common ground.  I must watch to be careful that I am not so influenced by that common ground that I depart from the uncommon gospel.  But given that warning I can and should learn to appreciate what is good in secular music.

Can a Homosexual Be a Christian?

Question: Can a man claim to be a Christian and still be a homosexual? I just happened to hear some guys talking about that and I thought it was very interesting, even though I believe I know the answer to the question (NO WAY!). p.s I judge them not, our Heavenly Father wants me and others to pray for them, that they find the same GOD who forgave us for our sins, can also forgive them for there’s.

Answer: The question is a complex one. By homosexual do you mean someone who is actively engaged in sexual relationships? Or do you mean someone who is not engaged in sexual relationships but has same-sex attraction?

If the person is engaged in sexual relationships do they believe that the Scriptures forbid such relationships or have they been convinced that Scripture approves one-partner committed relationships?

Have you ever been involved in a sinful behavior that you did not realize was sinful? Did you claim to be a Christian at the time? Were you a Christian?  A person might be in homosexual relationships but not know that they are wrong.  This doesn’t mean they are not experiencing the consequences of wrong behavior (all of God’s laws are designed to help us function most like we were created to function).  But their conscience may not be moving them to deal with it as sin.

I believe the Scriptures are clear that same-sex intercourse is sinful. Same-sex attraction is not. I also believe that a true believer can be engaging in sinful behaviors but that if they are challenged by the truth and are seeking to break free from sinful behaviors this is an evidence that they are true believers. They should also be experiencing some success at breaking from sinful behaviors.

How long can a person continue in sinful behavior before we question whether they are truly redeemed or not? I cannot say. But as you note, this is something we must leave to the Lord. I am not required to prove that anyone is not a Christian. If they claim to be I am required to continue seeking to help them move toward holiness.

Randall Johnson