Conversation with a 26 year old who left the church in high school

Here is a summary of the conversation held Tuesday August 18th at a Taco Bell between me, a Christian brother and his agnostic friend from work:

  1. Background – he was raised in church, and around the mid-teenage years, he started to have more and more questions that couldn’t be answered. Many of his questions seem to center around the Bible, who Jesus is and which religion of the many is correct. He appears to be agnostic about God’s existence, but open to evidence for all of his objections – he’s neither hostile nor apathetic toward Christianity. During these mid-teen years, his parents gave him the choice whether he would go to church or not. So, he decided to stop going and has never been back since then. He still talks to God, even though he’s not sure if He’s really there or not. He believes that Jesus was a real historical person. I did ask him how he came to that conclusion about Jesus? He said that he’d read about some research that confirmed He was a real person. Of course, I told him that was a good starting point. But I also reminded him that the same sources that tell us that Jesus was a real historical person, tell us about His deity and miracles.
  2. The Bible – I explained that the Bible is not just 1 book, but it is actually 66 books written by 40 authors (who, in many cases didn’t know each other) over 1500 years. Yet the Bible has one message – the salvation of mankind through Jesus Christ. He corrected me – saying that well, that message is only in ½ of the Bible (the New Testament), because Jesus doesn’t appear in the Old Testament. I told him that Jesus claimed to be God, so, faith in the one true God has always been the basis of salvation – from the beginning to the end. The Old Testament people looked forward to the promised Messiah and we now look back to the actual Messiah and are saved by faith in Him. I told him about the phrase that the Old Testament is “Christ concealed” and the New Testament is “Christ revealed”. We also talked about how the Bible is an amazing book – it was attempted to be eradicated many times (talked about Diocletian edict and Voltaire) but it still survives. Talked about the dead sea scrolls. It is the most stolen book, it is the most printed and purchased book. He was speaking about Judaism, so we covered the topic of prophesy, how the Messiah is talked about in many places in the Old Testament (which is the Jewish Bible).
  3. Manuscripts – the Bible has more than any literature from ancient history – not even close. We have close to 6,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and close to 24,000 total (including other languages – Latin, Coptic, Syriac, etc). Also talked about the science of textual criticism which allows us, with a great degree of confidence, to determine what the originals said (even though we don’t possess the originals).
  4. Sin – he understands conceptually what sin is. And from a Christian point of view, he knows he’s a sinner and would go to hell. We shared with him the reason Christ came and why he had to die – that we owe a sin debt that we cannot pay. My other Christian friend shared about the wrath of God. He asked whether it legitimate to believe in God just to avoid hell. We shared that it is ok to start there (the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom), but not to stay there. Once he becomes a believer, the Holy Spirit will come to live in him and he will love God and His Word. I gave the analogy of how you can both fear and love your earthly father and know that he loves you too, even though he punishes you and that it is similar with God.
  5. The disciples died to get this truth out – they could’ve recanted and they would’ve been spared.
  6. New Testament and extra-biblical sources report the same general storyline (spoke about Josephus and Tacitus). Many of the non-biblical sources (who are hostile to the Christian faith) corroborate many of the facts of the story of Christianity.
  7. Jesus’ resurrection – covered “the minimal facts” argument. Here are the historical facts that we know about Jesus (scholars, both skeptical and believing, agree on these):
    1. Jesus was a historical person – he did exist
    2. He was crucified on a Roman cross
    3. He was buried
    4. The tomb was found empty
    5. Many people (over 500) reported seeing him alive
    6. Belief in these events originated and grew in the very city where they occurred (Jerusalem)
    7. There are many theories that attempt to explain these facts, but the one that best accounts for all the evidence we have is the resurrection hypothesis. All the other hypotheses have deficiencies. (we talked about the disciples stole the body theory and the Roman guards guarding the tomb – we talked about the wrong tomb theory)
  8. Proof vs. Evidence: He said he needs proof, but I told him that we don’t demand proof in many other areas of our lives. For example we’ve never met George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, yet we believe they existed and did the things they were reported to have done. This food we just ordered, how do we know the people didn’t poison it? The average person exercises faith many times each day. You couldn’t live without faith. You can’t experience everything for yourself in order to believe it. Some things have to be taken on the authority of other people who have seen. I gave the example of a jury. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. That is not 100% certainty. It is more the approach of what is most likely to be true. I know of a cold case homicide detective who claims that every one of his cases is circumstantial – he’s never had a DNA hit – yet, he has won them all. So, circumstantial evidence can be legitimate evidence on which to base your beliefs.
  9. Miracles – he mentioned Jesus turning water into wine and touching a girl and she came back to life. We spoke about how if God created the universe, then that is the biggest miracle of all. Since He created the universe (and set up the laws of physics and chemistry), it is easy for Him to manipulate what is in the universe. Therefore, if He created the universe, then it is at least theoretically possible that the other miracles reported in the Bible happened.
  10. Consequences of Worldviews – we talked about who has more to lose if they’re wrong on their worldview. If his worldview is correct, then when he dies, he just goes into the ground. Nothing gained – just whatever pleasures he had in this life. At the end of it all, he and I are in the same position – non-existence – worm food. But if the Christian worldview is right, then we hit the jackpot and he will literally have hell to pay.
  11. Blind Folded men who are walking towards a cliff – some with parachute (Christians), others without parachute.
  12. Other religions – thinks that every religion believes it is the pathway to God. I tried to compare Islam and Mormonism for him. I talked about how both of those religions started with 1 man seeing a vision that no one else could verify. But in Christianity, 9 people who either directly knew Jesus or interviewed those who knew Him, wrote 27 letters and then were willing to die for their belief in His resurrection. Christianity is really unique among world religions.
  13. Objective morality vs. relative (societal) morality – he believes that all morality is based on your society – that nothing is wrong for all people, at all times and all places. I asked him about Hitler. He said that not everyone was for Hitler. Then talked about something else that would be wrong for everyone. I asked him if he thought, for example, torturing babies for fun is wrong for everyone at all times in all places? At first he said yes, but then as I explained that objective moral laws require an objective moral Lawgiver. Then he backed off and said “as much as it pains me to say, I have to say that it is not wrong for all people, at all times in all places”.
  14. Neutrality – we talked about how you cannot be neutral towards Jesus. He said that you’re either for Him or against Him. If you choose not to “vote” you’ve voted for the other side by default.
  15. Liar, Lunatic or Lord – I told him about C.S. Lewis’ famous trilemma. He said that a friend of his had given him a copy of ‘Mere Christianity’ to read and he was familiar with it. So, I told him that a person that said the kind of things that Jesus said is either an evil Liar (if He wasn’t God and knew it) or a Lunatic (if He really wasn’t God, but was deceived into thinking he was) or He really was Lord – that was the other option. Although, one more option has been added as of late – Legend (like Santa Claus). This legend hypothesis is that Jesus really was just a man and thought He was just a man, but his followers, over time started to deify Him – like first He was 25% of a god, then He was ½ of a god, then ¾ of god, then finally God Himself.
  16. Would be become a Christian? – I asked him “If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?” and he answered yes. I told him that’s a good sign, because, believe it or not there are actually people who answer no to that question – they say they don’t want it to be true. I told him that this shows me that God is working on his heart now – the fact that he answered that – and also the fact that he’s even here talking to us for this long.
  17. Knowledge doesn’t save – we made sure that he knew that even after he believes beyond a reasonable doubt that Christianity is true, that doesn’t save him. He then needs to take a step of faith and trust in Jesus. We used a bridge analogy – like the Golden Gate Bridge. He could do all this research on each of the supports holding up the bridge – researching into how they were designed, seeing who manufactured them, what kind of weight they hold, etc. But ultimately, he’ll never get to the other side unless he places his faith in that bridge and drives across it. In our analogy, we explained that Jesus is the bridge.
  18. Eagerness – after this ~ 2 hour conversation, he was still willing to keep talking – we had to stop the conversation. I gave him a free copy of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” and wrote my name and phone number inside in case he’d like to talk more. He said he would be willing to do this again. He promised to read the book – he said he could probably read it in about a week. I told him that book was instrumental in giving me confidence that Christianity was actually true. He thanked us and looked forward to talking again.

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