Why Do You Profess to be a Christian? The Need to be a Christian Casemaker

Last month, I wrote a post that talked about my friend James Warner Wallace’s new book  called Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith.

Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith by [Wallace, J. Warner]

He says the following in the book:

“I’ve been speaking around the country for a number of years now. I often address church groups of one nature or another, and when I do, I usually begin by asking a simple question: “Why are you a Christian?” The response I get is sometimes disappointing. Typically, attendees provide responses in one of the following broad categories:

Answer 1: “I was raised in the church” / “My parents were Christians” / “I’ve been a Christian as long as I can remember”

Answer 2: “I’ve had an experience that convinced me” / “The Holy Spirit confirmed it for me” / “God demonstrated His existence to me” 

Answer 3: “I was changed by Jesus” / “I used to be [fill in your choice of immoral lifestyle], and God changed my life”

Answer 4: “Because I just know the Bible is true” / “Because God called me to believe”

As often as I ask this question, I seldom receive anything other than these four responses. If you were asked this question, which answer would you give? Some of these are good answers, but others are not. If you’re a Christian simply because you’ve been raised in the church, how can you be sure Christianity is true? If you’re a Christian because you’ve had a transformative experience, how do you know if this experience is truly from the God described on the pages of the New Testament? The four responses provided by my Christian audiences today are also the four answers my Mormon friends offer when asked why they believe Mormonism is true. In fact, the vast majority of believers in any religion—from Buddhist to Baptist—are likely to offer the same responses. While these kinds of answers are common, they are not sufficient.” (1)

 I will now offer my own thoughts on whether these are sufficient reasons to profess to be a follower of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. 

Answer 1:

 1.“I was raised in a local congregation”

 2. “My parents are followers of Jesus and I am as well.”

In this case, while it is not necessarily a bad thing to be raised in the same faith as your parents and their local congregation, remember that people from other religious backgrounds also adopt the same beliefs as their parents. Obviously, just because someone adopts their parent’s beliefs, that this doesn’t mean their beliefs are true. Young people have to own our own faith and not just borrow from what our parents have told them.

Answer 2:

 1. “I’ve had an experience that convinced me”

 2. “The Holy Spirit confirmed it for me”

3. “God demonstrated His existence to me.”

 Response:

Here we have differentiate between knowing our faith is true and showing our faith is true:

Knowing our faith is true: Disciples of Jesus  are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2). However, people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Thus, people have contradictory religious experiences that seem quite real.  For example, Mormons claim that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as true by a “burning in the bosom”—this is something they consider to be a confirmatory personal experience.

Showing Our Faith is True: Remember, there is a difference between “being certain” and “feeling certain.” Our feelings/emotions can be up and down. All experience must be grounded by truth and knowledge. Knowledge can be the key thing as to what keeps you close to God over the long haul. Plus, Jesus says we should love him with all our being (i.e., mind, emotions and will). Sometimes people think that personal religious experience negates the need for having other good reasons for faith.

But think about this: Would you accept Islam as true if a Muslim said to you, “I know Islam is true because of my personal experience.” Or, what if a Mormon said to you, “I know Mormonism is true because of personal experience.” The list goes on. I assume many of us would not consider Islam not Mormonism as being true based on these comments. Therefore, perhaps when we say, “I follow Jesus because of my personal experience,” we should understand why people aren’t very impressed.  In conclusion, religious experience should be one aspect of our overall cumulative case for our faith.

Answer 3:

  1. “I was changed by Jesus”

 2. “I used to be [fill in your choice of immoral lifestyle], and God changed my life.”

Response:

There is some overlap here between what we just covered about religious experience. Our culture is built on pragmatism. If something doesn’t work, you try something else that gets results. Thus the idea that “if theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true” which we see in the writings by William James (1842–1910) and recently by neopragmatist Richard Rorty (1931–2007) are quite popular these days.  People want to know if beliefs can be tried and tested out in the reality of life. This does have some merit. After all, if our faith in Jesus is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. However, what would you say if a person of other religious background said the following to you: “I follow Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, or another faith because it makes a difference in my life.” In other words, the individual put this faith into practice and they say their commitment to it has changed his/her life.” Would you consider committing to a different belief system just because it has led to moral and personal transformation?

 Answer 4: 

 1. “Because I just know the Bible is true”

 2. “Because God called me to believe.”

Isn’t it true that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and isn’t living and active and doesn’t it penetrate the human heart (2 Tim.3:16; Heb. 4: 12)? Perhaps it is silly to even attempt try to use any other means of communication with people? Thus, is the attempt to implement reasoned arguments amount to just plain folly?  David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, outlines the most significant trends from the six-year study on how people view the Bible. Kinnaman noticed a “increased skepticism.” He says:

More people have more questions about the origins, relevance and authority of the Scriptures … the steady rise of skepticism is creating a cultural atmosphere that is becoming unfriendly—sometimes even hostile—to claims of faith. In a society that venerates science and rationalism, it is an increasingly hard pill to swallow that an eclectic assortment of ancient stories, poems, sermons, prophecies, and letters, written and compiled over the course of 3,000 years, is somehow the sacred “Word of God.” Even in just the few years Barna has been conducting “State of the Bible” interviews, the data is trending toward Bible skepticism. With each passing year, the percentage of Americans who believe that the Bible is “just another book written by men” increases. So too does the perception that the Bible is actually harmful and that people who live by its principles are religious extremists.[2]

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley also reminds us of the challenge of just appealing to the Bible today.

Appealing to people on the basis of the authority of Scripture has essentially the same effect as a Muslim imam appealing to you on the basis of the authority of the Quran,” Stanley says. “You may or may not already know what it says. But it doesn’t matter. The Quran doesn’t carry any weight with you. You don’t view the Quran as authoritative. Close to half our population does not view the Bible as authoritative either.[3]

What is a Case Maker?

A case maker is someone who attempts to make a case for their position. Being a case maker is equivalent to being able to give an apologetic for our faith.  In other words, a successful case maker is someone who can articulate why they believe and what they believe. Perhaps an illustration will help: When someone asked you who you were voting for in the last election and you answered them, perhaps they then responded by saying, “Well, why are you voting for that candidate?” When you answered them, you were engaging in the art of apologetics. You were giving the person an answer to what mattered to you in the election and why you had chosen to vote for that specific candidate.

Also, almost everyone who has chosen to follow a religious path has engaged in apologetics. Every major religion has its apologists who provide reasons and answers for their adherents. For myself and others, we have encountered apologists for Islam, Judaism, Mormonism and others. Even atheists and agnostics have decided to provide reasons for their positions. The popular atheist Richard Dawkins admitted his goal of his book The God Delusion was to convert people to atheism. He admitted the following, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” [4] So here we see Dawkins openly admitted his book was apologetic in nature. He wants people who read it to see there are good reasons to be a professing atheist.

Within the context of Matthew 28:19, case making/apologetics is part of that discipling or teaching ministry. Apologetics plays an instrumental role in spiritual maturity. In relation to apologetics, Stephen T. Davis says, “In truth, faith needs apologetics. It needs it both to answer both the negative arguments of the resurrection and to construct positive arguments in favor of it. Apologetics will not create faith, but perhaps, for some, it will pave the way for it or make it possible.” [5]

How Case Making Helps Our Outreach

The purpose of a local congregation is edification and discipleship (Eph.4:10-13), as well as training to the congregants about how to obey the commands of Jesus. The Hebrew word for disciple is “talmid.” A talmid is a student of one of the sages of Israel. Since Yeshua commands His people to “make talmidim of the nations” (Matt.28:19), and we are called to obey the commands of our Master (John 14:15) we should desire to share the Good News of Jesus with our neighbor. Unless there has been teaching and instruction about the commands of Jesus, there hasn’t been any discipleship. But people can’t enter the process of discipleship without hearing about the Good News. James Taylor lists three kinds of people we will encounter in our attempts to reach a lost and needy world:

  1. Critics: those with criticisms of our faith who are not open to the possibility of its truth. Critics need to be answered to neutralize the effects of their criticisms on seekers and doubters.
  2. Seekers: people who are open to our faith but are prevented from making a commitment primarily because of honest questions about the claims of our faith.
  3. Doubters: are professing followers of Jesus who find it difficult to believe one or more tenants of the faith with complete confidence. Doubters need to be restored to full conviction by giving them the tools to remove their doubts.[6] 

Sources

[1]. James Warner Wallace, Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook Publishers. 2017), Kindle Locations, 267-269.

[2]. Barna Group, The Bible in America: The Changing Landscape of Bible Perceptions and Engagement, (Barna Group, 2016), 8.

[3]. Joshua Pease, “Andy Stanley Responds to His Critics,” Outreach Magazine, October 5th, 2016  http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/19952-andy-stanley-critics.html, accessed December 27th, 2016.

[4]. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 5.

[5]. Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 187.

[6].  James E. Taylor, Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2006), 76.

 

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