Why are some Christians overpowered by non-Christians with difficult questions? I have met some of these Christians on Internet Christian forums. Whether these questions are genuine or to stir up Christians will unfold only as the discussion proceeds.
I’ve noticed that Christians can be overcome by questions about:
The talking serpent that tempted the first woman(Genesis 3:1-5);
Why Christianity and not Islam?
How did the canon of Scripture come to be formed?
Why doesn’t God stop all of the evil in the world?
Who made God?
John Calvin supported the killing of an opponent. Why?
A. Non-Christian questions for believers
On a Christian forum, I interacted with an unbeliever who had questions about a number of Christian subjects. He wrote:
Any number of topics interest me: the authorship of the gospels; how the books of the Bible came to be chosen and why certain others were not included; the nature of morality,; the way the three Abrahamic religions split into three very different, distinct religions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity); Biblical archaeology; comparing the flood story in Genesis with the flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh; how Jesus has been interpreted and misinterpreted (thinking of books like Wills’s fascinating, What Jesus Meant, and Aslan’s, Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which I am currently reading). I enjoy studying history and literature, and the Bible is one of the books that underpins Western Civilization — that’s why I have enjoyed studying it.
A Christian responded:
Most of the things you want to discuss are beyond the expertise of the vast majority of people in this forum. I suggest you check with seminaries to see if there are discussion forums attended by scholars who have done the research to answer you with authority. I suggest that you investigate both liberal and conservative sources. (Graduate Theological Union in Berkley, Ca. And Dallas Theological Seminary perhaps.)
If you are looking for scholarly responses to your inquiries then you need to consult scholars with expertise in the areas which interest you. Looking for that level of expertise in specific areas of Christian theology in this forum is a bit like asking the mailman for a diagnosis of an illness.
The non-believer did not like that response as his reply indicates:
You dodged my follow-up questions. Why do you think those topics are only to be tackled by experts? You really don’t think the membership here is up to discussing how Jesus has been interpreted or misinterpreted?
Another non-believer jumped in:
I have brought up many of those same topics and others and I didn’t have any better luck than you seem to be having. Some people just feel like these topics are threatening to their faith, but these discussions are important and can be fruitful. I wish that I could have an open discussion with someone who didn’t ignore my remarks and hurl insults at me when I didn’t agree with them. But sadly that is just the way things are. So don’t take it personally when you find it difficult to have a discussion about who you believe wrote the Bible or the Flood, or any other topic. There are Christians who can easily have such discussions and there are those who can’t. 🙁
This is a Christian forum so it is understandable that there might be some resistance, but still…
My response was that I agree with Melissa that it is a shame when she and others raise topics for which it is difficult to have a discussion with Christians on this forum.
B. Many Christians are not equipped for apologetics
(image courtesy ChristArt)
As a Christian, this is no rationalisation of what happens, but I think I can understand why the laity on Christian forums on the Internet are not responding to difficult questions posed by non-Christians. When unbelievers antagonistically attack unbelievers or try to expose holes in Christianity, I can comprehend why some Christians duck for cover. Here’s some of my assessment:
2. For many Christians whose lives have been changed by the Christ who lives in them, topics like the intricacies surrounding Noah and the Flood, historical origins of the canon of Scripture, the Gilgamesh Epic, etc are not of interest, so they avoid these topics or give light-hearted responses.
3. For me, I don’t have the time to get into details about some of these topics, so I tend to refer to other resources. I contribute on 2 Christian forums on the Internet and if I replied to all of the difficult questions addressed to me, I’d be at this computer for much of the day. I am helped by the fact that I took one of my wife’s touch-typing courses at college many years ago so am a touch typist. That helps me zoom through the typing.
4. So when it comes to historical reasons for the resurrection of Jesus, I refer to substantive research publications such as N T Wright, The resurrection of the Son of God (2003 Minneapolis: Fortress Press).
5. For research on the reliability of the OT and NT, I refer to:
(a) Walter C Kaiser Jr 2001. The Old Testament documents: Are they reliable & relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press;
(b) K A Kitchen 2003. On the reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company;
(c) Craig Blomberg 1987. The historical reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
6. In addition, there are considerable numbers of issues on apologetics topics that can be pursued. I can refer you to some resources if you are interested. For quality research on the text of the New Testament, see Bruce M Metzger 1992. The text of the New Testament: Its transmission, corruption, and restoration, 3rd edn. New York / Oxford: Oxford University Press.
7. For information on the formation of the canon of the Scripture, see F F Bruce 1988. The canon of Scripture. Glasgow: Chapter House.
8. However, some Christians find non-Christians come onto Christian sites to be argumentative and they don’t want to go down that route.
9. For me, I would love to provide replies to some of the penetrating questions concerning the Christian faith and engage in a back and forth, but when I get to be a really old man (instead of just an old man), I might be able to do that for only then might I have the time.
10. I urge non-Christians to please be patient with those who don’t have the depth of answers for the depth of questions asked.
11. To this person on the forum, I stated that Jim, the Christian, was telling the truth. Most of the topics the non-Christian wanted to discuss were out of the league of the laity. They are specialist subjects in the Christian community. Please contact a Christian seminary or university with these questions. Why don’t you try these topics on faculty at Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL? Please ask for a faculty member with the expertise dealing with your inquiry.
Most of the laity in my church would not be equipped to answer your questions, nor have the interest. Therefore, if you are serious, I urge you to contact a Christian specialist in these fields. TIU would be a good starter.
Please let us know how you got on when you contacted TIU.
12. There is a further issue that this non-Christian has demonstrated on this forum with some of his answers. Even if I or another provided answers to questions that he asked, there is every possibility he won’t like what I write. But we could at least enjoy the interaction.
C. Churches need challenging
It’s time for churches to wake up. Equip your people for apologetics or they will drown in the quagmire of questions and allegations by secular folks. This will happen at school, university, on the job, and even at church. Many sit in the pews who have significant issues with the Christian faith. I have met and spoken with them.
This whole discussion is a sad indictment on the evangelical churches especially. They have not equipped their people to answer some of the difficult questions that arise from the Bible – questions of interpretation and of dealing with issues in the real world. I’m thinking of these kinds of questions:
- Is the Book of Genesis a reliable document in a world dominated by the Darwinian paradigm of evolution?
- Science mutilates the Bible.
- You can’t trust the Bible.
- Why Christianity and not Islam, Hinduism or the occult?
- Christianity is promoting nonsense.
- ‘When you die you rot’ (Bertrand Russell). There is nothing after death.
- You can’t trust anything from history. There is so little information about Jesus. To believe in him is to practise irrationality.
In my approximately 50 years as a Christian believer, I have never attended any church in Australia (or Canada & the USA where I lived for 7 years) that equipped its people in apologetics topics. I’ve had to obtain training in this area from Christian institutions of higher learning.
D. It’s a shame
It’s a disgrace that youth face topics that attack their faith in high school and especially university, but the local church is not equipping them. Well, that’s my experience in 50 years as a Christian. It’s still the problem in the churches in my region. I’m raising awareness among them.
I’m of the view that training in apologetics is neutered by distance education. Apologetics needs the argy bargy of classroom debate as well as input in areas of need. Classroom and workshops are the place for apologetic training.
I refer you to my articles:
- Why is apologetics in such low demand in the church?
- Interested in low interest rates? Try apologetics in the church!
- What’s the good of Christianity? Atheistic shock!
- When Christian thinking becomes fuzzy.
I’d also recommend that Christians become competent public speakers and debaters by joining public speaking clubs such as Toastmasters and Rostrum. Since I’m an Aussie living in Queensland, those are Australian links.
 Christian Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, ‘Why I avoid discussing life after death’ (online), David Woodbury#121, January 18 2014, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=113&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122769 (Accessed 29 January 2014).
 Ibid., Jim Parker#128.
 Ibid., David Woodbury#183.
 Ibid., Melissa#184.
 Ibid., ozspen#194.
 Because Rev Dr Ross Clifford is president of Morling College (Baptist), Sydney, Australia and is an active apologist, apologetics subjects are available for pastors in training as a week-long intensive. See: http://www.morlingcollege.com/events/christian-apologetics (Accessed 30 January 2014). I’d be interested to see how that apologetic training translates into the local Baptist churches through these pastors and others who attend the intensive.
Copyright (c) 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 July 2016.