How (Not) to Make the Best Case for God & Jesus

Mark Driscoll is the edgy pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. He tends to make his fellow fundamentalists angry because of his insistence on being “relevant” and willingness to use swear words. But in spite of a hipper veneer, he’s still one of them. He believes women shouldn’t be pastors, that homosexuality is a sin against God, that the Bible was inspired by God, that Jesus is God and rose from the dead, and he’s even a staunch Calvinist, which means he believes God predestines some people to be Christians and they have no choice in the matter (and those who are unchosen have no choice but to go to hell).

I give that quick introduction in case you didn’t know anything about Mark the Cussing Pastor (as he was so dubbed in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz).

Making the Case

Driscoll is now blogging occasionally at Newsweek’s On Faith blog. One of his recent articles is on how to make the best case for God to skeptics. This is an excerpt from his answer:

So, as Christians, our aim is not to convince people of some god in general, but to introduce them to Jesus in particular….

Helpful to this end is using the evidence for a personal Creator who handcrafted our world for human life by explaining the principles of intelligent design and such things as the fine-tuning argument and the argument for irreducible complexity….

It is also important that people learn to understand how God speaks uniquely and authoritatively through the Bible. Acts that can aid in this include giving away Bibles (along with helpful Christian books) as gifts for people to simply read, bringing people to church to listen to the Bible preached, inviting people to small groups and classes to ask their questions about the Bible, and recommending good podcasts that would bring the Bible into the daily rhythm of their commutes, exercise workouts, and the like….

On a more practical level, acts of truly selfless compassion–done not for fame, notoriety, or to merit God’s approval, but done out of love for someone–help to reveal a small measure of God’s loving, merciful, compassionate nature.

Those methods lead up to telling the unbeliever about Jesus, who Driscoll believes is so amazing that just hearing his story can convert us poor sinners (at least the ones who are chosen, of course).

In other words, Driscoll is saying the best way to convince skeptics is:

  1. Give evidence of God by using the argument for intelligent design.
  2. Help others read and learn about the Bible.
  3. Show compassion.
  4. Tell people about Jesus.

Breaking it down into points makes it a lot easier to see what what poor advice this is for convincing skeptics.

Bad Advice

First, skeptics are not convinced by the intelligent design argument because it’s bullshit. It’s an argument from ignorance — it stems from ignorance about evolution, and it labels anything we don’t have the answer to as “GOD OF THE BIBLE.” The intelligent design argument will make no headway against an educated skeptic. This was once an important and convincing argument — before Darwin. Strike one.

Driscoll says that reading the Bible helps convince skeptics. Yet for many of us, studying the Bible is what lead us away from Christianity. For instance, there are no reasons to think any of the miracles in the Bible happened. You’ve got Noah’s Ark where all of earth’s millions of species — plus all the millions of dead ones in the fossil record — fit two by two on a boat, along with a year’s worth of food. Ax heads float, people rise from the dead, the sun stops in the sky (meaning the earth stopped rotating), water turns to wine, people walk on water. It’s typical mythic history, but not historical events. Then on top of all the miracles, there are the contradictions, the scribal insertions, the historical errors, and the fact that the earliest gospel about Jesus was written generations after Jesus died by an anonymous author. It’s not a reliable book to base belief about a deity or a religion. Strike two.

Then Driscoll says showing compassion can help convince skeptics. This is nonsense. There are Christians who are jerks and there are Christians who are nice — neither have anything to do with the historical claims of Christianity. Strike three.

Notice that everything Driscoll has said so far could apply equally to any religion or cult. These are common methods of converting someone to a cult — convince them of your deity, teach them about your holy book, and be nice to them.

The only one that is specific to Christianity is telling people about Jesus. But the problem is, where does that information come from? How do we know it is true? What evidence is there for his miracles and resurrection? The earliest source talking about the life of Jesus is an anonymous gospel written around 70AD  — generations after Jesus had died. I repeat, that’s the earliest source. The next gospel (“Matthew”) is based on Mark and also anonymous.

Why should we trust these gospels, when their entire purpose is to convert others? These writers had every incentive to make Jesus look miraculous to compete with the other Messiahs and gods. It’s playing a game of telephone with people who think burning animals make gods happy and demons make people sick. After a week, the stories would be inflated. After 40 years, people are raising from the dead and walking on water.

Driscoll is a disappointment. His advice will not inform people to convince skeptics — and perhaps that will further the cause of skepticism. With any luck, some fundamentalists will wake up and realize that if this is the best way to convince skeptics, maybe they’re not right after all — maybe they’re involved in a cult.

One can hope.

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