Modern Reformation contributor and street evangelist veteran Leon Brown sat down with us to discuss his article “Common Objections” – need some practical advice from an old hand? Look no further!
I have talked with many non-believers over the years, but I have never heard anyone voice the objections that Brown mentions. I have heard some people say that Christians are hypocrites, or that they are mean and unloving, but the objection that I hear most often is that there isn’t really any good (read: adequate) evidence for Christianity. Also, many non-believers are fairly sophisticated, and they often raise difficult questions about the Bible and/or Christian doctrine. Unfortunately, I don’t see many people in the Christian community that are willing to meet these objections head on. Instead, many Christians seem content to turn objections to Christianity into straw men, then attack the straw men and be done with it. I don’t see that Brown does anything more than this in the video. If you want to make inroads among atheists, you need to get a lot more serious. I’m sorry to sound so severe, but I am frustrated by the continuing refusal (or is it inability?) of Christians to tackle the hardest objections to Christianity in an intellectually respectable manner.
I have often had the same frustrations about people not willing to put forth effort into looking at the evidence for Christianity. Sometimes I find myself embarrassed by the willingness of Christians to believe Christianity without regard for its truth. I was converted and my faith is constantly strengthened by looking at the evidence for Christianity, so I expect that if someone would just look at the evidence they would inevitably come to the truth. Instead, I find most non-Christians and Christians I come across are rarely intellectually honest. People will believe what they want to believe based on something other than evidence. There is something else that drives them to believe what they do. For Christians the evidence for Christianity confirms what they already believe, and for non-Christians the evidence for Christianity gets in the way of what kind of lifestyle they want to live. I thought Leon Brown’s experience in this video shows that.
I find I am one of those Christians who cannot adequately defend Christianity. I have a degree in physics, and while I may be fairly comfortable talking about the physical world and it operates, I am not able to do that with philosophy, biology, history or any of the other fields that I would have to know well in order to defend Christianity without coming up with straw men arguments. And while I do try to read and study about those other fields, there is just not enough time in this life to do it all (O how I wish there was a device like on the Matrix and I could just plug a computer into my head and know everything I wanted to know!). On top of working and putting in the time necessary to be a husband and father, I find it most productive to know Bible well. (And just when I think I can have a convincing conversation about the Bible with a group of other Christians they will bring up “true” meaning of biblical passages from the Greek or Hebrew and now I find myself thinking I need to learn Greek and Hebrew. Will it ever end!?)
In spite of wanting to know and defend Christianity well enough that nobody can have any objections, I have more and more become convinced that it is truly the Gospel that “is the power of God for salvation”. Romans 1 tells us that people already know the truth, but deny it. While I love and respect apologetics and think there is great need for it, only the Gospel can give people a heart of flesh.
I appreciate your comments. I, too, know the cycle of feeling as if you can never know enough. As I said in the video, God has blessed me w/ years of experience sharing the gospel all over the world. I recall having the opportunity to share the gospel in a Buddhist temple in Japan. It was quite an experience. Nevertheless, the objections always seem to boil down to the three that I listed. I’ve had plenty of conversations w/ biologists, physicists, physicians, etc. and things never change. Of course someone may have a different experience and I cannot take that away, but what I shared in the video comes over the course of about 12 years.
I do believe we have to be careful posing straw man arguments, as you mentioned, but that is not something that I espouse. That’s one of the reasons why I talked about actually “listening” to what people have to say. If we listen carefully, we can actually engage people specifically versus generally. That will require study, but as you said, it’s the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). My hope is in the Spirit’s transforming work as the gospel is preached/shared. It’s not in my own strength, although if I’m quite honest, I used to think it was.
For years, I placed apologetics above the gospel. I hunted atheists much like a shark does blood simply because I wanted to display my academic prowess (You mentioned that you received a degree in physics. I was a biochemistry major for a time during my undergraduate work). What I actually displayed was my pride. I wanted to show people how much I knew and how little they actually knew. What ended up happening, often times, was an argument. I got in the way. Instead of the gospel being an offense, I was the offense. That’s one of the reasons why my approach changed. It’s more conversational in tone. I had to learn to listen more and talk less. Once the unbeliever has shared their views, I’ll ask if I can engage their views and share my own. They usually politely respond, “yes.”
Keep pressing on, brother. Your confidence is in the right place–the Christ of the gospel! And by the way, if you can’t hold a conversation, so-to-speak, about biology, etc., and how that relates to Christianity, that’s okay. It’s okay not to know everything. Keep studying and things will come w/ time. Also, it’s okay to tell the unbeliever that you don’t know, but that you’d like to get back to him or her w/ the answer. Far too often Christians, I believe, are sometimes pressured to believe that they need to know everything RIGHT NOW. Having that mentality will cause someone to create a straw man.
If I’m talking to someone who has an expertise in an area that I know nothing about and somehow it conflicts w/ the gospel, I let the person explain what he means. As he does so, that gives me the chance to know where he is coming from and gain knowledge right there on the spot. At some point, he is going to say something with which I am familiar and I can focus on that portion of his expertise and how it relates to the gospel. (At least that’s what my track record shows). So, while I do not know everything, or even anything close to everything, I, like you, know where my confidence lies…in the simple and foolish (to some) gospel of Jesus Christ!
Keep pressing on!
Don’t get me wrong, apologetics are great, but apologetics don’t save anyone. It’s Christ’s work that saves. That’s where I place my emphasis now. I still engage the various so-called difficult objections if they arise, but those objections come every 1 in 120 conversations, literally.
Leslie and Eric – I hear you. One of the guys who has helped me most is Ravi Zacharias. Check him out.
[...] Evangelist Leon Brown deals with the three most common objections to the gospel. [Via Zach, who saw it on Thabiti … it's like a Tumblr [...]
Thank you for the advice and encouragement. I am learning more and more just how much power the Gospel has. Truly amazing grace. Keep up the good works yourself also.
Eric, I completely understand how you feel. I don’t think that every Christian needs to study biblical languages etc., or even that every Christian needs to engage in advanced apologetics. I also think that apologetics will never be truly successful unless it is a team effort. It needs scientists, philosophers, biblical scholars of various kinds, and pastors. If I were rich, I would assemble of team of scholars and lay persons from various backgrounds to produce a series of papers on the subject. Actually, this doesn’t require wealth – a Christian college or think tank could bring people together and publish some papers. I don’t relish criticizing the apologetic efforts of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I feel that I must do so. Why? Because I constantly run into atheists who tell me that the apologetics they encounter doesn’t even begin to tackle the hard questions. And they are right. If we want to keep attacking straw men, fine. But we’re not actually advancing the gospel when we do this. I think that we can do a lot better. Why not do it?
I want to add a few more comments. First, I am pretty thoroughly Reformed in my theological outlook. I believe in justification by faith alone through grace alone. And I believe in double predestination. So, I don’t believe that apologetics saves anyone. In fact, I don’t believe that human effort of any kind saves anyone. At the same time, there are stumbling blocks to the gospel, and the Holy Spirit clearly uses apologetics, at least some times, to help remove these stumbling blocks. If we have a responsibility to proclaim the gospel and make disciples, shouldn’t that include apologetics, at least at some point? And, if we are going to do apologetics at all, shouldn’t we give it our best? (I’m speaking here of the church as a whole – I would never suggest that every Christian, or even many Christians, should feel obligated to engage in advanced apologetics.) Second, we don’t need to be arrogant to do apologetics, and we certainly don’t need to be arrogant to do apologetics well. It is simply false that we are forced to become arrogant or detached or disengaged if we tackle hard questions in a serious way. To think otherwise is shallow and dangerous. Third, and finally, unless you are tackling the hard questions, you haven’t even begun to address the concerns of many atheists, agnostics, and doubting believers. And, by focusing on straw men, you may actually harm the church, as many atheists and agnostics will conclude (perhaps rightly) that you don’t have the courage or integrity to take the issues seriously.
I understand your concern for “tackling,” as you put it, the so-called ‘tougher’ theological concerns. But I do want to make something clear because it seems that in your first post, you rather clearly said you believe I’m setting up straw men. If I understood your first post correctly, please allow me to clear the air. That is not my intention nor do I believe that I do that when I am sharing my faith.
Having shared my faith w/ literally thousands of people all over the world, I’ve run into various arguments against Christianity. When those arguments arise, I do what I am able to sincerely answer their questions all the while unapologetically declaring Christ in his gospel.
All-in-all I wanted to make that clear. Nevertheless, while you have not encountered the 3 most common objections that I have, those are still my experiences. Again, having spoken to thousands, the story still doesn’t change. But your experience seems to be different. Either way, it’s good to know others are talking about the Lord Jesus.
Which church do you attend?
Great discussion. I have asked myself the same questions you have… I believe Paul gives us alot of insight into how he was convicted to share the Gospel. 1 Corinthians Chapters 1 and 2 sum up (for me) his stance on how he shared the Gospel (Christ crucified). The main reason I believe this was his starting and ending point is because if someone truly believes in the death, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the implications are eternal! Everything hinges on this.
I disagree with the people saying these objections are not common. You guys might be talking to a different culture from Leon and myself, but I definitely have heard these objections most of all. Thanks for a quick clear video on answering those questions.
The two objections I hear are three, almost exclusively:
How can we claim to have the only way to God?
How can a God of love allow people to suffer?
How can a God of love send people to hell?
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