I never really know when I start the day what questions, comments or challenges may come up but they are often interesting. This past week was no exception. On March 13 “Gary” posted a comment to Dr. Tom Howe’s blog, “Brian McLaren, ‘Is Jesus the Only Way to What?,’ Part 1” Gary’s opening line really caught my attention:
As an agnostic, humanist, and naturalist, I am sure that you view me as the enemy.
I stopped and reflected on that for a while. Why would he assume I, Dr. Howe or in fact, MCOI, would view him as the enemy? In my case, I grew up as an atheist. In my early 20’s, I came to realize that I couldn’t in all honesty be an atheist, because atheism proclaims with certainty something that I cannot actually know, i.e., that God does not exist. So, I opted for the safer path of agnosticism. As an agnostic, you really don’t have to claim to know anything for sure! As my friend Dr. Norman Geisler points out, there are two kinds of agnostics, the ornery agnostic and the ordinary agnostic. An ornery agnostic is one who admits they don’t know if God exists and rather stridently insists that no one else knows either, which tends to shut down any real communication on the subject. An ordinary agnostic admits they don’t know if God exists, but is open to information. I guess I must have been more of an ordinary agnostic, because I was open to information that might change my view. And when confronted with good reasons to believe, I was willing to truly consider the evidence and accept the change in worldview that entailed.
To this day, I think that any belief worth holding needs to be able to stand up to examination and testing. Questions are our friends, because answering them refines our beliefs or, if they are found false, allows us to abandon false beliefs. Now I don’t know if “Gary” is an ornery agnostic or an ordinary agnostic, but in his first line he has demonstrated that he makes assumptions, and then jumps to conclusions based on those assumptions. He continues:
But I am actually a friend; a friend trying to rescue you; a friend trying to rescue you from a false belief system; a friend trying to rescue you from a cult.
I can identify with the sentiment here. Joy and I, and in fact everyone associated with MCOI really do care about folks we believe are caught up in false belief systems. I appreciate it when others challenge my assumptions and are willing to rescue me from what they see as false beliefs. Proverbs 27:6 says:
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
What “Gary” offers next. though, is a straw man argument. I cannot tell if he really doesn’t understand Christianity or is being intentionally dishonest in his presentation of Christian belief:
Imagine that I am a friend or family member and imagine that I have joined a new belief system, a belief system that believes in black magic, witches, wizards, and evil goblins that have the power to control one’s brain. In this belief system I am taught that “the movement” is right, and everyone else is wrong, and not only wrong, but evil. I am told that all my friends and family who are not members of this belief system are incapable of seeing the truth because evil goblins control their minds and blind them to the “hidden” truth that only members can see. I am told not to listen to my non-member friends and family. I am told to obey and follow, without question, the teachings of our “error-free” holy book. I am told that the leaders of the movement have special, advanced training in “the truth” and therefore I should trust that they understand the truth better than I as a layperson ever can.
I suppose that perhaps some church somewhere teaches this kind of thing, but certainly none of the leaders I have met. One of the keys to the historic Christian faith is that it promotes examination and has strong answers to questions. In an attempt to support his story line he writes:
Your magical belief system tells you that witches exist and have the power to call up the dead (I Samuel chapter 28). Your magical belief system teaches you that wizards can turn walking sticks into snakes (Exodus chapter 7). Your magical belief system teaches you that goblins (demons) can enter and possess large herds of pigs (Mark chapter 5) driving them to commit mass suicide. Your magical belief system tells you that blindness can be healed by rubbing mud and spit into someone’s eye sockets (John chapter 9).
This is not a rational, informed, belief system, friends. This is an ancient, scientifically ignorant, superstition. It is magic.
Although “Gary” claims that he “once was a member of your cult,” it is unclear what he actually understood about historical biblical Christianity. In determining whether or not Christianity is true, the first question to be answered is, does God exist? An interesting short video I just saw is helpful on that question. “Believe in God in 5 Minutes (Scientific Proof)”:
This is an important question to answer. We know that from nothing, nothing comes – so how did everything which exists come from nothing in the beginning? (Darwinism). Now that is an appeal to magic!
We believe that the evidence shows that God exists and has revealed Himself in history, especially in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is confirmed by the physical resurrection of Jesus. There are many proofs for the resurrection of Jesus, which I will not go into here, but are available to anyone who wants to examine them. But how do we respond to Gary’s claims of Christianity being a magical faith? Do we believe witches exist? Well, yes and so do groups like the Covenant of the Goddess and Fellowship of Isis but we do not believe that witches have the power to truly call up or communicate with the spirit of someone who has died. I don’t think the Witch of Endor had that power at all, but God permitted Samuel to appear as a judgement on Saul. The witch was terrified! So, the power resided in God and not the witch.
“Gary” makes the same mistake with Moses in Exodus 7. It wasn’t Moses who possessed the power to turn a stick into a serpent, but it was God Who had created the universe Who performed the transformation. In fact, in each example “Gary” ignores the One Who has the power and was actually performing the deeds! That miracles are not normative – they do not happen regularly – does not prove that miracles do not happen at all. The claim of evolutionists/atheists that everything sprang into existence from nothing, by nothing, and for no apparent reason is a singular onetime event – certainly not normative – a miracle! But a miracle without a miracle worker! “Gary” suggests:
I strongly encourage you to do this:
1. Allow for the possibility that your belief system is wrong.
2. Read information that challenges your belief system
That is something I often encourage so we are on the same page there. An untested faith is not worth having. Sadly, though, “Gary” directs those reading to a fairly unreliable source:
—I recommend the following websites: Bart Ehrman’s blog, Debunking Christianity, and The Secular Web.
We addressed some of Ehrman’s core problems Ehrman in Interrupting Ehrman. He is basically the next step past the Jesus Seminar which we wrote about in The Hysterical Search for the Historical Jesus.
I do appreciate “Gary’s” expressed concern that we might be deceived. Unfortunately he doesn’t offer any rational reason or evidence to support his claim. He might do well to read Geisler and Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and then either debunk or embrace the evidence presented there.
Greetings, I was cleaning out the spam folder (we receive hundreds of spam each day) and as it was deleting noticed that someone had posted a response to this blog but it was too late for me to rescue. If the one who posted retained it please feel free to repost it and I and send me an email as well at email@example.com so I can make sure to give it proper attention. Sorry.
Hi Don. I left the response that got deleted.
Thank you for your reply to my comment. I listened to the video. It is very interesting. However, it only addresses the issue of whether or not there is evidence for a Creator, not WHO that Creator is. This is one of the biggest assumptions in the Christian belief system: The evidence for a God is evidence for the Christian god. There may very well be a Creator. The constant laws of the universe do appear to point to some type of Creator, but to jump to the conclusion that this Creator is Yahweh and Jesus is based on what?
You state that the proof that Jesus is the Creator God is his alleged resurrection and that there is good evidence that this supernatural event happened. I would challenge you on that assertion. The only evidence that Christians have for the Resurrection is very, very weak: the accounts in four anonymous books, written decades after the alleged event, in far away lands, and, the testimony of one vision-prone Jewish rabbi who never says he saw a resurrected BODY. That’s it. The rest of the “evidence” that Christians assert are simply assumptions and hearsay.
For instance, just because people are willing to die for a belief is not proof that the belief is true. We have ZERO evidence that any alleged eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus was executed for refusing to recant his eyewitness testimony of the resurrection. For all we know they were all executed just for being a new religious sect. Many people of religious minorities and sects have been killed through the ages. That does not prove their beliefs were true.
So why do modern, educated, 21st century people believe four anonymous first century accounts, filled with inconsistencies, and the word of one wild-eyed rabbi? Let me give you an example of why I think that believing based on this weak evidence is unreasonable.
If I told you the following story, would you believe it:
Four books have been found that tell the story of a flying milk cow living in Uganda 60 years ago. The stories say that one day a group of eleven men were in a farmer’s pasture in central Uganda when one of he milk cows began to speak to them. The cow told the men that she was God, Ruler of the Heaven and Earth. After finishing speaking, the cow levitated 20 feet off of the ground, then shot off into the sunset with the speed of a jet fighter plane.
These four books are anonymous; written in French; and appear to have been written in Italy approximately 30 years ago.
The eleven men told their story to villagers in the nearby villages. Many people believed and became followers of the Cow. Belief in the flying, talking cow spread throughout Uganda and even to surrounding countries. Many believed.
Three years later, a Jewish rabbi, traveling on a highway to Kenya, says that he was stopped by a bright light which blinded him. The bright light said that it was the Cow. The Cow told the rabbi that she wanted him to be her missionary to the world, spreading her message of Cowness.
This converted rabbi wrote a letter to a group of people in Greece, stating that the Cow appeared to 500 Ugandan villagers at once, and that if you don’t believe him, you can travel to Uganda to ask them yourself, as most are still alive.
Thousands of believers in the cow have been persecuted for their belief in her Cowness, some have even been executed.
Based on this “evidence”, do you believe that this Ugandan milk cow is the Creator of the Universe??
Now, I’m sure that my milk cow scenario seems absolutely ridiculous to Christians, but your dead man reanimation story and the weak evidence you use to justify your belief in this alleged supernatural first century event seems just as ridiculous to us as skeptics.
As a general rule I don’t requote a comment I am responding to but for the sake of other readers to be able to “follow the pea” I have elected to do that this time.
I would concur that demonstrating god exists, or at least having sufficient evidence to believe that god exists, doesn’t prove it is the God of Christianity. In a short piece like this blog I do not attempt to be a thorough as I and others are in a different format or forum. I also didn’t suggest that this video proves Christianity is true as it is a scientist who happens to be Jewish and teaches “Torah and science” as he states in the video. Answering which, if any of the existing claims about which view correctly describes God is more of a worldview question where we start bigger, see if the worldview stands or falsifies itself and then look at evidence provided by the various religious claims. I have suggested Dr. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist as a good starting point. There are others but this one is pretty reader friendly.
Actually, to be accurate, this isn’t what I stated that but rather I wrote “We believe that the evidence shows that God exists and has revealed Himself in history, especially in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is confirmed by the physical resurrection of Jesus.” We believe that the evidence is sufficient to believe that God exists, the existence of the universe being one of those evidences but not the only evidence. We believe that Jesus was Who He claimed to be as related by the apostolic writers and the resurrection confirms those claims. A very good case for that is made in , Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate by Gary Habermas well as The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona. There are others but this is a good starting place.
I am aware that Ehrman likes to make this assertion as it gives credibility to an otherwise non-existent case. I have addressed the essential claims in Interrupting Ehrman and so find no compelling reason to rehash them here.
As a side note, I do support myself through an outside vocation which has me on the road quite a bit so if I don’t respond to comments immediately it has more to do with available time than anything else.
Thank you for your response, Don.
Just as a background, I grew up fundamentalist Baptist (BBF). I asked Jesus to be my personal Lord and Savior when I was nine. In my early twenties, I attended a non-denominational evangelical mega-church (that taught Baptist doctrine). I most recently attended a conservative, Missouri Synod Lutheran church.
During these many years, I never took the time to investigate the historicity of Christianity. I just assumed it was true. The internet changed that. One day while surfing the internet, I came upon the blog of an atheist, who was once a fundamentalist Baptist preacher. I was fascinated. How could someone be a pastor, a preacher of the Word of God, and now be an atheist. So I engaged this ex-pastor in an attempt to bring him back to Christ…and four months later I had lost my faith. Completely. I was an agnostic.
For the first time I read the skeptics of Christianity. I read the criticism of the weak evidence for the supernatural Christian claims, especially for the Resurrection. I was SHOCKED that not even my own pastor could give me a brief, concise defense for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. I reached out to other pastors: conservative Lutheran, evangelical, Baptist, Presbyterian, and they all said the same thing: “Go read this apologist’s book and he will explain it.”
What? Can’t these pastors and Christian apologists just give me a concise answer themselves??
If I were having a conversation with a Mormon, questioning the supernatural claims of the Mormon Church, what would be my reaction if when I asked the Mormon for proof that Joseph Smith really did receive Golden Plates from the angel Moroni, the Mormon said, “Well, you have to read a Mormon apologist’s book to really see the evidence!”
My response would be: Look, my Mormon friend, if you yourself can’t give me concise, concrete evidence for your religion’s supernatural claims, but must refer me to some expert who has concocted some complicated thesis to support your supernatural based religion, I don’t think you really have any evidence.
And that is what I say about Christians: If Jesus rose from the dead, you should be able to give me solid, concrete evidence in three paragraphs. Don’t refer me to some slick tongued apologist.
Hey Gary, I am a Mormon and the reason why I (if I was that mormon friend you asked) would direct you to the Book of Mormon is because that is the “keystone” of our religion. If it is true, then everything that it teaches is true, then Joseph Smith really was a man called by God to restore His church and it would mean that the same exact church that Christ had when He was on the earth is BACK on the earth! BUT, if it is not true then.. none of what we believe and teach is true. Just like an arch would fall if you take out the keystone.. the same would happen to the church. We invite everyone to read it, to “give it a try” and to ask God, the Eternal Father in the name of Jesus Christ (praying) if it is true. If you pray with real intent, which basically just means to be willing to DO something about the answer you receive, then God will answer! If you do decide to read it and want to ever talk about it.. please email me! (Gary or anyone interested in learning about the Book of Mormon and talking about it) firstname.lastname@example.org
God lives 🙂 He really did send His Son to this earth, we have a Savior! And Because our Savior Jesus Christ lives and very literally broke the bands of death we can live again and be resurrected… that is one of the gifts of His Atonement.
Has “Maria the Mormon” been following this evangelical Christian blog for awhile? Have you seen her comment here before?
I doubt it. So why is she suddenly commenting here on this non-Mormon blog? Answer: the Mormons have an internet monitoring system. If any negative comment is made about Mormonism, a designated Mormon will go onto that blog to refute the “anti-Mormon” criticism, just as Maria has done. They are always very nice and polite, but make no mistake, this was no coincidence. Do a google search regarding “Mormons monitoring the internet” and you will see what I am talking about. I noticed this on my own blog. I never received comments from Mormons unless I commented on Mormonism and then I would always get a Mormon commenting within 12 hours. Now that they know that I know, they no longer comment on my blog.
I find it frankly kind of scary.
Anyway, notice Maria did not give the evidence for why we should all believe Joseph Smith’s supernatural tall tale. What she wants us all to do is to buy a Book of Mormon, read it, and then let “God speak to us to tell us if the BoM is the truth”.
However, if you order a Book of Mormon on the internet, I will bet good money that you will have a couple of Mormon missionaries on your doorstep within a week. So much for letting God do the “selling”!
Ask a Mormon to give you the evidence that the Mormon supernatural claims are true, and they tell you to read the entire Book of Mormon. Ask a conservative Christian to give you the evidence that the supernatural claims of Christianity is true, and they refer you to an apologists book. Something’s fishy, folks. It shouldn’t be that hard.
Sadly, recounting your experience with the church is not new. Too many, Christians and non-Christians, believe what they believe for cultural reasons more than due to having thought through and researching the claims of their views. The Church, which as one time in history, excelled at teaching how to think, reason, ask and answer questions has shifted from the ministry of the church (training, quipping, etc) to the marketing of the church which appeals more to emotional commitment. The life of the mind in many churches is nearly non-existent. That said, the inability for many to be able to defend their belief does not disprove the validity or truthfulness of their particular claims.
The claim that suggesting others who have thought through claims, what you refer to as a “slick tongued apologist” is exactly what you did in your first response after crafting a strawman argument. Sometimes it takes more than 3 paragraphs to make a well thought out case for one’s position. Even a reasonable job resume is longer than that. Some years ago Dr. William Lane Craig debated Frank Zindler, Zindler’s philosophy was that it was much easier to drop excrement on the carpet than to clean it up. In other words, it is easier to cloud the issues, redefine terms and generally muddy the waters than to make a positive case for one’s position, in his case for atheism. As I pointed out in Interrupting Ehrman we can make a strong case for early dating of belief in and defense of the resurrection as well as early writings in the New Testament. Dr. Gary Habermas, notes in short form:
As far as “Maria the Mormon,” we have written on Mormonism in the past and had no responses from Mormons and it does seem odd that this post conveniently surfaced in conjunction with your postings. Are Gary and Maria one in the same? I don’t know and am not really sure that it matters. Mormons don’t really become Mormons based on evidence and reason but based on a “burning in the bosom,” some internal feeling that the Book of Mormon is true. However, I appreciate your responses, it has been interesting and readers can choose to check the information both you and I have liked to or suggested. I see no particular reason at this point to litigate the entire discussion in light of the defense I have given in in Interrupting Ehrman and other writings.
What evidence do you have for an empty tomb? Just because 99% of Christian scholars believe it occurred is not proof it did.
99% of Muslim scholars believe that Mohammad flew on a winged horse to Jerusalem.
The fact that the overwhelming majority of believers of a supernatural based religion believe the supernatural claims of that religion should not be surprising to anyone and is NOT proof anything.
My friend and co-founder of Jews for Jesus, the late Jahn Moskowitz, would often say that faith is an act of the will, not a function of information. Information is necessary but only, as the word implies, informative. The case is made in the articles and books I have recommended, some of which I wrote and some of which is by others. It was also enough that Antony Flew, often referred to as “The world’s most notorious atheist” changed his view and discusses his reasons in There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. As I have said, I find no compelling reason to relitigate in this shorter format and, it seems, you choose to not read what I suggested. It appears we are at an impasse and other readers can choose to follow one course of research, the other or none at all.
Which of these two stories has a higher probability of having occurred:
Jesus of Nazareth is crucified in Jerusalem in circa 30 AD. As he draws his final breath, the entire earth goes dark for three hours, a violent earthquake shakes dead people awake in their graves, and rips the Temple veil down the middle. Jesus’ body is taken down off the cross and placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body which the previous night had voted unanimously to execute Jesus. The tomb is sealed with a large stone and Roman guards placed in front of it. Three days later, a second great earthquake shakes Jerusalem, causing the dead who had been shaken awake in the first earthquake to now come out of their tombs to roam the streets of Jerusalem and reconnect with old acquaintances; an angel (or angels) comes and rolls away the great stone in front of the tomb, causing the soldiers to faint and testifies to one, several, or many women that Jesus’ tomb is empty; that he had risen from the dead. Jesus later appears to the Eleven, and eight days (or forty days) later, ascends into heaven from a mountain in Bethany (or Galilee, or from the Upper Room in Jerusalem). The resurrection appearances of Jesus so emboldened the previously easily-frightened, doubting disciples that they now boldly preach the gospel of Jesus in the temple, Judea, and the world, dying martyrs deaths, refusing to recant their eyewitness testimony that they had seen the resurrected, walking/talking body of Jesus. These same disciples soon write the Gospels and several epistles that would soon become the New Testament of the Bible. The Gospel of Jesus spreads like wildfire, even though furiously persecuted by both the Jews and Romans, to become the dominant faith of the Western World for two thousand years.
Or, is this what happened:
Jesus of Nazareth is crucified. He dies. His body is left on the cross for days, as was the Roman custom, to warn any other “King of the Jews” pretender to think twice about stirring up trouble. After a few days have passed and the birds, dogs (Roman crosses were low to the ground), and other carrion ravaged the body, the remains were taken down at night and tossed into an unmarked common grave—a hole in the ground— with the bodies of other criminals executed that week. The location of this common grave is known only to a few soldiers, as the Romans do not want to give the “King of the Jews” a proper burial nor do they want a known grave to become a national shrine where Jews could later come and pay homage to their “King”, possible inciting more trouble. Jesus disciples who were already in hiding, go home to Galilee to take up their prior professions—fishing or collecting taxes. The small band is devastated. Their beloved leader is dead; their hopes of reigning over the New Kingdom on twelve thrones with Jesus are dashed to pieces; there will be no overthrow of the hated Romans after all. All hope seems lost. Then…months or a few years after Jesus’ death…a couple of women disciples see a man in the distance, at sunset, and in the silhouette of the fading sun…he looks like Jesus. Is it Jesus? He turns to them, waves with his hand, and then disappears behind a hill. “It was Jesus!” they exclaim. They run and tell the disciples. Soon other disciples are “seeing” Jesus. “He is risen, just as he said he would!” The disciples are thrilled! They WILL reign in the New Kingdom after all! They begin to preach the Gospel of Jesus, telling everyone how he has risen from the dead, as he promised.
…and forty years later, after Jerusalem has been destroyed and most of the disciples are dead, a Greek speaking Christian in Rome writes down the story of Jesus. However, the version of the oral story that this man hears circulating in Rome tells of an empty tomb, the tomb of a member of the Sanhedrin, …so “Mark” writes down the story. A decade or so later, “Matthew” in another far away location and “Luke” in another, write down the story of Jesus. They borrow heavily from “Mark’s” story, from another common source (Q), and from other sources that they do not seem to have shared. For instance, “Matthew’s” story contains incredible supernatural tales, such as an earthquake occurring when Jesus died, causing dead people to come back to life…but they don’t come out of their graves until three days later! One wonders what they were doing in their tombs for three days!
And two thousand years later, every Christian on earth believes that the stories written by “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” are the historically accurate accounts of the life and death of Jesus, when all they are are legendary stories. No one lied. No one made anything up. It’s a legend. Now, dear Christian, how many supernatural events such as dead people coming out of their graves and walking around town have you seen in your life? Not many, have you? And how many times have you seen a simple story about a car accident or someone’s mysterious death, turn into the wildest tale, with all kinds of miraculous claims, develop in just a matter of days?
So, honestly, friend: Which of the above two stories about Jesus is much more probable to be true?
Greetings Gary, I am on my way out the door. I think I mentioned before that I am an over-the-road trucker to support myself and the ministry and am picking up trip today. I will respond to this question when I return in the blog for April 2. Please do me the courtesy of hold other comments until after that. Thank you.
The Gospel story is not the more likely story. We (Christians) do not believe based on calculations of probable chance, because we do not see chance as the engine that drives the universe.
Never the less your second option fails to explain the willingness of Christians to die for their beliefs for 300 years. It is an indisputable fact that many did die.
It also places a large weight on the presupposition that the supernatural cannot exist.
If a man was stabbed,hung on a cross, thrown in a grave, and then came walking down the road three days later your kind would say to themselves “what a marvelous constitution the man has to survive all that and recover so quickly.”
Because you have presupposed in your mind that your three pound organic computer has correctly ascertained and calculated all that is, you cannot see the truth, even if it was directly in front of you.
Millions of people, belonging to new and strange religious minorities, have been willing to die for their beliefs. I can give you many examples, but the Jim Jones people and the Heaven’s Gate people come to mind. I’m sure you will agree that their willingness to die is not proof that their beliefs were true.
The real question then is this: Do we have any evidence that someone who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus was given the chance to recant his or her testimony of seeing a walking/talking dead man to save his or her life…and they refused and died a terrible, painful death defending their eye-witness testimony? If you have such evidence, please share it.
Gary, I find you and Mr. Ehrman to be pseudo intellectuals. Thanks, but no thanks.
Thanks, Don, for the article on Ehrman. I find it difficult to believe Ehrman did any serious scholarly research. His analyses seem very lazy indeed. I can’t see how his arguments could be persuasive to anyone acquainted with how orthodox Christians have understood and engaged with the four Gospel traditions throughout Church history. Unfortunately, Gary’s deconversion story exposes the deficits inherent in the anti-intellectual bias and naive theological reductionism of so much of American Protestant Fundamentalism, which seems to render its disenchanted former members easy prey for such pseudo-intellectuals. It also reveals that movement as a very poor substitute for the spiritual wholeness and depth of the classical Christian tradition passed down to us through the ages through the witness of its greatest saints and the robust intellectual engagement of its greatest thinkers (represented in the likes of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton in the modern era).
Who wrote the Gospels?
I loved vídeo , thanks for sharing.
I would like advise. Here’s the background:
My son, who I will call Ed, is 22 years old and has been going to a Southern Baptist church from the earliest age we could take him. At age 8 he asked when he could become a Christian as we had been talking about it but very careful not to put words in his mouth. After discussing it with him, his dad and I prayed with him and then he talked with the pastor, made a public profession of faith, and was baptized. Ed has always been painfully shy and timid and he never connected with anyone in church. We moved when he was 11 and again when he was 19. He’s never had many friends other than his 2 older brothers and 2 cousins until he got involved in gaming on the internet and now his friends are all online (even his brothers and cousins who live in different states).
Two years after we moved the 2nd time (800 miles from our home state), my husband of 31 years (Ed’s dad) died unexpectedly at age 56. Ed showed very little emotion other than more aggressive arguing with his brother, who also lived with us….I took it as their way of grieving. Even though Ed had shown minor resistance to going to church previously, after his dad died he started being rebelliously resistant (the other son did not). Sometimes I let him stay home and sometimes I was insistent. Not long after his dad died, the middle son left to go live with my oldest son (far away) and with that I lost all resolve in enforcing my you WILL go to church with me rule.
We have now moved again to be closer to my sister and I am in search of a new church home. I told Ed that when I found a church for us, I expect him to go to Sunday School and church with me. We argued adamantly with his premise being that “going to church is a waste of time.” He goes to college and I know he doesn’t like to take time away that he could be playing on the computer (not even to go out to eat) and I know that young people that age are often rebellious (I didn’t go to church when I was in college even though I was a Christian, had been raised in church, and went to a Southern Baptist college — granted we had required chapel) so I took that as his “waste of time” meaning. After much arguing with no headway, I resorted to the as-long-as-you’re-dependent-on-me-card (which I hate) and told him that if he chooses to live with me after he is making his own way, I would no longer require him to go to church but until then it wasn’t an option. He didn’t like it but he knows he has to depend on me for now.
Yesterday he told me that he does not consider himself to be a Christian but rather an agnostic. He told me he didn’t want to debate about it which means he isn’t sure of himself or his facts because when he IS sure of himself, he is forceful about trying to make me or his brothers see his point. After telling him that I respect his right to believe differently from what I do I did proceed to tell him what I believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation, his profession of faith, the security of the believer, and my belief that he will eventually come back around in his faith. I also told him again that I still expect him to go to SS and church with me (he gave me the same “waste of time” argument but knew he couldn’t win so he didn’t push hard).
After that I let it go at that because I know Ed and I know that if I push him, he’ll get mad and clam up. As far as the agnostic bit goes, I will pray for God to continue to show Ed the way and bring a strong Christian friend, who he respects, into his life.
What I want to ask is — should I continue to insist that Ed go to church with me, which makes him very angry? I don’t like it either and have been wobbling back and forth about it (not telling him).
On one hand I think, if I make him go, won’t that make him even more rebellious but on the other hand, do I need to insist he go so that he can, at least, hear even if he doesn’t want to believe and how else is he ever going to make a Christian friend, and then again, shouldn’t I leave it up to God and the Holy Spirit to bring him to a place where he WANTS to go to church.
As you are probably aware advice from a long distance and partial information can be difficult. A few things come to mind as I have read over your comment a few times. For me the primary question is why does he claim agnosticism? Probably neither you nor I can answer that one at this point. For those raised in the church once they hit college they find questions and assertions being made about the world for which they are not equipped. Most churches do not teach why we believe certain things but assume the faith is true and teach how to live as Christians, in some cases what we are supposed to believe but not necessarily why we believe it. How do we know God exists? If God exists what sort of God is it? How do we know Christianity is true and not Hinduism, Islam, Wicca or something else? The sad result is that although they may have attended church all of their lives they were not prepared for the challenge to life’s big questions. Not wanting to appear backwards in front of their peers and professors they opt to be agnostics. It doesn’t provide answers but feels safe.
For others life traumas may bring doubts. The current popular agnostic turned atheist, Bart Ehrman, was very much a part of Evangelicalism, attended Wheaton College and I think Moody Bible Institute. He later left the church and became an agnostic. As I listened to him tell his story (we had him debate at one of our conferences a few years ago) he was honest that he became agnostic because of something that happened in the life of his family which raised the question of the problem of evil. Since he couldn’t answer why the loss happened he decided God either didn’t care or may not exist and not caring was no better than not existing so he opted for agnosticism. The loss of your husband may have had a similar effect on your son.
I am not sure that forcing him to attend church is helpful. God draws in all sorts of ways and brings people and circumstances into our lives which draw us to Him. Being a parent (and grandparent) myself I know the dilemma you have but we cannot believe for our offspring but we can pray for them. I would recommend a few things though. In searching for a church try to find one which has an apologetics (defense of the faith) orientation. If you give me your approximate area I can try to assist in that area. Second, see if he will read something, perhaps something both of you can read and discuss like the very friendly Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics or I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Since he likes to spend time on the computer perhaps he would be willing to email with me or someone to address some of these issues. Whatever way it goes I would recommend the first book for you as a starting point and as you have question just email me and I will try to help.
L. L. (Don) Veinot, Jr., President
Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc.