Have you ever felt “the big chill”? It’s the term I use for the cold shiver that runs up your spine when you’re confronted with what seems at first glance to be a persuasive challenge to your Christian convictions, that terrible suspicion that begins to settle in your bones that the challenger has a point. And it seems convincing. And it shakes you.
I have those moments, too, and they’re not fun. Over the years, though, I’ve learned a simple, practical system to deal with the “chill” and I want to pass it on to you. It’s not especially clever or novel—thoughtful people have been using it for ages. But it works well to sort things out and help you get to the truth of the matter.
First, don’t panic. Don’t let the problem overwhelm you before you’ve had a chance to carefully assess it. There are almost always answers to these issues that are within reach if you pause, take a deep breath, then apply some thought to the matter.
Next, take a moment to reconnoiter. Get the lay of the land, so to speak. What exactly are you facing? What is the substance beyond the rhetoric that may be making the challenge look more compelling than it is? That takes two steps.
Here’s step one. Clarify the claim. Ask, “What’s the big idea?” What is the point the challenge is meant to persuade you of? That there is no God? That Jesus never existed? That the Bible is not reliable? That Christianity is false? Whatever it is, get a clear fix on that point since it’s the bridge to the next step.
Step two is to add the word “because” after the big idea. “There is no God because...” or “The Bible is not reliable because...” etc. The point here is to now get a fix on the reasons that allegedly support the big idea. Make a list of them.
Don’t rush this step. Sometimes it takes a little work to sift through the rhetoric to uncover the specifics. Don’t be surprised if, when you look closer, there’s nothing there but noise. It happens. No real reasons, just bluster.
These two steps—clarifying the claim, then listing the reasons for it—allow you to quickly summarize the whole challenge—the basic point and the rationale behind it. If there’s more than one claim, then take each challenge individually. This is important: Deal with one point at a time.
Finally, with the full argument in view do an assessment. Simply ask if the reasons offered legitimately support the big idea. An easy way to do this is to link the reasons with the basic claim by using the word “therefore.” This step of assessment can be difficult (if the argument is a technical one) or it can be incredibly simple. Let’s look at some examples.
Take the claims, “Christians are hypocrites,” or, “Religion causes violence and suffering in the world,” or, “Belief in God is a crutch.” Each is meant to implicitly undermine our confidence in Christianity (i.e., “Christianity is false because Christians are hypocrites”). And these challenges seem all the more forceful since—on my take at least—these statements are each true in some measure. Even so, do they justify the (implied) big idea that Christianity is false? Let’s see. Consider our assessment:
- Many Christians are hypocrites, therefore Christianity is false.
- Religion causes violence, therefore Jesus’ view of the world must be wrong.
- Belief in God satisfies an emotional need, therefore God doesn’t exist.
Hmmm. None of these work, do they? When stated clearly, these challenges all turn out to be conclusions that simply do not follow from the evidence.
These charges—even when true (and many are not true, but that’s a different problem)—may tell us something about anthropology or sociology or even psychology, but they tell us nothing at all about God or Jesus or Christianity. The reasons do not support the big idea. There’s nothing to fear here.
So there it is. When you feel the big chill—when you’re shaken by a conversation, or an article, or a presentation that challenges your core convictions—don’t panic. Instead, use the system. First isolate the claims. Second, list the reasons. Third, do the assessment. You’ll be amazed at how effective this simple tool can be.