Recently on the A Clear Lens podcast, a guest of ours from Apologetics 105, Rob Johnson, made a statement about one of his ministry’s goals, that he aims to help Christians stop using bad arguments that we’ve been propagating and start using good ones (if you want to know more about his ministry, click here). It strikes me as curious that we have at times been our own worst enemies, despite the fact that we have good reasons to support our faith, and common objections like the problem of evil, miracles, and Bible contradictions don’t actually hold any water.
But that got me thinking about why we actually hold to those bad arguments. Why is it that, when there are good arguments in favor of Christianity, such as the cosmological argument, extra-Biblical evidences for the resurrection, the outstanding accuracy of the Bible itself, the fine-tuning argument, and an array of philosophical elements that unanimously point to a sensible and well-ordered universe, we resort to failed and erratic items such as Pascal’s Wager, emotional experience, and fallacious appeals to authority? The answer I arrived at surprised me.
In truth, we are not our own worst enemies, if you count “we” as the church, which belongs to God and which He alone adds members to (Acts 2:44). Instead the problem is that there are those within the supposed gatherings of local bodies of Christ which are not followers at all, but rather are making play at Christianity. This is hardly without precedent. Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 19 that savage wolves would come from among them. Even more intriguing is the parable of Jesus wherein the enemy planted snares in with the wheat so as to sabotage God’s harvest – and it is not until the harvest that these enemies are to be revealed (Matthew 13). Historically, Biblically, Satan’s greatest allies have been hiding within the crowds of God’s people.
What has this to do with fallacious arguments for Christianity? A great deal. In the Old Testament, God referred to the fact that only certain kinds of people could be His followers. Not because God set out to make an exclusive club like a snobby fourth-grader with a giant “No girls allowed” sign, but because of the demands He makes as a righteous and just God. He has the right to make those demands. It is when others, claiming to represent God, offer a form of Christianity without those demands that Satan has truly infiltrated the people of God.
Take, for example, the man Hananiah. Hananiah was a false prophet who lived during the time of Jeremiah. While Jeremiah was preaching that the people of God would be delivered up to captivity, Hananiah was saying “well yeah, but you’ll come back pretty quickly, God told me so.” You can read the story in Jeremiah 28, but if I can spoil the ending – Hananiah dies for being a false prophet. But not before his preaching has drawn far more people after him than Jeremiah ever gathered by proclaiming the truth.
The reason, quite simply, is that Hananiah had more in common with the people of Israel than Jeremiah did. They weren’t truly following God. They were following themselves. When it fit in well with their self-interests to what God said for a while (i.e. to get God to deliver them out of captivity), then they went along. But their service all the while was truly to themselves.
Aldous Huxley explained this idea quite well in his novel Brave New World: “Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s been very good for happiness.” We always expect the tares to be these loud proclaimers of the worst sorts of theological apostasy – those denying the deity of Christ, proposing polytheism, or preaching some modern incarnation of Judaising Christianity or Gnosticism. But these are not the false teachers that church leadership ought to be most concerned with. The false teachers, the tares, that have been the most successful have been those preaching a gospel of happiness and prosperity—even at the cost of truth.
In terms of Christian culture, this is a very dangerous thing. To claim to come to God, but to be seeking happiness and joy as an end unto itself, that is described quite despairingly by Paul himself:
“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” – Philippians 3:18-19
We have a lot of false teachers who worship their appetites and desires, whose god is their belly, and being filled up with happiness is the point of Christianity. These are the most dangerous false teachers in modern times, far more in number than cultist faiths, world religions, or other oft-targeted groups. And yet, for some reason, we seem hesitant at times to call out men like Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson, and warn Christians of the dangers of their teachings. Instead, we like to say that we “have some differences” or some similar euphemism.
The life of the Christian is one of service, not one of expecting God to grant me what I want. It’s time we stop treating God like a genie, and preach with severity against those that do.