Isn’t Christianity anti-sex? Doesn’t the Bible promote slavery? Isn’t Jesus just a myth and not a real person? How can a loving God allow evil?
Some questions are as old as the Bible and some are new for each generation.
Here are three books written by authors of different generations that do a good job of laying out a comprehensive argument for the Christian worldview for its own generation
Mere Christianity – CS Lewis (Silent Generation)
During WWII the British people were hungry for spiritual answers. They were just barely surviving fascist domination and if anything was clear to everyone it was that there really was evil in the world and if left unchecked would consume it. That was not going to be easy or without pain as Dunkirk proved to them. Some would say that their preservation so far had even been a miracle after witnessing the Battle of Britain (1940); after which Churchill so famously said.
“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”
The math was very much against them and they all knew it. Many prayers floated up as the bombs floated down and Western Civilization teetered in the balance. (Watch ‘The Man in the High Castle’ to get an idea of what it would have been like if Germany would have won)
But what was Western Civilization and where had it come from? Suddenly, so many were very interested in the underpinnings of the culture and beliefs they were risking or giving their lives to protect.
10 years earlier Churchill was the ‘voice in the wilderness’ sounding that Hitler’s Nazi’s were evil. Now everyone knew exactly what he was talking about, and the glaringly obvious fact that if evil truly exists then maybe all this other stuff about goodness and God could exist as well was staring them straight in the face.
Like Churchill was the man of the hour in battle, in stepped CS Lewis as the man of the hour to explain the Christian faith, the foundations of their society, in a reasonable language to help everyone make sense of what was going on. He explained ‘Mere’ or the very basics of Christianity and how it solved many questions everyone had at that time. The book was originally a number of radio broadcasts between 1941 and 1944 on the BBC and it is hard to believe in this day and age that the BBC would allow such a broadcast to even take place.
It talks about denominations and morals and ethics and why we have them and need them and where they come from. Almost every single apologist for the Christian faith quotes from this book. I warn you though CS Lewis, although very accessible, can be quite thick. You might have to read some sections over a few times to really understand his argument. Better yet, you can listen to the audiobook here, and imagine families huddled around an old tube radio listening as bombs fell on London.
The Reason for God – Tim Keller (Baby Boomer)
Tim Keller has been compared to CS Lewis in style and ability to make complex concepts easier to understand through intelligent analogies and metaphors. He is not scared to talk about the biggest issues the modern cosmopolitan person might have with the Bible and Christianity in an open and non combative manner. Quite frankly, he is a very likable person if you watch him interact and you feel that he really wants to dialogue with those of opposite beliefs. It probably is because he is a pastor of a large church in NY city which is as much of an oxymoron as Lewis’s BBC radio broadcasts.
He heads the chapters in his book with what I imagine are real life conversations that he has had with skeptics of Christianity and then he pivots on their objections to make his points. He utilizes multiple sources to illustrate his arguments such as literature and both secular and theistic philosophers and asks his readers to simply “doubt their doubts”
Here is a taste of the questions with very truncated answers.
There can’t be just one religion.
“We are all exclusive in our beliefs about religion, but in different ways.”
The classic – How could a good God allow suffering.
“…the problem of tragedy, suffering and injustice is a problem for everyone. It is at least as big a problem for nonbelief in God as for belief. It is therefore a mistake, though an understandable one, to think that if you abandon belief in God it somehow makes the problem of evil easier to handle.”
Christianity is a Straitjacket
“Freedom then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.”
The Church is responsible for so much injustice.
Wilberforce, King, Bonhoeffer give examples of true Christianity in the face of injustice.
How can a loving God send people to Hell?
“I must conclude that the source of the idea that God is Love is the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgement who will put all things in the world to rights in the end.”
Science has disproved Christianity
“To be sure that miracles cannot occur you would have to be sure beyond a doubt that God didn’t exist, and that is an article of faith.”
You can’t take the Bible literally
“Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.”
If you are still with him after that Keller pivots and waxes more philosophical and theological. I enjoyed this part of the book the most personally.
He talks about belief in God as a ‘basic’ belief that everyone has because we can’t live like life is meaningless even though we might even believe we can.
Or that the very foundations of what we know as human rights are a religious (some would say illogical) concept.
He refutes what he calls “strong rationalism” and the philosophical indefensibility of it.
He discusses Kierkegaard’s definition of sin.
He wraps everything up nicely in a metaphor of a ‘dance’ explaining the Trinity and how Christianity’s central theme really is about love.
The Problem of God – Mark Clark (Gen X)
Mark Clark’s style and tenacity are bolstered not only by his path to Christianity but also his having to overcome his own physical impediments. I listened to many of his sermons (binged in a low period in my life) before I read his book and his voice and narratives carry through to it.
I, myself am Gen X so I appreciate many of the references that he uses and his straight forward language. He is not your typical pastor.
Unlike baby boomers, Gen Xers were educated from the very beginning that evolution is a fact. You have to deny your own rational to not believe it. Now, besides all the cool dinosaur art that we got out of that deal, we also were handed a tremendous amount of nihilistic existentialism. No one told us this, of course. Just like no one knew the danger of nuclear radiation as they rushed to Bikini Atoll to see what the H bomb had done. This might be why GenX’s trademark music genre, Grunge, has lost so many to suicide.
We had been warned, though, by Dostoevsky and even Nietzsche what would happen after ‘God died’. Our grandparents told us what happens when you remove God-given individual liberty from society and only focus on race or the state. Some of us remembered worrying as we rode our bike around town if that odd cloudy sunset was the beginning of the apocalypse – an ever present reminder that our existence was little more than a button push away from ending.
Which is probably why Mark spends a lot more time in his book dismantling evolution’s nihilistic stranglehold that it has had on our generation. But, but, aren’t preachers supposed to only teach us about theology?
To this point, one goodreads commentator states “I would not request a sermon from Richard Dawkins, and I shouldn’t expect scientific evidence from Mark Clark.” but she misses the point that Dawkins has become her generations preacher and uses ‘science’ to make his own philosophical and ultimately theological claims. Even Newton and Pascal used science to bolster their belief in God just as Hawkins, Harris and Krauss use it to bolster their disbelief in God. So I think it is perfectly reasonable for a preacher to push back the other way using science. It is not ‘off limits’. Plus, there is no scientific evidence that your DNA won’t get ‘naturally selected’ because of your beliefs (unless of course your belief system doesn’t allow you to have biological children).
Many of my generation (and now our generations kids) have lost their faith not because of a problem with theology but with a problem of the basic belief in God.
Should there be no God then throw theology out – what does it matter?
For us GenXrs who grew up in church it was just assumed that God existed so why even question this. Churches didn’t talk about philosophical reasons why God existed – our parents brought the ‘treasure’ that is the Gospel into our rooms and laid it down on the end of our bed saying, ‘here you go’. We didn’t have to search for it or pursue it or even knock on a door for it. Which is probably why it was so easy for it to be taken away from us. Many of us GenXrs are like Esau, and we somehow accepted that Christ is equivalent to the ‘flying spaghetti monster’ in complexity and relevance.
We all gave up way to easily.
I think, though, that it really came down to the fact that we looked at all the fun everyone was having without the encumbrances of our Christian ethic and then that made us question it. Not because there was some mountain of evidence against it but because if it isn’t true then we are not responsible.
Which leads to another huge issue that Mark does not shy away from – Sex.
He devotes a whole chapter to what the Christian perspective is on sex and why it is the way it is in a way that all our dad’s should have. He points out that many people don’t trust the Christian God because of His perceived narrowness when it comes to sex but then he adds that if God made us then it follows that He can’t dislike it that much since He invented it.
Many of us look at the wreckage our sexual ethic (or lack of) has caused in our lives – isolating us, making us weak and wonder how we got to where we are. Were we born this way? In one way we were but does that mean we have to be happy with it?
Intuitively, we should at least be a little suspect of our sexual appetite because by its nature it can cause us to view humans as aesthetic objects only.
Similar to how slavery dehumanizes (humans are only as valuable as their usefulness) sexuality can dehumanize (she/he is hot. I want to have sex with them irrespective of who they are). We literally have whole industries built on lusting after people that we will never meet in person.
Can you not see how this can lead to the conclusion (whether consciously or unconsciously) that you are only as valuable as how sexually attractive you are? If you don’t believe me just go to a night club. This is why this chapter is so relevant and why getting the Christian perspective on sexuality (sex is bad, sex is God etc..) is so important because it allows for the inevitable attractions but then wraps it in a commitment that forces us to learn to love based off of not just aesthetics alone. To love and be loved ‘warts and all’. It is difficult to take because it is an ideal.
Like I tell my wife, ‘there are no hot grandmas at the old-folks home. Everyone looks the same in the end’ and we are all ending up there.
In other words, giving into your sexual appetites carte blanche is nihilistic not only for eternity but also for probably the last third of your life on earth.
Hypocrisy of Christians, Exclusivity of Christianity, The Problem of Jesus
Like Keller, Mark admits that many people reject Christianity not because of its ideas but rather because of its people. Many Christians can say the most horrible things and be extremely calloused and uncaring. I was glad that he addressed this.
He also tells a great story about his Wiccan friend in high school and how civility is an important part of the discussion no matter what you believe.
He hammers the nail on the head of the selfishness of my generation and the generations since then…’Christian’ or not:
“Skeptics will still argue that people who believe in heaven only care about getting there and are content to let the world go to pot. But again, this is a false assumption, and the opposite seems true. If the only life I get is this one, why not live it up? If there is nothing after this life and what I do will not be remembered in the course of eons of time and space, why should I sacrifice my time and resources for others? I am not saying atheists are worse people than Christians, and in fact, some of those I know are among the nicest people I’ve ever met. I am simply saying their own worldview doesn’t give a rational explanation for why they should care for others or sacrifice their own time and energy.”
Mark has a style and honesty you don’t see in many pastors. He is willing to address the issues of our time in a Christian, as well as, a philosophical framework that he has thought about and lived through. The explosive growth of his church is a testament to its effectiveness.
I don’t usually quote Mike Tyson since he is a convicted rapist but one thing he said has stuck with me,
“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”
Maybe it is the existential fear one feels when they think about getting punched in the mouth by Tyson in his prime or maybe it is that everyone knows what it feels like when you realize that you are not entirely in control. Usually it is caused by pain. If you haven’t felt it, don’t worry you will.
As Mr Edwards puts it:
“…while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.”
For Mark Clark it was the death of his dad. For some it is the loss of a relationship. Others, your own moral failure has gotten you into a tangled mess that you can’t get out of. For WWII Brits it was the existential threat of Nazism that rose to power out of nowhere.
Something in your life has forced you to really look beyond yourself for some answer. There is no science experiment that is going to help you nor will your understanding of quarks and bosons. Maybe you can get some drugs to blunt the feeling or maybe you can medicate yourself with alcohol and sex to distract you.
You have been knocked to your knees. That is usually how people arrive at reading books like these.
The other way is that they already believe and want to bolster their faith or the opposite: someone they love believes and they want to disprove that belief.
At the very least, these three books should show you that there is more to Christianity than just being some silly stories in a book written in the bronze age and at the most they just might lead you on a path to a treasure worth giving your existence for.