As Assistant Pastor of a large Methodist church in close proximity to a dozen colleges, Keith Lowder understands the importance of students being grounded in their knowledge of scripture. He has seen the struggles that arise in the lives of young adults when their handle on the Bible is lacking.
Keith said, “I’ve worked with a lot of twenty-somethings who may have been part of a strong youth group during high school, but were unprepared for the challenges that college life throws at their Christian worldview.” Lowder observes, “Tough questions about certain Bible passages are a struggle for many. Young adults frequently elevate experience above scripture anyway, but when trust in the Bible goes, this becomes the norm.”
Nothing exempted in the culture of doubt
A number of recent media releases are contributing to people’s doubts about Christianity and scripture. Many websites (some of which are intentionally aimed at teens) are devoted to debunking the Bible. Books like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and Bart Ehrmann’s Misquoting Jesus have brought coverage to “the new atheism,” along with questions about the Bible’s integrity.
Many of the questions raised by these high-profile skeptics are on the minds of youth and college students I meet. People of all ages want to know: “Can the Bible stand up to serious scrutiny?”
Every generation has its share of critics who attempt to prove that the Bible contradicts itself. The good news is that virtually every conceivable quibble over the problem passages was plausibly answered long ago. Still, the questions of seekers and objections of critics deserve thoughtful consideration and credible answers. Let’s look at two commonly raised issues.
A common Old Testament issue
Skepticism over the Old Testament is sometimes based on moral or philosophical grounds. Some one may ask, “How can I accept that the biblical God is loving and merciful? He told Israel to wipe out the Canaanites and others simply for the crime of being different?” Phrasing the question this way leads the average person to see themselves as having more compassion and a keener sense of justice than the Old Testament God. Still others conclude that such Old Testament accounts are embellishments, merely glimpses into ancient Israeli national pride.
As hard as it may be for our 21st century minds to accept, we must approach the Biblical record accepting that that God is sovereign over all of creation. The universe is His to do with as He pleases. We are not more righteous than God, and He is not culpable before us. The Canaanites were an ungodly people whose societal norms included things like child sacrifice and bestiality (see Leviticus 18). The people of Canaan fought against the Israelites, and left unchecked, would have exterminated this nation through whom God has promised to send the Savior. God did not cruelly or hastily “put a hit” on the Canaanites— over 400 years of opportunity was allowed them, in which to turn from their sins (see Genesis 15).
Common questions about the New Testament
For obvious reasons, the trustworthiness of the New Testament is vitally important to Christians. Author Bart Ehrmann says of our written records of Jesus: “Even though we might desperately want to know the identities of the authors of the earliest Gospels, we simply don’t have sufficient evidence.” He continues, “We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals.”
Yet other scholars examine the same evidence and conclude that the original text can be known and its content trusted. Irenaeus (an early defender of Christianity, discipled by an actual follower of John) seems to contradict current assumptions about what was known of the New Testament writer’s identities: “Matthew composed his Gospel among the Hebrews in their language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome, and building up the church there. After their deaths, Mark— Peter’s follower and interpreter— handed down to us Peter’s proclamation in written form. Luke, the companion of Paul, wrote in a book the Gospel proclaimed by Paul. Finally, John— the Lord’s own follower, the one who leaned against His chest— composed the Gospel while living in Ephesus, in Asia.”
On this you can depend
A few of the self-proclaimed internet infidels pride themselves on being ex-Christians, or “recovering evangelicals.” Some of the more vitriolic non-believers remark about having come from churches where questions and critical thinking were “off limits.”
This is sad, because one of the duties of the Christian is to worship God through continual nurture of one’s intellect (Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:2). Teens and college students should know that there are solid answers for the tough questions, and that their church leaders are willing to invest the time to help in digging them out.
Bible-detractors in our day are effectively spreading their message of doubt through popular books, skeptic’s webrings, and via YouTube content. Many of the individuals impacted by these apologists of unbelief are inquisitive young adults. Let’s make sure that your teen is not one of them.