Introduction: I received an e-mail from a former Christian. Instead of it being a Q and A article, I decided to post the entire conversation I had with him. Below is the back and forth that we had. With his permission, I have posted this conversation, and I hope it helps unbelievers who struggle with what he has been struggling with, and I hope that it lights a fire under Christians to do better about how they live in front of unbelievers. In particular, we need to be more vigorous in sharing the gospel with unbelievers with reasons to believe.
BOB: Hello Evan,
As a former bible believer I have had a great interest in dialogue with Christians. Since there are none in my part of South Central Virginia, USA who seem to have any interest in dialogue with a non believer, I seek out believers on the internet.
In the past 15 plus years I have had dozens and dozens of email dialogues, some lasting perhaps 6-8 replies at the very most. Almost without fail the Christian just stops responding. They don't offer - "I don't want to talk to you any more", no "Well, it looks like we are at an impasse, so have a good life and God bless", no - they just never respond again.
My house is about a 12 mile drive from my girlfriends home. I have counted 15 churches along the route I drive from my house to my girlfriends home. I am guessing that I could drive 10-15 miles in any direction from where I sit right now and there would be 10-15 churches. Matter of fact, here at my girlfriends, where I have lived for the past 12 years, if I walk to the end of her driveway and take a right, in about 1 minute I'll come to a church. If instead I take a left, in about the same amount of time I'll come to another church. Her home is literally between 2 churches (or as I like to say - a rock and a hard place).
During the past 12 years, not a single person from either church has knocked on our door and asked us what our thoughts are on Jesus the Christ. Matter of fact, in the 27 years that I have lived in this county (which I would guess if a poll was taken, is probably 95%+ Christian) not a single Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, etc, has ever approached me (at home, in public, at work, not even when I have visited a church) and asked if I know Jesus as my savior. The only people who have knocked on our door are...you guessed it...Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. And I always invite them in for a talk.
I have read many blog posts and listened to many debates by Christians who claim, either in their blog title or by their advanced degree, to be "Apologists". From what I can glean from these "apologists", they attempt to "train" other believers in the art of apologetics. From my experience, Christians who claim to be interested in and knowledgeable of apologetics, have absolutely no desire to actually practice apologetics.
Based on my personal experience with Christians, both those claiming an interest or training in apologetics, and those who have no training, I think I am perfectly justified in proclaiming that, on the whole, Christians don't care enough about Christianity to actually share it with non believers.
Your "about" page states - "I am Evan Minton, and this is my blog on Christian Apologetics and theology."
I have asked several Christians these questions during a few email dialogues over the past year or so and have never gotten a response, so I'll try them out on you.
1 - In 2017, how many strangers did you personally approach and "witness" to?
2 - In 2017, how many people did you "lead to the Lord"?
3 - In 2017, how many apologetic dialogues have you had with non believers (in person, via email, etc)?
Thanks for reading,
EVAN: Wow! Your e-mail is a scathing indictment on the church. I am well aware of the lack of evangelistic zeal in many who profess to be Christians. I think there are a variety of factors contributing to this. Some people mistakenly think it's the pastor's job to preach the gospel and defend it, others are simply shy or afraid of making themselves look awkward if they approach a random person and attempt to talk to them about Jesus. For others, it's simply that they're afraid they'll be bombarded with questions that they can't answer. They're like a boy who won't ask a girl to the prom because he's afraid she'll say no and he'll look a fool in front of all her friends.
As for those who claim to be Apologists, I haven't at all found that they lack the passion to tell others about Christ. That's the primary reason they've either trained themselves through study or went to seminary to be equipped with the answers to the tough questions.
To answer your three questions, I've had many interactions with non-Christians over the years. Mostly online, but some in person. My in-person evangelistic attempts are usually with Jehova's Witnesses and Mormons who come to my door. I live in "The Bible Belt" so there aren't many atheists or Muslims I can witness to. These, I usually interact with online, such as on Facebook, Twitter, or my blog's comment section. I've even engaged in some public conversations (debates) which are available on YouTube. Sadly, I don't know if all of my hard work as lead anyone to the Lord. I've never had someone ask me how they could be saved or messaged me to say that a conversation they had with me or something I wrote had an impact on their eternity. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not making any impact. As I pointed out in my blog post "How Can A Christian Apologist Keep From Getting Discouraged", I have no idea who might be reading my articles or listening to my debates and The Holy Spirit could be working on their hearts in a way that I am completely unaware of. They might even submit their lives to Christ after listening to me defend the historical case for Jesus' resurrection or the Cosmological Argument and never even tell me. Or, I could have been the one to plant a seed in their hearts ("A rock in their shoe" as Gregory Koukl puts it), which means that while I may not have been the one to "close the deal" so to speak (i.e getting them to bow before Christ), my conversations with them or my articles may have softened them and caused them to doubt their own non-Christian worldview, and therefore made it more likely for someone else to "close the deal". I do realize that not everyone will submit to God after just one conversation. Gregory Boyd wrote a book called "Letters From A Skeptic" in which he records a back and forth correspondence with his non-Christian father. It took a while, but in the end, Boyd's father finally gave his life to Christ. Additionally, I remember Hugh Ross telling a story of a man he worked with being initially resistant to the gospel, but he had conversations with this man repeatedly over time and eventually, Ross' friend accepted the gospel. Perhaps my friend @UTBrainstorm from Twitter was affected by our numerous conversations, though I haven't heard from him in years.
My mother is interested in reaching out to the lost as well. She runs a Facebook page called "White Unto Harvest Christian Ministries" and she posts quite often. Wonderfully, one night in 2017, she had 3 people message her to tell her that they gave their lives to Christ.
I do dream of the day when I get an e-mail or direct message from someone telling me "Your book/articles/conversations-with-me really affected me. I just recently gave my life to Christ and am attending a local church. Thanks so much for spending the time to share the gospel with me and to answer all of my objections." However, whether or not I ever see any fruits of my labor, I will continue to share the good news with unbelievers. My heart burns for the lost. When I first read these words of Charles Spurgeon, they really resonated with me: “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
Part of my mission is to get my fellow Christians just as passionate about evangelism as I am. In fact, I stressed this point severely at the end of my book, A Hellacious Doctrine. I'm sorry that you haven't had many opportunities to dialogue with Christians, but I will be more than happy to talk to you.
By the way, do you mind if I post this (your e-mail and this response) to Cerebral Faith in the form of a Q&A article? I think it might light a fire under my Christian readers to put forth more effort to share the gospel and to defend it.
BOB: Hi Evan,
Thanks for taking the time to respond - I'll offer just a few comments in my reply - and feel free to use any of our correspondence as you like, on your blog.
"I am well aware of the lack of evangelistic zeal in many who profess to be Christians."
Profess? I hear this notion batted about quit a bit - as if someone who is a Christian may not actually be what they profess.
How does one tell?
For me it's easy - if someone tells me they are a Christian, they are a Christian. If someone believes in their mind that they are a Christian - they are a Christian. This simple consideration renders the terms "professing Christian" and "True Christian" useless / unnecessary.
"I think there are a variety of factors contributing to this."
I don't know how old you are - I am 60. There was a time, when I was a bible believer (back in the 70's and 80's), that I would go door to door asking people if they knew Jesus as savior. I would often ask my co-workers the same question. I would go up to strangers in the dinning facility and ask if they would mind if I sat with them - I would eventually turn the conversation to Jesus. Was I nervous, sure. Could I answer all their questions, nope, but because I believed that they needed to hear about Jesus if they were not Christians, I pushed my fear down deep.
"As for those who claim to be Apologists, I haven't at all found that they lack the passion to tell others about Christ."
I'm not talking about witnessing about Christ - I'm talking about practicing apologetics - defending the faith against accusers like me. Granted, there are some who engage in public or on-line debates. I often watch the youtube videos. But there are many that have admitted to me that their personal mission is to "equip" other Christians in the knowledge and techniques of apologeitics. In other words - they don't want to do it them selves, they just want to teach others how to do it. Just have to wonder, of all those Christians that attend apologeitics conferences, what percentage actually go out and try to engage with people like me... :)
"To answer your three questions, I've had many interactions with non-Christians over the years. Mostly online, but some in person. My in-person evangelistic attempts are usually with Jehova's Witnesses and Mormons who come to my door."
Evan, here was my 1st question - In 2017, how many strangers did you personally approach and "witness" to? Notice I didn't just ask how many people did you talk to Jesus about. I didn't ask how many people came to your door and you then talked to them about Jesus. I wanted to know how many strangers you went out of your way to go up to and share the Gospel of Jesus with. So, in an entire year (I only asked about 2017), 365 days, you did not turn to a single person while standing in line at the grocery store and ask them if they knew Jesus. You didn't walk up to the old man sitting on the bench at the park and ask him if he knew Jesus. You didn't sit down with a stranger at Hardee's and share the Lord with them.
You do understand that this isn't surprising to me don't you, for that was the entire point of my initial email to you, and here is my restated conclusion from that email - Based on my personal experience with Christians, both those claiming an interest or training in apologetics, and those who have no training, I think I am perfectly justified in proclaiming that, on the whole, Christians don't care enough about Christianity to actually share it with non believers.
As for "on-line" interactions - I have no problem with that, but do you really think that is a useful substitute for walking up to a person and sharing your beliefs with them? What do you think people did 50 years ago?
"Part of my mission is to get my fellow Christians just as passionate about evangelism as I am."
If you have never read it, I recommend this book - "Life and Diary of David Brainerd" by Jonathan Edwards. Heck, just read the Wikipedia page on him. I read the book probably 30+ years ago and it had a profound affect on me...though not profound enough to make me want to go through anything near what he went through. Read about him and then ask yourself how "passionate" about evangelism you really are.
Or read "In God's underground" by Richard Wurmbrand - I read it way back then as well - I wept.
So, pretend you are me Evan, a non believer - what are you to make of all the people around me who claim to know the creator of the universe on a personal level, claim to be filled with His Spirit, and yet, they are not motivated to walk up to me, a stranger, and share what they have?
Just yesterday I sat across the table from a woman, a co-worker - she struck up a conversation about church and was talking about the son of another co-worker getting "saved" recently. Did she just assume I was a Christian? Did she not care whether I was or not? I have no idea - but she didn't ask - which is exactly what I expected. Based on my many, many years of experience, if I live another 20, 30 years, I expect that not a single Christian will come up to me and share their God with me.
IMPORTANT - Do I think this makes Christians "bad" - absolutely not. I do not think Christians are much different than anyone else. The only difference between a Christian and me is their religious beliefs and what they do with their Sunday's. For the most part, they act just like I do. The difference in their behavior and my behavior is almost indistinguishable. The only way you would know they were a Christian is if they told you. Christians are, for the most part, just normal, regular people. There is nothing in their day to day lives that would give you any indication that they were being guided or controlled by a "Holy Spirit".
If Christians, who claimed they are "filled" with the Holy Spirit, don't give any indication that a supernatural being is in charge of their lives, what am I to conclude about this "Holy Spirit" that they claim? Shouldn't the presence of such a being, such an entity in the lives of so many believers, be very obvious? Shouldn't I be able to observe these people, interact with these Christians, and say to myself, "There is something about that person that I find intriguing, something is very special about how they behave, how they react".
But alas - there is nothing - they are just people living their lives like any and everyone else.
So, based on my observations of Christians over the past 40 years or so, I can only conclude that there doesn't seem to be a "Holy Spirit" guiding, influencing, controlling them. And until or unless Christians suddenly begin displaying some obvious attributes of a "Holy Spirit", I have no choice but conclude that there is no "Holy Spirit".
I wonder if my logic is flawed?
1: \\\"For me it's easy - if someone tells me they are a Christian, they are a Christian. If someone believes in their mind that they are a Christian - they are a Christian."\\\
- From The Bible's perspective, this isn't the case. The Bible teaches that being a Christian is more than simply assenting to its truth claims. To be a real Christian, you must submit to Christ as your Savior and Lord, and truly receive The Holy Spirit into your heart and repent of your sins. James 2:19 says that even the demons believe that God exists, yet Revelation 20:10 tells us what's going to happen to Satan. Satan knows God exists even better than we do! He's in an even better position to know that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead than we are! Yet the book of Revelations tells us that Satan is on his way to Hell despite believing THAT these things are true. If this can be the case for demons, why couldn't it also be the case for humans? Additionally, 1 John 2:9 says "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." In other words, the apostle John was saying that if a person was truly among the saved, they never would have left. Since John knows of some who have apostatized, John is saying they never really were among the saved to begin with. When a person says "He was never a real Christian. If he were, he wouldn't have abandoned his faith", they are simply echoing the words of John in 1 John 2:19. This provides additional evidence that someone can give assent to Christianity but not really belong to Christ. Matthew 7:21-22 is also relevant here. In this passage, Jesus says that on the day of judgment many will say "Lord, Lord" to him, but Jesus will say that he NEVER knew them.
What do we call people in such a position? Many terms can and have been applied. Nominal Christian, False Convert, Luke Warm Believer, Christian Atheist. Craig Groeshel coined the term "Christian Atheist" and he defines it as someone who believes in God but lives as if hge doesn't exist. And all of these would be applicable to me before I gave my life to Christ at the age of 17. I deal with the topic of "Nominal Christianity" in more detail in my post "5 Signs A Person Is A Nominal Christian" Anyway, I would not doubt that someone believes that Christianity is true if they professed to be a Christian, but it wouldn't mean that they actually ever made a commitment to Christ. To judge that, I would have to get to know them better.
2: \\\"I don't know how old you are - I am 60. There was a time, when I was a bible believer (back in the 70's and 80's), that I would go door to door asking people if they knew Jesus as savior. I would often ask my co-workers the same question. I would go up to strangers in the dinning facility and ask if they would mind if I sat with them - I would eventually turn the conversation to Jesus. Was I nervous, sure. Could I answer all their questions, nope, but because I believed that they needed to hear about Jesus if they were not Christians, I pushed my fear down deep."\\\
-- Well, that's your experience. Not everyone has that kind of boldness. Should they? Of course! And I believe that God enables everyone to do what He calls them to do (Philippians 4:13). If they have trouble overcoming fear of ostracism or the feeling of awkwardness, they should pray for strength. Also, I do think being able to answer tough questions is important if one is going to be an effective witness to unbelievers. When I first started to share the gospel, people would ask me why I thought Christianity was true. I couldn't give any reason beyond my personal testimony of how The Lord transformed my life. When I gave that testimony, the atheists would rationalize my experience away by saying it was simply neurological processes or that I imagined the experience because I needed it at that point in my life. When they argued that science explained everything without God or that evolution disconfirmed the reliability of Genesis and therefore The Bible was errant and not inspired, I couldn't give any response. What resulted was an impasse in the conversation, and, a spiral of doubt resulted as I contemplated my potential converts reasons for disbelief. It wasn't until I read the works of Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig that my doubts were alleviated and I realized that one can have actual arguments for Christianity's truth instead of merely relying on subjective experience. I delved deeply into study, mastering the arguments and evidence. Now, I rarely have the sort of impasses that I used to have.
3: Yes, I too have heard apologists state that their mission is to equip believers, but I never got the impression that they didn't want to do it themselves. It's not either/or here. Either you want convince unbelievers or equip believers. Every apologist I know of, from my friends in ministry to professionals like William Lane Craig, have a heart that burns for the lost. They are passionate about apologetics because, like me, they see it as pre-evangelism. We must satisfy the unbeliever's intellect before he'll consider receiving Christ. As Kenneth Boa once said "The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects". In fact, my primary goal is to win unbelievers. I often lament that more Christians read my blog than non-Christians. Giving them tools to defend their faith is great and all, but I want to make an impact on someone's eternity.
4: I don't keep track of how many people I interact with, so I cannot give you a precise number, but I do indeed witness to people. Online and offline. Sometimes I go to them, others times they come to me. And no, I haven't had a single person accept Christ, but is that really my fault? I can't force someone to receive Christ if they don't want to. I can preach until I faint, I can argue with them until I'm blue in the face, I can beg and plead, but I can't force an obstinate heart to submit.
5: If you don't mind my asking, what is it that caused you to lose your faith? I don't know the answer, but from your e-mail, it sounds like you're another person who became disenchanted with the church, the "hypocrites" all around you, the unextraordinary lives of the believers you've observed. You ask "I wonder if my logic is flawed?" I think it is. First of all, you shouldn't judge the truth of a worldview on the behavior of its adherents. You'll find people living inconsistently in all groups of people. But more fundamentally, you seem to be a victim of your experiences. While you may not have seen the fruits of The Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers you've personally encountered, but I have. Recently, I was unable to pay my property taxes and was in danger of homelessness. All the believers I knew of, both online and offline, contributed to a Go Fund Me page I set up. I needed around $2,000. Within just a few hours, I not only met my goal, but went over it to the extent that I was not only able to pay my property taxes, but get a new car as well. This is especially important as the clunker I've been driving bit the dust just a few days ago. Some people gave as much as $200-300. Others gave $20-50. It was like that scene in "It's A Wonderful Life" where George Baley's friends from all over town pay out of their own pocket to make up his $8,000 deficit. I've witnessed people forgive criminals who murdered family members and even developed a friendship with them. I've known drug addicts get sober overnight, I've known sex addicts who become chaste. I have seen the power of The Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers around me. Moreover, I have seen his power in my own life. The Holy Spirit has given me the power to lay down all resentment against those who have wronged me in the past. Grudges I've struggled in vain to let go of my own power disintegrated when I accepted God into my life.
Additionally, we must remember that The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of God's perfect standard (Romans 3:23, Psalms 14:2-3), and that not a single one of us is living exactly how he should. C.S Lewis had an amazing insight into this topic in chapter 10 of his book Mere Christianity. He pointed out that an unbeliever and a believer may behave similarly, but you don't know how bad this person was prior to getting saved. He may be a good bit along in his sanctification process. Prior to becoming a Christian, this person may have been much, much worse than he is today. And years from now, he'll be much better than he is now. Some people have fallen farther than others, and so, it will take a good bit of time indeed for them to develop into the kinds of people we expect Christians ought to be. And this all presupposes that people will allow (yield to) The Holy Spirit and allow Him to produce those fruits in us. But as Stephen indicated in Acts 7:51, The Holy Spirit can be resisted. If this is true in salvation, I see no reason why it couldn't be true in sanctification.
C.S Lewis put it this way: "Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Miss Bates’s tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s would be like if he became one. Miss Bates and Dick, as a result of natural causes and early upbringing, have certain temperaments: Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so. What you have a right to ask is whether that management, if allowed to take over, improves the concern. Everyone knows that what is being managed in Dick Firkin’s case is much ‘nicer’ than what is being managed in Miss Bates’s. That is not the point. To judge the management of a factory, you must consider not only the output but the plant. Considering the plant at Factory A it may be a wonder that it turns out anything at all; considering the first-class outfit at Factory B its output, though high, may be a great deal lower than it ought to be. No doubt the good manager at Factory A is going to put in new machinery as soon as he can, but that takes time. In the meantime low output does not prove that he is a failure."
C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (Kindle Locations 2460-2468). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Of course, as I said above, there is such a thing as a "Nominal Christian". Might these people you're considering be those who are only half way in?
Finally, there's good evidence that Christianity is true. The Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's existence, The Cosmic Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence, The Local Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence, The Moral Argument for God's existence, The Ontological Argument, The Minimal Facts Case for Jesus' resurrection all give me reason to think Christianity is true (see my book "Inference To The One True God" for an in depth look at these arguments and the article "My 5 Favorite Arguments For God's Existence" for an overview). These arguments need to be weighed against your experience of believers who live like unbelievers.
"...if someone tells me they are a Christian, they are a Christian."
"From The Bible's perspective, this isn't the case...To be a real Christian, you must submit to Christ as your Savior and Lord, and truly receive The Holy Spirit into your heart and repent of your sins."
I didn't ask you what the bible said because I know what the bible says - how do I know - because I am former bible believer.
I don't mind Christians quoting bible verses to me, but it sure would be nice if they would reserve that particular activity for when we are actually having a discussion about what the bible says.
But, since we are there now:
Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
1 Cor. 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Acts 16:30-32 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household...."
These verses don't seem to support your contention.
"In other words, the apostle John was saying that if a person was truly among the saved, they never would have left."
I agree - that does seem to be what is being said. I freely admit that I was never "truly saved". I was a Christian, but I was not saved.
Do you understand what I am saying? I was a Christian but I was not "saved".
I was just as convinced then, that I was "saved", "born again", "washed in the blood" as you are convinced now, that you are "saved". The difference between you and I is that you believe "salvation" is true and necessary, while I came to the conclusion that "salvation" is a biblical myth.
In other words, from my perspective, in order to be a Christian one only has to believe the myth is true.
SO - I was never "saved" but I was a Christian because I believed I was saved - and likewise - you are not "saved" but you are a Christian because you believe you are saved.
"Well, that's your experience. Not everyone has that kind of boldness."
If you knew me then and could know me now, you would see that I am anything but bold. I have a severe aversion to public speaking and usually, when in a crowd of strangers, or even acquaintances, I seldom speak unless someone approaches me and starts up a conversation. Even now I hate to talk on the phone because I am not very good at conversation.
The reason I forced myself to witness to strangers was because I actually believed that it was of utmost importance that I witness to as many as I could. The reason the vast majority of believers don't witness to strangers is NOT because they lack the boldness, but because they just don't feel it is very important. They say they care about the "lost"...but they really don't care enough to inconvenience themselves - AND - it seems that they are not getting any help from the "Holy Spirit" in that department.
"...what is it that caused you to lose your faith? I don't know the answer, but from your e-mail, it sounds like you're another person who became disenchanted with the church, the "hypocrites" all around you, the unextraordinary lives of the believers you've observed."
I gradually came to see that, not in my life, nor in the lives of any Christians (the church) that I personally knew and / or observed, was there any evidence that a God was actually involved. It took another 10 years or so before I became an atheist (until the internet came along I didn't even consider atheism as an option). In a nutshell - my reason overcame my faith - that was in 1999. I had been a bible believer for about 25 years.
Here I am, 18 years after becoming an atheist, and I still see absolutely no evidence IN THE LIVES OF CHRISTIANS that there is any god involved.
"You ask "I wonder if my logic is flawed?" I think it is. First of all, you shouldn't judge the truth of a worldview on the behavior of its adherents."
...and you then present, as evidence, the behavior of adherents who share your worldview...
"All the believers I knew of, both online and offline, contributed to a Go Fund Me page I set up."
You can't have it both ways. You can't claim that "bad" behavior of Christians is not evidence, and then present "good" behavior of Christians as evidence.
"I needed around $2,000. Within just a few hours, I not only met my goal, but went over it to the extent that I was not only able to pay my property taxes, but get a new car as well."
So, you needed financial help - and when you asked some Christians to help, and they did, in your mind that is evidence of the "...fruits of The Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers...".
When a wealthy TV evangelist needs (wants) $60 million for a new jet, and the donations come pouring in - is that evidence of the "...fruits of The Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers?"
When atheist activists Scott Smith killed his wife, then himself, leaving his three young children orphaned, and a GoFundMe page was set up for the children, and they have exceeded their $50,000 goal, is that evidence of...what..."...fruits of The Holy Spirit in the lives of the non-believers?"
"I've witnessed people forgive criminals who murdered family members and even developed a friendship with them."
Have you ever heard of Christians that commit murders?
"I've known drug addicts get sober overnight..."
Have you ever heard of drug addicts who die from an overdose?
"I've known sex addicts who become chaste."
Have you ever heard of Christian ministers who commit sex crimes?
"The Holy Spirit has given me the power to lay down all resentment against those who have wronged me in the past."
I have had people wrong me. I don't find that I lay awake at night plotting revenge. I don't even think about them anymore. Did the Holy Spirit help me, or could it be that I just decided not to waste anymore thought time on them?
"C.S Lewis had an amazing insight into this topic...an unbeliever and a believer may behave similarly, but you don't know how bad this person was prior to getting saved."
I don't find this particularly insightful - and again, this is entirely the point of my initial email to you - some people do good things, some people do bad things, and many people just go largely unnoticed in their behavior - and being a believer in Jesus, being a Christian, doesn't have a noticeable affect. Just as being an atheist doesn't have a noticeable affect.
"Finally, there's good evidence that Christianity is true. The Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's existence..."
Not evidence for the existence of your specific God.
"The Cosmic Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence..."
Not evidence for the existence of your specific God.
"The Local Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence..."
Not evidence for the existence of your specific God.
"The Moral Argument for God's existence..."
Not evidence for the existence of your specific God.
"The Ontological Argument..."
Not evidence for the existence of your specific God.
"The Minimal Facts Case for Jesus' resurrection..."
"Facts"? Shouldn't it be called "The Minimal Assertions Case for Jesus' Resurrection"? The only "fact" is that they are IN FACT, found in the bible.
"These arguments need to be weighed against your experience of believers who live like unbelievers."
As I have pointed out above, none of those arguments are evidence for the Christian God. If an honest Christian uses those philosophical arguments as evidence for the Christian God...he is not honest.
While I would greatly enjoy further dialogue with you Evan, it just seems evident that you are at that point in your Christianity that you consider "doubt" as harmful, something to be resisted, perhaps even an attack of Satan, and I am guessing you would consider skepticism similarly.
Likewise, you probably confuse "belief" with "knowledge" - meaning - you probably can't see that many of the elements of your Christianity that you think you know, in fact, you merely believe.
Likewise, I am going to assume that you place a higher value on "faith" over "reason".
All of these make for a very difficult and frustrating dialogue.
Perhaps, if we desire to have a meaningful / productive dialogue, we should discuss Epistemology before anything else.
If you would like to, please consider these three questions:
1 - How do we find a reliable pathway to truth?
2 - Is faith a reliable pathway to truth?
3 - Is reason a reliable pathway to truth?
Until we can come to an understanding (at least), and agreement (at best) on how to arrive at a reasonable conclusion, we really are wasting our time discussing our conclusions.
1: \\\"These verses don't seem to support your contention"\\\ --
Those verses you cited support the doctrine of sola fide, that by faith alone we are saved and not by good works. However, doesn't contradict my argument that someone can accept that Christian doctrines are true and not be saved. If that were the case, Satan would be on his way to Heaven. James 2:19 says "You believe there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe this yet they tremble" Even the demons believe that God exists, and I'm sure that the demons are well aware that Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, and given that they were in His presence before being cast out, they probably even know that God is a Trinity. Yet in spite of this, we read "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever." (Revelation 20:10).
Are we saved by faith alone? Yes, but there are two kinds of faith. There are two kinds of belief. Belief that and belief in. Belief that consists of intellectually acknowledging the truths of Christianity (i.e I believe that God exists, that Jesus is God incarnate, that He died on the cross and rose from the dead 3 days later etc.). Satan and all his agents agree with and believe all these things (as James 2:19 tells us). But clearly, they aren’t saved (Revelations 20:10).
By contrast, belief in consists of placing your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation. It is repentance of all your past evil deeds (Isaiah 55:7) and confessing them to the Lord, asking Him to forgive us and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). If you’re sincere when you’re asking Jesus to save you, if you’re truly ready to be transformed, He will save and transform you. The moment you genuinely repent from your sins and ask Jesus to forgive you, you’ll be born again. You will have moved from mere Belief that to Belief in. Satan has the former. Christians have both the former and the latter. Satan believes that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead. But he hasn’t repented of his evil deeds. He hasn’t believed in God. He hasn’t placed His belief in Jesus. And many "Christians" are in the same boat. Take it from someone who has been there.
Additionally, in Isaiah 29:13, God says "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Even The Old Testament affirms that people can give lip service to true doctrine yet be far from God. Believing that Christianity is true is certainly a necessary condition to salvation, but it is not a sufficient condition. Certainly, you must have belief that but without belief in one has no more saving faith than the demons. Yes, by grace we are saved, through faith, but one actually has to exercise that faith.
2: Fair enough. If Christianity were false, there certainly wouldn't be any difference between a nominal Christian and a born-again Christian. The reason I cited the biblical perspective was to explain to you why simply saying "I'm a Christian" wasn't enough to convince me that they are saved. This doesn't mean I'm skeptical of everyone who tells me that they're saved. I take them at their word unless I get to know them and they consistently bare all of the fruits of the flesh and none of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24).
3: You wrote \\\"And then you present, as evidence, the behavior of those who share your worldview."\\ -- I did that because YOU presented BAD behavior of adherents who shared my worldview as evidence that my worldview is false. Evidence of Christians acting consistently is counter evidence. My experiences contradict yours. You complain about Christians not being moral or living consistently with the commands of The Bible, but when I present you with a handful of examples, you dismiss them out of hand. Don't you see that this is cherry picking the data to support your own conclusion? You complain about Christians not living particularly Christian lives, yet when I present you with some, you say "Well, that doesn't prove anything". I point to people who forgive the unforgivable and you say "Uh, but look, some people called themselves Christians and committed murder". I point to people who gave copious amounts to save me from homelessness and you say "Uh, but people give to televangelists". I point to people who cry out to Jesus and quit drugs cold turkey and what do you have to say to that "Yeah, but there are people who die from overdoses".
By the way, I'm pretty sure an average person about to lose their home is not quite analogous to a money-grubbing TV preacher. Just saying.
\\\"I have had people wrong me. I don't find that I lay awake at night plotting revenge. I don't even think about them anymore."\\\ -- Well, good for you. I wish I could have let go of my anger and resentment on my own power, but sadly, I could not. In fact, I didn't even want to. I was content letting my hatred stew. That is, until one day when I was watching EWTN and they were showing an animated program. The program reinacted the narratives and teachings of The New Testament. Jesus was telling The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant found in Matthew 18:23-35. The parable essentially says that if we withhold forgiveness towards others, God will withhold it from us. I was shaken to my core. I realized that unless I forgave those who had wronged me (whom I won't name), God would send me to Hell! I did my best to let go of it for months to no avail, so I began praying for God to help me forgive so that I could "regain" my salvation (I didn't know about Nominal Christianity or Eternal Security at this point in my life). I spent months praying for help until one night, in September of 2009, I felt the evil feelings welling up inside me. I prayed a silent prayer and I felt a benevolent presence surrounding me. It felt as though it was trying to get inside me, but it was stalling.
It's somewhat hard to describe. You know how if you can sense when someone is standing behind you even though you can't see them and never heard them approach? That's kind of like what it was with this benevolent presence. I knew that this presence was the God I had been calling on for 3 months. I felt this benevolent presence begin to enter me, but when it did, the evil presence would resist and fight back. I knew that God was trying to come into me to change and save me. I thought 'this is it! God is here with me! He's trying to enter me and get this hatred and resentment out of me!'. For a few minutes, the evil presence would be more prominent in me, and then the good presence would be more prominent in me, and then the evil presence would be more prominent in me. Back and forth it went. I knew that there was battle going on inside of my heart, and I knew that if The Holy Spirit didn't win, it was over for me. I started rooting for The Holy Spirit to win inside my mind, and as soon as I did that, the evil presence disappeared entirely and I was filled with....what I can only describe as light, love, and peace. I felt the bitterness and resentment completely gone from my mind. I felt that the hatred for my transgressors had turned into love, and, moreover, I knew that I had encountered The God of The Universe. I had believed God existed before, as a properly basic belief, but now I had actually encountered Him. I was changed! I was saved! I knew that I was born again. The old me had died, as 2 Corinthians 5:12 says, "and the new creation had arrived."
So, good for you. I'm glad you can forgive on your own, but I could not. Not until I called upon God could I finally let go.
4: \\\"Not evidence for the existence of your specific God."\\\ -- This is a common objection, but as I've studied these arguments over the years, I have found that this isn't actually true. Actually, this is the core thesis of my book Inference To The One True God. All of these arguments I referred to point to the existence of a being that bares certain attributes. For example, The Kalam Cosmological Argument establishes that a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, powerful, personal Being brought all physical reality into existence at The Big Bang. As I point out in my book, when one does a study of comparative religions, one finds very few religions that are consistent with the conclusion of this argument. All polytheistic religions teach gods which brought order within an eternally old space-time realm rather than bringing the space-time realm into being ex nihilo. Pantheistic religions teach that God IS the universe. if God IS the universe, then he can't be the cause of the universe. The only religious beliefs that have a deity bringing space, time, matter, and energy into being from nothing are Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Deism. While it's true that The Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn't get you to Christianity, it does (1) establish the existence of a Creator, and (2), get you in the right neighborhood. If you were picking a religion just based on the Cosmological argument alone, you'd have a 1 in 4 chance of landing on the right one.
The Fine-Tuning Arguments eliminate Deism as it shows that the God who brought our universe into being actually cares whether or not life exists in the cosmos. As my physicist friend John M. Kinson put it "The amount of care lavished upon creating the parameters (‘knobs’) and then fine tuning them with painstaking care and precision (to values that are conducive to life, and to intelligent life in particular) points to a being who cares about intelligent life, rather than a being who is indifferent to intelligent life. In other words, this clue points to a Theist God (who cares about his Creation) rather than a Deist God (who does not care about his Creation). Given this degree of care, it is not unreasonable to think that this being might choose to reveal ‘Himself’ to humans.”
With evidence from fine-tuning laid up against the evidence of the origin of the universe, you're really only down to the Abrahamic religions. Again, this doesn't get you to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, but it does refute atheism and it gets you in the right neighborhood.
The Moral and Ontological Arguments are a different story. With the specific kinds of attributes these arguments churn up, I do think you get to an exclusively Christian view of God. There are many reasons that I go into in the book, but I'll just give you one.
The Moral Argument requires that a necessary, morally perfect, personal Being be the measuring stick of good and evil. He must be necessary because many moral truths appear to be necessarily true, and necessary truths can’t be grounded in a contingent being. He must be morally perfect because an evil being can’t be the standard of morality. Why? Because if that were the case, Hitler would be closer to meeting the standard of The Good than Mother Teresa. The moral perfection of this Being entails that He must be all loving and perfectly loving. He must be a Trinity in order to be a being of perfect love. If This being is not a triune being, then he cannot be a being of perfect love because love requires 3 things; (1) a lover, (2) someone to love, and (3) a relationship going on between the lover and the loved one. If God is only one person rather than three, then before He created any other persons (angels, humans), He had no one to love. Since He had no one to love, he, therefore, could not be perfectly loving. And if he wasn’t perfectly loving, he was morally deficient since it seems to me at least that love is a moral virtue. Only a God who is multi-personal could be perfectly loving from eternity past. Christianity is the only religion in the world that has a multipersonal God. Therefore, only Christianity is consistent with this argument’s conclusion.
The Ontological Argument points to the existence of a Maximally Great Being that exists in all possible worlds. To be MAXIMALLY Great, He must be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, neccesarilly existent, and morally perfect. No polytheistic god is omnipotent or omnipresent. That's why there had to be so many of them. One couldn't run the universe by himself. The Pantheistic God would be omnipresent (since it is the universe on this view), but it can't be morally perfect. Morality is a property of persons and pantheism's God is more like a forest. It's alive, but not sentient. Finally, the moral perfection logically entails that He is a Being of perfect love, and because He is a being of perfect love, He must be a Trinity. Why? For the same reason given above under The Moral Argument.
5: The fact that you said "'Facts'? Shouldn't it be called 'The Minimal Assertions Case for Jesus' Resurrection'? The only "fact" is that they are IN FACT, found in the bible." shows that you are not the least bit familiar with the historical case for the resurrection? Have you even read Habermas at all? Or Licona? Or Strobel? Have you even looked at my blog posts on this issue? Obviously not, or you would know that the case for the resurrection isn't built by mere appeals to scripture, and you'd know what the definition of a "Minimal Fact" is. How can you say that you have an informed opinion on Christianity when you are obviously unaware of one of the core apologetic arguments for it's truthfulness? Space doesn't permit me to unpack this here, but I do give an abridged treatment of the case in my article "A Quick Case For Jesus' Resurrection".
6: Finally, let's talk epistemology indeed. I don't confuse "knowledge" and "belief". I think everything you take to be true is "belief" but not all of it qualifies as knowledge. I would define knowledge the way many philosophers do; as "Justified True Belief". Knowledge is a belief that is true and is justified by good reasons. A belief can be true or false. A belief can be justified or unjustified. A belief can be based on evidence or blind faith. But all propositions one gives mental assent to counts as a "belief". Whether it counts as "knowledge" as well depends on whether it is (a) true, and (b) justified.
Of course, I think your belief that Christianity is false is both false and unjustified, while I think Christianity is true and that the reasons I would give to support it justify my belief. But this is what debate is for, to discern who really has justified true beliefs (knowledge) and who does not.
Outro: The conversation went on beyond this, but I decided not to include it in this blog post for the sake of preventing this blog post from becoming too lengthy. I will include a part 2 to this.