Sunday, December 14, 2008

Is Christianity Arrogant?

Back in May of 2006, I was privileged to attend an Evangelism Boot Camp in New York City (which is where I met Geraldine). One day, the group of us went to Washington Square Park and we sat around the fountain, taking turns preaching. As a brother named Donovan was preaching, a heckler reacted angrily to Donovan's assertion that he would be in heaven. The heckler stood up and challenged Donovan, saying, "You are so arrogant!" Donovan probed him for an explanation and the heckler said, "You're arrogant because you say you know that you're going to heaven! You are so full of yourself!"

I never wanted to be preaching so badly as I did at that moment. I wanted to push Donovan off the fountain, take the microphone out of his hand, and explain to this heckler that he was looking at the issue from the wrong perspective. It all goes back to Charles' Stanley's illustration on faith vs. hope. I detailed this illustration back in July, but I will review it here again to demonstrate why Donovan's claim was not arrogant at all.

Suppose I see a man that I fancy. I am completely smitten with this man, and I think to myself, "Oh I just know he feels the same way! I just know in my heart he's the man I'm going to marry." The months go by. The man doesn't talk to me. But I keep right on telling everyone that I just "know" this man is my husband. Then one Sunday morning it is announced in church that the man is engaged to someone else. Huh? What happened?

Now suppose instead that this man actually begins pursuing me. He verbally asks me to marry him. He gives me an engagement ring and brings me to meet his parents. I tell my whole family, church, and friends that this man is going to be my husband. Would it be fair to say that my claim is arrogant?

God is Trustworthy

Something is not true because we believe it, rather, we believe something because it is true. In the Christian faith, the primary evidence we have that something is true is God's word. At this point, a heckler may respond by saying, "Well I just don't believe the Bible." There is a lot in the Bible that people do not believe. And as I just stated, truth does not hinge upon what we personally believe. But let's go with this premise for just a moment.

After three years of street evangelism, I have noticed that the main problem people have with the gospel message is that it offends their pride. The only way around the offensive stuff is to simply cherry-pick the scriptures we like, and throw out the rest. The result is we've created a god in our own image, in our own likeness, to suit ourselves. (The Bible calls this the sin of idolatry.)

This is when I will generally reason with the heckler by asking him, "Would you say your god is a good god?" Generally people will agree that "goodness" is a quality they have assigned to their own personal god. I then ask, "Would you say that your god is trustworthy?" Again, trustworthiness is another quality that most will assign to their personal deity. Then I ask, "How do we know that someone is trustworthy?"

The obvious answer is, a trustworthy person will mean what he says, and say what He means. God is trustworthy. When He says "I will never leave you nor forsake you," you can put your faith in that. When He says, "I will be with you always," we can believe that as well. But God's trustworthiness doesn't end with pleasantries. If your god is truly trustworthy, he will follow through with those scriptures that warn, "Repent, or ye will likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5).

Those of us who choose not to believe these scriptures are selling ourselves short. We have chosen to believe in a god that does not mean what he says 100% of the time. If I cannot trust that God is going to punish the wicked, how is there any hope for me that He will save those whom He has called righteous?

Christianity is not arrogant, for we boast not in ourselves, but rather, we boast in Christ. Donovan's claim that he was going to heaven was not based on some prideful assumption that God was going to be so impressed with him, He'd have no choice but to let him into heaven. No, Donovan's claim was based on the trustworthiness of God's word: "For there is one name under heaven by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

If we have placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, and if we have repented of our sins, we can boldly proclaim with confidence that we will be in heaven when we die. That might be offensive to an athiest. It might be offensive to a Muslim. It might be offensive to a Jew, a Catholic, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Hindu, an existentialist, or a Quaker. But that doesn't make it any less true, nor does it make us arrogant for saying so.

There is a popular bumper sticker which reads, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." A few years later, another bumper sticker was printed with this rebuttal: "God said it, that settles it, whether I believe it or not." So which God will you put your hope in: the God who means what He says, or the one whose word is not trustworthy? The Bible was written so we may know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). This is why He is our hope. He means what He says, and we can trust what He says. So let's get out there and proclaim His truth with confidence!

5 comments:

Puritan Lad said...

Good Article. If God has cleansed me and adopted me as a son, how could I not go to heaven. Our worship is not arrogance, it's appreciation.

Sam said...

I quite often hear people bring up this whole issue of arrogance when it comes to religious beliefs. People object to Judaism and Calvinism on the basis that it's arrogant to think you are chosen by God. I even talked to a girl one time who rejected Hinduism on the basis that it was arrogant to think that karma only affects humans since only humans have the capacity for moral awareness.

I've decided to stop trying to defend Christianity from such charges, because the charge is irrelevent. Whether Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or whatever are arrogant is completely irrelevent to the question of whether or not they are true. And a person should adopt a religion, not because they like it or because its adherents are humble, but because they have good reason to think it's true.

This arrogant charge is just a red herring. It's an irrelevent ad hominem argument. It should be dismissed as such.

Jennifer said...

Sam, thank you for this wonderful observation. You are absolutely right - it is irrelevant!

Perhaps my title was misleading, as the example I had given was about my friend's claim that he was going to heaven. All of us who are born again can make the same claim not because of any perceived arrogance on our part, but because it is truth. Truth does not rely on humility in order to make it true.

Paul said...

Another problem with this objection is that it may be based upon a very widespread misunderstanding about Christianity. Since many outsiders (and "insiders" too) think that entry into heaven is based upon our works ("good people go to heaven, you know"), then to say that one is certain about his salvation implies that one believes himself to be an unquestionably good person. They believe that we are saying something about our own self-righteousness, not about God or some theological truth. Compound this with the related misconception that Christians take themselves to be more virtuous than the un-churched and you have a sad atmosphere of hostility from those who feel themselves to be continually judged by our morally superior Christian clique. Unfortunately, we sometimes reinforce this stereotype by spending more time on the particular sins of the unsaved than on the root cause of the inevitable manifestation of sin in the unbeliever.

The irony is that many of these same people do not ultimately hold to the doctrine of hell. Doesn't this mean that we're all going to heaven? If we're all going, then is it arrogant to say it? Ask them where they think they're going. Is hell even an option? I think it is our belief in hell that makes this arrogant in their mind. Again, they believe that for us to suggest they are hell-bound is basically a matter of our personal judgment upon them as unworthy and morally inferior people. Worse, they may think we want to see them in hell.

I find that in the realm of apologetics, much of the time is spent in merely clarifying what it is that Christianity actually teaches.

Jennifer said...

Paul these are excellent points as well. Thanks for stopping by!

If I can pinpoint it further, I'll mention that I've seen much of what you've described in many reformed circles. It is ironic, because an accurate understanding of the doctrine of election should make one more humble. Once we realize that God chose to have mercy on us, and for whatever reason we have been spared, it should put an even greater fear of God in us. Yet many of us will turn on those who are not reformed and incessantly try to "beat" the doctrines of grace into them. My friend Jeff posted this article from Scott Clark which I think does a good job of examining this phenomenon.