By John Halford
Unlike James Bond’s famous cocktails, our faith should be stirred, but not shaken. These are stirring times to be a Christian. Critics are having a field day, questioning, undermining and ridiculing every aspect of our beliefs. Nothing, it seems, is sacred.
That is because, if you are to believe some popular authors, nothing is sacred. The whole idea of God is a delusion, argues the enthusiastic atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins. Others suggest that religion has had a negative impact on human society, and should be banned, and that those who insist on teaching religious concepts to children be considered guilty of child abuse. Recent published books ask us to believe that nonbiblical “Gospels” may give us a more reliable source of understanding of Jesus than the New Testament.
What are we poor ordinary Christians to make of all this? We seem to be outnumbered and outgunned. Unable to really understand, let alone respond to these sophisticated attacks on all that we hold dear, perhaps the safest course of action is to retreat behind the barricades of tradition.
We must not do that. Jesus made it clear that he did not light our lamps only to have us hide them. So before we allow ourselves to be spooked by the opposition, let’s remember something else he said:
“Can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?”1
Ah, but what if he decides he can win? And we can. You see, the opposition is not as overwhelming as it sometimes seems. Media hype may leave you personally feeling ill-equipped to face up to the challenges. But you can be sure that there are capable men and women out there who are more than able to defend the Christian turf. They have education and experience, and they are not intimidated by clever arguments. When given the opportunity, they can more than hold their own, and show that the opposition has not really done its homework.2
Many believing scientists assure us that the ever-increasing understanding of life’s processes has deepened, rather than shattered, their faith. Truth has nothing to fear from more truth, and you can be sure that “our side” is holding the line.3
So don’t let the anti-religious, anti-Christian propaganda destabilize you. This is not a time to cower and bury our Christian heads in the sand. Most of us are not trained to challenge complex arguments or indulge in sophisticated debate. But all of us are more than able to make a significant contribution in a way that really does count.
In a series of fascinating studies, Baylor University Professor Rodney Stark has thrown new light on how the Christian faith spread throughout the Roman Empire.4 Using the skills of a sociologist, Stark has analyzed the data to show that Christianity gained influence and credibility, not by cleverly winning debates, but by the influence of its followers’ way of life. In times of plague and famine, it was the Christians who cared for the sick and destitute. In an age when slaves and women were without power, it was the Christian way of life that gave them a voice and self-respect. Stark shows that it is simply nonsense to claim that Christianity has had an overall negative impact.
As the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said: “Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom. Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits. Don’t let the rich brag of their riches. If you brag, brag of this and this only: That you understand and know me. I’m God, and I act in loyal love. I do what’s right and set things right and fair, and delight in those who do the same things. These are my trademarks.”5
That is not a put-down of genuine scholarship. Neither is it a flip slogan for self-righteous triumphalism. It is a challenge for us to live up to what we say we believe, whatever our opportunity and station in life.
Yes, these are indeed faith-stirring times. In this magazine, we do our best to bring you information and understanding. We believe that bigotry and ignorance from the Christian community are far more damaging to the cause of the gospel than all the cleverly constructed attacks from outside.
There is much that is happening in this complex modern world to stir your faith. But nothing that need shake it.
1 Message Bible, Luke 14:31-32.
2 For example,Dawkin’s God and The Twilight of Atheism, both by Alister McGrath.
3 For example, The Language of God, by Francis Cousins, Director of the Human Genome project.
4 Cities of God and The Rise of Christianity, by Rodney Stark.
5 Message Bible, Jeremiah 9:23-24.