Brief answers to tough questions

Contents

1. How do you know the gospels are reliable?
2. How can you believe the whole Bible to be true?
3. How do you know God is there?
4. What exactly is the “Trinity”?
5. Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?
6. How can a loving God send people to hell?
7. How can a loving God allow suffering?
8. Isn’t being a Christian just about being good and believing in God?
9. Don’t I have to go to church to be a Christian?
10. Aren’t Christians just a bunch of hypocrites?
11. Isn’t the Bible sexist?
12. What about other religions?
13. What about people who’ve never heard of Jesus?
14. What about homosexuality?
15. What about sex before marriage?
16. What about divorce and remarriage?
17. What about abortion?
18. If Christianity is so true, why don’t more believe?
19. An overview of Christian belief

How do you know the gospels are reliable?

Scholars of history apply various tests to ancient documents to establish their historical reliability. When these tests are applied to the gospels, they stand head and shoulders above any comparable early writings as a document to be seen as reliable history. They were written close in time to the events of Jesus' life and those of the early church. A comparison of the large number of early copies of the original manuscripts means we can be confident that what we read today is what was originally written. Moreover, the fact that these copies were dispersed throughout the world during the first centuries means we can be sure there was no systematic alteration of what was written. This would only be possible if all the copies could be consistently changed at one time.

Other historical writings confirm what is recorded too at many points. And the gospel writers themselves stress that they are recording historical events based on eye-witness accounts. The spread of their beliefs depended on their reputation of accuracy and honesty, and they had nothing to gain by writing what they did except persecution and death. It is therefore extremely unlikely they lied, not least because people were around when the gospels were first published to verify or challenge their assertions.

Most compelling here is the fact that the gospels just don’t read as if they’ve been fabricated. They don’t always portray the founders of early Christianity in the best light, and do not shirk saying things that could have got the writers into trouble.

(Luke 1:1-4, John 21:24-25, Acts 2:22)

How can you believe the whole Bible to be true?

The short answer to this, is that we believe the whole Bible to be true because Jesus did. If he is the Son of God as he claimed, then he alone is able to give us a correct view of the Bible. He regarded its writing to have been overseen by God to such an extent that it portrays just what he wants it to. We cannot therefore accept the entire Bible as true until we have first come to a decision about Jesus.

Nevertheless, a number of things still need to be said: First, the gospels can be established as historically accurate enough to come to conclusions about Jesus. Second, the process of translation is extremely accurate. Translators go back to the earliest copies to ensure that what we have is not distorted down the years. Third, if we accept for a moment that there is a God who created and sustains all things, it is certainly possible for him to ensure this book portrays just what he wants. Fourth, if we further assume that he is communicative, because we, his creatures, are communicative, then it is actually quite plausible that God would communicate with us. And there is no better means, that writings that can be passed down through time, checked, studied, and discussed. Fifth, an unprejudiced reading of the Bible itself testifies that it is more than merely a human book. It was written over 1500 years by 40 or so authors. Yet its message is coherent, consistent, and its teaching profoundly describes the world as it is, and transforms lives like no other. Sixth, there are actually far less apparent contradictions in the Bible than many claim there are. Moreover, a closer inspection of those that do seem to be there usually reveals that they are not contradictions at all, but different perspectives on the same events which can quite easily be harmonized. We should also be humble enough to recognize that the reason two passages might seem to contradict is because we have not fully understood their circumstances. Seventh, a key reason the Bible’s trustworthiness is doubted is simply because we find the things in it hard to believe or accept. Yet the reason we find them hard may well be because we have misunderstood them. And where we have not, it does not follow that because things seem unbelievable and unacceptable to us, in our particular culture, they are necessarily wrong.

(John 5:37-40, 2 Timothy 3:14-17, 2 Peter 3:15-16)

How do you know God is there?

We can only know God is there if he chooses to make himself known. He has done this by showing something of himself in the natural world, and by speaking in the Bible and supremely in the person of Jesus.

Had we lived almost 2000 years ago, we could have seen God face to face. Jesus claimed to be God and he backed up those claims with what he said and did. He calmed storms, healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, raised the dead, and forgave people. He lived the most perfect life, and gave us the most profound teaching. When Jesus himself was put to death, he rose again. The evidence of what Jesus' said and did therefore demonstrate that he was who he claimed to be. Indeed, the way his teaching continues to transform lives today can be explained no other way.

(Romans 1:18-20, John 5:16-42)

What exactly is the “Trinity”?

The word Trinity is one the church developed to summarize the Bible’s teaching about the nature of God. It comprises two words: “tri” – meaning three, and “unity” – meaning one. The Bible teaches that there is one God who exists in three persons, known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These are not three names for God, nor are they three alternate ways he might manifest himself on different occasions. They are three distinct persons who co-exist, interact, and perform different roles. For example. it is the Father who oversees all things, it was the Son who took a human nature and lived amongst us as Jesus, and it is the Spirit who is now active throughout the world. Yet each are truly, fully, and equally the one God.

It should be no surprise that there are things about God that our finite minds cannot fully comprehend. How he can be both one and three is surely one of those things. Nevertheless, it is important that we comprehend that this is what he is.

(Matthew 28:19, John 5:16-30, 14:15-21)

Hasn't science disproved Christianity?

Science assumes order and uniformity in the world, and provides ways of understanding what normally happens. The bible teaches us that this order and uniformity is governed and upheld by God. Miracles would of course be impossible for those who do not uphold the laws of science, but not for anyone who did. Science doesn't therefore disprove the miracles recorded in the Bible. Rather, the miracles in the bible prove the existence of God. Indeed, if God wanted to wake us up to his existence you might expect him to do the unusual in order to do so.

Christians differ in their convictions about whether God created the world in six literal days or whether the bible is using the days as a literary device to portray more general truths. What all Christians agree on however, is that science doesn't set out to answer the bigger questions such as “Why are we here?” and “How should we relate to God?” To find the answers to these questions we need to look at what God himself has said in the Bible.

(Genesis 1-2, Hebrews 1:3)

How can a loving God send people to hell?

God’s goodness is evident not just in extreme love, but extreme justice. Since all of us have rebelled against God, he is just in giving us the punishment that we deserve. We live as if we want little to do with God, and the punishment we face is just what we ask for - eternal separation from him.

Yet in love God has enabled us to escape this awful reality. He sent his Son Jesus to bear this punishment on our behalf, experiencing the horror of separation from God in his death on the cross. If we entrust ourselves to Jesus we can therefore escape judgment and spend eternity in a new and perfect world not hell. The amazing thing is not that God sends people to hell, as we all deserve, but that he has made it possible for us to go to heaven, even though we don't deserve to. We cannot blame him if we refuse reject this gift.

(2 Thessalonians 1:3-12, John 3:16-21)

How can a loving God allow suffering?

There is no simple answer to this question. All of us go through suffering in our lives, and many people suffer greatly. The Bible shows us that God hates evil and pain yet could remove it in an instant. The big question is over why he doesn’t.

Suffering exists because of our rebellion against God. As a race we reject the author of life, and the consequence of this is an existence to some extent shut off from that life in a fractured world where disasters, disease and death are commonplace. The mystery according to the bible is therefore not so much “why does suffering occur?” but “why is it proportioned as it is?”

It would be absolutely just for God to leave us to endure this mess we have got ourselves into. Yet contrary to what many think, he does not do so. Not only does he give us all more happiness than any of us deserve, he has also entered our suffering world, suffered himself, and commissioned his people to seek to alleviate suffering now. Most importantly, he has acted in Jesus to put an end to suffering once and for all, for Jesus’ death and resurrection enable us to receive eternal life in a world finally free from evil and pain – if only we turn to him.

So God does not simply “allow suffering,” but through Jesus has done what is necessary for us to be rid of it. Yet our suffering world remains for the present, because God wants to give more people the chance to entrust themselves to Jesus and so enter the world to come.

(Genesis 3:1-24, Matthew 5:43-47, Romans 8:18-30, Revelation 21:1-8)

Isn't being a Christian just about being good and believing in God?

It is not good enough to just to believe God exists because even some people who hate God believe that. Nor can we think a moral life is enough, for as Jesus said “no-one is good but God alone.”

Christianity is about enjoying a relationship with God through his Son Jesus. To enter this relationship we need to receive God’s forgiveness, and to receive this we need to trust Jesus for it. Only he can give us God’s forgiveness because he is the only one who will judge us for how we’ve lived, and he is the only one who bore the punishment for sin in his death so that we might not have to experience it.

Being a Christian is therefore about more than believing in God. It is to believe that Jesus is God’s Son and ruler, and that he is willing and able to forgive those who come to him. It is therefore also about more than being good. The Christian lives a good life not to earn God’s forgiveness or deserve a place in heaven, but because they trust Jesus, want to please him, and know that he knows the best way to live.

Jesus was adamant that anyone who truly knew God would respond to him in these ways.

(John 3:16-21, John 8:31-47, Acts 2:42-43)

Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?

Yes and no! Of course going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than walking into a garage makes you a car. Yet just a car will not continue running unless it is regularly serviced, the Christian goes to church recognizing that they are in need of the support of God’s family if they are to continue in their faith. Church is not necessary for becoming a Christian, but it is necessary if you are to keep going and growing as a Christian.

(Hebrews 10:24-25)

Aren't Christians just a bunch of hypocrites?

Christians do not have an excuse for the fact that they get things wrong, but they do have an explanation – sin. Christians should be the first to acknowledge that they are no better than the next person because they believe both that they are in constant need of God’s forgiveness and in constant need of his help if they are ever to do any good. Sadly too many Christians fail to display this kind of humility. Instead they give off an air of self-righteousness.

The value of the Christian faith is therefore better grounded not on the performance of its followers but of its founder - Jesus. The gospel accounts of his life in the Bible show he was no hypocrite, but perfectly practiced what he preached. Read one of them for yourself and check out his life and claims.

(Matthew 7:1-5)

Isn’t the Bible sexist?

Actually the Bible is quite radical in this area. It stands apart from many of the prejudices and abuses of women in the times it was written. During the first century in particular women were not considered worth teaching about God and were very much second class citizens spiritually. Yet Jesus sat with and taught women, putting them on an equal footing. And the church followed suit.

Having said this, just as the Bible stood apart from the gender assumptions of its day, so it stands apart from those of our own. As in all matters, Christians seek to conform their opinions to what they are convinced God has revealed in this book. And this area is no exception.

(John 4:1-27, Galatians 3:28)

What about other religions?

There are many people who sincerely believe in a different religion. However, sincerity does not make something right or beneficial. People can be sincerely wrong. Truth is what matters, and it is not possible for every religion to be true because they contradict each other. Christianity has some distinctive features which are not compatible with other religions. Other religions say you must do certain things in order to be right with God. Christianity says Jesus has done it all, by dying to take the punishment that we deserved so that we can receive God’s forgiveness.

If Jesus is the Son of God then he alone can speak authoritatively about religion and the way to God. Indeed, he himself said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." We cannot therefore come to an answer to this question until we have properly considered him.

(John 14:1-16, Romans 9:30-10:15)

What about people who have never heard of Jesus?

The Bible tells us that God has revealed something of himself to everyone in the natural order. There is a sense in which everyone has therefore heard about God, and no-one (except perhaps children) has an excuse for not acknowledging him properly. The problem is that we all suppress this truth in one way or another in order to believe what we want to believe and behave as we want to behave. This is why God sent Jesus to call us back to him and enable us to be forgiven.

The Bible is clear that everyone therefore needs to respond to Jesus and that only those who place explicit faith in him can be confident that they are forgiven and will receive everlasting life. It is also clear that people cannot be saved by trusting their preferred view of God or by assuming they can ever be good enough to deserve his acceptance.

The key question then is whether some can, without hearing of Jesus, come to a good enough knowledge of God to rely on him alone for these things. The Bible suggests otherwise. Yet we can be reassured that God is well able to ensure that those who would believe do receive explicit knowledge about Jesus in order to do so. The Bible does record an instance when Jesus actually spoke to one non-Christian from heaven, and others where God audibly commands and sends Christians to speak of Jesus to particular people.

The important thing is that you respond to what you have heard and not use this question as an excuse for inaction.

(Romans 1:18-3:21, 10:13-15, John 3:16-21, 4:20-26, Acts 9:1-22, 10:9-48)

What about homosexuality?

Christians believe what they do about how to live because they have first come to believe that Jesus is God’s Son and so believe the book he sanctioned. The bible teaches that all sexual activity should take place within heterosexual marriage. Homosexuality should not therefore be particularly singled out, but is an example of one of the many ways in which we rebel against God’s ways. The fact that someone is gay should no more stop the Christian from loving and caring for them than it should stop them from loving or caring for any human being - we all do wrong.

It is because of this love and care that Christians seek to bring people to know God and live his way, recognising that God doesn’t tell us how to live without reason. The physical and emotional damage homosexual sex inflicts is rarely heard in the media because the issue is so sensitive. Through trusting Jesus we come to trust that God’s ways are best for us even if our culture keeps us from seeing how. And this does not necessarily mean lifelong celibacy for the homosexual. Specialists acknowledge both that the causes of homosexuality are uncertain and that sexual orientation is somewhat fluid. Some who have turned their backs on a gay lifestyle out of trust in Christ have found their orientation become increasingly heterosexual and gone on to enjoy happy marriages.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

What about sex before marriage?

As with the previous question, we must recognise that Christians believe what they do about how to live because they have first come to believe that Jesus is God’s Son and so believe the book he sanctioned to be from God. The Bible teaches that all sexual activity should take place within heterosexual marriage.

The wisdom of this is not hard to see. Of course there will always be exceptions, but most now recognise that the lifelong commitment of marriage is the one that gives children the greatest security and the best context for growing up. The impact of having only one parent is well documented, and cohabiting couples are statistically far more likely to split. Yet God’s protection is for you as well as any children you have. If you have had past sexual relationships you are probably already aware of the extra pain caused when these relationships fail, or the insecurity felt about a partner’s previous relationships. By contrast, those who keep themselves for marriage are saved from both, and can enjoy, explore and learn sexually together.

Having said all this, Christianity is about forgiveness and a new start. Those who become Christians having been in sexual relationships testify from experience that God’s way is best. They also speak of how thankful they’ve been to know his forgiveness, start again in this area, and receive his help to live his way.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Ephesians 5:3)

What about divorce and remarriage?

Christians differ on how they understand the Bible’s teaching here. Some think it only ever allows remarriage after one’s previous spouse has died. Others think it does so in certain exceptional circumstances, such as when the previous marriage broke down through adultery or desertion etc. What all agree on is that marriage is intended to be for life, forgiveness and reconciliation should always be sought, even in the most extreme cases, and divorce should only ever be the last option.

Though our society is fairly flippant in its view of marriage, we should realize the wisdom in the Bible’s view. The long term damage of divorce on children is well documented. From their perspective, the continuation of the marriage is almost always preferable. And it is preferable for the parents too. Refusing to see divorce as an option is sometimes all that keeps a marriage together, and by doing so enables it to mature through the rough times into the depth of relationship and intimacy intended for it.

(Matthew 19:1-12 with Mark 10:1-12, Corinthians 7)

What about abortion?

Human beings are given great dignity in the Bible. They are those created in God’s image – that is, they are to be like God in caring for the world and emulating his character. It is the fact that we are in God’s image that makes all taking of human life sin (except perhaps in enforcing justice).

The key question in terms of abortion is “when is life truly human?” Well, because God’s purpose stands for every human being from conception, so the Bible sees us as human beings from conception too: From that point on, its writers regard themselves as personal, known by God, and intended by him for life. Indeed, we only need to consider it a possibility that we are truly human from conception to regard abortion as wrong, because no-one would perform an act that might possibly be akin to the killing of another human being. Far better then to have the baby and, if really necessary, offer it for adoption.

The inconsistencies surrounding abortion in modern society are huge. Even slight distress at having a baby can be seen as sufficient grounds for abortion, and this has led to a consumerist attitude to childbirth in which we see ourselves, rather than God, as the determiners of when life should or should not be allowed to develop. Moreover, technology enables us to keep children alive who are born before the date when some abortions are still allowed. Thus, we effectively choose to regard children of the same age as human when outside the womb, but not within it. Recent scan images have also shown babies expressing emotion from extremely early, moving some politicians to call for the term when abortions are allowed to be reduced. Yet in doing so, no-one seems to face the implication that in reducing the date we are effectively acknowledging that all children who have been aborted past that date should not have been.

This whole area is an emotive one for all. If you have had an abortion yourself, it is good to remember that God is a God of immense forgiveness, and one who loving heals us from feelings of guilt and regret. It would be worth you talking your situation through with a pastor.

(Genesis 9:6, Psalm 51:5, Psalm 139:13-18)

If Christianity is so true, why don’t more believe?

We shouldn’t underestimate the millions who have, but we must also acknowledge that we aren’t quite as rational as we like to think. Why do so many ignore the warning signs plastered across cigarette ads and smoke anyway? Because they like to, and so suppress the truth in order to justify what they want. Likewise we suppress the truth about Jesus in order to live as we want rather than as God wants. We ignore, tame, look down on, or even ridicule Christianity – all out of a desire to sidestep its implications.

(John 3:19-21)

An overview of Christian belief

1. There is one God, absolutely good, pure, loving, and just, who eternally exists in three distinct persons: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.[1]

2. God is the supreme ruler of the universe, governing all matters of creation, revelation, redemption and final judgement according to the faultless purpose of his will.[2]

3. The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and so entirely trustworthy word of God, the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.[3]

4. The Law of God is the eternal and unchangeable rule of his moral government. It is binding on all, yet to be obeyed not to merit salvation, but as the fruit of true faith. The essence of the law is love for God and neighbour, including a rejection of all false religion, blasphemy, hatred, extra-marital or homosexual sex, dishonesty, slander, greed, and drunkenness.[4]

5. Since the fall, all humankind has disobeyed God’s law and is sinful and guilty, so that everyone is subject to God's wrath and condemnation.[5]

6. The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s incarnate Son, fully God yet born of a virgin, fully man yet without sin. He died on the cross, was raised bodily from death, and is now reigning over heaven and earth.[6]

7. Sinful human beings are freed from the guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once and for all time of Jesus Christ, the only mediator between humanity and God. On the cross Jesus bore sin’s punishment as a substitute for all who would put their trust in him.[7]

8. Those who repent and believe in Jesus are pardoned all their sins and accepted in God’s sight only because the righteousness of Christ is then counted as their own. This justification is God’s act of undeserved mercy, or grace, received solely by trusting him for it, and not on the grounds of moral or religious effort.[8]

9. The Holy Spirit alone applies the work of Christ to individual sinners, enabling them to understand and accept God’s word, turn to him from their sin, and trust in his Son Jesus.[9]

10. The Holy Spirit lives in all those he regenerates in this way, writing the law on their hearts, making them increasingly Christ-like in character and behaviour, and giving them power and gifts for witness in the world and service of the church.[10]

11. The one holy universal church is the Body of Christ comprising all true believers. Its local expression is the primary means by which God builds up his people and extends his kingdom.[11]

12. The Lord Jesus will return in person, to raise and judge all humanity, justly sentencing those who have not repented to everlasting destruction in hell, and mercifully receiving the redeemed to everlasting glory in a new heaven and earth.[12]

[1] Exodus 34:6-7, Isaiah 44-45, Matthew 28:19, John 14-16

[2] Ephesians 1:1-14, Hebrews 1:1-4, Revelation 20:11-15

[3] Matthew 5:17-20, Mark 7:5-16, John 5:37-40, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, 2 Peter 3:15-16

[4] Matthew 5:17-48, 7:15-23, 22:34-40, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Ephesians 4:17-5:20, James 2:14-19

[5] John 3:17-21, Romans 1-3, 5:12-21, Ephesians 2:1-3

[6] Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Luke 1:26-38, John 5:16-23, Acts 2:22-36, Hebrews 1:1-4, 1 Peter 3:18

[7] Isaiah 53:4-6, Romans 3:21-26, 5:12-21, 10:14-15, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Hebrews 9-10

[8] Romans 3:21-4:25, 5:12-21, 9:30-10:13, Galatians 2:11-4:7

[9] Matthew 11:25-27, John 6:35-47, 65, Acts 16:14, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Ephesians 1:15-2:10

[10] Luke 11:11-14, Acts 1:8, 4:23-31, Romans 8:5-8, 1 Corinthians 12, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Galatians 5:16-25, Ephesians 2:10

[11] Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 2:11-4:16, Hebrews 10:24-25

[12] Matthew 25:31-46, Mark 10:42-48, John 5:19-30, Romans 8:17-39, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Revelation 20:11-22:21