The New Standard for Evaluating Christianity

Jon Marshall —  July 17, 2013 — 2 Comments

Greek BibleA few weeks ago I preached a sermon called “You Can Trust the Bible.” Like I’ve always done in talks like this I laid out a simple path: 1) You can trust the Bible textually. 2) You can trust the Bible historically. 3) You can trust the Bible personally.

With the first point I showed how the copies of various books of the Bible are so plentiful and precise that we can know with nearly perfect confidence that the words in our Bibles are the words originally written by the authors. With the second point I showed how the Bible stands up to repeated attacks on its historical value, proving itself more accurate over and over. This makes sense because the authors have such an incredible advantage over modern people in terms of knowing what actually happened (i.e. they saw it happen).

After making those two points, I pulled in for the clincher, “That’s why you can trust the Bible and give your life to Jesus.” Christians in the audience loved it. I got lots of pats on the back from those in our family.

But then I got some texts from people who weren’t so convinced. “How can I believe a book that endorses slavery?” “How can I trust a book that is so backward about women?” “How can I trust a book that damns homosexuals?”

Nearly every book I read in college and seminary about how to “prove” the Bible took my two steps. But modern people expect another step. They have a different standard for evaluating a religion. They want to know if they can trust it morally.

Modern people expect to know if they can trust every moral claim about a religion or philosophy before they jump into it. Think about this for a minute. Why do they have this expectation? I’ll give two reasons, but I’ll only focus on the second.

1) Religions and philosophies aren’t chosen these days because they’re true but because you agree with them. People chose a religion as an endorsement of the philosophy they already hold. It’s like getting a historical, cultural stamp of approval that backs up what you already believe.

2) They want an answer to this question because this is how modern religions and philosophies are evaluated.

Buddha 1I’m finding that more and more of my non-Christian friends approach spirituality in a semi-Buddhist way, so I’ll use that religion to make my point.

Buddha was an agnostic. He didn’t make claims about God; in fact he said it was a waste of time to desire to know what God is like. In his opinion, caring about God too much hinders you from real enlightenment. What matters is living right, thinking right, and feeling right. The patterns of feeling, thinking, and living that you develop will give you personal peace. But Buddha didn’t claim that he got his stuff from God. No, he thought hard and came up with this philosophy. He then told people to follow him by thinking hard. The only test he offered people for evaluating whether or not Buddhism is “true” is personal experience. Huston Smith (the most famous professor of world religions) summarizes Buddha’s approach and includes a few quotes from the sage himself:

“On every question personal experience was the final test of truth. ‘Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument.’ A true disciple must ‘know for himself.’”[1]

Not every person in the West thinks just like this. Not everyone connects their line of reasoning to Buddhism. But there are similarities among hard-working pragmatists, socially progressive secular humanists, well-meaning agnostics, generous atheists, and sweet and carefree New Agers. Ultimately they want to find a life-philosophy that helps them be good not bad, be good enough for ‘god’, or feel good today.

So, when I go on and on about historical arguments for the Bible and its factual nature, people yawn. Other people seem interested but unaffected on a spiritual level. The textual question doesn’t matter to them, nor does the historical question. They want the moral, life philosophy, personal peace, ‘be good’ question answered.

It’s an important question. And in the next post, I’ll explain how Christianity actually answers it.



[1]Huston Smith, World Religions, 98. Quotes from Woodward, Some Sayings, 283.

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Jon Marshall

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Jon lives in Culver City with his wife and three little children. They’re trying to plant a new church and enjoying watching God do amazing things. Jon loves to teach people about Jesus and how to live and communicate his message today. Jon enjoys playing with his children, dating his wife, playing volleyball, surfing, walking, hiking, and spending time with people. Jon has his Ph.D. in Theological Studies (New Testament) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
  • Edward D. Andrews

    Jon Wrote: But then I got some texts from people who weren’t so convinced. “How can I believe a book that endorses slavery?” “How can I trust a book that is so backward about women?” “How can I trust a book that damns homosexuals?”

    RESPONSE: These questions are not uncommon, and have very simple answers. The reason that almost all Christians today, including their postors, are unable to address such things is, because apologetics is sold as being unneccesary, and teaching churchgoers how to effectively evangelize is ignored. Let us answer these questions.

    FIRST: Some people who have a closed heart and mind are not receptive to biblical truth, because they do not accept the Bible as the Word of God, not do they recognize God. In these few cases, you can apply Jesus words at Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is holy [God's Word and your evangelism time], and do not throw your pearls [Same] before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

    How can you know if someone is not receptive, beyond repentance? They ask Bible question to stump you, not get a ratianal, reasonal, logical answer. They will ask a question, you give a reasonable answer, they ignore ot, because it is reasonable, and ask another, as though they never asked the earliers one(s). Now, on to those, who really want to know.

    QUESTION: How can I believe a book that endorses slavery

    RESPONSE: The Bible does not endorse slavery. God through Solomon wrote,

    Ecclesiastes 8:9 English Standard Version (ESV)
    9 All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.

    God does not approve of ‘men having power over other men to their hurt.’ There was a death penalty for anyone kidnapping or selling humans.—Exodus 20:10; 21:12, 16, 26, 27; Leviticus 22:10, 11; Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

    Slavery under the Jewish, Old Testament law, allowed Israelites to sell themselves into slavery, in order to avoid starvation and homelessness. It is more of selling themselves into employmnt services. Some, who came out after they got their finances right, were more well off than their masters, that is employers. (Exodus 21:2; Leviticus 25:10; Deuteronomy 15:12) Jewish scholar Moses Mielziner stated that a “slave could never cease to be a man, he was looked upon as a person possessing certain natural human rights, with which the master even could not with impunity interfere.” The fact that a Israelite slave would prefer to stay with his master after he had worked of an amount of money or service, shows that this was not abussive. We should not evaluate the Israelite method, based on other culture abuses.

    The Romam Empire was a culture of slave owners and slaves. Thus, some who became Christian, would have had slaves or servants. Were they thereafter abusive slave owners? No. (Philemon 10-17) Today, we have Christian employers and employees. Do Christian employers mistreat and abuse Christian employees? No. 300 hundred years from now, maybe the society will not be of employer employee relationships. Maybe everything will be on barter-trade. Will they look back with frowns on employer-employee relationships, because some big businesses were not good emploers. Should Christian employers be judged by the other’s actions. If you want a more detailed explanation, visit this link:
    http://christianway.us/issue/september-2013/article/all-christians-are-expected-to-carry-out-the-work-of-an-evangelist1

    QUESTION: “How can I trust a book that is so backward about women?”

    RESPONSE: The Bible was not backward toward women. In fact, the Mosaic Law and the New Testament gave women equal rights as humans. Yes, men are heads of the house, and women are to be in subjection to that authority, but subjection does not equal less human. We are in subjection to the United States government and its laws and rules, but we have no less rights than President Obama, Congress and the Supreme Court. Woman was created as man’s counterpart. This means equal as to being human, but simply corresponds in a different role. It means they complement each other.

    At Genesis 3:16, where God said man would dominate woman, this was not what he wanted, it was a warning of what was to come, because of imperfection and inherited sin. He was simply telling woman what she could expect from wick, sinful men. Men have abused their position as the head.

    Under the Mosaic Law, women were to be cherished. They were to be respected as to sexual relations, and never abused. They were equal under the law. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with women heros, outstanding women. (Sarah, Rahab, and Abigail) Some wre even prophetesses, such as Deborah, Huldah, and Miriam. HOWEVER, wome were abused under Rabinic Judaism, which had nothing to do with God, and was rejected by God and his Son, Jesus. Jesus rebuked the Judaism, and gave women equal rights back, explaining to the Pharisees thay they abused the Law, misinterpreted it.

    QUESTION: “How can I trust a book that damns homosexuals?”,

    RESPONSE: The Bible does NOT dam homsexuals, it condemns the practice of homsexual activity. Same sex attraction is a part of inherited sin, like any other missing the mark of perfection. Man was not created to have sexual relations with another man. The desires to even do so, were not within Adam and Eve, but are a result of inherited sin. I have given much to the above. For a deeper explanation of this subject, please see:

    http://christianway.us/issue/april-2013/article/does-god-approve-of-same-sex-marriage

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