Hmm, I have to give this one a think. I would say it depends on the person and where they are from. For some people, their impression of Christianity is what they see on TV or Film. That also includes American politics, or Christian pop culture etc. This leads people to perceive Christianity as judgmental, homophobic, misogynistic, critical, out of touch with reality and the like. For other people, they think of Christianity based off of their past experiences in the church growing up or engaging with Christian family members. Most often that is a negative experience that has turned them off to Christianity altogether. Their perception of Christianity may be that Christians are hypocritical or only after money. I also have people come up to me sharing with me what they have learned from various internet searches or YouTube videos. These people have misconceptions about Christianity that truly are all over the place. Anything can be written on the internet and so you can only imagine the differing ideas people have. People who are influenced in this way tend to have more liberal mixed views on what they believe about Christianity or religion in general such as that all religions lead to God or that all religions are essentially all teaching the same thing. Additionally, this group probably brings with it many of “The Bible is full of contradictions” arguments.
For other people, they read a lot of works by Atheists who paint Christians, and religious people in general, as irrational, uneducated, illogical, non-thinkers, and anti-science. Often when people read this material they believe that God in the Old Testament is a monster or that God is a vile angry wrathful deity who makes His Son die and sends people to hell. But this group also creates the impression that Christians are stupid. This perception is the one that shocks me the most. How could you clump a whole bunch of people into the non-intellectual category that you don’t know? But, if you look at the way societies have functioned, creating negative generalizations about people groups is a regular occurrence.
Now, of course, there are other misconceptions people gather about Christianity, but those are just a few. The most common misconception is more of a merger of several of the above misconceptions: the judgmental, homophobic, misogynistic… line of thinking, and the Bible is full of contradictions yet stupid people ignore those and follow it anyways.
My approach to these questions, is actually a bit similar. One thing that I have learned is that most of what I do involves changing the perception of how people view Christianity by creating a new picture. When I say, “God” people have one vision of who He is. I try to work hard to create for them the picture of reality that He actually is. That way, at the end of the conversation, if they are still resistant to Christianity, they are at least resisting the truth and not the false perception they previously followed. As soon as I am able to figure out where people are coming from, I can be more focused in my response. I think the key thing is to have a good general understanding of what is influencing the thoughts of a culture, and then you will know better how to address their issue.
I would also add that I try to help people approach the topic of religion in general from a more objective stance. See if maybe they can start over, mentally erase what they have previously believed, and take a step back to give themselves the opportunity to rethink how they should approach these issues. I know that sounds trivial, but often teaching people how to think and discover for themselves rather than me telling them what to believe is a better strategy. I want people to believe in Christianity because they have found it to be true, not because I convinced them. So, here are some ways I encourage people to think:
- State your truth claim, and back it up with at least three credible sources. You have to make an argument for something that can withstand being challenged.
-Example: I believe there are many gods and that the God in Christianity also believes that. (Truth claim). To prove this, I will gather information from conservative, not liberal, scholars both in and outside of Christianity who say the same. (credible sources).
- The minute you say one thing is true, you are eliminating something else from being true.
-Example: The minute I say I ONLY ate pizza for dinner, I am also saying (without words) that I did not eat a steak for dinner. A Truth statement is a one or the other declaration that excludes other things from being true. It is not a declaration that includes other possibilities that contradict it.
- We don’t get to create, decide or determine what is true, we discover Truth. Keep in mind, we don’t have to like the Truth, but we do have to accept Truth. Something may be true and we don’t like it, but just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not true. What we think is irrelevant.
-Example: Someone digs up Jesus’ body tomorrow and can prove it’s Him. All of Christianity then crumbles because it needs Jesus’ resurrection to have happened in order to be true. At the same time, someone proves that Hinduism is true. That now means we must leave Christianity and follow Hinduism. Whether or not we like Hinduism doesn’t matter. If it’s true, then we have to accept it, even if it has teachings we don’t like.
- We have to ask ourselves if we are prepared to accept whatever truth we uncover. This is the hardest of the 4 points to do. Often, if we don’t like what we uncover, we say it can’t be true. That helps us deal with the truth better. But we can’t do that. Truth exists regardless of what we think of it. We must take an objective and rational approach to discovering truth and not an emotional one. Our emotions, what we feel, what we think, what we want to believe, doesn’t make something true.
-Example: If my husband says that he doesn’t love me, and I can see through his actions and words that he means it, then what I wish was true or want to be true about us doesn’t matter. I have to accept the painful reality that he no longer loves me. My emotions can’t make something true. In fact, they often mislead us into believing something is true that isn’t.
- Check your sources. There’s a lot of people out there writing nonsense and misleading people. You need to make sure you are reading information by scholars not a random YouTube or Facebook video.
Thank you for that question, Cody!