Brett's monthly letter for July 2013
“Why are you a Christian?”
In June, I was asked to answer this question by a high school student at “Unleashed,” an evangelism training camp hosted by several high school ministries in Southern California. Students are trained in the morning and then head to the local beaches in the afternoon to share Christ with beach-goers. This high schooler had been asked this question the day before and wasn’t sure how to answer. How would you answer?
Often Christians will answer in one of several ways. First, they appeal to the Bible. “I am a Christian because the Bible is God’s Word.” Basically, they’ve read a book they take to be special and therefore, believe it. A “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” kind of answer. At least, that’s how it sounds to a non-Christian.
Imagine your own response if an atheist told you his sole reason for converting to atheism was a book he read. “The atheism book said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Compelling? Persuasive? If not, then you can sympathize with the non-believer who doesn’t find this answer to be convincing when offered by Christians.
Another common way of answering, Christians may talk about times of struggle or suffering when God brought believers into their life who loved and cared for them. The message of Christ was commended through the lives of the Christian community. Certainly, it is a wonderful thing for believers to minister to a hurting world in need of God’s love. Indeed, Jesus tells us that the world will know we follow Him by the love we have for one another (John 13:35). But here’s my question: Is the love of the Christian community always enough to sustain faith?
Last month, during a Berkeley mission trip with Desert Springs Community Church, atheist Dick Hewetson spoke to the students. As he shared his atheist testimony, we discovered Dick was a former Episcopal priest. During the Q&A, he told us he had been attracted to Christianity by Christians who genuinely loved and accepted him. Initially, their acceptance was a powerful influence, and eventually he even joined the priesthood. However, during his time in Episcopalian seminary he was taught the Bible was unreliable, therefore we don’t have good information about Jesus. The result? Dick’s faith could not be sustained and he left the church for good.
To answer the question, Christians might share a testimony as their reason for faith. God’s transforming work has convinced them of His reality. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit has been powerful. Certainly a testimony can be a very strong reason for that individual who has experienced the Spirit’s work. But is it the only reason we have to offer unbelievers? If so, there’s a huge liability. Everyone has a testimony. The Buddhist has one. The Muslim has one. The Mormon has one.
I’ve talked with countless Mormons who “bear their testimony,” offering it as the decisive reason for their commitment to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. The experience is so powerful that Mormons will share their testimony with tears streaming down their cheeks. What can a Christian say in response? My testimony is better than yours? Or do Christians have additional reasons for their Christian beliefs, which might serve to judge between competing testimonies?
Here’s what I told that high school student at the Unleashed Camp. “I am a Christian because Christianity is true.” It is not just true for me; it’s true for everyone. It is objectively true. In fact, it is true even if you do not believe it is true, even if no one believed it to be true. Of course, I did not stop with a mere assertion. “And we have good reasons to think it’s true,” I continued. Then I began to lay out the evidential case for Christianity.
Notice, my answer does not depend on my personal experience. It’s dependent on facts—the facts of reality. The non-believer may dismiss my testimony as merely subjective, but ultimately they cannot dismiss reality. They have to live in accordance with it every day, otherwise they’ll get hurt. As philosopher J.P. Moreland says, “Reality is what you bump up against when your beliefs are false.” Everyone has to face the facts of reality. Thankfully, reality is on our side because Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
And thankfully, I have people like you on my side, supporting my work with students. Because of the faithful monthly support I receive, I was able to give students confidence that what they believe is actually true and there are good reasons to think so. Thank you for standing with me.
Inspiring reasonable faith,
STR Student Impact