Is Christianity Arrogant?

Recently I was at a barbecue where I talked with a woman who had many questions about Christianity. Like many of us, there were things she did not understand or agree with. As we were talking, the topic of Christianity’s arrogance came up. How can Christians claim that their religion is the only true one? This seems like the height of presumption considering the many religions in existence. Who is the Christian to say that he or she is right and everyone else is wrong? As a follower of Jesus, this really got me thinking. I’m used to looking at and discussing if Christianity is reliable and worthy of acceptance, but I don’t often ask myself if Christianity is arrogant.

Do I believe Christianity is arrogant? The short answer is no. But to explain why I say this, we need to look at four distinctions.

Distinction #1: Arrogance vs. Conviction

I live in a culture that acknowledges the individual’s right to decide which religion they will follow, if any. We strongly oppose anyone imposing their religious beliefs upon us and telling us what to believe or not believe. Because of this, I think we’ve often mistaken conviction for arrogance. The Merriman-Webster Dictionary defines Arrogance as:

“An attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.”

While there are sadly many Christians who act this way when they communicate what they believe, the Christian faith is not based upon presumptuous claims or assumptions. Rather, it’s based upon the conviction that Christianity is true. What do I mean by conviction? Again, Merriman-Webster’s definition is helpful:

“A strong persuasion or belief; the state of being convinced.”

The heart of conviction is not arrogance but humility. When you’re persuaded that someone or something has the right answers, you want to live and act in a way that is consistent with your belief. For example, growing up we had a wood stove in our house. My parents warned me many times during the winter months that if I touched the stove while it was in use I would burn myself. They were not making a presumptuous claim by telling me this. Rather, they were communicating their strong belief for my protection, a belief I quickly became convinced of when I disregarded their message and burnt my hand. In a similar way, Christianity rests upon the strong belief that the message of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Bible is true. It is this conviction about the Christian message, not arrogance, which motivates the Christian’s beliefs.

Distinction #2: The Messenger vs. the Message

While Christianity rests upon conviction and not arrogance, it is sadly true that Christians can, and many do, communicate their message in an arrogant way. This is where it is important to distinguish between the messenger and the message.   Just because I communicate something in an arrogant way does not mean I am wrong. Similarly, communicating in a humble way does not make me right. We need to carefully check the message’s reliability for itself. Is the message of Christianity consistent in what it affirms rationally, emotionally, and existentially? It’s also helpful to see that the Bible itself commands that the message of Christ be communicated with humility. Arrogance is not an option. 1 Peter 3:15 says,

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (emphasis mine)

Here we see conviction wed to gentleness and respect. Not even a hint of arrogance should surface.

Distinction #3: Truth Claim vs. Opinion

At this point you might be thinking, “OK, I get that someone can come across in a way that is contrary to what they’re trying to communicate. But I still think the message of Christianity is arrogant when it says it’s the only true religion.” To this response I think it’s important to distinguish between a truth claim and an opinion. If Christianity and the other world religions are merely a matter of personal preference and opinion, than yes, Christianity’s claim to exclusivity is arrogant. BUT, if the message of Christianity is true then it is not arrogant, because something that is true cannot be presumptuous. If Christianity is true its claims are no more arrogant than saying that 2+2=4.

Distinction #4: Truth Claim vs. Truth Claim

This brings me to my last distinction in evaluating this question of Christianity’s demeanor, that of truth claims vs. truth claims. Christianity is not the only religion that makes exclusive claims. In fact, every major religion claims exclusivity. For example, Christianity believes Jesus is both fully God and Human, while Islam believes Jesus was a prophet but not God. Judaism believes the promised Messiah has not yet come, while Christianity believes the promised Messiah has come. Atheism believes there is no God – Christianity believes there is a God. Many more examples could be given to show that all belief systems are exclusive. They cannot all be correct. Even the belief that there is no one true religion is a truth claim that is exclusive.  To say there are many ways is to deny that there is only one way, which is exclusive. So on this basis; if Christianity is arrogant, it is not alone in its presumptuous claims. All belief systems make statements that they believe are true, containing beliefs that are exclusive.

Bringing it All Together

After looking at these four distinctions, I believe Christianity itself is not arrogant. Rather, it is the belief that the message of Jesus Christ as told in the Bible is reliable and worthy of acknowledgment and trust. Though this belief has often been communicated in an arrogant way, it in and of itself is not arrogant. Like every religion, it rests upon truth claims that need evaluation. One then has the choice to either accept or reject the message.


Is Faith a Crutch? You Better Believe It!

My four-year-old niece has a little stuffed panda named Pammy. Pammy is her “best friend” and the two of them do everything together. Even though this little bear is falling apart and almost as old as I am (she was mine as a little girl), she is my niece’s favorite toy. When she is sad, Pammy is there. When she’s afraid, she hugs Pammy for comfort. She shares her laughter, jokes, and kisses with this little stuffed animal. The joy and comfort she has received are legitimate. Yet in reality, my niece’s faith in Pammy’s ability to comfort her is a misplaced faith. Pammy is a toy that cannot offer her any real help.

For many, faith in God is similar to my niece’s relationship with Pammy the Panda. You may gain perceived comfort from it, but it’s a fictional comfort divorced from reality. Just as Pammy can’t really protect my niece from her fears, God can’t protect us, help us, or guide us because He’s not real. He may make us feel better, but in reality nothing changes because He’s just a psychological toy. He’s a crutch people use when they don’t understand what’s going on around them and don’t know how to cope with life.

If you had come up to me a year ago and told me my Christian faith in God was a crutch, the apologetic wheels in my head would have begun turning and I would have started sharing with you all the reasons why my faith has legitimate grounds. I would have delved into the evidence for God’s existence and tried to show you that my faith in Him is not wishful thinking. I might have looked at Freud’s understanding of faith as wish-fulfillment and compared it with how C.S. Lewis would respond. Maybe I would have taken you to passages in the Bible that talk about faith’s foundation being built on evidence for God’s existence and loving character. I definitely would have sent you to articles by apologists smarter than I am who have answered this question so well.[1]

But that was a year ago. A lot can happen in a year, and in my case a lot has. In a year I’ve gone through a period of depression, which in all honesty, I’m not sure has fully gone away. I’ve experienced the discouragement of unemployment in a struggling economy. I watched one of my closest friends lose the fight against cancer. I’ve worked through the pain of broken relationships and the loss of trust.  I’ve watched my family suffer and experience injustice that leaves me at a loss for words (which is saying a lot because I’m a very wordy person). When I’ve thought I can’t handle another wave of suffering without shattering into a million pieces, another wave has come crashing down. I’ve questioned my worth, purpose, and God’s goodness. I’ve gotten angry at Him, and agonized over how a good God can allow the personal suffering and injustice I’m experiencing. This past year I’ve had to wrestle through my faith in God where the rubber meets the road.  My faith’s been tested as I’ve had to wrestle through what, or who, I base my faith upon.

So what about today? If you came to me today and told me my faith is a crutch, how would I respond? Well, I still hold to and believe everything I would’ve said a year ago. I still believe my faith rests upon reliable evidence and not wishful thinking. But my response would be quite different.

Is my faith a crutch? You better believe it! In fact, it’s more than that. It’s my life support.  It’s what keeps my heart beating and my lungs breathing. My faith is an acknowledgement that I am utterly broken and weak. I can’t do this thing called life in my strength. My faith is kind of like that mustard seed Jesus talked about. It’s small and has no strength. But my God is strong! I desperately need Him and I have no one else to cling to but Him. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Clinging to Him and not the brokenness of this world and my life is a safe place to rest.

My soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”[2]

 

Unlike my niece who finds fictional comfort and friendship in Pammy the Panda, my comfort comes from choosing to trust that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in the midst of life’s sorrows is real.  I gladly acknowledge that He is my crutch.


[1] I still recommend you read these articles: “Your relationship with God is just a Psychological Crutch,” http://www.rzim.eu/your-relationship-with-god-is-just-a-psychological-crutch  and “Is Christianity just a Crutch?” http://www.rzim.eu/is-christianity-just-a-crutch

The Irrelevance of Culture

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

“Culture? The irrelevance of it!”[1]

If you are like me the idea that culture is irrelevant is ridiculous and goes against your understanding of our humanity and Christianity. We love Lewis, but considering the deep impact his life and writings have had on Western culture his statement is surprising. He’s way off here!

In recent years there has been a large push from the Evangelical world to become culture-makers and “sub-creators.” As Christians we believe we’re created in the image of God with the cultural mandate to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). This includes more than having babies and keeping plants and animals in check. It includes using all the talents and gifts God has given us for His glory. It includes music, literature and drama, fashion, politics, taking care of the environment, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. As Christians who take the Bible seriously it doesn’t get more relevant than culture. Yet, as Christ-followers, why don’t we see a greater impact on culture? Why is it that so often we are trying to keep up or catch up with the culture around us? We want to dramatically influence culture for the kingdom and glory of God (and in many ways we are), yet we often we seem to miss the mark.

This has led me to start asking questions. As a follower of Christ, am I to pursue impacting culture for Christ? Or am I to pursue Christ which will inevitably impact culture? It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference. And I think it’s a significant one. I can’t help contemplating the idea that as Christians we’re not experiencing the influence we long for because we’re focusing on the influence itself. How does the world perceive us? Do they see us as relevant? Are we speaking their language? Do they get us, find us attractive, or want to imitate us? These are all good questions that we need to take seriously and work through. But is it the right place to start?

Regarding culture Lewis also said,

“True culture comes from genuine, spontaneous, un-sought after enjoyment of something.” [2]

In other words, true culture comes from who you are, not what you do. I would suggest that he was right and take it one step further. As a Christian, true cultural impact comes not from seeking to impact culture but from genuine enjoyment of SOMEONE, namely Jesus. If we are not having the impact we long for, does it indicate the depth of our love for God Himself? When I look at history, the greatest impact Christians have had on culture and the world (this includes Lewis) has been from those who were not seeking cultural influence. They had an awe-inspiring love for their Savior which they longed to share with others. With the Psalmist their souls hungered and thirsted for God. They longed for a better country, a heavenly one. Their cry was,

“My goal is God himself, not joy nor peace, nor even blessing, but Himself, my God.”[3]

Their consuming love for God poured out into all they did. It influenced art, science, politics, justice, and life both at home and abroad. Maybe Lewis was right. Maybe culture in and of itself is irrelevant. Just as culture is the outward manifestation of our inner longings and character, maybe the Christian’s impact on culture also comes from within. Maybe if my consuming goal was “God himself” I’d start to see the cultural transformation I rightly long for.


Note: For the first posting of this blog, visit Park Community Church

[1] Lewis quote taken from his essay “Lilies that Fester” in The World’s Last Night: and Other Essays

[2] Ibid

[3] Quote from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest

How Does Apologetics Explain Matthew 10:19-20?

Yesterday I read a blog on the relationship between spiritual warfare and apologetics. These aren’t two areas we typically connect in our daily lives. I can hear someone asking skeptically, “What on earth does apologetics have to do with the spiritual warfare I’m facing?” If you’re wondering about the connection I suggest you read the blog by clicking here.

After posting the link to the blog on Twitter, I received this question in response, “How does Apologetics explain Matthew 10:19 -20?” It’s a good question that gets to the heart of the matter, dealing with a question many Christians have about the relationship between apologetics and reliance upon God in communicating the Gospel. Matthew 10:19-20 records a statement Jesus made to his disciples. He said,

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

What does Jesus mean here? Is He telling his disciples that to rely upon the Spirit means not to use apologetics? I don’t think so, but to understand what Jesus is saying we need to look at the context in which He made this statement. I believe it’s seen that he is not banning apologetics, but referring to something else entirely.

A Look at the Context of Matthew 10*

Matthew 10 records a time when Jesus gave His twelve disciples authority to do the same kind of miracles He was doing, commanding them to go throughout Israel preaching the message that “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He then told them of the inevitable persecution that would come because they were bearing witness to His name.  They would face trials, be flogged, and dragged before governors and kings because of the message they proclaimed in word and deed. This would fill even the bravest of men with apprehension. If the thought of public speaking makes you nervous, how would you feel if your life was at stake? So Jesus assures them,

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

What does Matthew 10:19-20 mean?

Into this context it’s important to notice what Jesus actually commands. The command is to not be anxious. The issue is one of confidence and trust. It was a reminder to the disciples of where their authority and power came from, and a call to rely upon the Spirit to communicate effectively. When the inevitable persecution came they were not to fear because they’d been sent by Jesus and His Spirit would speak through them. Jesus was not telling His disciples to enter hard situations unprepared and to avoid giving the reasons for the message they proclaimed.  It was not a call to shun using apologetics.  Rather, the opposite could be argued. Jesus commanded his disciples to display wisdom and bear testimony about Him. Even the miracles they would do would be an apologetic for the message they proclaimed.

Matthew 10:19-20 in the Context of the New Testament

The immediate context of Matthew 10 does not have Jesus dismissing apologetics; rather, He reminded His disciples where to rest their confidence when the anxiety and fear of persecution threatened to undo them. This is a command His disciples took to heart. In Acts we see them facing the persecution Jesus promised with confidence because of the strength they received from the Holy Spirit. When they stood before religious and political leaders they boldly gave an apologetic for their belief that Jesus was the Son of God (see Acts 2, 4, 7, 17, 22). In Philippians, the Apostle Paul links his imprisonment to apologetics (1:7, 16). And in 1 Peter, as believers faced persecution for their faith in Jesus, they were to always be ready to share the reasons for their hope (3:14-15).

An Apologetic for Apologetics

The right place for apologetics within the Christian’s life and witness is one that is worthy of our consideration. As we heed the call of 1 Peter, we need to remember that as Jesus said, the work of persuasion ultimately rests upon the work of His Spirit. For further reading on the biblical basis for apologetics, I highly recommend you read the article Regarding Apologetics, an Apology.

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*While I believe the context of Matthew 10 is clear, exegesis is not something to treat lightly and I approach it tentatively.

“Apolo-what?” Misunderstandings about Apologetics

I love meeting new people, hearing where they come from and what they do. I get excited to learn about their passions, and in turn share with them about who I am and what gets me excited in life. I’ve started to notice a trend though. Usually when I share my passion for Christian apologetics I get a blank or quizzical stare. What exactly is Christian apologetics? Why is it important and why should anyone care? As I’ve interacted with these questions, and the people who are asking them, I’ve experienced that many people have assumptions about apologetics that need clarification.

Four Misunderstandings about Apologetics

  1. Apologetics is saying “sorry” for being a Christian. It cannot be denied that great evil has occurred in the name of Christianity that Christians need to apologize for. Yet apologetics is not saying “I’m sorry” for believing in Jesus Christ or the Bible’s reliability.
  2. Apologetics is only about debating. Once when I explained to an individual my passion for apologetics I was immediately asked, “So you like to debate people?” He assumed that apologetics consisted of debating scientists or people of other faiths to prove that Christianity is right and they are wrong. While debates have their right and healthy place in apologetics, to equate the two unequivocally is to miss the apologetic mark.
  3. Apologetics is a waste of time. I have come across this opinion from both followers and non-followers of Jesus. The thought is that there are more important things to do with our time than to discuss if certain parts of the Bible are reliable, to discern if the major world religions are compatible or contradictory, or to contemplate the relationship between faith and reason. Yet the questions apologetics deal with regard life’s greatest issues of meaning, purpose, and future happiness or despair. These issues are hardly a waste of time and deserve serious thought.
  4. Apologetics is for “smart” people. This is perhaps the biggest misunderstanding I’ve come across. Many assume that apologetics is not for everyday life among ordinary people. It’s reserved for the universities, pastors, theologians, and philosophers whose job is to have deep conversations, write books, and act smart. This assumption forgets that your neighbor could be questioning the goodness of God, your child wondering where evil came from, and you’re questioning your value and purpose in the world. Far from being reserved for academic élite, apologetics is for everyone in every walk of life.

What is Apologetics?

Technically speaking, apologetics is giving a reasoned defense for a belief or an idea. When you tell your friend to avoid a certain restaurant, explaining that if they eat there they’ll get food poisoning, you’re giving a reasoned defense for your claim. Similarly, when a child attempts to reason with her parents why she wants to date a certain boy, she’s giving an apologetic for her belief. Christian apologetics is giving a defense based upon reason for the truthfulness and reliability of the Christian faith. Yet it is much more than this. Alister McGrath notes that Christian apologetics does not simply rely upon defending the Christian message from attack.  It communicates the beauty and relevance of Christianity to a world hungry for meaning and healing. And it translates the message of Christianity in language that makes sense to those who are listening. [1]

The Purpose of Apologetics

The purpose of Christian apologetics is not to win arguments or to disregard the beliefs of others. Rather, its purpose and goal is to introduce people to the beauty of Jesus Christ, the liberating life He offers through his death and resurrection, and the joy of a relationship with Him. Christian apologetics acknowledges that life is full of hard questions and difficult days. Yet in the midst of this there is a reason for assured hope. The reason is Jesus.

Learning More

If you wish to learn more about  the Christian message, it’s reliability, and the hope it offers, a wealth of excellent resources are available. The list is large, but here are a few personal recommendations to get you started.

  • Books
    • Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath. This is one of the best books out there for an easy, biblical understanding of apologetics’ application, purpose, and how it answers life’s key questions.
    • Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias. This is an excellent book that demonstrates the uniqueness of the Christian message and claims of Jesus in a world that embraces pluralism.
    • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. No apologetic resource list is complete without Lewis. Read this book and you’ll understand why.
    • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. This book looks at hard questions surrounding the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus and demonstrates the historical reliability of the his life and claims.
    • Is Believing in God Irrational? By Amy Orr-Ewing. This book addresses key questions and objections about God, showing the trustworthiness of God and his claims. It’s a must read!
  • Websites
    • www.rzim.org and www.rzim.eu Both these Ravi Zacharias International Ministry sites contain excellent articles and resources surrounding the major apologetic questions and challenges of the day.
    • www.apologetics315.com An excellent site about all things apologetic. Whether you’re new to apologetics or a veteran, you’ll find helpful information here and will never get bored.
    • www.thepoachedegg.net A great resource “where Christian apologetics, history, philosophy, science, theology, and pop culture collide.”

[1] Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics, chapter 1