Ask Greg Koukl (February 10-14, 2020)

Marvin, first you need to know that my information is somewhat second hand, since in my university experience (over 85 campuses to date) I haven’t engaged a lot of “deconversion” former Christians. From pieces they’ve written, though, and also from polls addressing the issue, I do have a sense of some of the things going on.

Principally, Christians that “lose their faith” frequently never had much confidence in it to begin with. The current data shows that those who jettison Christianity in college have already begun to fade in junior high and high school, but only went public when they entered the secular environment of the academy. Simply put, we lost them early while they were still in church under our watch.

Their chief general reason for dropping out is this: The questions they asked in church as teenagers where never answered—and often were never even welcome. Since they had no good evidence Christianity was actually true, they had no good reason to stick with it when the cultural pressure in the university pushed them away from Christianity rather than towards it.

Here’s another issue that may initially surprise you until you think about it a moment: sex. It’s much easier to follow the rules when friends and family and youth leaders are looking over your shoulder. Move hundreds or even thousands of miles away, though, and everything changes. There are few external incentives encouraging the Christian to be virtuous. Just the opposite. To complicate matters, a recent refrain from non-Christians is that if God exists He can’t be good since He doesn’t allow us to satisfy our sexual impulses—however varied they might be—at will. This is compelling for young people looking for love in all the wrong places.

The third significant speed bump for college kids is a host of issues regarding the Bible—slavery, patriarchy, apparent ethnic cleansing and genocide, sexual restraints, etc. These are tougher issues because they require big-picture thinking about God’s designs and also an understanding both of the purpose of the Mosaic Law and the prevailing cultural conditions in the ancient near east that the Law was speaking into and was, in many cases, improving.


Hello Greg!

Here is my question sir.

How can Christianity be firmly shared in a culture of diversity as the view that makes the most sense of the world as we find it? How can christianity fit in the realm of relativism without violating the person?

I am looking forward for the response. Thank you very much Greg :slight_smile:

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First, my heart goes out to you in this difficult situation. It sounds like you’re holding up well so far, though, and I’m glad to hear it.

The question “Why did God let this happen? Is it God’s plan?” is complicated since there is more than one answer depending on what sense of “God’s plan” you have in mind. In one sense the answer is “No.” In another sense the answer is “Yes.”

First, a qualifier. Virtually every question that starts with the phrases “Why did God…?,” or “Why didn’t God…?” simply cannot be answered with any certainty, since the answers to those questions are usually hidden in the mind of God and He rarely reveals to us what He’s up to.

Two different elements are in play here: the big picture of evil in the world, and the smaller picture of specific evils that happen at specific times in specific places hurting specific people. The second element is the subject of your question.

First to the larger issue of evil in the world, though. This question has plagued Christian thinkers and philosophers for ages, but the general consensus is that evil in the world is not an argument against God if it’s possible He has a good reason to allow it for a time—usually to accomplish a greater good. Virtually everyone—Christian or not—who has thought about that option considers it sound. But what greater good could there be with a plague like the Corona virus? That, of course, is difficult for us to tell.

I want you to think for a moment about hardship you may have encountered in the past—even evil things that have happened to you—that you now look back on and can see God’s good plan resulting from the evil that was done. Most Christians who have been around for a while have experiences like that. One clear biblical example is Joseph. He endured great evil and hardship against him, though God accomplished a great good out of it. As Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…in order to preserve many people” (Gen. 50:20).

This brings us to two different notions of God’s “plans.” Of course, it is never God’s desire (one sense of “God’s plan”—His moral will) that evil things happen, yet man’s rebellion against God has resulted in a world that is broken. Now God purposes to take the bad and use it for good (the second sense of God’s plan”—His sovereign will), just as He did with Joseph. Remember, at no time during Joseph’s entire life of suffering did he know how God was working. Only at the very end did he see it. Yet, God was there, nonetheless.

I read a line from a secular author this morning regarding those who have fallen prey to terrible circumstances like you are facing. He wrote, “What wisdom there is in the universe that decided your paths were necessary, I don’t understand.” We do understand, though, at least in part. The world is broken and so are we, and God is working in the midst of it to bring good out of it even if we don’t see it now.

So we know there is a kind of a war going on and we know where to turn and whom to trust in the darkest hours. But as to why a particular soldier in this war dies on a particular spot on a particular day in a particular battlefield is a question only God knows the answer to. We are in the middle of this great story of God’s working on the earth to bring redemption to a broken world, and there are casualties. That is why Jesus told us, “In the world you have to be tribulation, but take courage. I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

I have written in more detail about these things in The Story of Reality , chapters 14 and 23. You may want to take a look at them if you have the opportunity

One final thought. Your question is often brought up by skeptics who are looking to discredit the Christian worldview based on evil in the world. I know that’s not your concern, but still you may be facing people that raise this issue. For them I have a simple question: What is the alternative?

Let’s say the skeptic refuses to believe in God because he sees the evil around him. Notice, though, that when he rejects God, the evil around him doesn’t simply disappear. It’s still there. The question remains. How does he make sense of evil in the world now that he’s an atheist? What resources does his materialism provide for him to answer that problem from within his worldview, and what resources does atheism provide to bring comfort and solace in the hardest of times?

You see, even with the unanswered questions we face as Christians, the alternatives fare far worse. An atheistic worldview cannot make sense of evil in the world. By contrast, what you see in China now is exactly the kind of thing we would expect to see if the Bible’s view of the world were accurate, even though we are deeply distressed by these events.


Mr. Koukl @scaryreasoner, I am looking for further insight on what you’ve written to Marvin. Can you recommend a book on this topic? Thank you!


Hello Greg, my name is Jim. What would you say is the easiest way for my three children under the age of eight when they ask me where did God come from? Who made God? To help them understand in there age group how to understand it? Thank you

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Hi Greg Koukl,
I just listened to your Reasons to Believe interview with Joe Aguirre and Ken Samples. Very informative! Thank you!

How would you recommend approaching an agnostic who is convinced that we can’t know what happens when we die (until we die)? I have a good friend who I have had many great conversations with about Christianity but that is the line he keeps on using. And even says he takes comfort in not knowing… What would the pebble be that you would put in his shoe?

Thanks for all you do!


We have a wonderful small group Bible-study that has been meeting for several years. We are family. My husband and I are 60ish, and the others are young couples just starting families. That gives us extra grandchildren to love. One precious couple with 2 little girls have just gotten the diagnosis that their 3 year old has leukodystrophy. This illness slowly eats away at the white matter of the brain. The diagnosis is middle childhood demise. It is genetic so their baby will need to be tested also. They are strong in their faith, but hurting so much that they are just able to function. I know the most important thing for them is that we listen and be there. Our group and our church are supporting them the best we can. There is so much wisdom in what you just said that could maybe be helpful to them and those of us supporting them. They often ask “why.” There are many things we don’t have answers for, but in my own life I have seen “yet God was there nonetheless.” Prayers for them would be so appreciated!

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Marvin, this one is fairly easy for me since I have two favorites I think are relatively easy to follow and are really powerful evidences for God.

Let me introduce the first one — my favorite — with a question: What is the most frequently raised objection against theism of any sort? If you answered “the problem of evil,” you’d be right. There’s a reason for this. There is one thing every person knows, no matter where he lived or when he lived. Everyone knows the world is broken. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. That’s the complaint.And they don’t simply means that things happen they don’t like. That’s relativism. They mean there really are evil, wicked things that take place (objectivism).

Since this awareness is universal—it’s an obvious and undeniable feature of reality—we can use it as an ally to make our case for God. Contrary to popular belief, the problem of evil is not a good argument against God. It’s actually one of the best arguments for God. The problem with the problem of evil is that if God does not exist, there can be no real evil to object to. Here’s why.

The complaint about evil itself requires transcendent, universal laws that govern the world—objective morality—in order for real evil to exist as a violation of those laws. Transcendent moral laws require a transcendent lawmaker—God. Saying the world is “supposed” to be a certain way requires a “sposer,” so to speak—someone who intended the world to be much better than it is.

If there is no God, then there is no transcendent moral lawmaker. If no lawmaker, then no universal moral laws we’re all obligated to obey. If no moral laws, then no broken laws. If no broken laws, then no problem of evil. Simply put, then, if there is no God, there can be no evil (or good, for that matter).

Yet there is a problem of evil (we all know this), so there must be broken laws, so there must be laws, so there must be a transcendent law maker , so there must be a God.

If you want the philosophic mumbo jumbo, here it is. This approach is classically called the moral argument for God’s existence. Stated as a syllogism it looks like this:

  • · If there is no God, then there is no objective morality (no lawmaker, then no laws).
  • · But there is objective morality (evidenced by the problem of evil).
  • · Therefore, there is a God.

The form of the syllogism is valid ( modus tollens ), and the premises are true. Therefore, the argument is sound.

My second favorite argument for God’s existence is a little easier. It has a fancy name—the Kalam cosmological argument—but it’s really easy to understand. By the way, a “cosmological” argument is any argument for God’s existence that’s based on the mere existence of the cosmos, the universe.

Here’s the basic idea.

  • · First, for anything that came into existence, there must have been something that caused it to come into existence. Clearly, effects have causes. Pretty basic, and entirely consistent with our common-sense experience of the world.
  • · Second, the material universe (the cosmos) came into existence sometime in the past. Virtually everyone affirms this point because of the widespread and, I think, justified belief in the Big Bang.
  • · Therefore, the material universe must have had a cause.

Put most simply, “a Big Bang needs a big Banger.” The bang didn’t bang itself. Note, by the way, that this line of thinking puts the cause of the cosmos outside of the material universe. So the cause would have to be immaterial, intelligent, powerful, and personal— since only persons can start a causal chain of events.

This argument doesn’t prove the God of the Bible, of course, but it gets as pretty close, and it’s a great springboard to other arguments and other evidences for Christianity.


Alandis, as I mentioned, this issue isn’t my specialty, but you may find some help in Stonestreet’s and Kunkle’s recent book, A Practical Guide to Culture . Also, David Kinnaman of the Barna Group has done a bit of writing on this issue and you might check some of his titles (e.g., You Lost Me ) to see what he has to say. I haven’t read his work, but I know this is an area of specialty for him and his work may provide more insight for you.


Roald, it’s clear you’ve done some thinking on this, and I agree with virtually everything you’ve said—your responses are good both from a biblical perspective and a commonsense one. You might even add to your biblical argument Jesus’ comments in John 9:1-3.

If I were in a discussion with this person, my approach would be to ask a lot more clarification questions to find out exactly what the person had in mind and then I’d want to know why that person believed that this philosophy was an accurate take on life.

I could be mistaken, but my suspicion is that this point of view is informed by a New Age perspective that says everyone is God and people create their own reality. Therefore, everything that happens to them is, in a sense, their own fault since they created it.

Here is a paragraph I wrote in The Story of Reality (chapter 9) that might shed more light on the matter:

“Divinity comes at a price, though, one you may not have expected. Since (according to this view) you are the master of your own fate, then any ill that befalls you—any anguish, any disaster, any tragedy of any sort—is no one’s fault but your own. You are responsible for your own reality (you are God, after all). There is no one above you whom you must answer to, true enough. But there is also no one above you to turn to when life goes south. There is no one greater than you to whom you can appeal because there is no one but you. You are in charge, but you are alone and completely on your own. That is the price you pay for being God.”


Jim, let me start answering your question by offering you some basic content to the issue that I included in The Story of Reality , chapter 7. Then I’ll suggest a way of taking this content and breaking it down a little so children might understand it better. Here’s what I wrote:

“It’s pretty common, nowadays, to hear people ask the question, ‘Who created God?’ Children ask it frequently, of course, but we expect it from them. Pretty much everything they encounter came from somewhere else, so it’s natural for them to ask where God came from.

“Adults, I think, should realize this is not a proper question. I have never met anyone (believer or non-believer) who thought that if God existed—at least the kind of God we’re talking about—He would be the kind of being that needed to be created. That’s why it strikes me as strange when these very same people ask, ‘Who created God?’ The question presumes that God was created, but no one believes that, certainly not Christians, so this is not a question any theist has to answer.

“An eternal, self-existent Being has no beginning, so He needs no creator. This doesn’t prove such a Being exists, of course. It only shows that those who believe in God do not have to answer inappropriate questions about His origin.”

Okay, that said, here’s how I would approach this issue with a youngster. Notice that the question is what’s called a “complex question,” that is, a question that’s based on an assumption that has not been established. The statement, “Are you still beating your wife” is it an example of a complex question and the flaw is obvious.

Same thing here. The question “Who created God?” presumes that God was created. That’s the presumption you want to flush out in your conversation with your kids.

You might say to them, “When you ask ‘Who created God?’ you’re assuming something. What are you assuming when you asked this question? For example. If I asked you ‘Are you still cheating on your tests in school?’ what would I be assuming with that question.” Let them chew on it a bit until they get the right answer— about their tests and about God—maybe with a little help from you.

Next you can ask them, “Okay, since the question assumes that God was created, what makes you think He was created? Is that what the Bible teaches? [interaction] No, the Bible teaches that God is eternal. Do you know what that means? [Interaction] It means God never had a beginning and He will never have an ending. Do you see that it doesn’t really make sense, then, to ask the question about the beginning of a being that had no beginning?”

I think you get the idea. Pursue an interactive conversation with them where you tease out these concepts with questions. I think they’ll catch on pretty quickly.


Sure, Teha, and thanks for the question. In the book, Tactics , I chart a game plan that is easy to follow to help Christians initiate conversations in a comfortable, safe, and productive way. The key to the game plan is using friendly questions to draw the other person out, to get some sense of their views, and to understand their reasons for the views they hold.

I realize I haven’t said anything about getting to the Gospel with this technique. That’s because I’ve discovered it’s much easier to navigate in conversations with people using questions, then watch carefully for an opportunity to move towards the Gospel when an opening presents itself. This is a less aggressive approach than some people take, but I’ve found it to be not only the most effective when talking with others, but it’s also the easiest to employ for Christians who are a little more on the timid or bashful or shy side.

If you want a question that will take you immediately into a spiritual conversation, here is the one I suggest: What do you think happens when you die? You might lead into the question by first asking if the person you’re talking to would be willing to share their opinion about something you’re curious about. Then tell them it’s an issue you’ve been thinking about and you’re interested in other people’s point of view. Then you can ask the question.

Listen to them carefully and if there’s any ambiguities in their answer ask more clarification questions. Finally, once you understand their view, ask them why they think this is what happens after they die. Now you’re looking for their reasons for their view, if they have any.

I find that asking questions like this allows me to be much more relaxed and allows the other person to be more relaxed, too. I’ve also seen some pretty surprising results in the process. It’s amazing what the Holy Spirit will do with this approach.


Greg I also know of Simon Greenleaf. I took a class from R. C Sproul on the History of Apologetics in 1986. Walter Martin had huge impact on my life.

I am working on a paper on unity in The Church. One of the great sticking points is Apostolic Succession as all 4 of the early Church Groups attending Council of Nicaea I and Council of Constantinople in 4th Century held to this and still do. The question I have is how do The Traditions that came out of The Reformation deal with this subject and the term Apostolic?

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Hi Greg.

In your experience, you could indicate the five greatest and most difficult objections that people who do not believe in Jesus Christ raise.

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@scaryreasoner thank you so much for you response and love that paragraph you wrote. I think that pretty much sums up that line of thinking. Really appreciate your time.

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Wow, this is good!

Karl, the trends of the culture can be a bit daunting in light of clear scriptural teaching about the Christian view of reality. There is a temptation many Christians have to present a “kinder and gentler” version that seems to fit better with the “culture of diversity” and with relativism. This, I think, is what’s happening in what has come to be known as ”progressive Christianity.”

In a diverse culture, the challenge we face is that Christianity simply seems to be out of step with more “enlightened” trends. Keep in mind, though, that this has always been the case for Christianity. 2000 years ago Christian views and Christian values were vigorously countercultural. There was no attempt made by Christians, though, to try to form-fit Christianity to the culture’s ideas, to blend into the cultural backdrop. Yes, Paul did say he would become all things to all men in order that by all means he might win some (1 Cor. 9:22). Yet he was speaking only of morally neutral, cultural trends that didn’t compromise the deep truth of scripture.

In the same way, we should blend into the culture that we find ourselves in as much as possible in non-moral areas that don’t compromise the basic truths of the Bible. Christianity simply does not fit in a relativistic view of the world. Nor does such a view provide any meaningful grounds for respecting the personal rights of individuals.

I realize that in our culture today taking exception with another person’s view is defined as dehumanizing, as “violating the person.” However, the relativistic view provides undergirding that impulse provides absolutely no basis for us to respect anyone. Only the Christian worldview based on the idea that there is a God who grounds objective morality and who made human beings in His image can do that.

This is the conversation we need to have with others in a gracious, genial, but direct fashion. We can show that Christianity is, as I like to put it, “the best explanation for the way things are” by demonstrating with kindness and sound reason that truth is not relative, and there is a God who grounds human purpose, meaning, and value. The current ethic simply cannot do it. Those who try, have their “feet firmly planted in mid-air.”

There is a wonderful section in the article “Creating a Culture of Resilience” that was featured in Christianity Today, August 2006. Author Mark Sayers writes this:

“True relevance to this culture will not come by accommodating its demands, but by developing the kinds of people who can resist them. If we can cultivate resilience rooted in the Gospel, able to withstand even tremendous scorn and pressure, we may yet have a posture that will be effective for mission in the post-Christian West—once our neighbors’ impossible dreams of utopia without restraint come to their inevitable, disappointing end.”

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Dylan, my question of your agnostic friend would be, “Why are you convinced that we can’t know what happens when we die until we die?” Your next step will depend on his answer.

It may be that he’s convinced we can’t know anything unless science confirms it. There are a number of problems with this view. First, it’s self-refuting since the statement itself—“we can’t know anything unless science confirms it”—is a statement held to be true by those who believe it, yet cannot itself be confirmed by science. The view commits suicide—to use the language in Tactics —since it cannot fulfill its own demand for legitimacy.

Second, there are a host of things we must know to be true by other means than science in order for science to get going in the first place. That includes the truth of the basic reliability of our senses, the truth of reason and logic, the truth of inference, the truth of cause and effect, the truth of the uniformity of causes in a natural world, etc., etc.

Finally, science has in fact weighed in on this issue, in a certain sense. There is a massive amount of scientific research that has been done on near death experiences (NDEs). I don’t mean popular bestsellers you find on the rack at the drugstore. I mean serious, peer-reviewed, scientific analyses that lend a tremendous amount of evidential credibility to the idea that our souls are separate from our bodies and can be in other physical locations and, it appears, in a nonphysical dimension in a way that can be actually tested.

I recommend you take a close look on the book Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality by philosophers J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas. Pay special attention to the documentation of what are known as “remote viewing” events.

Although I understand your friend’s doubt about knowing what happens when we die, there are good reasons why such unmitigated skepticism is not justified. Also, I don’t really understand the comfort he takes in his conviction. It reminds me of the person who refuses to go to a doctor because he might find out he has a deadly disease. There is an odd sort of comfort in that ignorance, I guess, until the truth is finally known. By then, though, it may be too late.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to answer this! I really appreciate it and look forward to using your suggestions in my conversations. I’m also looking forward to reading that book! God bless!

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