An open letter to my post-Christian friend

Dear Nick,

Let me say that having discussions like this in writing (especially online) rather than face-to-face is usually quite pointless.  However, that’s how the conversation got started, so I guess I’ll go with it.

You raised some questions due to a recent facebook dialogue about Christianity and missions.  I’d like to take some of your points and try to respond. You said:

Brian your comments are stated “fairly and accurately,” yet you have an obvious bias towards Christianity! You cant use the spread of a religion as evidence that God is causing it! Dont forget there are many religions and all of them spread by some means or another. Also dont forget that the early Roman church was Catholic…which im sure you disagree with.

If God truly is the lifeforce behind his chosen “religion”, then why did Judaism fail? Why did we need to spread a “new” religion? Along with that, why is it that the Judeo/Christian religion was only relevant in the middle east/Mediterranean area? Why wasnt there anyone to tell the Native Americans that they were going to burn in hell for not believing in some middle-eastern savior?

Why didnt the ancient Chinese receive any ‘good news’? I think the major problem with Christians is that they really think that all of human history is interpreted in light of the Bible….when in reality the majority of people that lived on the planet over the course of human history (about 200,000+ years) had never known anything at all about the Judeo/Christian religion.

I agree with the statement that people need to know the truth about Jesus, however the ‘truth’ is that we really dont know the truth about him. All we have to teach us about him are New Testament writings. He is not mentioned in any other early literature at all…..which is kinda unsettling. Josephus mentions him, however the text is a blatantly obvious addition by a later Christian scribe. and, since we know that the NT documents are not totally accurate, it doesnt make sense to claim that we know the truth about Jesus.

My turn; you said that I have an obvious bias toward Christianity, a charge that I embrace.  At it’s core, Christianity is a faith, which means it is something that I believe or trust in.  Like I trust my car to start when I turn the key, I trust Christianity to be the truth, based mainly on the experiential reality in my life.  Sure, there are objective, historical facts that can support the claims of Christianity, but in the end it is a personal faith.  And I’m OK with that.

You said: “You cant use the spread of a religion as evidence that God is causing it! Dont forget there are many religions and all of them spread by some means or another.

My point was not that the spread of a religion proves God’s support.  What I believe is that Christianity has no spread based solely on the efforts of man, but also by the sovereignty of God.  Many false religions have spread and I obviously don’t believe God approves of those faiths.  But, is it possible that God is allowing those religions to spread for a greater ultimate purpose?

You said: “If God truly is the lifeforce behind his chosen “religion”, then why did Judaism fail? Why did we need to spread a “new” religion?

I wouldn’t say that Judaism failed.  I would say that Christ was the fulfillment of Judaism, but many Jews rejected him.  This didn’t surprise God.  While ancient Jews looked forward to Messiah, Christianity recognizes that Messiah has come and delivered his people.

You said: “Why is it that the Judeo/Christian religion was only relevant in the Middle East/Mediterranean area? Why wasnt there anyone to tell the Native Americans that they were going to burn in hell for not believing in some middle-eastern savior? Why didnt the ancient Chinese receive any ‘good news’?

From the beginning, Christ has commanded his followers to go and share his story with the world.  As to why a certain region was the genesis and focus of early Christianity, I frankly don’t know.  What do you think?  I do know that creation would make it clear to Native Americans and ancient Chinese and me that there is some god out there, even if they or I never hear about Jesus.  I also know that the only reason that people go to Hell is because they choose to sin and reject God in their conscience.  I don’t have all the answers to this sticky topic, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

You said: “I think the major problem with Christians is that they really think that all of human history is interpreted in light of the Bible….when in reality the majority of people that lived on the planet over the course of human history (about 200,000+ years) had never known anything at all about the Judeo/Christian religion.

I think that the major problem with Christians is that they don’t love God or people enough.  But your point is taken, and I too wish that people who claim to be Christians would admit that the Bible is not a mainly book about science or historical facts.   The Bible is mainly a book about the story of God saving His people.

I’m afraid that people create a false-dichotomy: either science is true or the Bible is true.  While I’m not sure about the days of creation or the age of the earth, I know that those aren’t the concerns of the book of Genesis.  Genesis wasn’t written to tell us how many days it took to make the earth, Genesis was written to tell us about a God who saves His people.  I’m not scared of the findings of science, because I know that all truth is God’s truth.  If a Christian becomes convinced that theistic evolution is the truth, I don’t think that’s entirely incompatible with the Bible, (though I don’t hold that position myself).  You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, pardon the poor analogy.

You said: “I agree with the statement that people need to know the truth about Jesus, however the ‘truth’ is that we really dont know the truth about him. All we have to teach us about him are New Testament writings. He is not mentioned in any other early literature at all…..which is kinda unsettling. Josephus mentions him, however the text is a blatantly obvious addition by a later Christian scribe. and, since we know that the NT documents are not totally accurate, it doesnt make sense to claim that we know the truth about Jesus.

Please tell me of an article that I should read to prove your statements above.  Here’s the deal: no document has been under more scrutiny by more people for more years that the Christian Canon.  If it could be proven false and unreliable, that would have happened (like it has with the Book of Mormon, which no reputable scholar would say is accurate).

The Encyclopedia Britannica (2002 edition) concludes: “These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.”

Justin Martyr wrote that the acts of Pontius Pilate prove that Jesus was a real person and they his followers actions proved that they believed he was the Messiah.

There may always be debate on the historicity, veracity, and divinity of Jesus.  I think there is sufficient evidence to support that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that the arguments against his existence, numerous as they may be, are not compelling.  The beautiful thing about historical studies is their self-correcting nature.  Disproving, beyond doubt, the existence of Jesus would make any scholar a multi-billionaire, and to be frank, it just ain’t happened, man.

And sure, I admit that there are inconsistencies and serious questions regarding manuscripts and the Bible.  However, these questions actually reinforce my trust in the Bible, since no basic tenants of my faith are contradicted.  A question here and there regarding manuscripts is not at all reason to say the Bible isn’t accurate.

Nick, I hope this is somewhat helpful.  You encouraged me to engage the tough questions, and I gave it a shot.  I’m praying for you man, and I know that there is a battle for your soul.  This discussion is not about me winning or being right.  I’d love to talk more if you are interested.  Most of all, I’d love to hear how you would answer the same questions you posed me.  What gives you hope?  If your worldview contains more truth than mine, I’d certainly want to know about it.  I’m always seeking truth as best I can.

With love,

Brian

Helpful links:

WikiAnswers article on Jesus

Britannica Online “Jesus Christ” by E.P. Sanders, probably the most renowned expert on historical Jesus

The Historical Jesus at the New Testament Gateway

PBS Frontline: From Jesus to Christ

An Overview of The Quest for the Historical Jesus by ancient historian John Dickson

Articles about the historical Jesus by William Lane Craig

Unofficial page of N. T. Wright, including articles about the historical Jesus

Faculty page of Paula Fredriksen, including articles about the historical Jesus

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About Brian Phillips

Brian lives in Spain with Kassie and their kids.
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