A short while back, I had lunch with a Christian friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while. Roger owns the largest Microsoft consulting company in our area of the country, is a good businessman, and a solid believer.
We got to talking about work and he surprised me by saying “I really don’t like doing business with other Christians.” When I asked him why, he told me that once the other business finds out he’s a Christian, they take what he called “extensions of grace”. He explained that it could take the form of not paying on time, not delivering work when promised, or asking for fee or labor reductions without cause.
Rather troubling to hear, wouldn’t you say?
When atheists and skeptics try to refute Christianity, most times their primary argument will be one of ‘theodicy’; that is, how can an all-good and all-powerful God exist in world that is unmistakably filled with evil. However, the truth is, the Bible never denies the existence of evil and says that God actually uses it to accomplish His divine purpose. The writer of Proverbs says: “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Proverbs 16:4).
Many Christian theologians and philosophers have put forward very sound defeaters for the problem of theodicy and answer well the arguments put forward by unbelievers like David Hume and J. S. Mill in this area. In my opinion, the problem of evil and God is not the number one arrow in the skeptic’s quiver.
If I were asked to present the best case possible against Christianity, my argument would have nothing to do with the existence of evil per se, but would rather zero in on one very sad observation that I’ve made over a number of years:
The best argument against Christianity is sometimes the life lived out by a professing Christian.
Some Disturbing Statistics
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group (a research organization focusing on religious trends and information), asserts that the primary issue that today’s culture has with Christianity is that it no longer resembles its Founder.
In his book Unchristian, Kinnaman studied the Mosaic (born between 1984 and 2002) and Busters (born between 1965 and 1983) generations of the United States, which currently comprise approximately 77% of America’s population. With respect to Christianity, Kinnaman notes a growing tide of hostility and resentment, a statistic which is trending downward from a positive study that was done by his Barna group only one decade before.
He discovered that of the non-believers surveyed that were aware of the term “evangelical” (as it relates to Christianity), nearly half had a bad impression, 47% had a neutral impression, and only 3% had a good impression.
Why such a dismal rating?
There were two things that Kinnaman’s study uncovered, and neither had anything to do with the theological teachings or doctrinal standards of the Church. First, unbelievers responded negatively to what they termed the Christian “swagger” – how Christians’ lives don’t match up to Christ’s, and the bark and bite that unbelievers say they see in Christians’ demeanor and actions.
Second, respondents said that the charity and compassion of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels have been dismissed by Christians in favor of combative and judgmental actions against what they believe to be threats against their moral positions. In other words, as Christians, we have become famous for what we oppose and stand against rather than for what we are in favor of and champion.
Now, let’s pause a moment for a quick reality check. In regard to being judgmental, while ‘Church Lady’ personas certainly do exist in Christendom that damage the faith’s image, it should be noted that history has shown that the world and humanity’s fallen nature will never take kindly to Biblical pronouncements against the sin it cherishes and wants to practice. The one Scripture verse every unbeliever can quote is “Judge not less ye be judged” (Matt. 7:1), but they fail to understand (1) the statement itself is a judgment, and (2) Jesus commanded His followers to judge with a righteous judgment, but first make sure their own house is in order before they go about instructing others.
That said, we also need to swallow our medicine when it’s prescribed. The third most cited characteristic of Christianity in Unchristian is the one that supports my position that Christians are the faith’s biggest anti-apologetic. A full eighty-five percent (85%) of Kinnaman’s surveyed group said that Christians are best known for a hypocritical lifestyle.
How depressing is that? Kinnaman’s finding echoes Gandhi’s famous statement, “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Some More Examples
Such a thing makes me think back to some friends who had a house built a few years ago by a homebuilder that went to our large mega-church. In fact, the guy played guitar in the worship band. I can still picture him in my mind singing playing worship songs in front of the entire congregation, his eyes closed, singing away.
The fact was, he was ripping people off by building faulty homes, one of which my friends had contracted him to build. The job was so bad that the local housing authority wouldn’t allow them to live in it.
They took this guy to our church elders who didn’t resolve the situation, so they finally had to take him to the real estate commission that forced the homebuilder to make the house at least livable so my friends could sell it. But, that happened after they lost a ton of money in the process.
And the ‘Christian’ homebuilder? He ended up fleeing the state as others began to come after him. I wonder if he’s playing in another worship band somewhere?
I very much wish such a thing was as rare as hot day at the North Pole, but sadly, it seems it’s not uncommon. While listening to one of R. C. Sproul’s podcasts the other day, I was surprised to hear him say that he has lost count of those who have obtained materials and resources from his ministry, promised to pay for them, but never did. The thought of believers ordering educational materials about God while stiffing God in the process boggles the mind.
I could provide more examples, some of which are personal where I was on the receiving end of such behavior, but there’s really no need. We, as the body of Christ, are showcasing to non-Christians an eye-popping, large-as-life disconnect between what God’s Word says we should look like and what we do look like.
Noted Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias says the one question that has haunted him the most throughout his ministry was asked by a Hindu acquaintance: “If this conversion you speak about is truly supernatural, then why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians that I know?” In other words, a God who is said to transform should produce people with transformed lives.
This apparently very visible missing element in the Church today has been pointed out by famous atheists such as Frederick Nietzsche who once remarked, “I might believe in the Redeemer if his followers looked more redeemed”, and Karl Marx who turned away from religion when he saw his Jewish father abandon their faith in favor of joining the Lutheran church simply to help his business grow.
“Be Imitators of me”
So how do we defeat what I believe to be the best argument against Christianity?
First, I’m convinced that the modern day Church is pregnant with unbelievers. What’s the problem with that, you ask? There’s nothing wrong at all with unbelievers coming to church, but there’s a very real problem when they stay unbelievers. In our seeker friendly churches, unbelievers aren’t being confronted with their fallenness, need for repentance, and requirement to show fruit as proof of their conversion.
Until they truly encounter God, and pastors/teachers become less like motivational speakers and more like real prophets of God, the Church will continue to be a place where unbelievers come and leave with no transformation having taken place, with the end result being lives lived out that stand in stark contrast to Biblical principles.
Second, true believers need to take seriously the spiritual warfare with which they are engaged. Instead of letting the flesh, the world, and Satan win round after round to the extent that their life appears no different than an unbeliever, Christians need to get aggressive with their spiritual opponents and start living like overcomers instead of being overcome. The writer of Hebrews urges us: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us [great saints who serve as godly examples], let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).
Third, we all need to re-read Romans 2 and ask ourselves if we’re guilty of preaching things we don’t live out, with the end result being “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24).
Lastly, Christians need to feed the new creature in Christ that is inside them so that new desires spring forth and fruit is born that produces good works that are in keeping with Jesus’ statement of, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
I truly believe that when these things are carried out, statistics like those found by Kinnaman will be a thing of the past, and my friend Roger will be happy to do business with other believers again.
The truth is, unbelievers can argue all they want against our answers to their questions, but they simply can’t argue against a real Christian life.
Paul succinctly states both a challenge to and a goal of all Christians when he says, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). It might cause you to wince a bit, but ask yourself: could you make such a statement to others and feel good about the claim that when a person is mimicking you, they are imitating Jesus?
My prayer is that we can all answer ‘yes’ soon, because the fact is that an authentic Christian life is the only thing that defeats the best argument against Christianity.