Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Answering the Atheists

A Reader's Digest version of why I am a Christian.

Let's face it: Atheism is in. Not since Nietzsche have disbelievers enjoyed such a ready public reception to their godless message—and such near-miraculous royalties. But even that hasn't put them in a good mood. Snaps Christopher Hitchens, who wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (although not, presumably, the pronouncements of atheists), "Many of the teachings of Christianity are, as well as being incredible and mythical, immoral." A feuding Richard Dawkins suggests that believers "just shut up." Apparently, they didn't get the tolerance memo.

Other authors—including Douglas Wilson and Francis Collins—have quite capably refuted the new atheist shtick. But remembering Bertrand Russell's famous essay, "Why I Am Not a Christian," here is a Reader's Digest version of why I am.

Creation: The universe, far from being a howling wasteland indifferent to our existence, appears to be finely tuned through its estimated 13.7 billion years of existence to support life on this planet. Tinker with any one of scores of fundamental physical laws or the initial conditions of the universe—such as gravity or the cosmological constant—and we would not be here. As physicist Paul Davies has admitted, "I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact."

Beauty: Beethoven's Ninth, a snowflake, the sweet smell of a baby who has been sleeping, and a sunset beyond the dunes of Lake Michigan all point to a magnificent and loving Creator. And isn't it interesting that we have the capacity—unlike mere animals—to gape in awe, to be brought to tears, before them? Truly did David say, "What is man, that you are mindful of him?"

New Testament reliability: Compared with the handful of existing copies of seminal ancient works such as Homer's Iliad, the New Testament's provenance is far better attested. There are thousands of NT manuscripts in existence, some made within mere decades of the events they report. Scholar F. F. Bruce said, "The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar."

Scripture: Unlike other religious texts, the Bible gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly of its heroes: Abraham, Jacob, David, and Peter among them. Further, Scripture's message rings true. It has been said that human depravity is the only religious doctrine empirically verified on a daily basis. And the Bible's gracious solution to our predicament, Christ's atoning death on the Cross, uniquely emphasizes what God has done, not what we must do, for our rescue.

Jesus: Christ's life and teachings are unparalleled in world history, as any Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim—or atheist—worth his salt will admit. Napoleon reportedly said, "I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity."

The trilemma: C.S. Lewis, commenting on Christ's claim to divinity, said: "You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Resurrection: After the crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty. His formerly despondent disciples then turned the Roman world upside down with the message that Christ had conquered death. And they were willing to die for it. The best explanation, according to N. T. Wright and other scholars, is that Christ rose from the dead.

Progress: Despite some horrific incidents perpetrated in the name of Christ, freedom and prosperity generally have followed Christianity. Sociologist Rodney Stark said, "The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians."

Testimonies: While many Christians have behaved badly, Christ specializes in turning sinners around. What other faith can boast of a Chuck Colson? A John Newton? A William Wilberforce? Then there are the innumerable soup kitchens, universities, hospitals, and orphanages founded to the glory of Christ. While many atheists are moral, how many such institutions has the atheistic ideal—uncoerced by Communism, which is itself a perversion of Christianity—produced?

My experience: Finally, as a forgiven sinner, I testify to an imperfect yet growing sense of God's peace, presence, and provision since receiving Christ more than a quarter-century ago. Despite occasional setbacks, my faith has deepened and strengthened, whatever life brings.

And that includes the angry rantings of atheists.

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