Apologetics in 5,434 words or less: Is Christianity True?

 

Greetings! Chances are, you don’t read every article you come across. I don’t blame you! Between internet, TV, and our everyday routines, who has time to read everything? And if you’re anything like me, it is hard to maintain an interest in someone you don’t know. So, let me introduce myself!

My name is Jesse Winn, and I’m a husband, a son, a student, a former atheist, a critical thinker, a Christian, an imperfect person, and I am the preaching minister for Shoals church of Christ in Tuscumbia, Al. That’s right! I put all those words in the same sentence. I put them in a sentence that concluded with me as a minister. I am obviously no longer an atheist, but the rest of those words still describe who I am. Even “atheist” is a word describing my journey and how I’ve gotten to where I am. If I chose one word to describe myself, I would say that I’m transparent. I ask tough questions, I struggle with hard temptations, and I am often emotional and confused, but I am unapologetically open about all those transitions of my daily walk. I have a journey I’m on just like anyone else. This article is not meant for the self-righteous, but the real. For believers who struggle with doubt and for non-believers who are desperate for a better way. This series is for you. So, let’s talk! What’s this Christian thing all about?

 

Speaking the truth in love-

Jude, the brother of Jesus, wanted to write a short book of encouragement and zeal. He wanted to just simply talk about the “feel good” things of Christianity. But, unfortunately, there was division in the church to whom he was writing. He felt led by the Spirit to instead tell the saints to “contend for your faith.”

What does that mean? Is it just a nice, poetic talking point of passion? Or was it imperative that the Christians actually contend for their faith? I think we know the answer. The word contend means to reason, argue, and give a defense. In other words, it means to back up what you say is true in a logical way. It is easy to associate “arguing” with some sort of negativity. That is understandable because, many times, we humans tend to let pride, harm, and division manifest itself in arguments. But arguing is not inherently negative. It is possible (and commanded) for us to argue/defend/contend our faith without losing Christ-likeness.

Many throughout Scripture were persecuted in various forms for contending for their faith. Off the top of my head, I can think of Noah, Moses, Joshua, the kings and prophets, John the Baptist, the apostles (especially Paul), Jesus, and the list goes on and on. And in today’s culture, it is just as true. But just because something is hard to hear, and just because people may react poorly to it, doesn’t mean truth is any less true.

In John 6 Jesus had a mega-church. There were likely 15,000 or more people there if you include the women and children. He was a popular speaker, provided a friendly environment, performed fun and helpful miracles, and he even fed them until they were full.  It was one of the fastest growing mega-churches of all time! But then Jesus said something weird. He said that they must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Before he knew it, there were only 12 followers, and even they were turned off by these statements. Jesus contended for truth no matter the consequences. How could he do anything less? He was/is truth himself. We ALL have a responsibility to contend earnestly for our faith.

The key is, as Ephesians 4:14 says, we must teach the truth in gentleness and love. 1 Peter 3:15 says that with gentleness, we are to have a reason for the hope that we have. After all, hope isn’t a dream, hope means confident expectation. Colossians 4:5-6 reminds the Christian to think carefully how talk is conducted with outsiders. Speaking truth in love means being humble and gentle. Sarcasm is often used in the Bible, even by Jesus, but we are in a culture that finds it unhelpful and inconsiderate. Not to mention, we aren’t inspired by the Spirit in the same ways that Paul and Jesus were. It isn’t needed. Speaking in gentleness and love means praying, thinking carefully about what you are going to say, making sure what you say is actually helpful, being willing to learn where the other person is coming from even if you still disagree. Simply put, speaking the truth in love means treating others how you would want to be treated.

Apologetics-

Apologetics literally means to give a defense. It is from the Greek word, apologia, which is where we get our English word apology. The difference between apologetics and giving an apology is that in an apology you are admitting wrong of some sort and usually giving a reason for committing said wrong, but in apologetics, you are giving reasons for things you believe are right. An apologist is someone who defends the Christian beliefs through history, literature, science, reason, and philosophy.

Roughly 35-40% of those in the U.S. born from 1990-2000 are not believers. That number is actually closer to 50% in Alabama according to some stats I’ve seen from places like pew research. Most of those nonbelievers are agnostic. This word means that they don’t claim to know either way if there is a God or not. Some claim this because they don’t care to know, others because they don’t believe it is possible to know, and others because they just simply haven’t seen enough evidence to be convinced yet. The other nonbelievers are atheists. This word means more than just simply not knowing, this word means that these people believe that there absolutely isn’t a God and they have seen enough evidence to confirm that for themselves. Most non-believers are humble enough to realize that they don’t know everything and to say that there is absolutely no God is illogical. So, the average nonbeliever is agnostic. The word agnostic comes from a Greek word meaning “know,” ginosko. When you put an alpha (looks like an English “a”) in front of a Greek word it negates it. So aginosko literally means “I don’t know.” The word atheist comes from the Greek word meaning “God,” theos. So, atheos literally means “There is no God.” So being an atheist assumes way too much. While being agnostic is understandable and humble. God can work with humble hearts.

From my understanding, there are several reasons our country is becoming increasingly agnostic. 68% of Americans claim some kind of general belief and it decreases year by year. Schools are continually hiring atheist and agnostic professors. The internet is alive and well more so than ever and it is in the hands of people who are little older than babies. The internet is an easy and free way for people who are less than experts (to say the least) to spread misinformation on a variety of topics to people who are either too young or not educated to check sources for themselves for credentials. But I personally believe the biggest reason for our country shrinking in faith is parents prioritizing everything else over (or even equal to) their belief system. Even in Alabama, the percentage of generic believers is only 77% and only 50% go just once a month to a Christian gathering. Many who do go are committed to everything but what they claim to believe. You can’t blame a child for doubting the validity. There is a mixture of culture in the U.S. (which is great), but with little to no explanation of the Christian culture and why to believe in it.  No wonder they lack faith in Christianity.

What is faith? –

The core message of Christianity is faith in a loving God. A God who chose not only to be our creator but to be our father. He made the world and all that is in it by his own voice. He made it for man, to be with man in it. He made man with free will, otherwise, love could not exist, only robotic, puppet-like emotions that we would be made to feel. He chose to love us. He is the manifestation of love, he made us by love, to be loved and to choose freely to either love him or reject him. It would be unloving, not to mention illogical and impossible for love to exist with force. We, being selfish and wishing to be our own gods, assuming we knew what was best for us, rejected his perfect way. All the things he commands is for our benefit and Jesus came to show us what that looks like, what God looks like, what love looks like. He also came to give us grace for the times we choose self over others or idolatry over God. All he asked of us is to trust him until he comes and then we will be transformed into his character. He just wants to give us time to choose him. Faith is the foundation of God’s will, but faith is something many say they don’t have.

Many people (even Christians) define faith as belief in something you can’t see, like the tooth fairy or unicorns. If this is your view of faith, no wonder many mock it! Faith is defined as “trust.” Everything requires trust from the knowledge of the color of the sky to Lincoln’s life. When you meet someone, there is little to no trust, but it grows or shrinks the more you get to know them (evidence). That is why we call untrustworthiness in a relationship “unfaithfulness.” We all have faith in something. And when speaking about God, it is all about how much we trust the evidence we have. A Christian believes there is enough evidence to believe in God. The Agnostic says they don’t know if there is enough. The atheist has faith enough in their evidence to say that there is no God. But everyone has faith in something. What do you have faith in?

Is there evidence for God? –

Everyone (including atheists) has faith in something concerning their worldview. But now we come to the question of God. Specifically, we ask about the Christian God. 2 Timothy 2:15 says to handle God’s word accurately. The idea there is to use correct reasoning. God doesn’t expect the Christian to believe anything blindly, but rather, to trust evidence he has placed in them, in the word, and in the world. In fact, Scripture calls Jesus the “Word.” But in Greek the word there is the word for “reason” and “logic,” logos. It is where we get the word logic. Everything concerning truth and purpose logically and reasonably leads to Jesus. In other words, use your brains, God made them!

There are 2 types of logical genres, deductive and inductive. Deductive is taking all the evidence that there is and coming up with a specific conclusion. This is how we find facts. Inductive reasoning is taking a specific conclusion and reasoning backwards by taking all the evidence that you have. This doesn’t give you facts, but probability, because you don’t have all the information in inductive reasoning. If I told you that Mr. Trump was outside your house you would either believe me or you wouldn’t. Your belief is the result of how much evidence there is one way or another. Gravity can’t be proven, but we have faith that is there because of inductive reasoning. The question is, do you see enough evidence to have faith in gravity. In other words, faith, belief, and trust are synonymous ways of measuring one’s acceptance of evidence. An alleged lack of evidence is still evidence and a lack of faith is still faith in the lack of something. It isn’t logical to say there is no God without having all the evidence. To say “I don’t know if there is a God” (agnosticism) is one thing, but to say there isn’t  a God doesn’t make logical sense.

God guides those who seek Him, but He doesn’t expect blind faith (Rom. 1:19-22). Matter can’t be created or destroyed. There must be a greater cause outside of every effect and said cause cannot be the effect itself. We know these scientific laws. We also know that the world had a beginning and is too vast for anyone to have all knowledge of this physical universe. But God, outside of the physical, made the physical and is greater than it. The design of the universe is perfect or else it would not exist. There is objective moral truths or else morality would be no more than just preference and justice would be a fairytale. He made us to notice the complexity of the universe, the logical need for a creator, the divine truth of objective morality, and the undying need for supernatural love. If I exist, then there must be something outside of my dimension that is greater than me and caused me. I think; therefore I am. I do exist if for no other reason than because I can ask that question. All evidence, all trust, all faith leads to God. Either you study the evidence and trust it, or you study the evidence and inductively reason that you don’t trust it. But no reason is found when an atheist says, “there is absolutely no God.”

Was Jesus real? –

Jesus is where Christianity either stands or falls. He is the foundation. That said, we know for a fact that he lived, preached a revolutionary doctrine claiming to fulfill the Jewish Bible, that he had thousands of followers, that he died by Roman crucifixion, and that his grave was empty on the third day with no other logical explanation than what he claimed would happen.

This is historical fact, recorded by both friend and foe of the movement. In fact, it is the best documented evidence of any ancient historical event or person ever. There is virtually no legitimate atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Christian, or any other kind of historian who has studied the documents and culture of the 1st century who would deny this. The evidence is so bold! It is also recorded that over 500 people saw Him multiple times for a month and a half after the grave was empty. Both friend and foe record this. It is very unlikely that 500 people all were persecuted and died for something they KNEW was a lie. Die for something they believe, sure, but something they knew was a lie because they claimed themselves to see Him, that’s unlikely to say the very least. It is also impossible for that many people to have delusions in their mind all at the same time, multiple times. And even if any of that were possible the grave being empty still would need to be answered. It is documented that the tomb was heavily guarded by both friend and foe of Jesus. Even enemies of Jesus who were historians wrote about all of these things. They obviously didn’t believe He was the Son of God or they would have become Christians, but they admitted the empty tomb after seeing Him die and seeing eyewitnesses die as well.

These are just a few reasons that I came from atheism to believing He is who He says He is. Any other answer to all this evidence would be equally as miraculous as a resurrection! He claimed over and over that He would rise, and nobody believed Him. Why did He do it? To show us His love, and to show us our future, how we too will rise again with Him for eternity with our Father! If we believe any other piece of history, it makes no sense to neglect the best documented history of the ancient world. Many claim he didn’t exist, but none of those people know the evidence, hence the reasons even non-Christian professionals believe that he lived, and His tomb was empty, and they strive to find a reason to explain this.

Many in Christianity disagree on various subjects, but what unites us to one another and separates us from the world is that we believe he is who he said he is. We are united by the Gospel, the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15). There are over 350 specific prophecies, most of which would be out of his control, that were fulfilled by him and recorded by friend and foe. The Muslim believes he didn’t die but that is historically incorrect and therefore their holy book must be imperfect. The Jew says he lived and died but wasn’t raised, but they have no explanation for his disappearance. Jesus is the Son of God! Genuine trust in his will and in that good news is what makes one a Christian.

Is the Bible the Word of God? –

So, we talked about reasons to believe Jesus is who He says He is. This section will build off that idea by talking about the legitimacy of the Bible. Short answer to the title by the way: yes and no. The Bible isn’t a god to be worshiped. Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is Truth. The Bible leads us to Him. The Pharisees misused their Bible and Jesus told them that they won’t find salvation by worshipping the book, but by allowing the book to guide them to him. The Bible is a tool we are blessed with, and like all tools, it must be used correctly. The Bible is a library of 66 books, 2 covenants (promises), many genres, over 40 authors, 3 languages, and over a 1500-year time span. All with 1 key message consistently connected to the books with no contradiction of message. Some things are to be taken literal, some allegorical, some historical, some as law. It was put together as we see it close to 400 years after the apostles and it was written with an “eastern” understanding of the world. This means that not everything is meant to be taken literal or in a detail-for-detail format like things are in a “western” mindset. The message is one of reconciliation between a loving God and His creation through an intercessor (Christ). While it was inspired by God, it still has human elements to it. But the message remains the same.

If Jesus is real, as we have discussed, He claimed that both old and new covenants are inspired by the Spirit of God. There are over 6,000 copies of the original manuscripts from the first century and they are 99.9% accurate to each other. Whatever differences there are do not change any core teaching of the Christian belief. Many of these documents were written within 30 years of the 1st century. Almost countless detailed prophecies were fulfilled. Over 8 Christians within 50 years mentioned all the books in the new testament as true and written by followers of Christ. If the events were not true, there were over 35 famous nonbelievers alive at the time that were mentioned and could have easily contradicted them concerning the events that were mentioned. They did not. The message of the Bible is true and better documented than any other series of books in ancient history. The Bible isn’t written to us, but it is written for us and our learning in the context it was written. We must respect it and work hard to understand the Scriptures by praying for guidance from above. We can be confident that the evidence for the inspiration of Scripture is strong. It is brought to life by our loving God who guides those who seek Him to Himself. We must use reason, we must pray for wisdom, we must trust the Spirit to guide us, and we must put work into understanding this most important series of words. We are humans who rely on God’s grace, not only morally, but intellectually. We should realize our imperfections and have the deepest grace and humility when studying the words from God for ourselves or with others.

It is also important to remember that for 300 years after Jesus the Bible, as we know it, did not exist. The documents did, but the library of books formed the way we now see them were not collected in the modern way until around 300AD. The churches would simply pass the letters from congregation to congregation. That is one of the reasons so many copies of each book were made. Roughly 1500 years after Jesus the Bible was finally translated into English. Up until this point Bibles were expensive, illegal for common man in some areas, not in any language but Latin, Hebrew, and Greek, and most people were illiterate. The Gospel spread by word of mouth and by the witnessing of people who lived out a Spirit-filled life. Even today, almost 20% of the world is illiterate. And almost 20% of those who can read have very limited capability. It wasn’t written to us, but for us. We have a beautiful and priceless tool that should be used with humility and understanding, not as a something to carelessly take out of context and neglect. The Bible is a gift from our God.

What about the Problem of Evil? –

Everyone has or will experience intense pain in their lives. Even as I type this, there are likely billions of people going through the worst physical, spiritual, or emotional pain in their life. Maybe it is spiritual confusion or doubt, a loss of a friend or family member, a loved one who is sick or injured and there is no comfort for you our them, or maybe divorce or some kind of relational turmoil is clouding someone’s life. If you live, you will have pain, a lot of it!

But why would a loving God allow so much pain in this world? God said he is all love and all-powerful, but there is evil and pain. This doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t it be that if God really had all power and love that he would stop evil? And if he didn’t, then he is either not all powerful or not all loving. In which case then everything that Jesus and the Bible had to say about God is false. At best he would be God but not the Christian God. He would be some other God who either didn’t have as much power or didn’t have as much love as the Christian God claims to have.

First, it is imperative that the Christian realizes that God is okay with questions, confusion, frustration, and doubt. Jesus dealt with this in the garden before he was betrayed and crucified. Peter dealt with this while working through his trust in Jesus. Moses dealt with this on the mountain when he was insecure about leadership. Paul deals with this his entire ministry through doubt and persecution. In Psalm 73 Asaph dealt with this when asking why godly people suffer and worldly people are blessed. And then you have people like Jonah who run away and become bitter. What’s the difference between all of these people and Jonah? All but Jonah kept their trust in God. Throughout pain, evil, temptation, stumbling, confusion, anger, doubt, and persecution they always had faith. Sometimes that faith was strong, and other times it was the size of a mustard seed. But God will take even mustard seed faith and rearrange landscapes. He desires genuineness above all else. So, if you have questions, anger, pain, and doubt, God is okay with that. Just give him whatever faith you do have, and he will transform it into a multitude of grace.

We say something is painful because it hurts us in some way. We say something, or someone is evil because there is harm to others. Storms, disease, injury, heartache, death, abuse, and loneliness are all considered evil and painful. But the moment we say something, or someone, is objectively evil is the moment we admit there is a God. How so? If, as the agnostic and atheist say, we are here randomly and by pure chance, then everything that happens or doesn’t happen is by chance. Everything is random. Assuming it was even scientifically and logically possible for this world to randomly exist, every thought, action, and feeling would be a random result of a random world. I could not say that rape is objectively wrong, I could only say that it was unpleasant and undesirable from my subjectively random and cultural perspective. I could not say things like “that is unfair” because justice would not be an absolute principle. Reason and logic couldn’t be objective either because there would be no way to reasonably and logically prove that reason and logic prove anything. How would we know whether or not that reason and logic was just a natural result of a random universe of chemicals formed by chance? I could say Nazis are unenjoyable, but I couldn’t say they were wrong. I could say that I have genuine love for someone, but really It would just be subjective fulfillment of felt needs randomly supplied to me. There would be no such thing as objective reasoning, morality, or truth in a random world. And there would be no certain way to prove otherwise because of the lack of reliability of reason in such a world.

The moment we say that God can’t be real because a loving and powerful God wouldn’t allow evil is the moment we suggest there is objective evil. And the only way for there to be objective evil is for there to be a God outside of this dimension, someone extra-human, metaphysical, and supernatural, to create a standard of morality. But, from a biblical context, the Christian God doesn’t even create a standard of morality, he is by his nature the standard. Good and evil is defined by his character. That is the definition of holy and unholy, righteous and unrighteous, sinner or saint. Are you in the character (aka: “image”) of God? The answer is that nobody is in his image outside of his grace and transformation (Romans 8:28-29). He made a perfect world, but our desire to be our own God created an environment of what we call “evil.” Jesus said that all of God’s commands hang on loving him and loving others. So, logically speaking, the opposite of obeying his commands (sin) is hating/hurting God or others. That is evil, and God is love. Even the world, our children, and our bodies suffer the consequence of us abusing the freedom that God graciously has given us.

He alone knows all things. We are not God. We do not fully understand the reasoning behind his commands or the reason he allows hurt to happen to both Christians and non-Christians. But we do know that ultimately, we do not live for this world but the world to come. All things work together for good to those who love him, according to his purpose. We do know that pain is the greatest opportunity grow closer to him because he is near to the broken-hearted. We know that, at the end of the day, God desires your broken and contrite heart. We know that nothing can separate us from his love. We know that what the world means for evil, God means for good. He is there in our pain and always will be. Through Jesus, he understands our pain. There is a world to come. He is all powerful and all loving. He is the great physician. I don’t know all the details about why bad things happen to otherwise “good” (relatively speaking) people. But I know my savior lives!

Why Am I a Christian? –

I preached a sermon on all the above sections about back in 2017 and the total amount of time I spent preaching them was about 4 hours. That’s 4 hours’ worth of structured and detailed reasons I believe in Christianity. The funny thing is that there is so much more that could be said. I left some things out for time and I left other things out because I try to make my sermons applicable to everyone in the audience.

As I’ve said before, ultimately the whole thing comes down to where do you put your trust. Everyone has faith in something. Where does the evidence lead you? Many in the church don’t like to talk about these subjects because, frankly, a lot of them have blind faith. In other words, they put little to no work behind researching the reasons for the hope that is within them. What about that attitude makes your faith any different from any other belief system, including atheism? But the evidence is there for those who aren’t too lazy to do the work. And we need to be showing our children that we are willing to do the work. If we don’t, the world is already ahead of us. There is a reason 40% of those between about 17-27 consider themselves nonbelievers of any kind of God. And there is a reason why 80% of high school graduates who grew up in a Christian home leave the church with little more than a “generic” faith as soon as they become adults. Parents, grandparents, and friends, where are your priorities?

Everyone has a worldview (something they have faith in). Philosophically speaking, a worldview is defined by 4 things: origin (where we came from), meaning (purpose of being here), morality (what is objectively wrong or right), and destiny (what happens when I die). Both religious and nonreligious worldviews have some kind of answer for each of these questions that is based on the faith they have in the evidence they find. Christianity is the only worldview that answers all of these questions in a logical, reasonable, and consistent way. It has the most evidence. Which should mean that it is the most trustworthy. Which is another way of saying that faith in Christianity makes the most sense.

God is a personal God. 1 John 4:15-19 says that he lives in us and we in him. It says that if we trust in him there is no reason for fear because he loves us and does everything for us. He made the first move. Those of us who love him do so because he first loved us. He took the initiative. Everything he has made is to scream out to us his desire for relationship. James 4:8 says to draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

The first place to start this relationship is by praying. Prayer is not to be a routine, but a conversation. Deuteronomy 4:29 says that no matter where we are in our life if we seek him with all of our heart and soul, we will find him. If we harden our hearts with pride and arrogance he will hide himself from us. But if we humble ourselves, he will take us as we are and show us the way. Scripture guides us into being like God. It really is a “what would Jesus do” kind of hermeneutic. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of godliness and true, objective love. If we deny our selfishness and realize the wisdom, grace, and love of God, our lives will be forever changed. I have seen this in my own subjective life when I committed to him.

We have free will. We don’t have to believe in him or trust in him. But when we look at the evidence, it all comes down to Jesus. There are so many reasons to believe. I am thankful that he took the initiative and sought me out. I believe he was guiding me even when I wasn’t sure what to believe. Don’t hold these truths to yourself. Commit to them, do the work, and share them with a pain-filled and lonely world. Contend for your faith.

Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean obeying rules and becoming perfect. It means becoming like Jesus by his power and not our own. And when he comes we will be as he is. Slowly but surely, I see myself being transformed day by day. I still struggle with doubt, confusion, frustration, temptations, and loneliness. I have my peaks and valleys. But I know my God, my creator, and my Father is alive and well, working all things together for the greater purpose! I’ve seen wisdom, self-control, and love come that I know was not my own. God is actively seeking all people to come to know him (1 Tim. 2:3-4). This is just a taste of the reason for the hope that is within me! – Jesse