Why would one not choose to be a Christian?

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steve
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Why would one not choose to be a Christian?

Post by steve » Thu Aug 22, 2019 7:50 am

Here is another correspondence from just today:

Dear Steve,
I've been listening to your show for a few months now. A few weeks ago you invited non christians to call up and explain why they did not want to become christians, because you could not think of any reason why someone would not want to be one. I've got several, here's a few.

As the name of your show implies (the narrow path) the bible makes it very clear that only a very small minority of humanity will enter eternity; the true sons of Abraham, while the vast majority will suffer eternal torment in hell. This is not "good news", but rather, a story of the destruction of the human race. The jewish god is not a god of love and compassion, but an angry and vengeful tyrant.

I choose to have a much more optimistic view of the world. I believe the human race will survive into the future, and we will achieve great things through science and knowledge. We will eventually be able to travel beyond the earth, and achieve things we can'even imagine at this time.

Also, the idea that we are all born sinners is a dangerous, and may I say, evil idea that has caused much mayhem and sadness to innocent people throughout the ages. If you want to believe that you are born guilty, you are free to do so, but please have the courtesy to speak for yourself only.
I'll keep listening,
S.H.—

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Hello S.H.,
Thanks for writing! I didn't say (or, at any rate, mean) that I cannot imagine why anyone would not want to be a Christian, but, rather, why anyone would not choose to be a Christian. My assumption is that what we "want" and what we actually decide to do may sometimes differ—especially if the less-desired course of action happens to be the honest one.

It is interesting that you give the following Christian beliefs as reasons for not believing in Christ:

1) Only a few people will be saved;

2) The rest will burn eternally in hell;

3) The Gospel is the message of the destruction of the human race;

4) The Abrahamic God is not a God of love, but is angry and vengeful;

5) Christians teach that people are born guilty.


You say you have listened to my program for a few months (thank you for listening), but you have apparently missed the fact that I do not believe that any of those five propositions can be discovered in scripture—and certainly not in Christ's teachings. Therefore, I suggest that you are rejecting a traditional form of Christianity, which is not based upon the Bible's actual teachings, nor, specifically, those of Christ. If those five points define the Christianity that you are rejecting, then you are much closer to where I am at than you think you are.

Of course, the real reason one should accept or reject Christianity (or any other belief system) has nothing to do with how its teachings make you feel. The only thing that needs to be considered (at least, by an honest person) would be whether or not its claims are, in fact, true.

Many things are true, which don't make any of us feel good—like the fact that many people whom we love will suffer from cancer, or Alzheimer's disease, or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), or mental illness, or the ravages of war, or criminal violence, or disabilities due to serious accidents—and that all of us, in any case, will be dead, less than a century from now.

These may not be very comforting thoughts, but the real question is, "Do they conform to reality?"—another way of saying, "Are they true?" The answer, in this case, is "Certainly!"—suggesting that we should believe such facts for their correctness, however repugnant we may find them. Only when we are willing to acknowledge inconvenient truths will we be inclined to adjust our behaviors and seek solutions.

Even if Christ had taught all the obnoxious doctrines that you have named (thankfully, He did not), the real question would be, "Regardless of what I feel or think about these matters—is Christianity the truth, or is it not?" That is, "Does the teaching of Christ conform to reality?" Your email to me did not address this question—and it is the only question that matters.

It is a question to be decided by consideration of actual evidence, since Christianity's basic claim (i.e., that Jesus rose from the dead) is an alleged historical fact, which can be researched, and either verified or falsified, like any other.

The reason that many atheists have become Christians is that they made their own (initially-skeptical) exploration into these alleged facts. Some of them have written extensively of their research and findings (e.g., Josh McDowell, Alistair McGrath, Lee Strobel, C.S. Lewis, Peter Stoner, and many others).

This is why I really don't understand why anyone with access to the information would not be a Christian. But then, I have looked extensively into the evidence, and most unbelievers have not, so that explains a lot.

Why they have not cared to look into this is another mystery to me, since I can't imagine any question being more urgent to any but the shallowest thinkers. I am aware that, for many people, the issues that interest them are not those of evidence and truth, but only the adoption of pleasing, if unverifiable, narrative.

A comic writer, speaking more honestly than humorously, wrote: "I have abandoned my search for truth, and am now looking for a good fantasy." It may be that you have found a fantasy that works for you. Some people are satisfied to adopt a non-verifiable worldview that they can live with—without sufficient regard for the question of whether it is one they can also die with. For some of us, no fantasy is more to be desired than the truth, even if it proves to be inconvenient.

Given the choice between a sobering truth and a rosy view of things, the latter will always win the vote of most people. However, if all questions of fact were to be decided on such a basis, we would have to disbelieve that there was ever a holocaust, since we feel a universal revulsion toward it.

If you have any rational reasons for rejecting Christ, I would still love to hear more from you about them. Thanks again for your response thus far.

Sincerely,
Steve Gregg

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steve
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Re: Why would one not choose to be a Christian?

Post by steve » Sat Aug 24, 2019 9:59 am

As a result of posting the above on Facebook, I received a couple of requests for follow-up, which I post here, recognizing that the original post is incomplete without them:
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J.H. wrote:
Hi Steve, Where can we learn about the historical evidences of Jesus?
The ones that even secular historians aren't disputing?


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Hi J.H.,

There are many good places to find summaries of the best evidences, including books by the former atheists I named above. Here are a few:

"The Historical Reliability of the Gospels" (Craig Blomberg)

"Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus" (Gary Habermas)

"History and Christianity" (John Warwick Montgomery)

"Jesus and the Eye-Witnesses" (Richard Bauckham)

"Letters from a Skeptic" (Gregory Boyd)

"New Evidence That Demands a Verdict" (Josh McDowel)

"The Case for Christ" (Lee Strobel)

"The Testimony of the Evangelists" (Simon Greenleaf)

"Who Moved the Stone?" (Peter Stoner)

"Jesus Under Fire" (Wilkins and Moreland)

"Basic Christianity" (John R.W. Stott)

"The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?" (F.F. Bruce)

"Mere Christianity" (C.S. Lewis)

"Total Truth" (Nancy Pearcey)

There is a documentary in which I participated, called "The Jesus of Testimony" which is an impressive presentation from many scholars, and can be viewed here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGPeS4xRRLI

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Jenny wrote:
I like your answer, but now I’m wondering your opinion on the topics.


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Hi Jenny,

Since I made the correspondence public, and left those five points hanging unaddressed, I guess I owe the public an explanation of these points:

1) Only a few people will be saved;

The Bible does not say that few will be saved, though it does say that many will not be (Luke 13:23-28). This is no objection that can be raised against God, since God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9; Ezek.33:11), and He makes His gracious appeal to all people. Those who manage to escape the persistent love of God, that pursues them all their lives, will end up in hell by their own stubborn persistence!

How many will be saved? No one knows, but John saw an innumerable, international, interracial multitude in heaven (Rev.7:9-17).

Jesus pointed out to His disciples that there were, in their day, few on the path leading to life (Matt.7:14), but He did not indicate that this would always be the case. Things change. At the dawn of the Day of Pentecost, there were 120 Christians in the world. That evening, there were 3,000. Today there are hundreds of millions. In the future...who knows?

2) The rest will burn eternally in hell;

The idea that hell is a place of unending torment (Tertullian's view) appears to have the support of four or five verses, found in passages that happen to be marked by significant symbolism. The view became a "standard" teaching of "Christianity" through the influence of Augustine, in the fourth century. However, there have always been evangelical Christians who questioned it on biblical grounds.

The alternative idea that hell is a place of proportionate punishment, followed by final extinction and oblivion (Irenaeus' view) has considerably more scriptural support. So does a third view, that people in hell may, conceivably, even have opportunity to change their minds (Origin's view) [See my book or my lectures on these three alternatives].

The Bible is simply not clear on the exact nature of hell, but it is clear on the fact that God has more compassion for sinners than any of us have, and is so committed to their salvation that He was willing to die for them.

One thing the Bible is unambiguous about: God will never punish anyone more than He must—that is, more than justice demands. If eternal torment is not just, then it will not occur. On the other hand, if it is just, what's the complaint?

3) The Gospel is the message of the destruction of the human race;

No, it is natural history that is the story of the destruction of the human race. Every human being faces eventual death. Even though new generations arise to succeed them, these, too, will die. If a million generations should follow in sequence, the fact remains that the sun will eventually burn itself out, and the whole universe is facing ultimate heat-death.

The destruction of the human race needs no intervention from God, or the Gospel, to bring it about. Nature itself will take care of that, and none but God can prevent it.

By contrast, the Gospel is the message of the redemption and rescue of the human race, in Christ. It is the only message which credibly offers human beings immortality. It is the only lifeboat offered to those on the inevitably sinking ship.

The objector has the matter turned completely upside down.

4) The Abrahamic God is not a God of love, but is angry and vengeful;

This idea is not taught by either the Old Testament nor by Christ, so it is not a part of Christianity. The Bible does teach that God's commitment to justice and goodness places Him in the unique position (and His role as Creator of everything explains His determination) to set all things right. This means He must judge the crimes of the lawless, unless He can rescue them from this doom.

In every case, in scripture, God is seen as reluctant to carry out such judgment. When the world was utterly corrupt, He stalled 120 years before sending the flood. The Canaanites were sacrificing babies to demons for four-hundred years while God withheld His hand of judgment, waiting for them to repent. The wicked city Nineveh was 40 days from their date of destruction when they repented, and God gave them another hundred-year stay of execution.

In fact, one of the stated reasons that Christ has not yet come is that, when He does, He must settle the scores. If He were to do this today, many would perish, whom He desires to save (2 Peter 3:9).

It is hard to deny that a God who sees a world daily giving Him the finger, and who nonetheless comes down to die in their place for their crimes, is a God of mercy. The Bible says, "God is love," but it never says "God is vengeance and wrath." Those who say otherwise are simply making up their own religious ideas as they go along. The Christian bears no responsibility to defend such nightmare fantasies.

Bringing vengeance upon perps, in order to vindicate innocent people, is what a good and just God sometimes must do—just as a courtroom judge may be a gentle and compassionate man or woman, and yet be obliged to sentence a criminal to a just and severe sentence.

5) Christians teach that people are born guilty.

The Bible doesn't say this. It is another idea popularized by Augustine.

People are born inclined toward self-interest and destructive social behaviors (has anyone known any exceptions?). Babies are not born guilty of sins that they have not committed personally (Mark 10:14; Rom.5:12). Babies are innocent, but not morally healthy, at birth—since they are bent but have not yet committed any crimes. Like crack babies, all people are born innocent, but with an addiction to self-destructive and unlawful behaviors from which only God can rehabilitate them.

It is more biblical to say that people are born morally disabled and sick, and in need of a physician (Mat.9:12-13; Isaiah 1:6; 6:10; 53:5); or that they are born in bondage, and need to be delivered (Luke 4:18; 13:16; John 8:34; Rom.6:17); or that they are born incapable of hitting the necessary target (the word "sin" means "missing the mark"), and are in need of divine assistance (Matt.1:21; Rom. 8:5:6), than to say they are born "guilty"—a claim never found in scripture.

I hope this somewhat clears up these points.

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