During debates with online atheists, one thing I notice is that the focus always turns to the nature of God’s character. What should be our focus when we evangelize to the non-believer?
Over the years I’ve written in apologetics I’ve noticed that many of the standard objections to the Christian faith have one thing in common: They believe the Christian God isn’t worth worshipping. What should be our response to this?
If I were conversing with an atheist who told me he rejects Christianity because he believes God is a petty, egotistical bully who demands we worship Him or burn forever, I would first ask where he gets his theology from. If he’s interpreting Hell as a place of literal fire that tells me he hasn’t taken the time to read the best we have to offer. Maybe he doesn’t treat the question of Christianity’s truth seriously? What would make him do so? If the question were to turn to me, it’s my position that Jesus rose from the dead and that means He is someone worth taking very seriously, even if our skeptic doesn’t find His character agreeable at first.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then everything else is meaningless and trivial. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead there’s no reason to argue if God is petty, evil, insecure, etc. The truth of Christianity doesn’t depend on who God is but on what He did in history. No one would say “I’m convinced that Jesus rose from the dead but I’m abandoning Christianity because I don’t know how to answer *insert random objection*.” The question of whether God revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, was crucified, buried, and physically rose from the dead three days later is where we must go first. If we establish that then we can discuss His character and nature and look at the objections.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean the skeptic has to convert before we can look at his objection. Providing the evidence for the Resurrection will, at the very least, show him that there is a good chance Jesus was who He claimed to be. It’s easy to accept an emotional objection at face value when nothing is at stake. Pointing to the Resurrection first shows him that something is at stake and these objections shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Another thing to remember is that just as those in ancient times saw Christianity as an offensive movement so do people today. Trying to pretty God up to evangelize is not how the original disciples went about it and neither is it the way we should approach it. Christianity was utterly offensive to the ancients (claiming exclusivity to a crucified messiah, for example) and it remains offensive to this day for the same reasons. It only survived and grew because there was tangible evidence behind it. Unlike today, where people may convert to Christianity for sentimental or emotional reasons, such conversions were practically non-existent in ancient times, especially when they already knew of religions that offered even more security. For example, Christianity not only demanded ethical restrictions few were willing to follow, it also lived within the paradigm that the reward for following such demands was distant and not promised on earth. Similar rewards for good behaviour were promised in far less demanding systems and, in a present-oriented culture, a lot quicker.
If the skeptic knowingly rejects the revelation of Jesus He is thereby stating, in some way, that Jesus and the disciples are liars and that God has not revealed Himself in history. And if that is what he claims to believe then everything else is trivia. We may as well be debating whether or not burritos are better than tacos. On the other hand, if the evidence does appear to point to a resurrection then both the skeptic and I have good reason to take the objections seriously.
I fear the reason these kinds of objections are seen by skeptics as legitimate reasons to abandon Christianity stems from the sentimental approach to evangelism we’ve adopted in modern times. It has become an emotional experience rather than an apologetic one because we turn Jesus on the cross into an object of pity by telling people to look at how much He suffered so He can be with them. We beg people to accept Him because they couldn’t possibly say no to such an offer. The problem is we’re telling people to believe Christianity is true just because Jesus is good. That alone means nothing to a non-believer. If I say “The Bible says if I don’t receive Him He’ll torture me forever,” or “The Bible records God commanding genocide. How is that good?” then do I not have a legitimate reason to abandon or reject Christianity if all it’s offering me is the claim that someone is good? I do believe Jesus is good, but I also have good evidence that says it really is true. If I don’t share that then what am I hoping to achieve?
I would only be building a house on the sand.