Why should you care?
In my prior posts, I described my journey through doubt and depression from an uncritical acceptance of the religion in which I was raised to a careful examination and confident acceptance of the claims of Christianity. Many people may read these posts and want to congratulate me on finding meaningful spirituality and bid me a pleasant life (so long as I keep my religious beliefs largely out of sight, anyway). But quiet, private religious observance is not my aim. In this post, I want to make a case for Christian case-making.
There are, broadly speaking, two categories of folks who might be reading this blog: those who share my Christian beliefs and those who do not. I want to address both groups.
For those who do not share my beliefs, your preferences may range from good wishes that I get fulfillment from my privately held beliefs (as mentioned above), to distrust and concern about the evils of religion and those who hold my views. In either case, you probably wish I would keep it to myself and enjoy my religion quietly; “live and let live,” and stop trying to change your beliefs. If that is your wish, then I believe there is a fundamental problem in your understanding of Christianity. The problem here is that evangelism, or proselytizing, if you prefer, is of critical importance to Christ-followers, and not just because the-Bible-tells-me-so. We believe that the teachings of the Bible are true, and that heaven and hell are real. This makes proselytizing a matter of practical love shown to those around us. Famous magician and atheist Penn Jillette says it well in this video (partial transcript follows):
I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.
So, in this set of posts, I want you, my non-Christian friend, to understand why I am a Christian (because it is evidentially true), and why we are so compelled to try to persuade others of its truth (because we believe so much is at stake).
To my Christian friends, I want you to understand not just why and how I became a Christian, but why we all should be Christian case-makers, prepared, as it says in 1 Peter 3:15, to give a reason for the hope that is in us, doing so with gentleness and respect.
What is (and isn’t) Christian case-making?
Christian case-making, is, as its name implies, making the reasoned case for Christianity. The term is one used by J. Warner Wallace as a more descriptive replacement for “apologetics,” which generally requires some explanation as to its meaning, and with some carries with it negative connotations. A Christian case-maker is a believer who knows what they believe and why, and works to show it to others with knowledge, wisdom, and character, often using evidence from philosophy, history, archaeology, and science to make the positive case in for the Christian worldview. A Christian case-maker also strives to provide a reasoned defense against arguments raised against Christianity. After all, if the Christian worldview correctly reflects reality, then worldviews with contradictory views will have flaws which can be demonstrated to help win over the adherent.
Christian case-making is tied with discipleship and faith-building. As we learn how the evidence supports the Christian worldview, we gain further trust in God to help us in the areas that we find mysterious and paradoxical. In other words, we can have faith in what we can’t see because of what we do see.
Christian case-making is not a replacement for the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the unbelieving. Case-making is a tool that the Holy Spirit uses through the believer to soften the ground and clear the weeds prior to scattering the seeds of the gospel.
Christian case-making is not a replacement for evangelism through sharing the good news of the Bible. Case-making is very much tied together with evangelism, in that it helps prepare the minds and wills of the hearers to be able to hear and accept the truths of Christianity. The word of God must still be taught, but as our American culture moves further and further away from its Christian foundations, we must be prepared to show why the Bible should still be considered a valid authority source before some will take it seriously.
Finally, Christian case-making is not a niche, ivory-tower endeavor for super-intellectuals to practice their sparring, like some sort of hybrid chess/boxing club. All Christians are called to engage in the study and exercise of case-making. Jesus, Paul, and Peter each used reasoning appropriate to the environment in which they were teaching, trying to persuade and demonstrate the truth of the message they taught, and commanded us to do likewise (1 Peter 3:15, Jude 3). [Douglas Groothuis has written an excellent book and articles on Jesus as a philosopher and apologist. One such article can be found here.] To be effective in our practice of the Great Commission, we must be prepared to help those who are looking for the truth, but have questions about the ability of Christianity to compete with modern worldviews.
Taking it personally
As America secularizes, church attendance and self-identification of Christians is decreasing. Those who leave the church, according to many metrics, are doing so largely right after high school. Indeed, many of my peers raised in the same or similar environments as I was have since walked away from their parent’s faith. This is not an isolated regional problem. In 2001, the Southern Baptist Convention reported data from a study that showed that 70-88% of their youth stopped attending church after their freshman college year.
I believe that many of these are preventable. I think my own background and story mirrors much of today’s youth in Christendom: they have been taught what to believe, but not why. Then, faced with the sudden freedom of thought and action in the transition between high school and college or career, questions arise that they have not been given answers for previously, and the ones offering answers at that point are often peers (with the same questions and doubts), professors (who, if expressing a view on the subject are strongly opinionated against Christianity), popular media and culture (decidedly anti-Christian), or all three. This is why I think we need to train our youth from as early as Junior High in logic and critical thinking in general, and specifically applied towards Christianity and other religious belief systems. In training them ahead of time, they are not taken by surprise by questions and challenges when leaving the insulated bubble of Christianity that they had pressed around them growing up. They have already begun thinking critically about the issues and forming reasoned opinions, and we, as parents and youth leaders, can help guide them through the process and inoculate them against error.
In doing so, we will be doing our part, working with the Holy Spirit, to draw and keep our youth and young adults in the knowledge of the truth.