Looking for help with brother's anti theism

I’m trying to find ways to talk to my brother about my faith, and help him re- investigate Christ as an option.
Note, we were raised Roman Catholic at churches that were very works-based and very much, “do as I say.”

That said, his biggest gripe is that ANYONE came be saved, independent of what they have done. Repeatedly, he says things like, “even a child Trappist can be saved if they ask for it!?” He’s incredulous that this could be the case, and see it as a major reason not to buy into Christianity.

RZIM-C, what do YOU think it’s the best approach here? (He also frequently raises some rather academic qualms and regurgitates weird ideas here’s gotten somewhere like, “if you don’t give 10% of your things to the church you’re going to hell.” I’m tempted to send him Case For Christ for these…)

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No where are Christians commanded to give 10 percent. That was an old testament law for other reasons. Yes we should give to the church to help but there is no set rule on when and how to give. And it doesn’t say we will go to hell over it. I think its best to give him the Case for Christ cause I don’t think he’s as informed as he thinks he is.

Anyone can be saved who truly accepts Christ. Yes I do believe a young child can accept Christ if they have reached a level of understanding. Now when that level is I don’t know. Some kids mature faster than others mentally and emotionally. I think its something you take on a case by case basis. Most with him I would address the hurts he may have went though. He seems really hurt by something that went on in the church. Maybe talk about it a bit and let him get it off his chest then you can better see where he’s coming from and address things with a better understanding.

:slight_smile: God Bless

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That said, his biggest gripe is that ANYONE came be saved, independent of what they have done. Repeatedly, he says things like, “even a child Trappist can be saved if they ask for it!?” He’s incredulous that this could be the case, and see it as a major reason not to buy into Christianity.

If I can just briefly deal with this issue that your brother has in regards to the very real Christian belief that no one, the child rappist included’, is incapable of receiving redemption from our Lord. It is fundementally a Christian belief that there is no sin so great where redemptions power is not infinitely greater, for ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’ Roman’s 5 20

God doesnt look at our sin as much as he looks at our separation, from which all sin and evil are ultimately derived. I believe in part that this is why the command to be good and to do good is never as biblically emphasized as much as the call and command to repent is-
God knows that “the imaginations of every man’s heart is evil from his youth’ Genisis 6:5, and that “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? - Jeremiah 17:9
The interesting thing is that these passages equally categorize all people as possessing this evil heart. 'All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” Romams 3:23.

So when your brother is doubting Gods goodness for the reason that God would save someone who’s done something as horrendous as, say, Hitler did to jews, or the Child rappist did to the child, as horrible as those things are, and as irredeemable as those things to us seem, we have to realize that within each of us there is the capacity for every kind of evil that has ever existed, and as uncomfortable a truth as this may be, it is an everpresent reality for man in his fallen state.
So in a way, your brother doubting Gods goodness in this matter may really be your brother wrongly overstating his own.
[please know that I mean no disrespect in saying this. its common to some degree in all of us]
We should all ask ourselves the question that Jesus asked the man in the story of the "labourers in the vineyard:
Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ -Matthew 20:15 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew20:15&version=NASB

God sees the corrupted root at the level of every superficial pretense that we put on, and the exact reasons for why we put them on, and he knows that none of these reasons are purely good. We dont operate at this level of understanding, and if we did, we may just be able to see a piece of our own selves in the most horrific individuals who’ve ever existed.

A reflection piece posted on the C.s lewis institute touches on this topic I think nicely, heres the link

http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Natural_Life_and_the_Spiritual_Life

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That’s a great question, @EvoFaith. What’s the best way to share Jesus with him?

If you want him to see Jesus you have to remember that Jesus is God and God is love (recall the lecture @Michelle_Tepper gave in the core module). That’s rule #1, love your brother the way Jesus loves you.

Next, I would get really, really good at asking questions. Two simple and effective questions to ask are “What do you mean by that?” and “Why do you think that?” (plus appropriate follow-up questions). The reason we ask these questions is to get content to deal with and the correct entry into the conversation.

Typically, objections are thrown out as soundbites without too much thought behind them, so when you ask the person ‘what do you mean by that?’ he or she has to stop and spell out what he or she means. This is usually where misgivings or wrongheadedness is exposed, but now you have some content to discuss.

The 2nd question opens up the motives behind the question or objection. In your brother’s example, “Why can child rapist be saved?” a good reply would be, “Why do you think it’s wrong for a person who wants to be saved because they realize raping children is wrong and they need to turn their life around?” The response will give us much more clarity as to how we can answer the questioner over the question. For instance, the response of “It’s wrong because bad people should go to hell” requires a much different conversation than “Because I was raped as a child and I can’t forgive my offender” despite having the same objection.

I hope this helps your conversations with your brother. I’d also recommend reading Tactics by Greg Kokul, it’s very helpful in navigating these types of conversations. Feel free to DM if I can be of help :slight_smile:

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Thanks, all for the suggestions. I began a conversation with him over the holidays and, well, I didn’t handle it well. It passed right bye before I recognized it was happening.

HOWEVER, it came up again and I got him to agree to read Case For Christ if I sent it to him. This should be huge, since it addresses many of his issues with the Bible itself.

Still trying to work out an angle on the whole, “bad people getting saved is bad” thing.

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That is such good news that you were able to have a conversation with your brother and he agreed to look into things further.

So, he agrees that God exists; because he acknowledges the existence of good and evil? in atheism, as Dawkins has so rightly pointed out; there is just matter/energy - there is actually no good/evil. things just are. to admit to; and discuss the fact that there are moral obligations, admits that there is a moral law giver.

There also seems to be the notion of so called ‘bad people’ and ‘not so bad people’, and perhaps ‘good people’? The thinking in all of our hearts is “I’m not as bad as that other guy”;

Of course, what Hitler did is much worse than stealing a paperclip. Hitler will be judged and punished in relation to the wrong he committed; as opposed to someone being punished for stealing a paperclip.

I wonder if the answer lies in this article; in particular the CK Chesterton quote:

What About the Personal Questions?

There is, of course, much more that could be written as we consider the conceptual questions raised by moral absolutes. What about the personal questions?

A couple of years ago, I found it interesting that while doing a mission at a university in the UK that had few professing Christians on campus, the vast majority of students filling out our surveys said that they struggled with guilt. The truth is that we can think about moral values as abstract concepts for hours, and it has no impact, but it takes one second’s worth of a bad decision to make a lifetime’s worth of regret.

We have gotten so good at convincing ourselves that we are relatively good that we never seem to stop and think: “Well, what about the bad parts then? Does anything happen to them? Do they need to be accounted for?” One of the most famous letters written to a newspaper was by G.K. Chesterton. The Times had run an article entitled “What’s wrong with the world?” to which Chesterton had written the following reply:

Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours, G.K. Chesterton.

This is no glib reply. In two little words, Chesterton points us to the profound reality that we are, each and every one of us, broken, and in desperate need of forgiveness . Isaiah writes these solemn words: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”11 We all stand on the same ground before the cross. We all carry guilt. We are in need of forgiveness. And we long for justice.

The atheist tells us that there will be no judgment, no day of reckoning, and that the only justice we can hope for is whatever can be meted out by our law courts in this life. You are left with cases like Jimmy Savile: a legend in his own lifetime, enjoying public praise and adoration, huge wealth, being awarded an OBE and being knighted, and then dying a hero. There is nowhere to go with the horror of the broken lives that we are only now discovering have been left behind in his wake. No justice.

Richard Dawkins writes in his book River out of Eden, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”12

It is hard to believe that he could be serious. The world is still reeling from the shock of the images of decapitated heads of children and adults paraded like trophies. Are we really to believe that this was ultimately neither good nor bad? I couldn’t disagree more with Dawkins.

Immanuel Kant famously wrote in Critique of Practical Reason, “Two things fill the mind with ever increasing wonder and awe…the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” He was right to be awed by it.

There is the persistence of a plumb line—a standard that is independent of us that simply will not go away—and we all know we have transgressed it. No explanation outside of the Judeo-Christian worldview will account for the existence of that standard, the guilt that is very real, the need for forgiveness, and the longing for justice.

Look again at the Cross: the justice of God, the judgment of God, the mercy of God, the love of God, the holiness of God, and the forgiveness of God are all in the person of Christ. God himself embodies the good, overcomes evil, and makes a way for us.

The existence of objective moral values not only gives us a compelling reason to believe in God but points us to some of our most profound needs and draws us to the God who deals with our guilt, offers us forgiveness, and ensures justice.

At some stage in the future you might be able to point him to the standard that Jesus pointed out; absolute moral perfection before God. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount;

  • it’s been said “thou shalt not commit adultery”; but I say unto you “whoever looks at a woman to lust, has committed adultery in his heart”
  • it’s been said “thou should not murder”; but I say unto “whoever has hatred in his heart, has committed murder”.

God’s standard of morality is absolute perfection. No-one is without sin. All have fallen short of this perfection (Romans 3:23).

I think you have to get him to the point of being ‘lost’ (full understanding of where he stands before God morally) before he can become ‘saved’.

Romans 3 spells it out plainly, all have sinned, and that in verse 19-20 “no-one is justified by the deeds of the law: but the law shows that all are guilty before God”

All Have Sinned

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.

10 As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
13 “Their throat is an open [d]tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become [e]guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

So moving on from there, your brothers issue with “bad people becoming saved”; is his concern that ‘bad people’ stem from a perceived lack of justice for wrong-doing?

The Gospel states that Jesus is both completely Just and the Justifier of all those that come to Him. He has taken our punishment, and God is completely just in declaring people forgiven who come to Jesus in faith.

God’s Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

I’m reminded of a section towards the end of the book by John Lennox “Can Science Explain Everything”. (another good book for the skeptic, I keep a copy in my glovebox of my car, hoping to give it out to someone after a conversation).

Conversation on a train
The main difficulty here is the concept of “religion”. I have tested this by asking many people what they think a religion is. The general consensus is that religion is a way of relating human beings to something beyond themselves, something transcendent, using teaching, rituals and ceremonies. A religion usually consists of rituals of initiation, a path to be followed on the basis of prescribed teaching, and an entry into the world to come based on merit gained on the path.

I vividly recall discussing this in a very unusual set of circumstances. I had been lecturing in a church in northern Hungary and was on my way by train via Budapest in order to catch a flight home from Vienna. I found my reserved seat in a second-class carriage and sat down. At once I began to feel uneasy about the seat—an experience I had never had before. I first thought that I was in the wrong seat but a check on my ticket showed that was not the case. It then occurred to me that I should go and sit in first class. This conviction became so strong that I got out of the carriage and walked to the front of the train and found there were two first-class carriages—one was shabby and old, and the other seemed brand new. As the train was about to leave, I tried to get into the shiny new carriage but bizarrely found I could not move one leg in front of the other. I began to panic, thinking I was having some kind of seizure. But when I turned towards the shabby carriage I found I could move, and so I dived in just as the train pulled out of the station.

I just about fell into the seat near the door of the compartment since the two window seats were occupied. At once I felt relaxed and normal again but very puzzled by what had happened.

I closed my eyes to get some rest and became aware of the two men in the window seats speaking quietly to each other in a language I could not understand. After a while they changed to French, which I could understand and speak, so I wished them good day and we chatted a little about our respective jobs. They were both senior international lawyers: one an ambassador, the other a judge from an international court. I explained I was a mathematician.

The conversation lapsed and I was beginning to doze off when one of them suddenly said, “Voyez les croix!” (“Look at the crosses!”). He indicated a cemetery through the window and then asked no one in particular, “Are there any Christians in this country?” I replied by telling them that there were indeed many Christians, and I had been spending a week with some of them, teaching them from the Bible.

“But that is not rational,” came the reply. “You are a mathematician; how can you possibly take the Bible seriously? And, in any case, we can approach God directly, even in the desert. We don’t need intermediaries like Jesus and Mary to help us.”

After more conversation, during which I said that my Christian faith was evidence-based the other man said this: “Look, we have another three hours on this train. Would you be prepared to explain to us the difference between Christianity and our religion?”

I asked them what the essence of their religion was and then I looked around for paper and pen to illustrate my answer. Not finding any, I noticed that the floor of the carriage was quite dusty and so I drew the diagram below with my finger in the dust asking: “Would it be fair to say that your religion amounts to this?”

image

“There is a door of initiation at the beginning, perhaps a ceremony of some kind, or it might even be your birth into a particular group, that leads to your starting a path or way indicated by the wavy line. You have people to teach and guide you (indicated by the academic hats), and the path goes up and down according to your success in following the path. You then come at death to a final assessment, indicated by the scales of justice where your life is scrutinised; and whether you are permitted to advance into a glorious world to come depends on your good deeds outweighing your bad ones.

“Since it is a merit-based system, no matter how good your teachers, advisers, gurus, imams, priests or rabbis are, they cannot guarantee success at the final assessment. In other words, it is very like a university course: you have to satisfy certain initial requirements, you follow the course and then sit the final examinations. No matter how good and kind your professors and teachers are,
they cannot guarantee you a degree since that depends entirely on your merit at the final exams.”

The two men agreed that this was not only what they believed but that it was what all religious people believed—that it was the essence of religion. Not only that, but they also agreed that religions had a great deal of moral teaching in common. “Well, then,” I said, “that means that I am not a religious person”.

“But you said you were a Christian,” they replied.

“Yes, I am a Christian, and what I now need to say is in direct answer to your original question: what is the difference between what I believe and what you believe? But let me say first that I agree with you that there is much moral teaching in common. Take, for example, what is often called the ‘Golden Rule’, one version of which says, ‘Treat others in the same way you would like them to treat you’. You will find that in every religion and philosophy under the sun, including those religions and philosophies that do not believe in gods of any kind.

“The differences arise in what religions have to say about how you relate to God or the gods. My illustration shows the common view that you share with many others. However, the Christian message is very different. It does not consist in a merit-based acceptance by God at the final judgment. Christianity teaches something utterly radical at this point. It tells us that we can be accepted at the beginning of the path. It teaches that the initial step is not a rite or ritual or ceremony performed on an infant or adult, but it is a step of commitment to a person, Jesus Christ, that involves believing that he is God incarnate, who has come into the world to give his life as a ransom for our sins, which alienate us from God.”

At this point I drew a cross in the doorway at the beginning of my sketch in the dust on the floor.

“Now,” I said to them, “if you want my answer to your question, please listen and try to understand it before passing judgment on it.”

“Carry on,” they said.

“Here is what Jesus said: ‘whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.’ (John 5 v 24). The context is the astounding claim by Jesus that he is going to be the final Judge of humankind.”

I turned to the judge in the window seat. “Mr Judge,” I said, “suppose I presented my case to you, and you declared me to be free; would I be right to believe you?”

He showed a burst of indignation: “Of course” he said, “I am the judge, the final assessor, and if I say you are free, then you are free.”

“Well, that is exactly it,” I replied. “Jesus is the highest- level judge in the universe. And he says that if we trust him personally, he will declare us to be right with God on the grounds that he has himself paid on the cross the penalty of the guilty verdict that our sins have merited. Moreover, the evidence that this is true is, as the early Christian apostle Paul said to the philosophers at Athens, that God has given assurance to all that this is so by raising Jesus from the dead.”

There was silence in the carriage for quite a while and then the ambassador said to the judge, “There is a great difference between Christianity and what we usually think of as religion”. Turning to me he said, “And it all depends on who Jesus Christ really is”.

“Exactly,” I replied.

They then told me the following story. That weekend they had been attending a high-level conference in Vienna and found they had a day free. They asked for an embassy car to take them to Budapest and, after spending most of the day there, they started on the return journey. Their car broke down just outside the train station. They had no option but to take the train.

“We don’t travel by train,” they explained, “We haven’t been in one for years.”

“Then we meet you on the train and have a conversation of a kind we have never experienced, not even in the leading universities in the world that we have attended. How do you account for that?”

“Very simply,” I replied, “I think there is such a thing as divine guidance and this is an example of it.”

I relate this story not just to help us see the difference between conventional views of religion and the heart of the Christian message. I have told it to make another important point. You see, God does not just “exist” in an academic, philosophical way. He is alive and active in the world, working in our lives, reaching out to us, speaking to us through creation and ultimately through his Son Jesus Christ. I have had far too many “coincidences” in my life to put down to blind luck; this was just one of many.

How we relate to God
I have often used the picture[76] that I drew on the floor of the train, and I sometimes reinforce its message by amplifying it with another. Imagine that I meet a girl, fall in love with her and decide to propose to her. I approach her and give her a gift-wrapped parcel. She asks what it is, and I tell her to open it and I will explain. She finds in it a popular cookery book. She expresses appreciation, and I then say to her that the book is full of rules and instructions on how to do excellent cooking. Now, I really like her and would like her to be my wife; and so I say to her that if she keeps the rules and instructions and cooks for me to a very high standard for, say, the next 40 years, then I will think about accepting her. If not, she can go home to her mother!

It is a ridiculous scenario of course, and if she threw the book at me and never spoke to me again, I would be getting far less than I deserved. Why? Because my proposal is insulting to her as a person in the extreme. It suggests that I am going to wait for years to see how she performs in the kitchen before accepting her.

We would never dream of treating someone like that. That is not how relationships are formed. Yet, the remarkable thing is that this is precisely the attitude many people take towards God: they try to pile up their merit in the hope of one day gaining God’s acceptance, as in my illustration of the wavy path. Anyone can see this method doesn’t work with our fellow men and women. It won’t work with God, either, since God is the person in whose image we are made. And it is often our pride that hides this from us. It is remarkable how many people seem to be prepared to work for God to earn their salvation, yet they are not prepared to trust him.

It is worth emphasising once more: according to Christianity, “salvation” means exactly that—action on the part of God to rescue those who could not help themselves. At its heart is the magnificent doctrine of the grace of God. It says that, if they will, anyone can be forgiven and find a new life and friendship with God—whoever they are; whatever they have done.

Lennox, John. Can Science Explain Everything? . The Good Book Company. Kindle Edition.

Hopefully this is a little helpful?