Defending the faith in a climate of disbelief

defending_faithHelping men answer hard questions about Christian convictions

by Frank Stirk and Kevin Trick

Talk about jumping off the deep end.

Six weeks after I was baptized, my pastor asked me to teach the adult Sunday school class. We were a small church, and he had no one else he thought he could ask. But guess what book of the Bible he asked me to teach. One of the gospels? No. Something practical like James? No. Ezekiel.

Sure, I had a lesson plan and a study guide, but I was way out of my depth. Here I was, a baby Christian, still feeding on spiritual milk, trying to “teach” on some of the most challenging passages in Scripture. I was in no position to offer any insight into the Word, because I had little or no insight to offer.

I wasn’t ready. That was 24 years ago. Since then, I’ve moved on to more solid spiritual food. And I think I’m better prepared to articulate and defend biblical truth now than I was then.

But there are many men who’ve been Christians maybe even longer than me and they’re still not able to take seriously 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV).

Paul Chamberlain, associate professor of ethics and Christian apologetics at ACTS Seminaries in Langley, B.C., meets these men every time he leads workshops in churches on equipping the followers of Jesus to better explain and defend their faith in Christ. “They recognize they need to be better equipped,” he says. “When questions get asked, it’s nice to have something to say. Maybe they’ve read a book on the subject, but they don’t know what’s a good book and what’s not a good book.”

But what’s more important to Chamberlain is the fact these men were concerned enough to actually come out to his sessions. “They’re gung-ho. They want to hear something,” he says. “They want to get really practical—‘When my kid comes and asks me this question, what’s the best that I can say?’ I really do feel for them, because they’re committed to their faith, committed to the Lord and to the Bible, but some questions can be fairly tough.”

If you’re one of those men, if you’re resolved to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” then read on. What follows are four frequently asked questions, four brief answers that should at least help point you in the right direction, and some recommended resources for further study.

Is God real for you, or just a psychological “crutch”?

Look around you. Then ask yourself, where did all this come from? Can it really all be the result of some great cosmic accident?

We look at a painting and know it took an artist to create it. Our planet is infinitely more complex than any work of art, so it must be that it required an Artist to create it. The fact we don’t know and can’t know how or why or when God did it doesn’t change that.

And just as a creator is always superior to what he has created, so too is the Creator God superior to the universe He created. That means He is Spirit (beyond all things physical), He is eternal (beyond time) and He is all-powerful (beyond the forces of nature). “In addition, the fine-tuning of the universe’s conditions for life suggests this Cause is also intelligent,” says Hendrik van der Breggen, assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College and Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba.

But what’s even more amazing is that not only did God create everything, He also entered into His creation. First He sent Jesus to save us from our sins, and then to all who believe that Jesus is Lord, He sent the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us. God is with us. That’s what really makes Him real.

“I have come to understand that even the decisions I make on my own have the mark of God on themas His Spirit leads me,” says Tom Blackaby, director of international ministries with Blackaby Ministries International and co-author (with his father, Henry Blackaby) of The Man God Uses. “Even when I choose not to ask for His guidance, He is guiding me through the desires He has placed in my heart.

“God is not a ‘crutch’ I lean on, but more like the food I eat. I can live a while without it, but in the end I realize how necessary it is for life.”

If God is love, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?

Even Christians whose job it is to help us frame a solid response struggle with this one. “I can set out what I think are pretty good arguments for why evil exists, but it’s difficult sometimes to be satisfied with that,” says van der Breggen. “It’s then that I don’t lean on my own understanding, but I trust in God. But even then my trust is wobbly sometimes.”

People of different faiths—or no faith at all—try to handle the reality of evil in different ways. They deny God exists. Or they deny suffering exists. Or they say God is far away and doesn’t care. Or they say God invented evil to achieve some greater good. Here’s what we believe.

The Bible says God is good and created a perfect world. He made us in His image. So just as God is free to do what He wants, so are we. We are free to either obey God or turn away from Him. When we turn away, we fall into sin. So it’s our sin, our wrong choices, our rebellion against God, that creates evil and suffering.

Instead of trying to explain (or explain away) God, we shouldn’t hesitate to confess that God’s ways are higher and better than our ways. “A good, all-powerful God could have some good reason for at least allowing a certain amount of evil to be in the world,” says Chamberlain. “If we’re finite and God is infinite, it’s entirely conceivable that He might have reasons that we know nothing about.”

There are times when I wish He would just make me obey Him, but then it would be control, not love,” says Blackaby. “God is love, and He prefers love in return, not pre-programmed beings.”

Have I lived—or am I living—a “good” life?

At the end of Saving Private Ryan, Private James Ryan stands before the grave of Captain John W. Miller, the man who died saving his life some 40 years earlier. He recalls Miller’s final words: “Earn this. Earn it.” Ryan turns to his wife and pleads, “Tell me I’m a good man.” Everyone wants to hear before they die that they lived a “good” life, that they’ll leave behind something of lasting significance and value.

A lot of people see living the good life as nothing more than going for the gusto. Live like there’s no tomorrow. The best of everything—homes, cars, sex, booze, drugs. But Jesus calls us to do just the opposite, to give away our lives in loving God and doing His will and in loving one another. The good life is lived in relationship, in community, in putting other’s first.

“The reason I enjoy my little RV,” says Chamberlain, “is because I get to take the family out and enjoy something together that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. If you took the family away, the RV would be meaningless. In fact, I wouldn’t even own it. That, to me, is the good life.”

Above all, the good life means living for the truth of God’s Word, which means living for Jesus, who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. ”When Jesus was on Earth living the perfect life, He went around doing good. He exemplified for us the only truly “good” life.

How can we claim knowledge of the one true God when lots of other people believe just as strongly that their god is supreme?

“Other religions have some truths, but not at their core,” says van der Breggen. “For example, Muslims are correct when they say that there is one God and that people should be wholly submitted to God. But they’re not right to say that Jesus isn’t God.”

All other religions are basically man’s attempt to reach God. Christianity alone rests on God choosing to come to us. “God revealed through Christ exactly what His terms are: salvation by grace through faith,” says Blackaby. “It is always our choice to accept His terms for salvation, but choosing any way that leaves Christ out is unacceptable to God.”

What Christ did was destroy forever the wall of sin that separated us from God. Because He is holy, God hates our sin. Because He is just, He demands we be punished for our sins. Our sin condemns us to death. But because He loves us, God gave us an escape hatch by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die in our place. What makes the Christian faith real and true is that Jesus also rose from the dead.

No mortal man could do that, and so it must be true that no man can come to the Father except through faith in Christ. No other belief system can make such claims, and no other belief system can provide the proof—the gospel accounts, the historical documents and the archeological evidence— that these claims are true.

“What you and I are very fortunate to know,” says Chamberlain, “is this person called Jesus, who came into this world and actually claimed to be God. He came for all people. So let’s open up these records, these books, that tell us about who Jesus is, because everybody can know Him.”

Frank Stirk is a freelance writer based in North Vancouver, B.C. He is the B.C. regional correspondent for ChristianWeek. Kevin Trick is the pastor of men’s ministry at Centre Street Church in Calgary, Alberta.

The article above was featured in the March 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.