Here’s a question we’ve gotten in various forms in response to our Questioning Christianity sermon series:
Question: Why are we taking time to discuss other beliefs and worldviews rather than just focusing on what the Bible says?
Great question! If God’s Word is “our final authority in all areas of our faith and practice,” as one of our core values states, then why does it matter what other people believe about life’s origin, nature, purpose, etc.?
There’s a popular illustration along these lines that goes like this:
Agents and bankers don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying counterfeits; they only study authentic bills. Once they know the distinguishing marks of real money, they can easily spot the fakes.
When you apply this analogy to the questions we’re asking in this series, it can sound like this:
It’s a waste of time – and possibly even dangerous – to discuss wrong answers to the questions of origin, identity, purpose, morality, pain, and destiny. We only need to know the right answers. And those are found in the Bible.
First, it’s important to distinguish between counterfeit currency and counterfeit ideas. The first is a tangible object; the second is a concept or belief. It is enough to detect counterfeit money and pull it out of circulation. But a counterfeit idea must be detected and corrected.
With that in mind, consider a few reasons why we’re talking about a few common answers to each question, deliberately comparing and contrasting them to what Scripture says.
- We want you to know what the Bible says – and why it makes sense.
Some people have a Christian upbringing that’s as reductionist as, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The answer to everything was, “Because the Bible says so.” That may be true insofar as it accurately represents what the Bible does say, but where does the Bible say that, how exactly does the Bible say that, why does the Bible say that, and what does the Bible mean when it says that? The Bible itself answers those questions – and so must thoughtful discipleship. We’re not trying to produce automatons who can regurgitate “the right answers.” We’re training apprentices who are aware of the alternatives, have counted the cost, and have chosen to follow Jesus.
It’s kind of like this. If your parenting strategy boils down to “because I said so,” you’re going to run into problems. Sure, parents have actual God-given authority to instruct and discipline their children. And if your three year old demands to know why he must go to bed at 8pm, and he’s already overtired and not thinking rationally, “Because I said so” is a sufficient response.
But let’s consider another scenario. Your preteen comes to you and says, “Why can’t I have a smartphone? I’m literally the only person in middle school without a smartphone. Why can’t I have a TikTok and weCall and BeReal and Snapchat and Instagram?” You can answer, “Because I said so,” but that’s not the wisest or most helpful response.
Instead, you could say something like this: “I get it, and that’s challenging when everyone else is doing one thing and you’re asked to do another. But we’re not operating from the same values and priorities as other parents. We want you to focus on real, face-to-face connections with your family and friends, not virtual connections. We want you to play on actual teams where you learn life lessons about commitment and camaraderie. We want to protect you from some of the really harmful ways that social media manipulates your brain chemistry and contributes to insecurity, anxiety, and depression. We also want to help you keep a clean heart and a pure mind, rather than you being constantly bombarded by all the temptations that others want you to see.”
Now, you can disagree with this particular illustration, but do you see the point? When you compare values and viewpoints, and when you contrast outcomes, you’re helping someone understand the why behind the what. You’re enabling them to see the reasonableness of your position and the truth of how it works in the real world. And you’re giving them tools for wiser decision-making for themselves.
- We want you to see the beautiful truth of God’s narrative and the ugliness of false narratives.
The Bible itself doesn’t merely show you the truth. Beginning in the third chapter of Genesis, the Scripture starts to show us counterfeit ideas and where they eventually lead.
You know the story? God says to the first man and woman, “You can eat anything you want in this entire garden, except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat. For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (2:17)
Well, the adversary comes along and he starts telling an alternate narrative – aka, a lie. “No, you won’t die. In fact, the opposite will happen: your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil for yourself.” (3:4-5)
Then the woman starts telling herself yet another alternate narrative. “Well, I mean, that fruit does look awfully good and satisfying. I can almost taste it. And it does seem like it’d make me wise. What could possibly go wrong?” (3:6)
Understand what you just read. Right out of the gate, the Bible reveals one truth and two lies. God says, “I’m God; trust and obey me.” Satan says, “God is not good; he’s a deceitful control freak.” And Eve tells herself, “I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, to decide right and wrong for myself. How could something be wrong if I feel like it’s right?”
And we’re off and running through the biblical narrative – a narrative that is compelled to show us the stark contrast between where right beliefs and wrong beliefs lead us.
Another famous example of contrasting beliefs is the epic showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18.
Here’s the truth: Yahweh is God; Baal is not. The Bible says it. We should believe it. Yet the story is more powerful, more memorable, and more conclusive than that. Why? Because the prophet of God set up a public contest and gave the false prophets all day to make their case. And they couldn’t do it! Their god was silent because their god was nothing. Then, in a split second, the fire of Elijah’s God fell from heaven and the contest was over. “All the people fell on their faces and said, ‘Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.’” (18:39)
There are other examples where the psalmists, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all follow a similar pattern: not simply showing us what’s true, but also showing us what’s false, why it’s false, and what disastrous consequences falsehood produces.
Here’s the thing: A lot of ideas sound true until they’re contrasted with the truth. A lot of things our hearts treasure sparkle and glitter until the veneer rubs off. A lot of impulses look and feel good until the light comes on. We want you to see and hear both sides – both the beautiful truth of God’s narrative and the ugliness of false narratives. And we want you to fall in love with the surpassing beauty of Christ and his Gospel.
- We want you to make disciples of people who think and love differently than you.
Why have we talked about naturalistic evolution? About humankind as a highly developed animal? About traditional and modern identities? About consumerism, nihilism, liberalism, utilitarianism, relativism, neo-marxism, cynicism, annihilationism, and so on? Why waste time on things contrary to what the Bible teaches? It’s because this is what our neighbors believe. And we are called to go to our neighbors in love and to show them the better hope of the Bible’s grand storyline.
So, think about how this imaginary conversation would end:
“Hi, neighbor, what do you believe about the purpose of life?”
“I think it’s our purpose to be good, maybe to live and let live.”
“Hmm, so where do you think we find meaning in life?”
“In happiness, I guess.”
“Well, I don’t really understand what you mean or where you’re coming from. You’re 0 for 2. Can we just agree to stick to what the Bible says?”
That sounds arrogant, paternalistic, and uncaring. That’s not going to lead anyone to believe the Bible has more honest, meaningful, hopeful answers to life’s questions. There’s a better approach to sharing the message of Jesus than this.
Remember, we’re not just detecting error; we’re correcting error in the truth and grace of God’s love. Correction is not winning an argument so much as it’s winning a soul.
If you want to be conversant with people with other perspectives, you need to know something about what they believe. You need to understand something about the philosophies and hopes and assumptions upon which their lives are built. You need to know where those ideas borrow from Scripture to try to make sense of our world and where they go off the rails. It’s helpful to know where the self-admitted weaknesses, gaps, and inconsistencies are, that way you can ask about them – and help a neighbor realize where they’re relying on alternate faith more than they probably realized!
Notice in the Gospels how many times Jesus demonstrated this kind of understanding of human nature. Notice how many times he walked across an imaginary bridge to meet someone where they were in their thinking so that he could lead them from that place into truth and grace.
We’re not just telling you what to believe; we’re trying to show you why we believe certain things – and how and why those things correspond to reality.
We’re trying to show you the surpassing wisdom, beauty, and truth of Gospel – all of which are further amplified when you consider the alternatives.
We’re trying to give you tools to be conversant with your neighbors so that arrogantly winning debates is replaced with humbly winning souls to the Savior who modeled this so well.