Redeeming a Skeptical Contention: “Why Are Christians So Bad?” - page 1



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From the Summer 2016 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Redeeming a Skeptical Contention:
“Why Are Christians So Bad?”

by Paul Joen, M.Div., Ph.D.
Senior Pastor, New City Church

n the Washington Post every now and then, there’s an article about a celebrity pastor who has fallen from grace. And so you’ve probably heard a popular contention against Christianity, which usually goes along these lines: “Why are Christians so bad?” What’s so interesting about this contention is that it illustrates something important for evangelism. That is, though many objections to Christianity appear to be purely intellectual or theoretical, often it’s the personal problems that hinder people from coming to faith.
  Take, for example, a book titled Why I Became an Atheist.1 It’s written by a former evangelical pastor who lays out his arguments against Christianity. On the surface, it looks very intellectual and philosophical. But it’s fascinating that he talks vividly about his own testimony—his personal experience—of how Christians in his church treated him ungraciously. It seems that personal experience, of a lack of grace by Christians, became the greatest obstacle to his own faith.
  Similarly many others who bring up this contention against Christianity give deeply personal, rather than intellectual or informational, objections. It’s important to remember that we’re dealing with people—with emotions, feelings—not robots. When being engaged by skeptics, seekers, and nonbelievers, our goal is not to win an argument or a debate; it’s not a battle of brains. Rather, it’s about building bridges with people who have these questions and experiences. So here are three quick considerations for how we can redeem this contention against Christianity:

Response Number 1: “You’re Right”

  When we hear someone say, “You Christians ought to be commendable, but you’re not,” we can first acknowledge the legitimacy of the contention. In Titus 3:5–8 the apostle Paul reminds us that though we’re not saved by works, we are saved unto good works. That is, one way that we know we are saved is that our lives are full of good works. So to the skeptic who raises this objection, our response should honestly be, “I know you say you don’t believe the Bible, but you’re absolutely right, because you’re saying exactly what the Bible says.” When we respond this way, we disarm the skeptic. They’re expecting us to get defensive. They’re not expecting, “You’re absolutely right; our lives should abound with good works.” I think that’s a starting point for dialogue—and a biblical one.
  My insightful friend from MIT is not a believer, but she questions, if the gospel narrative of what God has done in Jesus Christ to redeem the world is true, then why are Christians not intentional about the way they live in the world?

1 John Luftus, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012).
2 Scriptural quotations are from the English Standard Version.
3 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; repr, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 208. Ibid., 209–211.

Paul Joen is the Senior Pastor of New City Church (part of the Presbyterian Church in America) in Falls Church, VA. He received his M.Div from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and a Ph.D. from Catholic University in Washington, DC. Paul grew up in Queens, NY and currently lives in Fairfax, VA with his wife, Geena, and their young sons, Christian and Jordan.


Recommended Reading:
Randall J. Pederson, Day by Day with Jonathan Edwards: Selected Readings for Daily Reflection (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2015)

This thoughtful collection of sermons offers readers a thoughtful and meditative daily devotional. Compiled from both published and unpublished writings by Jonathan Edwards, readers will learn from his pen how the Christian life should be lived. Includes an Introduction.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  Knowing & Doing is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

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