A friend of mine recently sent me a statement posted by a college student on Facebook about his view of Christianity. My friend was initially appalled by the remarks this young skeptic made but after looking at this a bit more carefully he said that he began to think this kind of response from the young skeptic represented the harsh reality of much of the message that modern day evangelical Christianity has presented concerning the salient points of our faith. My Christian friend wrote on his Facebook page: “My sense is that if we are primarily about doctrinal precepts then maybe this young person is right. If, on the other hand, we are about being living and acting and serving ‘the least of these’ in the same manner as Jesus and empowered by his Spirit, then it is much harder to reject compassion, love, and hope. ‘They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love . . .’ as the chorus goes.”
My older and wiser friend included the student's statement when he wrote to me and then gave me his response to it below. It seems to me that if we are to positively affect such young people in our post-Christendom culture, millions of whom are staying away from the faith in droves, we will have to be more than a set of doctrines which are believed among us before we can truly unbelievers into our fellowship.
The Skeptic’s Statement
Christianity: The belief that some cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. Makes perfect sense. HAHA =)
Christian Friend’s Response
Well, your response is very creative and I fear that you have listened well to what Christianity presents itself as in much of our culture. It is this kind of message that we often put out for people before we say or do anything else. Could you believe in a community that is really and genuinely incarnational? If we are a group whose reality is merely a set of ideas, then you might be right about us as Christians. If we are a community that continues the life, work and ministry of Jesus in the way that we actually live and serve those who Jesus came to give good news to, then I think you might have a harder time being snarky and dismissive of both our claims and lives.
The Skeptic Responds
I was referring to the basic belief. I wasn't in any way trying to dismiss any of the charitable works that religious institutions provide. At the same time however, I refuse to let religious institutions claim monopoly on charitable works, as I would like to think at some base level, we as humans don’t need the threat of eternal damnation to make us be nice to our fellow man.
Christian Friend’s Response
I really was not condemning you or finding fault with your analysis of the Christian message as it is presented in much of the culture. As a matter of fact, I think you have shown some over-the-top humor in summarizing that message when the primary effort of evangelism is to get others to accept as truth a set of doctrines that seem very counter to empirical understandings. But I think there is more to the message than you have heard or perhaps consider. My suggestion is that you might seek out a community that primarily wants to live out the message of Christ, which can be summarized as "love God and love your neighbor". If the community is primarily concerned with justice, peace and reconciliation, welcoming the stranger, and genuine worship then I think you might find that there is a different Christianity than you have experienced. Are there places like this – yes! In the interest of intellectual honesty you need to keep looking a little deeper. Good luck on your journey.
I agree with everything you have said about religious institutions and their lack of an exclusive claim to doing good and that the threat of eternal damnation does not do much to inspire others to good behavior. Smug dismissiveness and "snarkiness" with a spirit of condemnation does not do much for the church either. Again, I think these things can function as a stereotype and serve to obscure being able to see the truth of the Church as well.
The Young Skeptic Responds Again
I was raised Methodist. I've read the bible. Have you ever read the book Stranger in a Strange Land? Because there is some pretty off the wall stuff in it, but on the whole, "thou art god", in its full explanation, hits rather close to home into what I have determined to be the most reasonable explanation of what we search for in the divine.
Christian Friend’s Response
Thanks, and please believe me that I am not trying to convert you. I appreciate your comments and think that the Church could learn a lot by listening to you and others who hold the same view. Just keep an open mind and don't let yourself become blinded by a sort of humanistic fundamentalism. It suffers from the same limitations that frustrate you with the church. God bless you my friend
This kind of response is rooted in the what I have called post-modern apologetics. This does not mean we have no intellectual answers for the kind of doubts and questions people ask of our faith. It does mean we must live well and create a community that incarnationally lives the faith if we expect anyone to listen. This is not post-modern at all. Actually, it is both ancient-faith and pre-modern. If we were to grasp this we would begin to see how much like the first century the West has become in terms of how it does or does not hear our witness.
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Thanks for a concrete example of a Christian responding well. Many, Christians included, often use the anonymity of the Internet to rant promiscuously or say things they’d never say face to face. This Christian’s response shows the humility without which nobody will take us seriously.
It seems to me the skeptic finding his credo “Thou are god” which strangely parallels Satan words to Adam and Eve to be like God
suggests designer spirituality today at its worst.
If only the church would demonstrate more often a cruciform lifestyle that shows the contrast in its starkest terms between a life centered on self vs. a life centered on Christ.
Why do you believe there is an impulse among “evangelicals” NOT to convert people? Is your friend really not “trying” to get this young man to worship the Living God? How does this gel with Paul’s desire to become all things to all men, so that he might win some to Christ? Is this “I’m not trying to convert you” part of becoming all things to this to guy, so as to win him?