questions skeptics ask
This MTI blog series aims to help you and your readers sharpen your skills in communicating faith matters to secular readers – skeptics, seekers, and the spiritually disinterested.
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Do your secular readers–or your secular friends–ever doubt Christianity’s validity? Probably so.

Hurting people everywhere need God. Many are open to considering him, but have questions before they are willing to accept Christ. As we answer them, blending grace with truth, an increasing number of skeptics may listen and become seekers or believers. That’s what happened to me.

After trying as a teenager to please people and God, I was nearly expelled from secondary school for some poor choices I made. For some time afterward, in pain and anger I wondered, “Why would God allow this to happen to me after I had tried my best to please Him?”

Later, students in Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) at Duke University my first year helped me see God’s forgiveness as a free gift. They lovingly accepted me in spite of my sometimes relentless questions.

After trusting Jesus as Savior, I still had questions. Bob Prall, the local Cru director, took interest in me. At first his answers irritated me, but – with reflection – they made sense. I followed him around campus for two years, watching him interact with non-Christians. Today, as I encounter inquisitive people, much of my approach derives from my mentor.

How do you deal with questions and objections to faith that your readers or friends pose?

First, some guidelines. Pray for wisdom, for God’s love for inquirers (Romans 9:1-3), and for your questioner’s heart. If appropriate, briefly share the Gospel first. The Holy Spirit may draw your friends to Christ. Don’t push, though. It may be best to answer their questions first.

Some questions may be intellectual smokescreens. Once a Georgia Tech philosophy professor peppered me with questions, which I answered as best I could.

Then I asked him, “If I could answer all your questions to your satisfaction, would you put your life in Jesus’ hands?” His reply: “[Expletive] no!”

I don’t have complete answers to every concern you will encounter, but consider some short responses that might be useful.

Why is there evil and suffering?

Sigmund Freud called religion an illusion that humans invent to satisfy their security needs. To him, a benevolent, all-powerful God seemed incongruent with natural disasters and human evil.

God, though sovereign, gave us freedom to follow him or to disobey him. This response does not answer all concerns (because he sometimes does intervene to thwart evil) but suggests that the problem of evil is not as great an intellectual obstacle to belief as some imagine.

Pain’s emotional barrier to belief, however, remains formidable. Jesus understands suffering. He was scorned, beaten, and cruelly executed, carrying the guilt of our rebellion against God (Isaiah 53:10).

When I see God, items on my long list of questions for Him will include a painful and unwanted divorce, betrayal by trusted co-workers, and all sorts of disappointing human behavior and natural disasters. Yet in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection I’ve seen enough to trust him when he says he “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

What about all the contradictions in the Bible?

Ask your questioner for specific examples. Often people have none, but rely on hearsay. If there is a specific example, consider these guidelines as you respond:

  • Omission does not necessarily create contradiction. Luke, for example, writes of two angels at Jesus’ tomb after the Resurrection (24:1-9). Matthew mentions “an angel” (28:1-8). Is this a contradiction? If Matthew stated that only one angel was present, the accounts would be dissonant. As it stands, they can be harmonized.
  • Differing accounts aren’t necessarily contradictory. Matthew and Luke, for example, differ in their accounts of Jesus’ birth. Luke records Joseph and Mary starting in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem (Jesus’ birthplace), and returning to Nazareth (Luke 1:26-2:40). Matthew starts with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, relates the family’s journey to Egypt to escape King Herod’s rage, and recounts their travel to Nazareth after Herod’s death (Matthew 1:18-2:23). The Gospels never claim to be exhaustive records. Biographers must be selective. The accounts seem complementary, not contradictory.

Time and again, supposed biblical problems fade in light of logic, history, and archaeology. The Bible’s track record under scrutiny argues for its trustworthiness.

What about those who never hear of Jesus?

God’s perfect love and justice far exceed our own. Whatever He decides will be loving and fair.

A friend once told me that many asking this question seek a personal loophole, a way so they won’t need to believe in Christ. C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote, “If you are worried about the people outside [of Christianity], the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself.” If Christianity is true, the most logical behavior for someone concerned about those without Christ’s message would be to trust Christ and go tell them about him.

How can Jesus be the only way to God?

When I was in high school, a recent graduate visited, saying he had found Christ at Harvard. I respected him and listened intently. But I could not stomach Jesus’ claim that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6 NASB).

Two years later, my spiritual and intellectual journey had changed my view. The logic that drew me (reluctantly) to his position involves three questions:

  1. If God exists, could there be only one way to reach Him? To be open-minded, I had to admit this possibility.
  1. Why consider Jesus as a candidate for that possible one way? He claimed it. His plan of rescuing humans—”by grace…through faith…not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9)—was distinct from those requiring works, as many other religions do. These two kinds of systems were mutually exclusive. Both could be false or either could be true, but both could not be true.
  1. Was Jesus’ plan true? Historical evidence for his resurrection, fulfilled prophecy, and deity and for the reliability of the New Testament convinced me I could trust his words.

Isn’t Christianity just a psychological crutch?

Bob Prall often said, “If Christianity is a psychological crutch, then Jesus Christ came because there was an epidemic of broken legs.”

Christianity claims to meet real human needs such as those for forgiveness, love, identity, and self-acceptance. We might describe Jesus not as a crutch but an iron lung, essential for life itself. Christian faith and its benefits can be described in psychological terms, but that does not negate its validity. Evidence supports Christianity’s truthfulness, so we would expect it to work in individual lives, as millions attest.

I could never take the blind leap of faith that believing in Christ requires.

We exercise faith every day. Few of us understand everything about electricity or aerodynamics, but we have evidence of their validity. Whenever we use electric lights or airplanes, we exercise faith—not blind faith, but faith based on evidence. Christians act similarly. The evidence for Jesus is compelling, so one can trust him on that basis.

It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.

After discussing this, a respected psychologist told me, “I guess a person could be sincere in what he believed, but be sincerely wrong.” In the 1960s, many women took the drug thalidomide sincerely believing it would ease their pregnancies—never suspecting it could cause severe birth defects.

Ultimately, faith is only as valid as its object. Jesus demonstrated by his life, death, and resurrection that he is a worthy object for faith.

Questioners may be turned off because many Christians haven’t acted like Jesus. Maybe they’re angry at God because of personal illness, a broken relationship, a loved one’s death, or personal pain. Ask God for patience and love as you follow Peter’s admonition: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Want to know more?

Gratis online resources:

  • Is there a God?  How can we know? Does it matter? Is it just wish fulfillment, simply believing because I want it to be true?  A look at this important question, plus related issues and facts for your consideration.  Includes transparent, personal stories.  (Online video; 26:25)
  • Churches That Equip.  What these churches are doing to help their members answer the tough questions that nonChristians ask.  (Moody Magazine article)  French
  • Oh, No…It’s Johnny! TV clipFrom a popular evening talk show in Manila hosted by “the Johnny Carson of the Philippines.”  In this interview, Rusty and Johnny have told some jokes and talked about love, sex and marriage.  The subject then changes to life after death.  Johnny interrupts a good bit with questions; here he asks some questions that open the door for spiritual input.  Video includes several clips from various shows, but the “Johnny” show portion runs from the time marks 3:47 to 8:11 (4:24 length).

Adapted from Rusty Wright, “7 Questions Skeptics Ask,” Moody Magazine, March/April 2002. Copyright © 2002 Rusty Wright.

by Rusty Wright. Rusty is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

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