You probably were assigned, too, to read books or articles by professors of ethics who argue, say, for legalizing not just abortion but infanticide, who argue for euthanizing all the elderly in a society, etc. Now, don’t misunderstand me here. I’m as grateful as the next guy for really well-thought-out critiques from non-Christian professors who do the necessary intellectual “pro-freedom” hammering for their students at the large universities they serve. May the God in whom they don’t believe give them long lives & careers! But truth be told, such professors have to (as secularists) do the battle without reference to any transcendent God or supposed “word” from him, her, or it. It never crosses their minds that there might be an objective way to evaluate religious claims. And I understand a guy or a woman like that!
Most religions just assert. They don’t offer what the New Testament calls an apologia—”a reasoned defense” as to how an unbeliever might test their claims in an objective manner. They don’t specify how a skeptic might be persuaded by factually based argument that their particular religion’s assertions are true. Christianity does. I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me that asserting is very easy to do! It takes very little talent to “assert.” But forming precise arguments for position X or position Y is harder.
In the field of “religion,” the usual theme is, “I believe in order that I might understand.” “Don’t question! First, just believe”—usually a blind, factually ungrounded (or badly grounded), arbitrary move! And the “promise” is that then and only then will you “understand.” Even Christians say things like this! Or some Christians naively believe that only they give testimonies. The obvious problem: same testimonies are made by adherents of other religions—religions which deeply contradict each other!
Now it is logically possible that all religions are false. What is not logically possible is that all of them are true! Edgar Sheffield Brightman (Boston University): “In a religion where both Roman Catholicism and Christian Science are true, you have a madhouse!” No wonder the skeptic says, “Everybody says that their particular religious book. Everybody says that theirs is inspired—Christians, Muslims, mystics, Scientologists, Mormons! I’m starting to think that all of you people are nuts!”
What do you and I say then? Unfortunately, many of today’s unbelieving professors at today’s secular colleges were never given half a chance to think about the Christian truth-claim in their young, formative years. More often than not, if later-to-be professors were born to Christian families, they never ran into anything more than subjective arguments about “the inward satisfaction” the family members got from being Christians. Pretty weak stuff—especially if someone is young and asking the “Why” questions, wants to think about things, wants to ask questions as to intellectual foundations.
And even their pastors were not of help to these young men & women. Why? Because most Christian seminaries no longer train their future pastors in the cognitive defense of the Christian claim as true (what is called “apologetics”). Then, to further complicate matters, more often than we think today’s unbelieving professors grew up in a heavily loaded “moralistic” version of Christianity. Suffocating—especially when authorities seemingly had no interest in the question of why such strange behaviors were so doggoned important or authoritative such that the young should obey them. They got no real answers when they, as young men or woman asked, “But why?”
And it was often not confined to their families’ “rules,” either; colleges are capable of doing the same thing! For example, some befuddled Christian colleges could decide that they were going to proudly distinguish themselves as “Christian” by declaring that their campus was going to be a dry campus—no alcohol allowed! I attended a non-LCMS Lutheran college like that. Young Norwegian and Swedish kids came there believing that Jesus was God and that the Bible was true. And they graduated not believing that Jesus was God or that the Bible was true! Why? Because of what the religion department taught them!
But let the admins discover a “pony keg” of beer in your room and you’d be kicked out of that same college! All of this is the perfect soil for [later] complete religious skepticism to develop (during or after college or graduate school years)! And, boy, does it ever. So, you graduates, I hope the college has helped you along these lines—even if you didn’t ask the questions in your younger years, I hope you had to do that during your years at the college. And gain, if we faculty didn’t help with such foundational questions, I apologize—not just for myself, but for all of us faculty here. But my bet is that, like it or not, your professors forced you to ask such fundamental questions as, “Why do you believe that Christianity is true?”
In closing, let me quote another obscure New Testament text for your consideration. (I never in my early Christian training ran into this text, let alone considered what it meant.) “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” (John 12:20-21) When we read “Greeks,” there are a lot of things we could say, but let’s confine ourselves to it meaning “non-Jews,” “outsiders”. For reasons you and I could never guess, “outsiders” who know absolutely zilch about anything in the Bible will ask you and me about Jesus Christ. It can happen in the most surprising of normal situations: a dinner, a cocktail party, waiting in line for a movie, in the mechanic’s stall, at the water cooler at the office… you name it! Will your college studies (and, I hope, an adult ed program in your parish that isn’t a total waste of your time!) help you to answer that guy or that woman who is asking? I really hope so.
Such questioners aren’t asking you whether you own a time machine, whether you can transport them back 2,000 years! They’re asking you to summarize the “plot line” of the Bible—and sometimes particularly what your knowledge of the Bible can tell them accurately regarding the Person and work of Jesus Christ. God sends people like this to us. And more often that we would ever guess, they are the “educated” of our culture! Many times, people like this are smart enough to know that “secularism” has never delivered on its utopian promises; perhaps they’re thinking that it never, ever can or will deliver?
They’re looking for alternatives to what’s being “sold” in our culture—especially in media and at most American colleges. Some begin to see that, down deep, today’s secularism is “the emperor’s new clothes”—that is, secularism is “naked as a jaybird!” They’re asking you for some basic help. They’re not asking you to tell them everything in the Bible. But they are asking about the core claim of historic Christianity, and they suspect it might have something to do with Jesus.
When such “Greeks” come to you (and come they will!), I hope we professors have prepared you for that conversation. We doggoned well should have. And not because we are a “Bible school.” We aren’t, never were, and never will be (important as those rare institutions are). I hope you’ll be able to draw not just on what you learned in Old Testament and in New Testament, but maybe also what you learned in biology, in history, in literature, maybe even in theatre or art history? Even if you can’t quote it from memory, you still might be able to recall the core sense of the most often quoted words written by the most famous apologist of the 20th century English-speaking world (C.S. Lewis):
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – British author C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
When the “Greeks” of our day come seeking Jesus, God grant that we accurately point them to Him—and particularly to His objectively demonstrated deity—as St. Paul says, “designated Son of God by His resurrection from the dead” (a public event, open to examination by skeptics of this and every age, Romans 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15). And that we point them to His central function as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—including your sin and theirs.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds though Christ Jesus to life that’s everlasting. Amen.