An Introduction to Christian Evidences for Christians
Christian Evidences: The Need
According to church statistician Flavil Yeakley, 40% of the young people in the Lord’s Church fall away when they leave home. Of the 40% that leave the Church, half of them join denominations. The other half (20%) become irreligious.1 About half of the irreligious will become atheists. The typical reasons for their departure from faith are that the young people learned about evolution in college; they came to disbelieve in miracles because of being taught naturalism; they believe that there is a lack of evidence for God and Creation; and they believe that Christianity goes against logic and common sense.2 So things they learned in science shook their faith in what they had been taught in church and at home. In fact, their faith was more than shaken—it was destroyed. They left the Church. Is the study of Christian evidences important?
Should it surprise us that so many are leaving the Church for such reasons? Of the children being educated in the United States, 87% of them are in the public school system.3 The official doctrine that has been taught in public school classrooms over the last several decades is naturalism—the belief that only the natural exists (i.e., no supernatural phenomena such as Creation, the global Flood of Noah, or biblical miracles occurred). Certainly, we encourage our children to respect and learn from their teachers at school, teaching them to view their teachers as authorities in the dissemination of academic knowledge. With naturalistic evolution being pressed on the minds of so many children from a young age, should it surprise us that naturalism is rapidly on the rise in our country and that even within the Lord’s Church our children are being influenced? A 2012 Gallup poll revealed that from 1982 to 2012, the number of naturalists in our country increased from 9% to 15%— the equivalent of roughly 19,000,000 Americans at the time the poll was administered.4 A Gallup poll from 2017 updated the percentage: 19% of Americans now believe in naturalistic evolution.5 Roughly one in five Americans have embraced atheistic evolution.
When writing their New Testament books, Paul, Luke, James, Peter, Jude, and John addressed the issues that the Church was facing in their day: the false doctrines affecting the Church, the ever-increasing Roman threat, Judaism in the Church, and other highly relevant issues, including Greek philosophy. If they were writing today, what do you suppose God would inspire them to address? Among other things, would they not spend ample time addressing the rapidly increasing threat being posed by naturalism? One wonders if they would not devote even more time to the subject of Christian evidences than they already did in their writings. One could argue that 70+ years ago, the primary threat being posed to the Church outside of the typical vices was denominationalism. In response, Christians made a concerted effort to ensure that their congregations were well-equipped to defend the truth concerning pure New Testament Christianity. Statistically, denominationalism and its younger sibling, liberalism, are clearly still significant threats to the Church—20% of our young people are leaving the Church and joining denominations. However, 70+ years ago, naturalism was not the threat that it is today. Due to the threat the Church is facing, we would do well to spend as much time studying Christian evidences in the Church as we do denominationalism and liberalism. If a person’s faith in more fundamental concepts has eroded, how will it help to teach him about baptism, the true Bride of Christ, or proper worship? Mark it down: the time is rapidly approaching when the threat of denominationalism will be significantly less of a threat to the Church compared to naturalism. Are we equipped to contend for the faith? Are we “ignorant of [Satan’s] devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11)?
I know of members of the Church who see no need to spend much time on the subject of Christian evidences, and by implication, they see no need to be prepared to teach others Christian evidences. They reason, “We just need to read and study the Bible! That’s it. I didn’t need to study Christian evidences, and neither do they. Christian evidences is unnecessary.” Merely covering one’s eyes so that he cannot see the tornado approaching will not save a person, nor his family, from impending doom. Perhaps for many people it is the case that they do not need to have answers to faith challenges like naturalism—Darwinian evolution and the Big Bang; they do not need to be treated to a survey of the many evidences that support the Christian faith; but according to the statistics, many others do. If 20% of our youth are becoming irreligious, how many of the others would have become irreligious due to the same issues had they not been given answers to the challenges being directed against their faith at school? Thankfully, they had wise parents and/or elders and preachers who gave them the tools and the knowledge they needed to stay grounded in their faith.
With Scripture, humanity certainly has what it needs to know how to live life the way God wants us to—how to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3). But we are also commanded to be able to defend the truth from false doctrines eroding the faith of the Church (cf. 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). We must “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). How can we do so without examining the evidences for and against Christianity?
The sufficiency of Scripture also does not mean that we are not encouraged to study other products of God’s words and wisdom that He has given us—namely, His creation (often termed, “general revelation”). Several passages speak to that truth, with Romans 1:20 perhaps being the premier passage on the subject. According to Paul, one can study “the things that are made” (i.e., creation) and come to the conclusion that God exists, and even learn about the nature of God from those things. The Bible encourages us to study the great “works of the Lord” (Psalm 111:2), the greatest of which would surely be the Creation of the entire Universe and the destruction of the Earth in the global Flood of Noah. Scripture tells us that we can learn about God by studying astronomy (Genesis 15:5), cosmology (Psalm 19:1), and geology (Job 12:8). In His sermon to Job in Job 38-41, God used the created order repeatedly to teach Job about Himself. Disciplines covered included physics, oceanography, nomology, optics, meteorology, and biology—including zoology, ornithology, entomology, herpetology, botany, and marine biology.
Christian Evidences: Defined
Studying Christian evidences is crucial in this day and age if we wish to stand against the naturalistic tide sweeping the country and influencing the youth of our day. A study of Christian evidences is authorized by God. In fact, a study of Christian evidences is mandated by God. And it should be noted that studying Christian evidences is the logical, rational thing to do.
What are “Christian evidences”? Simply put, the discipline of Christian evidences is the study of evidences for Christianity—namely the evidences that substantiate the three “pillars” of Christian faith: the existence of God; the inspiration of the Bible; and the deity of Christ. The importance of evidence cannot be understated. In the field of philosophy, there is a general rule that is followed if a person wishes to be rational: the Law of Rationality. It says that one should only draw those conclusions that are warranted by the evidence.6 Many within Christendom seem unware that Scripture endorses and commands adherence to the same obvious axiom. “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Bible explicitly prohibits having a “blind” faith (i.e., coming to believe something without adequate evidence). Scripture incessantly makes the point that we should come to a knowledge of the truth based on the evidence that has been provided to us. According to Romans 1:20, so much evidence has been provided to come to the truth of God’s existence that not to come to the right conclusion is “without excuse.” We can know the truth—not merely accept it “on faith”—and it will set us free (John 8:32). As did the “fair-minded” Bereans of Acts 17, God wants us to search for evidence that substantiates a claim before blindly believing it (vs. 11). Since many false teachers are in the world, He tells us to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits” before believing them (1 John 4:1). Unlike fideism (i.e., blind “faith”)—which pits itself against reason7—Paul believed in establishing truth using reasoning from the evidence (Acts 26:25). In fact, Jesus told His audience not to believe/have faith in Him if He did not substantiate His claims with evidence (John 10:37). “Doubting Thomas” was not in error for failing to have a blind faith. Rather, he was in error for having been witness to more evidence of the truth than nearly anybody who had ever lived or ever would live, and yet he still disbelieved, requiring even more direct observational evidence than he had already received (John 20:24-29).
The blind “faith” idea is unbiblical. The biblical portrait of faith in God would be more like seeing evidence being “poured” into a “truth container.” The “evidence” rises to the top of the container and begins pouring over the top, establishing the truth of God. Where “faith” comes in is when we look at the truth container, filled to the brim with evidence, and choose whether or not to believe it. Most do not and will not (Matthew 7:13-14). It is their own choice, but it is not because God has not provided enough evidence to come to the truth. Rather, they have rejected the evidence which is readily available, due to their own personal motives.
Biblical faith is not blind, and yet God still expects us to come to the conclusion that He exists, that the Bible was ultimately authored by Him, and that Jesus is His divine Son, in spite of the fact that we cannot directly observe God or directly witness the confirming miracles and signs that Jesus did to authenticate His message. The implication is that God has given us sufficient evidence to be able to know these things, and He expects us to dig for and study that evidence. And that is the point of Christian evidences. Famous philosopher from the 1800s, Herbert Spencer, said, “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.”8 If Spencer was correct, then the Christian’s plight would be dire indeed. Fideism has lent credibility to arguments like this one, and rational people rightly reject religion and Christianity in particular when theists promote having an irrational, blind faith. But as the study of Christian evidences has long revealed, Spencer’s comments were without merit and in fact revealed his ignorance of the preponderance of evidence that surrounded him at the very moment he penned those words. With every breath he inhaled and every stroke his pen made, evidence of the Christian faith was entering his body and radiating from it.
One might ask, “How can one come to believe in something invisible—something that he cannot even directly observe or experiment on— and that faith not be blind?” How can we come to know that gravity exists? We cannot see, taste, touch, hear, or smell gravity, and yet we have a mound of evidence that supports its existence. The nature of the evidence is indirect, rather than direct, but it is evidence none-the-less. Much of science (especially historical sciences like geology, paleontology, cosmology, evolutionary biology, etc.) relies on gathering indirect evidence to come to rational conclusions about what happened, how it happened, when it happened, or why it happened, and many times the event itself was not directly observed. Forensic scientists attest to that basic truth on a daily basis. They enter the scene of a crime and can determine what crime occurred, who committed the crime, when they committed it, how they committed it, and oftentimes even why they did it, without having personally observed the event. Similarly, though God’s existence cannot be empirically verified, it can be easily verified indirectly through deductive reasoning from the scientific evidence available to us.
Christian Evidences: An Outline
As previously mentioned, Christian evidences centers on three pillars at the most basic level: the existence of God, the inspiration of Scripture, and the deity of Christ. Apologetics is generally tied to Christian evidences as well—defending the biblical model that stems from those three fundamental planks. The following general topical outline results:
1. God exists: Although we cannot directly observe God, several lines of evidence exist that lead one to the logical conclusion that He exists. These are generally termed “Classical Arguments.” The typical arguments include the Moral, Cosmological, and Teleological Arguments. The Ontological, Intuitional, and Aesthetic Arguments are seen less frequently, though they continue to provide valid evidence for God as well.9
a. The primary response to the existence of a God argument is made by the naturalists (i.e., atheists, agnostics, and skeptics). They say the Universe came about solely naturally. The Big Bang Theory and Darwinian evolution are generally invoked to substantiate that claim. So Christian evidences often addresses those subjects.10
b. Others argue that proving that a god exists does not substantiate which God exists. This question is answered upon establishing the second fundamental plank of Christian evidences.
2. The Bible is inspired: If the Bible can be shown to have characteristics that humans could not have produced, then it will have provided internal evidence of its divine origin, and subsequently, identification of which God exists. Thus, Christian evidences explores various internal evidences of the Bible’s supernatural characteristics: its scientific foreknowledge, perfect unity, its brevity and omissions, its objectivity, its predictive prophecy, and its perfect accuracy (historically, geographically, etc.11).
a. Skeptics respond that the Bible claims certain events happened which are not plausible and which are not substantiated with geological, paleontological, or archaeological evidences (e.g., the Flood, Babel, wilderness wandering, etc.). Thus, Christian evidences explores such criticisms and responds.
b. Others insist that the Bible, whether or not it was originally inspired, has been corrupted in its transmission and translation.12
c. Still others take issue with the alleged “perfect unity” of Scripture, and cite hundreds of alleged contradictions in Scripture, attempting to prove that the Bible was written by mere humans. After all, “to err is human,” but “to err” should not be God.13
d. Other skeptics argue that regardless if there is a god, it cannot be the God of the Bible, because the God of the Bible is a walking contradiction. They proceed to highlight events in Scripture which they believe prove Him not to be Who He claims (e.g., God cannot be omnipotent and omnibenevolent and still allow horrendous things to happen to good or innocent people;14 God allowed slavery, sexism, genocide, etc.15).
e. Christian evidences, again, explores each of these criticisms to assess their validity and responds.
3. The Deity of Christ: The deity of Christ is a central theme of Scripture that distinguishes Christianity from other alleged “biblical” religions (e.g., Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Islam). Since the second plank of Christian evidences has already been established before a discussion of plank three would be relevant, a discussion of the deity of Christ generally centers on the teachings of Scripture on the subject, although some things about Christ have been further verified by ancient testimony from non-Christian and even hostile sources.16
If we as Christians are going to obey the command to be ready to give a defense of Christianity (1 Peter 3:15) in the 21st century, Christian evidences must be studied in each of our congregations and in a regular way. Knowing that 20% of our young people are leaving the Church and becoming irreligious, in large part due to what they perceive to be a lack of evidence for Christianity, should surely cause us to adjust our study and evangelism strategies.
2 Michael Lipka (2016), “Why America’s ‘Nones’ Left Religion Behind,” Factank, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/.
3 “Statistics About Nonpublic Education in the United States” (2016), U.S. Department of Education, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oii/nonpublic/statistics.html; “Public and Private School Comparison,” (2016), Fast Facts, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=55.
4 Frank Newport (2012), “In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins,” GALLUP Politics, http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/Hold-Creationist-View-Human-Origins.aspx.
5 Art Swift (2017), “In U.S., Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low,” Gallup, http://news.gallup.com/poll/210956/belief-creationist-view-humans-new-low.aspx.
7 “Fideism” (2015), Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fideism.
8 Herbert Spencer (1891), Essays Scientific, Political and Speculative, Online Library of Liberty, http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/spencer-essays-scientific-political-and-speculative-vol-1–5?q=those+who+cavalierly#Spencer_0620-01_8, emp. added.
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