This post continues a response to the July 30 CNN opinion piece article by Hemant Mehta, “The Friendly Atheist”, entitled “Why are millennials leaving church? Try atheism”. In Part 1, we looked at a number of arguments Mehta makes that I believe are either flawed or weak. Let’s now examine a few more.
“There’s no Proof”
Mr. Mehta says, “The myth surrounding Jesus is part of the problem with Christianity. . . .To believe in Jesus means believing that he was born of a virgin, rose from the dead and performed a number of miracles. There’s no proof of any of that ever happened”.
My question to Mehta is the same one I always ask atheists when this argument comes up: what type of proof are you looking for? What kind of evidence, using the legal/historical method that’s routinely employed to validate history from antiquity, will suffice?
As far as Jesus’ resurrection is concerned, there is plenty of good historical and philosophical evidence that has been presented numerous times by many Christian apologists. To hear the top atheists who debate Christians on the resurrection and who consistently use the hallucination hypothesis as their strongest argument against Jesus rising from the dead is to realize how bad their situation really is.
Of course, all they have to do is produce the body of the Nazarene Carpenter and Christianity will be destroyed once and for all. But so far, no success on that front.
As for Jesus’ miracles, again the question is: what proof are you seeking? The fact is, both the New Testament and external Christian sources hostile to Christianity agree that Jesus performed acts that could not be naturally explained. Such acknowledgments led Professor James Dunn to comment: “What is interesting in this testimony [extra-biblical writings], hardly partisan of behalf of Christian claims, is that the accounts of Jesus’ healing and exorcistic success are nowhere disputed, only the reasons for that success.”
The truth is, Mr. Mehta and other atheists like him reject the evidence for Christ’s resurrection and miracles because of their presuppositional commitment to naturalism. The historicity of such events is ruled out in a priori style.
As to open marketplace exchange of ideas, Mehta first says: “Christians can no longer hide in a bubble, sheltered from opposing perspectives, and church leaders can’t protect young people from finding information that contradicts traditional beliefs.”
The fitting word for this comment is ‘preposterous’. Christianity has never hidden in a bubble; unlike other faiths, it has opened itself up to scrutiny and been forever out in front engaging other worldviews (including atheism) in dialog since the beginning.
Admittedly, we do try and educate people from flawed atheistic arguments such as those presented in the Zeitgeist internet movie, which is so factually defective it stretches credulity, or Lawrence Krauss’ widely panned recent book where he attempts to redefine the term ‘nothing’ in hopes of avoiding the conclusion of a cosmic Beginner.
As to Christian apologists and their arguments, Mehta states: “Moreover, blogs and websites espousing non-religious viewpoints and criticizing Christianity draw tons of Internet traffic these days. For every Christian apologist’s argument, it seems, there’s an equal and opposite rebuttal to be found online. I call that “Hitchens’ Third Law.””
I hate to be the bearer of bad news for Mehta, but this is nothing new. Is Mehta not familiar with Paul duking it out with the Epicureans on Mars Hill or Origen’s writings against his skeptical opponent Celsus? Christianity has always been opposed and will continue to be. What is new is that believers and unbelievers now have a worldwide computer network at their disposal to carry out their discourse, which is great as thousands can now watch live as apologists like William Lane Craig soundly defeat atheist thinkers such as Alex Rosenberg in various debates.
Closer to the Truth
Turning his attention to Christians themselves, Mr. Mehta says, “A 2012 study by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that many Christians aged 18-24 felt that Christianity was hypocritical (49%), judgmental (54%) and anti-gay (58%).” Later, he says that Christian leaders have “played sloppy defense” and failed to address key challenges to the faith and that “more than anything else, atheism’s best advertisements may be the words of Christian leaders themselves”.
Here, in my opinion, Mehta is on much more solid footing.
The statistics used by the “friendly atheist” where Christian impressions are concerned are those of David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group (who Mehta loves to quote without the explanations or cures Kinnaman prescribes for the issues he highlights), who found that the term “evangelical” among millennial and similar age groups resulted in nearly half of them having a bad impression, 47% being neutral and only 3% having a good impression. Moreover, a full eighty-five percent (85%) of Kinnaman’s surveyed group said that Christians are best known for a hypocritical lifestyle.
My response here is twofold. First, it should be acknowledged that when the media continually parades the handful of individuals comprising the Westboro Baptist church as something representing Christ vs. the many Christians who truly mirror Jesus, it is no wonder that millennials can sometimes be sour on Christianity. Here I would simply repeat the words of Augustine: do not judge a philosophy by its abuse.
Second, we need to swallow our medicine when it’s rightly prescribed. While the philosophical problem of evil is normally the number one intellectual argument cited by Christian skeptics as to why they don’t believe, by far, the biggest reason many unbelievers call out (when pushed) as to why they ultimately turn from Christ is because they consistently see professing Christians failing to reflect their Lord.
On playing “sloppy defense”, sadly, I’ve seen this happen too many times, which is why I wrote the article “The Tragedy of the Dumb Church” some time ago.
Lastly, it is indeed depressing to see how the various immoral, idolatrous, and downright ignorant actions of certain Christian figureheads have tarnished the Church of Jesus Christ in recent years. Of course, many godly leaders have done just the opposite over their tenures, but their lives are routinely ignored by the press.
Again, while I disagree with much of what Mehta says in his article, on these points he must be given credit and we as Christians need to take action to correct the issues he cites.
The Overarching Flaw
Let’s forget for a minute Mr. Mehta’s primary question of why/if millennials are leaving Christianity. Instead, let’s ask a better question: why does anyone receive Christ and become a Christian?
Some atheists may say it is cultural; they were brought up in a Christian home. Others would cite Freud and say it is because the person has a coping mechanism problem or ‘wish fulfillment factor’. Still other atheists may reference Marx who thought those that clung to religion suffer from a cognitive disorder or as one atheist I dialoged with over email put it, I was “clinically crazy”.
Such charges are common. As Christians, we don’t forget Jesus’ own family coming to take Him away (Mark 3:21), Festus shouting out to a crowd that Paul had lost his mind (Acts 26:24), or the Apostle writing to the Corinthians that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
These facts help us to discover the primary flaw in Mr. Mehta’s article.
The spirit behind Mehta’s argument as to why millennials (and others) are supposedly exiting Christianity is because atheism is ‘coming on strong’ today. Mehta believes that atheism is short circuiting the Christian faith because of the now wider dissemination of atheistic information and campaigns, which wake believers up from their Freud/Marx/other condition so that they see the light (pun intended).
Unfortunately, some Christians believe and employ the same thing only in reverse. It’s as if these Christians and their atheist opponents see the acceptance or rejection of Christ as a battle of sales pitches – the one with the slickest marketing materials, most trafficked websites, longest list of pro’s, shortest register of con’s, and tightest set of logical argumentation will win the day and convince the person who’s on the fence.
There are two problems with this approach. First, the only reason to believe anything is because it’s true, not because it’s appealing. Second, such thinking runs contrary to how the Bible describes the condition of humanity and how people become believers in Christ.
Mr. Mehta and all his atheist brethren need to understand that they, along with all the rest of us who are now believers, are born rejecting God. The Bible says that no one seeks God (Rom. 3:11), all have blind eyes and deaf ears to the gospel message (John 12:40), with minds that are naturally hostile to God (Rom. 8:7) and incapable of accepting Christ on their own (1 Cor. 2:14).
This, again, is the ‘natural’ state of everyone, which is why Jesus said: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44, 65).
Yes, there are very good apologetic arguments for God that contain compelling evidence and solid reason. And all will be flippantly brushed aside by unbelievers and labeled inadequate because of their a priori commitment to anti-supernaturalism unless God intervenes in their life. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as people act contrary to evidence all the time.
Of course, this statement will be laughed at and ridiculed by atheists but it is 100% Biblical.
If millennials truly aren’t coming to Christ, it has nothing to do with Mr. Mehta’s arguments, which are mostly anemic and contain nothing original. Whether they are millennials, boomers, busters, or carry some other label given to them by the secular culture, people become Christians only through the grace of the sovereign God who awakens their hearts (Acts 16:14) to accept His loving offer of salvation (John 3:16) and actually see the truth before them.
This fact of God’s sovereignty should provide peace to all Christians and cause all of us to continue to work hard at making disciples of Christ through our message and our deeds, “in no way [be] alarmed by our opponents” (Phil. 1:28), and know that people such as Mehta have no bearing whatsoever on whether the atheist ranks swell or shrink.