Greg explains how you can respond when a young person asks this question.
A friend of mine and someone who is very involved with Stand to Reason told me that she was asked by her son, “Why do we believe Christianity is true?” She had to pause for a minute. The reason she had to pause is that she had all of this information from being exposed to Stand to Reason and she had to sort through and decide what the best way was to communicate to her young son and answer his question.
It is possible to go into all kinds of lines of thinking about the authority of the Bible, about the necessity of the existence of God, about fulfilled prophecy, about the historical Jesus, about discussion of a philosophic nature—there are all kinds of different ways of approaching his question. I got to thinking about that myself, and I thought how I would answer that question from a youngster? What is the simplest, most direct way—without sacrificing the compelling nature of an argument—to answer this question? Why do I believe that Christianity is true?
Not only is it good to have an answer, a simple, direct but useful answer for someone who is younger and perhaps can’t negotiate the details of a more philosophic and complex argument. And there happen to be a lot of other people who just aren’t interested in that kind of thing. Even if they are adults, they aren’t going to sit still long enough to listen to that kind of argument.
It reminded me of a time maybe six years ago when I was doing some speaking about witnessing on airplanes and how I explain the Gospel in a simple way. I gave my answer, I believe Christianity is true because Jesus said it was. Of course more follow up dialogue is important here, and I will show you in just a moment that there are some liabilities here. But there is something really cogent and powerful about this answer because what it does is remove all the responsibility from your shoulders to be the expert and the one who has all the answers. In fact, what it amounts to is an admission that we have to go to an expert to answer questions like this.
If a youngster would ask me a question like that I would say, “What do you do when you have a difficult question about an area you don’t have a lot of knowledge of? Well, you come to your parents, right? Why would you come to ask me? Because you don’t know something and you think that I might because I’ve been around longer and I have more knowledge. That is a wise thing to do.”
Of course, the question then is, “Does the person you go to have the qualifications to answer the question well?” That is why it is helpful to defer the question one more step. You can say, “You come to me because you think I know better, and I’ll tell you how I solve this. I go to someone else that I think knows better than me. I seek out an expert, someone who has the qualifications to know what he is talking about in a given area—in this case, the area of spiritual truth.”
Simply put, I believe Christianity is true because Jesus said it was. Or to put it more precisely, Jesus said He was true. So I believe Jesus and Jesus’ explanation of knowing God and understanding the spiritual realm, accessing the Father and being accepted by Him. Jesus’ statement was that He had the truth, and I think Jesus had tremendous credibility. In other words, this is an argument by authority. The simplest way to answer the question is just to appeal to Jesus.
There is a liability that in the minds of many people what Jesus had to teach was open to vast interpretation. This can work against you unless you know how to handle that issue.
What’s amazing to me is that most people actually have a respect for Jesus, they are very willing to quote Him when they think something that He said substantiates their own point of view. But when you call up Jesus, they object that that’s just your interpretation and no one can know for sure. Sometimes this is the case of the tail wagging the dog. Jesus isn’t right because he agrees with you, you’re right because you happen to agree with Him.
The liability in using Jesus as an authority is that you have to have a clear idea of what Jesus taught. You must understand something about the life of Jesus and his teachings in order to defer to Jesus’ authority on these things. Most people genuinely look up to Jesus as some sort of spiritual and ethical authority. That is why it always mystifies me that those who quote Jesus almost have never given His life and His teachings a very thorough study. They sometimes end up attributing to Jesus sentiments that were exactly the opposite of what He taught.
If people are willing to quote Jesus as somebody who is an authority, doesn’t it seem to make sense to be careful to quote not just Jesus’ words, but Jesus’ ideas. We can’t just pluck statements that Jesus made out of context to support our point of view. We undergird our point of view by referring back to Jesus as an authority, but that only works if we accurately understand what Jesus had to say. The only way we can do so is by studying the teachings of Jesus in some kind of systematic fashion. It’s mystifying to me that so many people who quote Jesus in this fashion have not the slightest idea of what Jesus was all about and what He taught.
When you appeal to Jesus’ authority like that, the rejoinder you might get—and this represents the liability in presenting this kind of argument—is something like this: Who are you to say? That is just your own interpretation. It’s an effective parry unless you know how to deal with it because this objection misses the point entirely.
My response is this: I am no one to say. That’s the point. I am not speaking about spiritual things on my own authority. I am deferring to Jesus. I am not asking you to listen to my view of the truth. Jesus is the one who is the expert, so let’s listen to Him.
What about the issue of it being your own interpretation? That is why we have to look closely at what Jesus said. I’ve studied Him for twenty some years. I’ve studied His teachings carefully. That doesn’t mean that I understand everything accurately, but it strikes me that one who has given more consideration to the full body of Jesus’ teachings in the context of the language, culture, and thinking of the time is more likely to give an accurate interpretation than someone who has given no thought whatsoever to it and is simply plucking sayings out of the sky hoping that it will substantiate his own point of view.
This brings us, by the way, to the goal of interpretation. The goal of interpretation is not to invent ideas that I can put into Jesus’ mouth and then call it my interpretation. The goal of interpretation is to figure out what Jesus meant since He is the authority, not I.
This, by the way, is where the argument turns into a liability—not for me, since I’ve clarified now what we are trying to accomplish with interpretation and who the authority is, but it turns it into a liability for the objector. The reason is because Jesus’ teaching is not all that hard. It certainly is not as hard as people make it out to be. It just takes a little attention.
Quite frankly, the real problem is that much of what Jesus taught is not only obvious, but so deeply offensive to the modern mind, that only the most benign and general of His teachings and moral principles can be seized upon without much threat. People who make these kinds of statements never seize on statements of the woes and judgment that will fall on those who reject Him and don’t believe Him. Rather, they seize things like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or, “You must have the faith of a child to enter the Kingdom of God.” Or, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” All these kind of mysterious, gentle, easy-going ideas that don’t make a strong challenge to your moral choices.
Don’t forget the one that is quoted more often than anything other of Jesus’ sayings: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Of course, that is always brought up to get out from underneath the thumb of Jesus. They don’t know where it is at or what it means, but it sounds like it gets them out of a fix. “Don’t judge me.” That’s what Jesus said. Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus was among the most judgmental of all people if you look at the corpus of His teachings and His work, but He judged properly and appropriately.
Other than those simple sayings, virtually everything else that Jesus taught is so obviously an indictment that it is avoided, ignored, or dismissed as only your interpretation. The one strong sentiment that those who are non-believers do raise has to do with religious hypocrisy. Almost without exception, that statement of Jesus, rather than being a tool that they can use against Christians, becomes a weapon that God uses against them.
Curiously, people say to you, “Get out of here with your ‘Jesus only’ business. I’m not a sinner. I am not in need of salvation. I haven’t done anything really wrong. You religious people, you are the people that Jesus squawked about. He was more on my side, like the people with the prostitutes, and the homosexuals, and all the down and out.” Jesus wasn’t on their side. Jesus was against anyone who felt that they didn’t need forgiveness because of their own sense of righteousness. Jesus aligned Himself with those who, because their unrighteousness was so obvious to them, were willing to reach out and ask for forgiveness.
How do I know Christianity is true? Jesus said it was. I think Jesus knows what He is talking about. He is the expert, not me. If you don’t believe me, just read it. It’s all there, plain as day.