The facts are relatively simple. Many of our neighbors in our pluralistic world are non-Christians, and so have adopted world and life views that at some points at least contrast with Christian beliefs. Many have not just moved away from the Christian faith but for one or more reasons reject it as unattractive, implausible and even dangerous. So, it should not surprise us to find challenges—some major, some minor—to our faith raised by thinkers convinced that the traditional Christian view of things is mistaken.
Even if we aren’t surprised, a challenge remains for us, namely responding creatively and thoughtfully to the challenges aimed at debunking some aspect of Christian belief. And that can be difficult. For one thing few churches intentionally prepare their people for such conversations. Some are so convinced that their beliefs are so obviously true that they feel no discussion should ever be needed. Others depend on the talking points generated by pundits, without realizing that thoughtful apologetics are antithetical to punditry.
It is awkward to remain silent when challenges are raised, uncertain of what to say that might seem plausible and intelligent. Certainly we should admit, “I don’t know,” if we don’t know, or “I’ll have to think about that,” if thinking is necessary. Still, it is best to be prepared. One way to become better apologists is to identify challenges and work through the issues thoughtfully and creatively with Christian friends. The process of discernment sharpens our ability to think well, and uncovers ways to express old truths in fresh ways. Our goal can be to always be growing towards being able to say something that does justice to the truth, providing reasons for it that may not fully convince our non-Christian neighbors but that provides at least a glimpse of the power, beauty and coherence of the Christian worldview. Tim Keller says it well:
Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.
I’m including here two challenges to Christian belief, and am allowing the non-Christians who raise them to speak for themselves. Get some believing friends together and work through them. It’s a chance to develop skill in discernment.
Challenge #1 Two becoming one
“I don’t understand the outdated notion of ‘two becoming one.’ If you think you’re only half a person, please figure your shit out before getting in a relationship. Likewise, if you’re in love with a half formed person, get out fast. When you’ve worked as hard as I have to form your identity, the last thing you want is to blur where you end and someone else begins. Remember who you are, and stay true to that.”
Challenge #2 Poverty you will always have
“According to the New Testament, shortly before the crucifixion a woman anointed Christ with precious oil worth 300 denarii. Jesus’ disciples scolded the woman for wasting such a huge sum of money instead of giving it to the poor, but Jesus defended her, saying that ‘The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me’ (Mark 4:7). Today, fewer and fewer people, including fewer and fewer Christians, agree with Jesus on this matter. Poverty is increasingly seen as a technical problem amenable to intervention. It’s common wisdom that policies based on the latest findings in agronomy, economics, medicine and sociology can eliminate poverty.
“And indeed, many parts of the world have already been freed from the worst forms of deprivation. Throughout history, societies have suffered from two kinds of poverty: social poverty which withholds from some people the opportunities available to others; and biological poverty, which puts the very lives of individuals at risk due to lack of food and shelter. Perhaps social poverty can never be eradicated, but in many countries around the world biological poverty is a thing of the past.
“Until recently, most people hovered very close to the biological poverty line, below which a person lacks enough calories to sustain life for long. Even small miscalculations or misfortunes could easily push people below that line, into starvation. Natural disasters and man-made calamities often plunged entire populations over the abyss, causing the death of millions. Today most of the world’s people have a safety net stretched below them. Individuals are protected from personal misfortune by insurance, state-sponsored social security and a plethora of local and international NGOs. When calamity strikes an entire region, worldwide relief efforts are usually successful in preventing the worst. People still suffer from numerous degradations, humiliations and poverty-related illnesses, but in most countries nobody is starving to death. In fact, in many societies more people are in danger of dying from obesity than from starvation.”