The number of “ex” Christians is disconcerting to me if not downright alarming. Note that this article is not concerned with the debate over whether or not it is truly possible to be an ex-Christian.
When I was younger it was rare to encounter people who completely rejected their faith in Christ, but now it seems that 90% of the atheists and agnostics I encounter on Internet forums claim a prior faith in Jesus. There are several factors beyond the sheer numbers that are particularly disturbing:
1. The apostasy is not always based upon the person’s desire to live in “sin” (sex, drugs and partying), but often they are persuaded to “jump ship” by intellectual arguments and scientific facts. This runs counter to what Christians tell each other. For years I was taught that no believer would fall away unless they are being seduced by the “pleasures of the world”–and my experience seemed to support this belief; but this “hedge” is no longer valid–and merely offers a false sense of security.
2. Atheism has become increasingly more aggressive against Christianity (and other forms of theism). I’m not saying that atheists have become more “mean and nasty”, but many are not so content to “mind their own business” until Christians attempt to evangelize them. Actually, atheists are often more “kind and gentle” than the Christians they encounter–and they have creatively adopted the internet and media to capture unsuspecting (and unprepared) Christians. They have re-tooled their arguments; and even on the Christian forum where I engage with them, the skeptics outnumber the Christians. This ratio seems even bleaker when you count only the Christians who are thoughtful and loving in their approach. Far too many would-be apologists merely drop “drive-by” snarky remarks which do not reflect positively on Christianity.
3. Ex-Christian sites actually provide moral support and comfort to “de-converted” individuals distraught over the loss of their previously held trust in God (and expectation of eternal life). They are also eager to “minister” to Christians seriously struggling with doubts about their faith. They are genuinely motivated by compassion for the loss of fellowship, betrayal, emptiness and other negative emotions that new de-converts often feel.
4. The majority of Christians seem oblivious to the reality and darkness of this battle–and the importance of winning it. We tend to “preach to the choir” or converse among ourselves–providing ourselves answers that are only able to convince the already convinced. Even those answers may only be effective so long as they are unchallenged. What should we expect when one of us is thrust alone into an environment that is hostile to our faith?—for example when our youth leave home to enter the university. Some statistics say that 75% of them de-convert before day 1 expires.
Caveat–Ok, let me qualify point #1. Even so-called “honest investigation” de-conversions are rooted in sin–it’s just more subtle–and arguably more “deadly”. In fact, in the “old” days when people understood the true nature of human frailty they listed it as one of “the seven deadly sins”–(have you guessed it yet?)–pride. In this case pride manifests itself by leading you to think you are “better” than others who seem not so motivated to investigate “truth” as meticulously as do you. Pride is sneaky, pervasive, and virtually impossible to banish. It is a certain hazard for any would-be apologist. Like gluttony (another of the seven-deadly fame) where we can’t just quit eating altogether, pride lurks ready to bite you in the butt at every turn of human endeavor. We either laugh at the bite marks or more often fail to notice them altogether–either way the poison makes its silent march toward the heart.
Nevertheless, Christians bear a responsibility to face all the facts as they are and not as we wish them to be. Otherwise, how can we be genuinely “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope we have?” (1 Peter 3:15) This process is hazardous because counter-Christian arguments can be persuasive and even seem insurmountable to those not prepared to deal with them.
We will talk further about dealing with doubts and how to properly question your faith so stay in contact. For now, suffice it to say I urge Christians to seek solid confirmation of what you believe–i.e. seek something that is based on more than just a good feeling or wishful thinking. Fortunately for me, the Lord has blessed me with some empirical experiences (quite inconvenient for the voices claiming natural existence only) that insulate me against clever arguments and even scientific data that might seem to call Scripture into question.
Therefore, it is safer (than it would otherwise be) for me to tread through the “valley of the shadow of death” (facing tough challenges to my belief) where I can digest and scrutinize the enemy’s current tactics. As you can imagine it is not a pleasant process to view volumes of material promoting darkness and despair. It is dirty (and hazardous) work, but some of us have to do the “recon”. Otherwise Christians will only be able to persuade the choir and will be providing outdated answers to those who do get caught in the enemy’s trap and find their faith being stripped away. Armed with fresh knowledge seasoned with wisdom, we can offer insight, encouragement and testimony to help those whom the enemy wants to devour.
So, have I answered the title question? (Do Christians defend their faith effectively?) You be the judge. Perhaps the better question to ask is “How well do you defend your faith? Well, do ya. . . !?? (a little “Dirty Harry” lingo) Together we can all help one another hone our skills–like iron sharpening iron. This is what we must do.
Let’s get crackin’,