Poor reasons to reject Christianity
Today’s feedback is from D.Y. from the U.S., who asks for assistance with a wayward college-aged son who has walked away from his faith.
My son grew up believing in God, enthusiastically attending church, bible studies, church camp, young life events, etc. Now 20 and in college he no longer believes & is bombarded with info contrary to the Bible & Christianity. He thinks the New Testament is a hoax written just to fulfill the Old Testament prophesies & give us something to believe. He says that only because he was raised in the bible belt was he to grow up as a Christian & that if he was born & raised in say a middle Eastern or far east country he would have adopted those beliefs to be true & therefore condemned to hell so Christianity is bad for that reason. Can you recommend a good way to interest him in searching for the truth & what resources do you recommend besides prayer? Also, if he accepted Christ as a young boy who was just following the motions of a salvation prayer & what he was taught, but has now decided to reject it, is he saved or is his salvation lost since he has turned away???
Keaton Halley of CMI–US offers the following advice, which may be beneficial to others in similar circumstances.
Very sorry to hear about your son’s departure from the faith of his upbringing. Christians have different views about whether a person can lose his salvation, so I will not address the question of whether or not he once was a believer, as this is beyond the scope of our ministry’s mandate. If he explicitly rejects the claims of Christianity now, though, then we should treat him as what he professes to be—an unbeliever. That means we should love him and witness to him and pray for him to repent and turn to Christ.
In your conversations, I recommend you try to focus on the reasons he has for unbelief. He says the New Testament is a hoax. Well, what evidence does he have for that claim? Why does he believe that? It’s only after he offers some reason or evidence that you can try to provide an answer (and spend some time trying to find one if you don’t immediately know how to respond). Until then, he’s only offered his opinion, with no reason to support it. So, try to get at the basis for the conclusions he has come to.
After he offers his reasons, it might be worth pointing out that even many secular scholars would not consider the New Testament in its entirety to be a purposefully orchestrated hoax. That’s a bit outlandish. Even many critics would acknowledge that the authors of these books sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead, for example. Even though the critics think that the authors of the Bible were mistaken, they would agree that this wasn’t a con job. So, you could explain to your son that his views aren’t even in line with mainstream secular scholarship.
Next, he tries to dismiss Christianity by pointing out that many people are not raised with those beliefs. Unfortunately, your son has fallen prey to a classic logical fallacy known as the genetic fallacy. (See Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation.) This is the mistaken idea that you can undermine a claim by tracing it to its source. But something is true or false regardless of how someone came to believe it. The origin of the belief is irrelevant to its truth or falsity.
To show how this reasoning is mistaken, you might offer your son the following parallel. Does he buy into this argument? It’s only because he was raised in the 21st century that he believes the earth revolves around the sun. Had he been born in Medieval Europe, he probably would have believed that the earth is stationary, at the center of the universe. Therefore, it’s bad to dismiss geocentrism as a false viewpoint, because it’s simply an accident of the circumstances in which he was born that he believes in heliocentrism.
No, clearly the case for heliocentrism stands or falls on the merits of the arguments for it, not on how many people have had access to those arguments. Similarly, the case for Christianity stands or falls on the merits of the arguments for it, not on how many people were raised in a culture where they were pressured to believe something different.
Notice also that your son is making the faulty assumption that people are sent to hell because they just had the bad luck to be born in a place where Christianity was not widely taught. But there are multiple problems with this. First, God is in control of where and when people are born, and whether or not they have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, so our circumstances are not accidental. Acts 17:26–27 says that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us … ” So, God sovereignly put people where they are specifically with the intention that they should “seek God” and “find him.” He did not leave people without witnesses to Himself. Romans 1 tells us that all people have the witness of creation that testifies to God’s existence. And, of course, God may reach people through many other means as well, like missionaries and so forth. His arm is not too short to save. Multitudes of people in Asia and the Middle East have come to trust in Jesus. So it is actually presumptuous to think that God has failed to give anyone sufficient evidence for the truth.
Second, the Bible teaches that the only people who end up in hell deserve to be there because of their wickedness. Focusing on someone’s alleged lack of exposure to the truth ignores the fact that they are not innocent victims of their circumstances, but sinful rebels against their Creator. All people know God in their hearts, yet they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18–19) and live lives that are not pleasing to God. Your son is presuming that these people in non-Western countries are basically good, and do not deserve hell. But the Bible teaches that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). We are sinful ever since Adam, and this is why we need a Saviour. The Bible says that we need to trust in Jesus because he is the only one who provided a solution to our problem. He died for our sins and satisfied God’s justice, whereas Muhammad, Buddha, and others did not.
Another important area to ask your son about is what he believes now, as an alternative to Christianity. He’s offered some criticisms of the Christian worldview, but does his new worldview fare any better? For example, he claims that Christianity is immoral for condemning people to hell. But can his own worldview even account for the fact that some things are immoral? If he does not believe in God, for example, why would there be any such thing as right and wrong? See Can we be good without God? and Answering a moral relativist.
Finally, you asked about resources you might share with your son. I would recommend that you first read any material that you plan to give him, so you can verify that it’s worthwhile and so that you can later discuss it with him. Even if he is unwilling to read what you give him, it would be good for you to be equipped to give answers. One book that I think might be helpful in your situation is Christianity for Skeptics, by Drs Steve Kumar and Jonathan Sarfati. It gives a nice overview of the case for Christianity and isn’t overly technical. But, as you learn more about your son’s specific reasons for rejecting Jesus, you might browse our website and webstore for other articles and books that tackle his specific objections.
You might simply share some of the points I’ve made in this e-mail as well. May God bless you as you pray for and witness to him, and may your son come to know the saving love of Christ.